Past the Learning Curve, She Sees a Bright Future

Phil Pfuehler

Emerge Board of Directors Chair and Alumnae Diane Odeen is running to serve a third term on the River Falls City Council.


Diane Odeen, 57, 811 Oak Knoll Ave.; degrees from Lawrence University (B.A.), U. of Minnesota (Ph.D.) and Hamline University School of Law (J.D.); attorney with Hammarback Law Offices in River Falls; married to Michael Kahlow, two daughters; past president of the River Falls Rotary Club; member of local education FORWARD foundation board; chair of the Emerge Wisconsin board; co-founder of River Falls Community Theatre.

Diane Odeen, at-large City Council candidate, wants to be part of the wave of progressive changes sweeping River Falls.

"The new and developing industrial and corporate parks are creating a new sense of vibrancy. I think River Falls is becoming a showcase community, and I'd like to be part of that trend."

Odeen seeks a third term on the council. She's opposed in the April 4 election by former council member Aaron Taylor.

Odeen lost an election last November in the state senate race to incumbent Sheila Harsdorf. While a senate district is larger than a city's, Odeen said her door-to-door campaigning taught her something.

"Most everything comes down to local," she said. "People everywhere are mostly concerned with their own communities — the quality of their schools, parks, having good job opportunities, feeling safe where they live, that kind of thing."

While she lost the state election, Odeen cherishes local nonpartisanship.

"I have a renewed appreciation for how we operate as a City Council," she said. "We're there to get things done, and we actually do. No politics, Republicans or Democrats. It keeps us honest.

"Had I been elected to the senate, my approach would also have been nonpartisan."

Odeen once had ambitions to be a college professor — like her husband. Instead she turned to law in mid-life for a career.

She said being a lawyer, especially in employment litigation, influences her as a person and a council member.

"I'd like to think that my legal skills allow me to take complicated situations and figure out solutions to problems," she said. "I also have a strong sense of fairness in the workplace, and I want everyone to get a fair shake — so I bring that sensibility to the council."

Odeen said there are key projects ahead that she wants to help steer to completion.

One, she said, is the upcoming North Interceptor Sewage Project near North Main Street and Paulson Road. An upgrade from a lift station to a gravity-feed interceptor would permit more growth on the city's north side.

Odeen, the council's representative on the Utility Board, said some private property purchases will be needed to advance this project.

Odeen will closely gauge the Kinnickinnic River Corridor planning as it unfolds over the next year. Much focus has been on the fate of the two hydro dams.

Regarding the dams and the river's future, Odeen listed her two objectives:

• That everyone — including the "quieter voices" — feel that they've had a say in the process by the time it's done. "When that happens, the city usually makes the best decisions," she said.

• How will costs of any plan, with or without the dams, affect the city and it residents.

Other projects that Odeen will watch closely involve the master plans now in place for Glen and Hoffman parks.

Odeen described both large city parks as "well-used, well-loved but not always well-cared for."

In the coming years both are set to undergo major "updates," including a redesign of the "serpentine traffic patterns" plaguing Hoffman Park and a pickup/dropoff space at Glen Park for the many river kayakers.

Odeen said preliminary planning will soon begin for a new police station — one that might be attached to City Hall. Space there was set aside when that building was constructed.

Odeen said the current police station — remodeled from part of the old City Hall — "isn't terribly accessible" and that "the crowded inside is kind of like a confusing warren."

She said a modern, professional facility is needed for local law enforcement.

If re-elected, Odeen promised to continue "trying to be responsive and accessible to all constituents."

"There was a learning curve at first to see how the many pieces fit together to keep the city running smooth," she said. "I have a better understanding of that process now, and I want to keep it going."

After four years on the council, Odeen has grown confident about expressing views at meetings, saying, "I show up, I make comments."

Back 25 years ago, Odeen was uncertain how long her young family would stay in River Falls. That uncertainty quickly faded.

"It turned out to be such a great place," Odeen said of her River Falls home. "I've experienced it a lot of ways — as a commuter to the 'Cities,' as a parent and community member, and now as someone who works here in town and has the honor of serving on the City Council.

"My parents taught me that you should work to make things better than how you found them, and I'd like to continue to help do that for the city so that other families can build a great future here."

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