The radio stations of DoorCountyDailyNews.com played host to the six candidates vying for three seats on the Sturgeon Bay Common Council this past week in a series of candidate forums. Below you will find complete audio from those three forums that aired live on 104.1 WRLU and Facebook and the candidates’ answers to our questions before their February primary. Election day is April 3 and 96.7 WBDK will carry live coverage beginning right after the polls close.
Please begin by sharing some basic background information that qualifies you for the city council
Rich Wiesner: I know how to represent the people of District 4 and I will represent the people of this district. I live on the Westside, I was raised on the Westside, I work on the Westside – I know what happens here and what this area needs. Advancement and promotion of the Westside matters to the residents and businesses alike.
Kelly Avenson: I am a working millennial mother with an entrepreneurial drive that has chosen to invest in and plant my roots in Sturgeon Bay. I own and operate two business in our historic downtown, sit on multiple boards and volunteer for other nonprofits such as the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center board and the Women’s Fund of Door County.
David Hayes: I’ve been a civil servant for 25 years – 4 years in the US Navy and 21 years in the National Park Service (NPS). While in the NPS, I sat for 6 years on the Metropolitan DC Council of Governments representing the Department of Interior. This is an equivalent to our city council but with appointed officials from municipalities, county, state and federal agencies. We reviewed and approved multi-billion dollar projects within the Capital.
Bob Starr: I’ve lived in District 2 of Sturgeon Bay for most of my life. I’ve worked in the real estate business for about 35 years and mostly focus on helping our realtors solve problems with transactions. I served as Alderman for the District from 1994-1998 and then served as Mayor from 1998-2001. I feel it is time to serve again since our current Alderman has decided to retire from city service.
Stewart Fett: I have served as Alderman for the city of Sturgeon Bay for seven years, Sturgeon Bay Utilities President for ten years and a member of the Sturgeon Bay Utilities Commission for thirteen. I am chairperson of the Finance/Purchasing & Building Committee and the Board of Public Works. I serve on the Parks Committee, Recreation Committee, Loan, Review/Revolving Loan Committee and Personnel Committee. Past Government Experience: Chair, Cable Communication System Advisory Council, Chair, Community Protection & Service Committee, Member, Parking & Traffic Committee, Member, Harbor Commission, Member, Waterfront Redevelopment Authority. I am a member of the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Door County and on their executive board. I volunteer on The Boys & Girls Club facilities committee. I serve the community as a member of Loaves and Fishes and the Sturgeon Bay Lions Club. I am a member of St. Joseph Parish where I assist as an usher and Eucharistic Minister. I, along with my wife Theresa, conduct communion services at several assisted living facilities in Sturgeon Bay on a monthly basis.
Seth Wiederanders: 45, male Single, never married, Proud uncle, Class of 1991, SBHS, Resident of District 6 since 2001, Certified Peer Specialist and Resource Coordinator at JAKs Place(A program of Lakeshore CAP), Board member of League of Women Voters of Door County, Comprehensive Community Services Regional Steering Committee, Lakeshore CAP Board and Executive/Finance Committee 2009-2016, Comprehensive Community Services/Coordinate Services Team/Children’s Community Options Committee
Why do you want to serve in public office?
Rich Wiesner: I am running for office to represent the people of District 4. I’m not looking to help a special interest group nor do I have predetermined stance on any issue where the facts are still being assembled. My constituents’ needs and views will always come first. The Westside to poised for some major advancements and would like to help it happen.
Kelly Avenson: I am running for City Council because I want to build a Sturgeon Bay that is vibrant and sustainable so when my son is grown and is finding his way, he is not looking at a city that is in debt, all its history erased, and with nothing but seasonal or low paying jobs to show for it. I want to be sure the City of Sturgeon Bay invests in its people – making our roads pedestrian and bike friendly and repaired in a timely manner; maintaining streetlights for the safety of our residents; embracing our heritage and history to deepen our town’s appeal and stability; encouraging development and creatively and proactively bringing in businesses that pay a living wage; and truly addressing the housing issue that plagues us. It is time to invest in us, the people that live and work in this town year-round. I feel a fresh and younger perspective is needed in City Hall. I also feel it is my time to take on the responsibilities that come along with being elected to represent not just District 4 but all of Sturgeon Bay.
David Hayes: Public service can be a very rewarding and productive process – I’ve seen how it can and should work for the public, the infrastructure, resources and our future as a community. I have not seen it working here in Sturgeon Bay. My experiences outside of Sturgeon Bay have given me an insight on how to build consensus, address controversial issues and find common goals and strategies so that Sturgeon Bay and its citizens can improve and move forward together. That is why I want to be City Council Alderman.
Bob Starr: I always thought the circumstances were right I would consider running for public office again. I am ready to use my experience to help our city government run in a more effective manner.
Stewart Fett: I believe I am the best candidate to serve district 6 on the City Council for the following reasons. First, I have been a resident of the city of Sturgeon Bay for 33 years. Second, through my positions as Alderman on the city council and its various committees, my involvement in community organizations and the volunteer positions I hold, I have witnessed many different perspectives of the city. Third, I have gained significant experience being a member of the city council. During the past 7 years I have worked hard to provide increased economic opportunity to the citizens of Sturgeon Bay by cultivating a climate where existing businesses like Cadence Inc., Therma-Tron-X, Wire Tech, Hatco, and Pro Products Inc. were able to expand their business. Overall, the value of the Industrial Park grew by 9.2 million dollars from 2014 through 2017, a 28% increase. Fourth, I served on the Parks Committee which invested in the waterfront parkway that extends from Memorial Drive to Stone Harbor and from Sawyer Park to Obtumba Park for our citizens and tourists to have easy access and enjoy our many city parks. Lastly, I listen to the people who live in this fine city and I will continue to do so. I use their input to form my decisions on what is needed, so we as a community continue to grow, prosper and enhance our quality of life.
Seth Wiederanders: I am a long time student of politics and policy. I believe that we are currently misrepresented at every level of government. My generation and younger people need to get involved. Social media is a great way to get new ideas out but change will only happen when younger people choose to act. I would like to do my part at the local level by representing District 6 on the City Council.
Will you support evening meetings of the Sturgeon Bay City Council? Why or why not?
Rich Wiesner: I will support meeting to occur anytime the council chooses to have them, but I believe the city council meeting should be held during normal business hours. We have better attendance at the current noon meeting then we had at the 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. meetings in 2012 and 2013. I don’t believe that the time matters as much as the subject matter does.
Kelly Avenson: Yes, absolutely. There are people that would like to participate and attend the meetings and share their voice but are unable due to the timing. I do not agree that Council meetings are to just conduct business, I believe it is also to hear from the people of this town so we can gather their input and make sure we take in all views and opinions before making decisions. We are not only limiting people’s voices — we are limiting those who can run for office or serve on committees, and we are limited to a City Council that doesn’t represent the people it serves. We need to open the door so working citizens of all backgrounds and ages can run and be heard or we are failing an important portion of our population.
David Hayes: I will support evening Council meetings – public engagement is not easy but it makes for a better informed community and projects that benefit the majority.
Bob Starr: I would support evening meetings as well as noon meetings and have no strong feelings either way. If it were decided to return to evening meetings, I would only request a starting time of 6:00 so everyone can be at home a bit earlier.
Stewart Fett: I have served on both the city council and the Sturgeon Bay Utilities Commission. I have attended morning, noon, afternoon, and evening meetings. Sturgeon Bay has a full service hospital, a vibrant manufacturing base and active tourist industry; all work around the clock. Unfortunately, there is no meeting time that will accommodate all of our citizens. However, I understand our citizens want to be able to attend the meetings so they can be more involved in the direction the city is going. If a change in the meeting time will increase the opportunity to be involved in the way that they want, I would support changing the meeting time.
Seth Wiederanders: I support evening meetings so that more working people can attend, observe, and participate.
Would you support a study to evaluate the combination of the city fire and police chief positions into a public safety director?
Rich Wiesner: I would not support such a study. These roles are too important and specialized to consider a singular leadership position. To jeopardize the safety of a single person by eliminating a chief position is a risk I’m not willing to take. I would rather eliminate paying the council members.
Kelly Avenson: Yes, I believe evaluating and considering creative ideas and promising scenarios to help the City’s efficiency and improve service to the community is the only way to make the best decision for our City.
David Hayes: I would support a Study that looks at all positions in the City Government – we call that in the Federal Government a Position Management Plan. The crux is to interview each employee and their job description and determine the “value added” element; the connectivity within the bureaucracy and with the public; and any redundancy.
Bob Starr: I would not be opposed to reviewing what other communities our size do relating to staffing of police/fire departments. I would only support spending the tax monies for a “study” should we find that many other communities our size consolidate such positions. Consolidating these positions may be difficult due to the need to stay on top of increased mandated regulations. However, it is always a good idea to review how a more efficient way of operating might take place, especially, in the 0% percent levy increase environment we are now living in.
Stewart Fett: Today’s police force deals with many types of crimes, including fraud, theft, physical abuse, an opioid epidemic, just to name a few. This requires them to be experts in their field. Our Fire Department deals with fire, water, high angle, confined space rescues and modern firefighting techniques. I believe adding a level of administration is not what the taxpayers expect.
This idea comes around every few years. Most recently the City examined this concept in 2011. If there were cause to investigate and explore the concept then I might be amenable to such a study.
Seth Wiederanders: I assume the study would be to evaluate the current Chiefs positions in order to cut costs. I am in favor of streamlining to save money. I would suggest a study to look at combining of the positions of SB Police Chief and Door County Sheriff and the possible combining of the Fire Departments of Door County under one Chief. Streamlining and reducing administration costs are tactics I would support.
What will you do to get rid of the ugly dirt piles on the Sturgeon Bay west-side waterfront?
Rich Wiesner: I will continue to work to find a financially self-sufficient development project for this area. These dirt piles are staged to fill the site with clean fill when development occurs. To spend city funds to move these piles isn’t fiscally responsible right now.
Kelly Avenson: The dirt piles represent the lack of communication and lack of a plan for the Westside. It is my understanding the city doesn’t want to spread them out as it is currently valuable clean fill needed to cap off any area that will be developed, since that area has previous contaminants. Now that we have an ordinary high water mark, it is time for the City move forward with the approved remediation plan, spread and cap the fill — since the dirt piles aren’t appealing to the current businesses and residents and certainly not attractive for future developers. I am running for Council to proactively move forward with positive westside waterfront plans that truly incorporate the community’s voices.
David Hayes: First thing would be to level them (within 4 months), keeping in mind storm water run-off. Then I would conduct a “design charrette” workshop with the public to see if there are any imaginative ideas out there about landscaping, so that the area does not look like a dumping ground, but rather a place to “come together”. This phase could take a year or two to complete.
Bob Starr: The dirt piles are not a pretty site and I’m sure the city never envisioned they would still be there in 2018. However, at this point I feel they can stay in place and be utilized for or removed once a new development plan is put in place for the property. I don’t support spending monies to remove them before that takes place.
Stewart Fett: The dirt piles are a result of litigation preventing the redevelopment of the former Co-op property. The piles were originally placed there in anticipation of the cap required by the DNR as part of the voluntary party liability exemption, as well as flood plain protection. While it is easy to say the piles should be moved, it would be at a significant expense and could mean that the materials couldn’t later be reused without significant environmental testing. Likewise, spreading the piles out on the site without knowing precisely where they should be could make the clean fill become mixed with the existing soils, which would result in the clean fill becoming dirty.
Seth Wiederanders: It is inexcusable that this issue persists. Clean fill is an asset to the city and I think it could be used elsewhere. Maybe we could move it to the Municipal property on 14th Ave for storage until it can be utilized.
What can you do to as a city council member to bring factions of the community together?
Rich Wiesner: I’m not sure that anyone can bring these side together. The factions would need to be willing to compromise with each other in order to make that happen. Right now, it appears that the factions have a winner take all mentality. I have always been willing to talk to, listen to and discuss any problem with any constituent. These discussions are the basis of the representation that I provide.
Kelly Avenson: Bring back night meetings, bring back public comment at Council meetings, hold listening sessions when needed to gather more public input and to be able to have dialogue, and encourage the appointments of diverse viewpoints and ages to committees.
David Hayes: Open up the dialogue first. As a facilitator for the NPS in the highly contentious US Capital I’ve had lots of experiences bringing people together to figure out a future where every voice is heard, respected, and developed into a plan that has multiple strategies reaching a mutually agreed common goal or vision. This can only work if people leave their egos outside, listen, speak and have patience with each other and themselves and listen some more. It also helps to bring in someone from the outside who does not have a personal agenda and can help see through the muddy backgrounds/egos/opinions and help all the participants clarify their thoughts and ideas.
Bob Starr: I will work to help establish respect for citizens and elected officials alike. Improved communication and explanation of thoughts and positions will help to create a better understanding of decisions that are being made. When I was Mayor, I would do a monthly radio show and allow call-ins so that citizens could interact directly and hear my positions more thoroughly. Things like that can go a long way towards mutual understanding. With that said, everyone should respect each other’s opinion when discussing the issues of the day.
Stewart Fett: Our city is made up of diverse people with diverse ideas. One of the greatest challenges in modern city governance is communication with the public. For years, newspaper, television and radio were the principal means of mass communication, all that has changed. For interested people, residents can now watch a council or plan commission meeting from the comfort of their own home, via both the City’s cable access channel and live streaming on the City’s website. Minutes and recorded meetings are posted on the website as well and current updates are given on the city’s social media Facebook page. The city has invested monies in public communications infrastructure. Continued investment in modern communication technology and methods is imperative for engaging the citizenry and delivering the best possible services. Also, civility is an important factor if strong commitments and ideas are going to be communicated and considered. I will make the point that the citizens of Sturgeon Bay agree on 90% of issues; such as the need for street improvements, economic development, community fire and police protection and the need for a nice business district spanning the east and west side.
Seth Wiederanders: I would encourage each council member to actively seek out interested constituents in their districts and make the effort to meet with them. I believe that accurate and honest representation is possible and that transparent governing will bring the community together.
Do you share the belief expressed by some that city government is wasting money on legal fees?
Rich Wiesner: I don’t believe the city is wasting fund that could be used on the roads on legal fees. I and the westside businesses believe that the city should have been using these funds to work on the redevelopment of the westside waterfront area.
Kelly Avenson: I believe the city has wasted time and money on unnecessary litigation. They were made aware of the issue with Lot 92 back in 2013 but they continued anyway. Then when the public was aware of that issue and brought it to their attention again in early 2015 they again continued as if they not need to worry about it. From what I have gathered, they have wasted time and money by not taking the advice of their legal counsel multiple times during that last few years. There is roughly $200,000 in interest debt services that the city has incurred via the borrowing of the TID dollars, money borrowed without a plan for the westside, that is frivolous and it is costing us as taxpayers.
David Hayes: A lot of the legal fees are paid from other sources not our general fund. What I do think is being wasted or lost is time and energy. Time from city staff hours even some county staff hours. Energy also from city staff, this is energy that could be applied to “”community- building” and our infrastructure. It is draining to the spirit of Sturgeon Bay, when there is so much negativity and mistrust between the citizens and the administration and between the citizens themselves.
Bob Starr: Although the city has insurance coverage for most legal expenses, I think it would be ideal if the city did not have to spend any monies on defending itself in lawsuits.
Stewart Fett: Civil society and hence governance is based on the rule of law, and sometimes the legal issues can become very complex, very quickly and adequate legal counsel is needed to avoid further complications or worse, violating the law itself. The City’s general annual legal expenses are under $45,000 per year. Legal fees and street maintenance are generally born out of two separate funds, or pots of money, if you will; they are the General Fund and the Capital Fund. Sometimes, in special circumstances special legal counsel is required, but that is the exception, rather than rule. With respect to street maintenance and improvements expenses, the City currently spends about $750,000.0 on streets and needs to increase that by $720,000.00 per year to get streets from a 55 year replacement rate down to 25-30 year replacement rate. The underlying need for additional street improvement funding is not only in Sturgeon Bay but across the State of Wisconsin as well.
Seth Wiederanders: Yes. I don’t think the lawsuits would have been filed if the city government had been more cautious in its decisions concerning the west side waterfront. There were clearly steps in the process that were not taken in the hopes that no one would dig into the legal implications of building on protected land and without waiting for the determination of the Original High Water Mark.
What are the major issues facing the City of Sturgeon Bay?
Rich Wiesner: My opinion of the major issues of the city are the lack of affordable housing, lack of proper road funding, lack of local workforce for local businesses/manufacturers and the aging population of our citizens.
Kelly Avenson: What I have heard from talking with many citizens: residents are most concerned with the quality of our roads, the affordable housing shortage and lack of year-round living wage jobs. I believe that open discussion, creative city planning, and collaboration with partners like the Door County Economic Development Corporation, the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center and the Door County Community Foundation can lead to effective solutions.
Bob Starr: Bringing our road conditions back to acceptable levels and maintaining services to the citizens are the major issues I would concentrate on if elected.
David Hayes: The City needs to renew trust between the citizens and the administration. To do this the administration needs to open up as many channels of dialogue, encourage different opinions, ask for understanding from the citizens and ask the citizens to be clear about their thoughts – provide constructive criticism not just venting and personal attacks. When the citizens trust their local government, good things will happen that benefits the community not just the folks who have a personal connection to the administration.
Stewart Fett: Providing economic opportunities to families must be our number one priority. My service on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Door County has raised my awareness of the alarming number of children who qualify for free or subsidized lunch. To provide better paying job opportunities we must build an environment that enables our businesses to succeed and grow. Many of our hard-working citizens are now reaching retirement age. This will provide opportunities for our youth. We must do all that we can to ensure that our youth recognize and are prepared to seize these opportunities. Along with the idea of attracting young people to relocate or stay in Sturgeon Bay, the city must continue to address the housing shortage.
Seth Wiederanders: We need to fix our roads and find someway to increase funds so that we can maintain our roads in the future. We need more affordable housing and childcare. We need more living wage jobs that will draw younger people with families to our city. We need to make the West Side Waterfront into a destination that draws in tourist dollars and at the same time provides long term, family sustaining jobs.
What are your views on west side waterfront development?
Rich Wiesner: The westside is ready and wanting for the redevelopment of the Coop parcel. Now that the city knows where the high-water mark is, staff can work with developers to best utilize this area for public and private use.
Kelly Avenson: I believe that the City has missed opportunities over the past 3+ years that would’ve already yielded a hotel and possible other development. I believe they are missing further opportunities to embrace a 1.25 million dollar investment into an area that they currently have no plan for, and in doing that they are also completely overlooking the possibility for another development, that of a brewery for that area. It is time to stop fighting and start working together, otherwise we all lose.
David Hayes: It is clear to me that the Westside Waterfront Development is focused on economic development – how much money is generated directly by the development of the waterfront. That approach is short-sighted, narrow and typically not sustainable for the larger community. That approach also misses any indirect economic improvements outside the developed area. When a community develops only for direct capital improvements they typically do not look at any indirect community improvements. Folks visit and move here for the clean air, water resources and quiet neighborhoods not just for a job that may or may not pay a living wage.
Bob Starr: My views on the west side waterfront have not changed since it was brought forth several years back. The redevelopment needs to include some type of commercial tax-paying project such as a restaurant, hotel, or retail so that significant taxes are generated to provide funding for public improvements along the waterfront. This is by far the part of the process most people do not understand. The commercial project needs to work in support of the West Side business community so that customers have more options and reasons to shop and stay on the West Side. The law suit and recent change to the OHWM by the DNR, which is quite a change from their initial position expressed to the city in 2013 has certainly made the planning for the site more difficult and complicated.
Stewart Fett: It is my opinion that the undeveloped portion of the West Waterfront is a great opportunity for the City of Sturgeon Bay, which is why I voted to purchase the property in 2012. This property presents an opportunity to construct great public space connecting Sawyer Park to the south and the Maritime Museum to the north without increasing the property taxes of the residents and business owners in the City of Sturgeon Bay. The other pieces of the redeveloped West Waterfront, from Sawyer Harbor to Obtumba Park are a great testament to the City’s successful use of tax incremental financing and an asset to the businesses and residents of the west side and all of the Sturgeon Bay and Door County.
Seth Wiederanders: We don’t need another hotel. We need something that draws people in and makes the west-side waterfront a tourist destination that competes with the rest of Door County. I really like the idea of building a satellite college campus linked to an established university already in Wisconsin.
Would you support or oppose the elimination of the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority and the assumption of its responsibilities by the council or planning commission?
Rich Wiesner: I’m not sure that I understand the desire to eliminate the group and I do not support eliminating the WRA. This group was commissioned to help develop the waterfront areas of the city. Should we eliminate every group that doesn’t support the view of one group.
Kelly Avenson: I would like to have open discussion to understand in depth its formation, history, and whether there is ongoing need or whether they have fulfilled their job and it is time to dissolve. If upon evaluation we found some of their responsibilities are still needed but could be merged into that of another commission or to that of the council to be more effective and efficient, then I would support dissolving of the WRA.
David Hayes: The concept is good – the name is wrong. I don’t think the WRA is an authorizing body but an advisory body. Change it to Waterfront Community Board – that would make it clear that it is advisory, its focus is on the waterfront and the community. The Board would then look at economic development that is a subset of Community Development, Infrastructure Development, and Social/Cultural Development. When all three subsets of Community Development (Economic Development, Infrastructure Development, Social/Cultural Development) are engaged and explored by the community, the administration and the Board, then the outcome or goal is almost always a positive experience for the community and a brighter uplifting future for everyone.
Bob Starr: The Waterfront Redevelopment Authority is made up of (4) appointed citizens and (2) elected Alderpersons and such citizen involvement should not be given up. It has overseen the redevelopment of all downtown waterfront areas for many years and I support the structure of that committee. Further, most of their decisions are ratified by the City Council so there is adequate review and confirmation.
Stewart Fett: The Waterfront Redevelopment Authority serves an important role in the City of Sturgeon Bay. Originally established in 1990, the WRA has been the vehicle to help the City identify, analyze and pursue redevelopment opportunities in the City. The City’s WRA authority is significantly less than what is authorized by statute, making them more of an advisory board than independent authority. Eliminating the WRA would mean reducing the opportunity for citizens to serve, provide valuable input, and reduce opportunities for participation in decision making in the City of Sturgeon Bay. I would not support any move to reduce opportunity for citizen participation in local government and oppose the concentration of power in an elective body subject to the political whims of the day.
Seth Wiederanders: I think we need to review the rules under which the WRA operates. The WRA should be only an advisory committee to the City Council if it is to be kept in place. I think elected officials would represent the will of the people better than the unelected officials that now comprise the WRA.