Three candidates are running for two seats on the Gibraltar Town Board April 3. The Pulse asked Brian Hackbarth, Bill Johnson and Barb McKesson questions about what’s been happening in the town, including the upcoming highway project, economic climate and local politics. We listed just a few of the questions here, but all of the questions and responses can be found online at doorcountypulse.com. We have left spelling and punctuation as written by each candidate.
What experience and skills do you have that make you a good candidate for Gibraltar Town Board?
Brian Hackbarth: I started attending town board meetings in 1998, and from 1999 to 2010 I attended almost every monthly board meeting, and most special meetings. Some years I had better attendance than some board members. So bring 20 years of experience, history and knowledge. That and when first elected I took the time to speak with and learn from as many of the people that I could that served on the town board from the 1980’s and 1990’s. Knowing history helps in making good decisions.
Highlight a few of my current positions.
Town Board 2010 to current
Parks & Lands Chair 2008 to current
Planning commissioner 2009 to current
FCCA President 2004 (board member 2002-2004)
Bill Johnson: After earning a BS with dual majors in Economics and general Business Administration, drafted during Viet Nam and honorably discharged, I worked in the insurance industry for nearly 29 years before my first retirement. Served on many boards, both public and private. My public experience includes vice president and president on associations of 1,600 and 38 units. I have years of business experience including managing an office of 85 employees. I was also an administrative manager of 235 employees in a seven-state region. Upon retiring, my wife, Cathy, and chose to move here after having been vacationing here since 1974. I started my second career here doing IT work for small businesses and private citizens. My current public position in Gibraltar is as a commissioner on the sanitary district for the past almost 17 years. My leadership and participation experiences in townships has exceeded 31 years combined. I am a collaborative team worker and believe this bodes well for improving the board performance here in Gibraltar. I also believe that quality actions focused on the future impact to the town to be necessary for good and sound decisions. I think I can help the board with meeting efficiency and decision making.
Barb McKesson: First, I am a good listener. I strive to understand both/all sides of an issue. I have spent my working career in education and as a business woman, which involves working closely with people. I enjoy it! In facilitating negotiations, I find common ground and solutions. Additionally, I have run a successful business for many years and in my education experience, dealt with developing budgets, so I know what it takes to make a living, But I think my greatest asset is my passion for this township and its people. I am willing to work hard, study, and celebrate Gibraltar’s successes, together!
The town is preparing for highway resurfacing in 2019. Without an easy alternative route to navigate traffic through the downtown district, how do you propose the town should best mitigate the impact to businesses when Highway 42 is resurfaced in 2019?
Hackbarth: Since the first meeting with the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2010 I have been continuously pushing for a short time frame for the state’s road construction. Years ago I sat in the audience for some DOT planning meetings with the Sister Bay village board, with a goal of observing and learning how to help Gibraltar better navigate the state’s highway work. After many years of asking the right questions, and not accepting No as an answer. I am happy to report that in a meeting on Feb. 22, 2018 with the DOT the current proposed time schedule for road and infrastructure work from the Bank to the YMCA is to begin in March 2019 and conclude road work by Memorial Day. With some work such as sidewalks outside of the road way to be concluded by the end of June. During March, April and May there will be at least one lane open with flagging operations from hill to hill. A section of road which is primarily the hill by the school will be completely shut down for a couple of weeks in April to speed up construction, and will be one lane of traffic the balance of the construction.
Johnson: When dealing with the state, most often the state drives the process. Routing traffic must be coordinated with the state with signage and actual timing to assure the best flow through the village. Communications between the state and town is critical to manage this very disruptive but essential project. Again, when dealing with a project of this magnitude, the state and its contractors will be a challenge and the Gibraltar board needs to have its needs heard and communicated to help the project go as smoothly as possible.
McKesson: The key to mitigating the impact on the downtown district of Fish Creek is planning together and communicating that plan clearly. Close communication is essential, so the town is already planning with the DOT and the Fish Creek Civic Association to develop alternates that make sense, and signage that is clear to citizens and guests alike. People must be made aware that Fish Creek is open for business and can be navigated. Placement of detour signage and information is vital, prior to and within the construction timeframe.
The Gibraltar Town Board meets approximately twice as frequently and meetings last twice as long as other municipalities in Door County. Why do you think that is and do you see this as a good or bad practice?
Hackbarth: This question and the poorly written article about “Marathon meetings now the norm in Gibraltar” by Jackson Parr Nov. 3, 2017 is simply an inexperienced journalist, and the Peninsula Pulses lack of necessary supervision/coaching of a young ambitious writer. While neither seems to be of ill-intent, the paper does create false perceptions with incomplete and inaccurate articles. To address this question and the incomplete article. The frequency and length of the meetings is Not a “practice” of the board. We as a community are going through a growth spurt, functional changes, economic changes, community infrastructure expectations and demands for services of our local government. So like a sprint there are a number of projects to meet about and make decisions on for a short period of time. To correct the Pulses article, the Gibraltar commissions and committees have also been busy working on big projects while the board works on other projects.
As an elected member of the Gibraltar Town Board I feel a responsibility to our community to work hard and carry out the duties of my office to the best of my abilities. If the newspaper believes this to be a subject worth reporting, then they should inform the readers of all the things we have been meeting about, then compare that. The number of things going on in the Town of Gibraltar must be taken into account to put this subject in context. Part of that context I would add that Gibraltar is number one in room tax collection in Door County? (Yes Sturgeon Bay is number two) a vibrant economy does tend to lead to more agenda items at monthly meetings.
So I ask the Peninsula Pulse – given the long list of big projects simultaneously being worked on in Gibraltar by the town board, its commissions and committee’s as it compares to other municipalities in Door County. Why do you not report all of the pertinent facts on this subject and do you see this as a good or bad practice?
Johnson: My main reason for running for the office is primarily because of these issues. While it is necessary to have additional meetings at times, and meetings can run long due to needs, I believe there is no need to lead the county in length and number of meetings. Commissioners and the chair need to have a focus on the agenda, stay on track and contribute without detracting from the meetings objectives. In my personal experience, it takes teamwork to move the agenda along, eliminate thinking aloud, staying on focus, not overworking agenda items with the same discussions over and over, rehashing the same topics. I know at times this can be difficult, but to me there is too much of this which causes meetings to run long. Meeting length distracts from purpose, creates lack of town attendance or wears all the participants down. Meetings lasting too long also create a lack of attention, distraction and loss of direction. Committee input is also important and should be another method to cut down on the lengthy discussions. If elected this area will be my most concerted effort.
McKesson: I feel there are several reasons we have more/longer meetings. First, Gibraltar like other municipalities, is preparing for the resurfacing project of Highway 42. That project naturally takes time and demands meetings with the DOT and other entities. Gibraltar is also mitigating stormwater issues from the park entrance to the YMCA. This area demands additional attention. The second part of this equation is that the town board heard the voice of the people when we worked on the Fish Creek Waterfront Plan. Constituents want Fish Creek to remain the unique, historic community it has always been. Blending the old and new is very important, and we have contracted with SEH to continue helping us design the changes. In doing this the board has solicited input from community members both town and rural to join us. Voters come to the meetings to listen, and to suggest ideas and solutions as we create together. This takes time! Add to this design, a new beach project, again with storm water mitigation, a new parking lot, the creek restoration project, and Spring Road resurfacing; our plates are full. However, I think the products we will have in the end are well worth the time spent.
What future projects in the town are you most excited for? Are there any projects you would like to see the town take up in the future?
Hackbarth: I am excited for the infrastructure improvements from the base of the hill by Homestead to the YMCA. I have fought hard to get this, the DOT said No the first several requests I made many years ago. After many years of fighting for this behind the scenes this was turned into a yes. Soon we will have curb gutter & Sidewalk on both sides of the highway from the base of the hill to the YMCA. Yes Sidewalks in front of the school, Along with two Splitter Island Crosswalks going from the school to the Art School and the other to the YMCA. This will make this area significantly safer for all Gibraltar School Children!
Johnson: The current beach development, walk ways and parking will help the village more readily handle all the traffic and business which is important to the value and opportunity for the town. It is most important to take into consideration the impact on all the development for the entire township not just fish creek. These projects are already well underway. The next biggest items are our roads, maintenance and care of what already exist in the township and are important to all the residents and owners. Budgets: wise use of resources must consider the entire township. We also need to protect our natural resources and be mindful of the impacts of development. There will be more development and the Town needs to create a better relationship with the county which at times seems not to care about the permitting, location and desired zoning in our township. This process of improvement comes through better relations and communications between the county and town. This to me is a very important issue. One that deserves the towns input. All the time spent over the years making an overlay as to what the town wanted is not in many cases heeded by the county. I have written to the county about issues with their permitting process and as a “common” citizen have been ignored. If elected I will do what I can to gain the influence the town deserves.
McKesson: I am very excited about the beach plan that is underway, and of course, the resurfacing project, especially the area around the school, the auditorium, and the YMCA. The addition of sidewalks up the hill and to the “Y” really connects the east side of town to the downtown area and is a great asset in protecting our child and adult population using the facilities available to them. I would like to see the town take an active role in promoting rural internet access and continue to work on attainable housing issues. Both of these are necessary to the township for continued growth.
While consistently the top earner of room tax dollars in the county, Gibraltar has lost approximately one percent of its market share of room tax dollars to other municipalities since 2014. Why do you think that is and what, if anything, do you think town government can do to encourage more visitors to stay in Gibraltar?
Hackbarth: A move of the needle of “approximately one percent” market share over that length of time in any kind of market share conversation can be attributed to a number of factors including anomalies. In 2004 I was the president of the FCCA (the business Association in Gibraltar), so I bring a unique knowledge and experience to the board when it comes to subjects like this. The town government currently reinvests approximately 1/3rd of the room tax revenue back into the FCCA with the goal of both maintaining/growing market share and growing the town’s room tax & commercial property tax revenues which benefits all Gibraltar voters and all property tax payers. We have as a board also been very supportive of the business community, and their efforts to promote Gibraltar. Given that the town does provide the money for a significant part of the FCCA budget we as a board have a fiduciary responsibility for those funds. I annually at the Budget meeting request copies of FCCA financials, review them and ask good financial questions of FCCA leaders at town budget meetings.
Infrastructure is another part of the equation, and I am happy to report that the town has been working tirelessly for the past 8 years on planning significant improvements to the towns infrastructure. During that time we have been doing many things to lay the foundations of success. Thanks to the Vision and leadership of our past Chairman Merkel, the board has been working with a goal of doing a majority of the infrastructure improvements all at the same time, in a short window of time. This will mitigate the impact of construction on business & tourism.
On our current trajectory, in 2020 the town of Gibraltar will be gaining room tax market share. And visitors to the county will be talking about all of the great things going on in Gibraltar. That said I do need your vote to re-elect me to another term so that I may help guide Gibraltar through completion of these projects, my financial experience and study of government finance will help keep our taxes Lower than they might otherwise be.
Johnson: The proposed updates to the town, including the beach, sunset park, lighting, signage in the township and increased parking will add to the attractiveness and growth. About the growth: there are more than just tax dollars to measure growth. There are lots of great restaurants and shops in Fish Creek. There has not been much expansion in the physical size/numbers that I have noted in Fish Creek and the Town. Also, room rates may have an overall impact. There are more than just rooms in the businesses here but also restaurants and shops. One percent is not an overt issue. If it were much greater I would have questions. Like so many thousands and thousands of visitor love Fish Creek and living in the Township. It is a remarkable destination for so many.
McKesson: I think Air B&B’s have changed the landscape somewhat and each community has had growth spurts. But for me this is more of a philosophical question. I think Door County’s gift is that it has a wonderful shoreline with many communities tucked on the shores, that are each a little different. Tourists enjoy experiencing the individual character of each community which is an economic driver. To homogenize the towns and villages and rural areas is a mistake. So, I think keeping Fish Creek and Gibraltar’s individuality is essential. The balance between the business district, the arts, recreation and lodging is vital. The town government needs to be acutely aware and open to possible economic expansion at every turn, but making sure that the development enhances what we already have in place.
Last year, the town came up with a plan to help restore Fish Creek (the creek, not the community). Are there any other natural resource projects you would like to see the town pursue?
Hackbarth: I am championing implementation of the Creek Restoration plan, which we hope to primarily fund with grants. Through starting & continuing to promote a partnership between the Parks & Lands Committee which I chair, and the Planning Commission, I also have been working to expand our invasive specie control efforts within Gibraltar. I aim to preserve and protect our natural environment, and try to be an example within Door County.
Johnson: The old dam upstream needs repair so the water flow can be controlled to some degree. When it was built there was the ability to adjust the level of the watershed and keep water flowing. Now it is frozen in place. Having a cleaning unit to remove sediment from the storm drains needs to be accomplished when the Highway 42 project is underway. The state appears to be managing this. The Fish Creek needs cleanup and scrubbing to keep it free of debris. Owners on the water shed need to keep fertilizers away from run-off areas.
McKesson: The creek restoration plan is a multi-year plan. We just wrote a grant for the first part of the plan and are waiting for response. I would love to see a connection between the school and the creek restoration creating opportunity for children to be part of the solution. Clean water is fundamental and ongoing. I think Gibraltar is on the right track, but I know we will have to be vigilant balancing development and protecting natural resources. I would like the town to pursue a clean, quiet, municipal transportation plan. Moving people easily and quickly within our congested area affects both economic development and quality of life issues.
What aspects of Gibraltar do you believe make it the best for business owners, residents and visitors?
Hackbarth: Three very different groups, with different reasons for each group. Visitors: Gibraltar is centrally located within the northern peninsula, Great Lodging, Great Shopping, Great Dinning and night life. Peninsula State Park, Beaches, Silent Sports, Marina, Airport. Business Owners: With an estimated 180 business’s in Gibraltar we have a vibrant business community lead by the FCCA, and comprised of many successful owners who count the decades they have owned their business. Being a hub for the Arts, Entertainment, Lodging, Shopping and Dinning Gibraltar will continue to be #1 in room tax collection long into the future. Residents: Gibraltar is a great community to live in, so many reasons to live here that I spent years house hunting, as Gibraltar was the number 1 thing on my house shopping priority list. 10 years ago I had the privilege of jumping from renter in Gibraltar to home owner in Gibraltar. Just a few reasons to compliment the aforementioned reasons: the school, the clinic, public safety, location, Low Taxes, and most importantly the Community. I the strong opinions and great community involvement found in Gibraltar, simply put I like the residents and property owners of Gibraltar!
Johnson: Gibraltar has a very interesting history and lots of gathering places to enjoy. Unique galleries, the State Park, restaurants, a variety of interesting shops, walking and biking are what makes Gibraltar a great destination. We need more biking, walking paths and easy to access parking to make our town a destination to enjoy for all that is offered. Currently much of this is in the planning process. We have low taxes compared to our neighbors. We can do much more to enhance the Fish Creek area, keep it interesting and inviting to our visitors. No other village has such a magnificent State Park, or such a unique feel.
McKesson: Its nature, its rural character, and its people are its best qualities. The escarpment leads you down the bluff with just a glimpse of what is to come. You enter into a busy little town nestled next to the blue waters of Green Bay. The beauty of the natural landscape of parks, orchards and fields ripe with fruit creates the harmony that we all feel living here. The people are warm and friendly; a rich and varied population. Gibraltar is a “center”, a center for the arts, theater, music, recreation, shopping, fine dining and lodging. People are drawn to the community for these reasons and for Fish Creek’s commitment to its history. Maintaining these attributes is a significant responsibility.