Voters in the City of Sturgeon Bay got a taste of what five of the six mayoral candidates bring to the leadership table at a forum Jan. 25. The primary is Feb. 16.
The forum, hosted by the Door County League of Women Voters (LWV), featured five of the six registered candidates for mayor. Candidates answered questions posed by the audience and moderated by LWV President Nancy Skadden. Candidate John Williamson did not participate. Questions ranged from how to help the unemployed to whether to allow public comment at the beginning of the council meeting and before discussion of each agenda item, a policty reinstituted by current Mayor Tom Voegele.
“I would keep public comment at the beginning [of the council meeting] as long as it’s about non-agenda items,” said candidate and former mayor Dennis McIntosh. “I checked with the attorney general’s office, and they say agenda items should have a specific sentence for those where [public comment] is applicable. Public comments shouldn’t be personal.”
Candidate and city alderman Thad Birmingham said he would eliminate the general public comment period at the beginning of meetings, but would keep comment available on agenda items. He said he would encourage most business and public participation to occur at city committee meetings.
A newcomer to the political scene, John Wade, said he favored keeping public comment.
“People need to know who we are, and we should be getting to know them,” Wade said. “How can you have an agenda if no one else is allowed to talk?”
Candidates Barbara Allmann and Perry Andropolis also favored keeping public comment during council meetings.
Allmann’s most pressing issue is keeping city residents employed and creating more jobs for those who are not. Second on the list is making high-tech services, such as broadband Internet, more economically feasible for businesses.
“There’s one company in the city that’s budgeting $160,000 a year for communication,” Allmann said. “We have the conduit under the channel that’s not being used.”
Birmingham also promoted job growth and creation in his campaign.
“The city’s done a good job with the tourism piece of pie,” Birmingham said, “but we need manufacturing sector growth. We have the quality of life issues that are attractive to new businesses.”
Additionally, he said the city needs to remain conscious of developments along Egg Harbor road, including improving stormwater management and attracting more bicyclists and pedestrians to the area.
Wade too took up the charge of city employment, referring to firsthand unemployment experience.
“There are almost 1,000 people in this city who don’t have jobs,” Wade said, basing his answer on McIntosh’s citation of the city’s 9.3 percent unemployment rate. “Do you know how hard it is to call unemployment on a Sunday morning and sit on a busy signal for three hours? We need to make sure people who don’t have jobs are living comfortably. After making sure they’re doing the best they can, we then focus on creating jobs.”
Andropolis’ concern for businesses along Third Avenue and the two-way streets issue was prevalent in his forum answers, as was sustainability. When asked what measures he would take to make Sturgeon Bay a sustainable city to live, he called for personal responsibility.
“When you’re boating, you’re responsible for your wake,” Andropolis said. “Sustainability is living your life in a way that leaves no wake behind. There are many examples that show [sustainability] is better in the long term for the economy.”
McIntosh repeatedly referred to accomplishments made during his 2004 – 2006 term as Mayor, such as the city winning arbitration over staff union contracts, completion of the new City Hall, and securing the governor’s support for the Maple Street bridge. He too focused on employment in the city, but through growth.
“We need to grow and develop if we’re going to survive,” McIntosh said. “If you flatline, you’re not going to sustain our way of life, and that will mean more taxes for the people who stay here. We need to grow with more homes. Building will mean more people back to work.”
The most surprising comments of the night came in response to a question about city staff volunteering to forego raises for 2010, and whether other city staff members should do likewise.
Andropolis said if elected, he would “agree to a 10 percent reduction to whatever the mayor is paid.”
McIntosh volunteered his service as mayor.
“I am so committed to this city,” McIntosh said, “that if I’m elected, I won’t take the $12,000 salary. You can take it and use it elsewhere. I would do it as community service.”