Sturgeon Bay voters will narrow the field of candidates from three to two in two common council races in the Feb. 20 primary election.
In District 2 three candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by Ron Vandertie. Two of the candidates are former city representatives. Sixty-four-year-old Bob Starr served as mayor from 1998-2001. A Sturgeon Bay High School graduate, Starr has spent 35 years in real estate and served as President of the Door County Humane Society. He serves on the Plan Commission and Door County Tourism Zone Commission.
John Lodl, 59, is another former alderman (2007-2011) who has also served on the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority. The lifelong Sturgeon Bay resident is also a youth coach and president of Cal Ripken Baseball in the city.
David Hayes is a newcomer to city politics. The 58-year-old has a BA in anthropology, MA in historic geography, and PhD in geography and has spent 25 years in civil service. Hayes served four years in the US Navy and said he has facilitated more than 50 public open houses and public meetings.
In District 6, incumbent Stewart Fett faces a challenge from newcomers Lauri Fish and Seth Wiederanders. Fett, 63, is a Southern Door and NWTC-Green Bay graduate who has been alderman for seven years. Fett also serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Club and is a member of Loaves and Fishes and the Sturgeon Bay Lions Club.
Fish, 51, has a degree in hospitality management and is making her first foray into public politics.
Wiederanders, 45, is a 1991 graduate of Sturgeon Bay High School and board member of the League of Women Voters of Door County. He served on the Lakeshore CAP board from 2009-2016 and is a member of the Community Services Regional Steering Committee, Comprehensive Community Services/Coordinated Services Team, and Children’s Community Options Program Committee.
Why are you the best candidate to serve your district on the Common Council?
Stewart Fett: 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 seven 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 from 2014 through 2017, a 28 percent 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.
I have listened 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.
Bob Starr: I have lived in District 2 for most of my life so am familiar with all the neighborhoods and know many of the folks who live in the district. My political experience taught me much about how to listen and problem solve together with citizens, fellow Alderpersons and city administration. My experience as a Real Estate Broker is mainly helping agents problem solve in real estate transactions every day. I also work with business budgeting and budgets for non-profit organizations as well. Such experience is valuable and necessary to be an effective Alderman for Sturgeon Bay.
David Hayes: Having been in government service over 25 years, I have broad experiences in developing and managing complex, controversial and sensitive issues that required objectivity, patience, and imagination, as well as good listening skills. These qualities are needed in Sturgeon Bay’s current administration. I demonstrated that I can and will work with opposing missions/agendas to create common goals that reach a sustainable long-term result. I listen to all sides of an issue that are shared, I process the facts and filter the opinions. I build coalitions, identify strategies, implement plans and achieve results that the public and administration can understand and support.
Lodl: Because I am a lifelong resident and because I have council experience, because I was on the council when the Westside Waterfront TIF district was established and because I am not a chosen or persuaded candidate, I feel I can objectively listen and use common sense in restoring some integrity and civility to our city government. Lastly I will represent all the Taxpayers of Sturgeon Bay: that’s why I feel I’m the best Candidate.
Seth Wiederanders: I will bring a different perspective to the Council. My years of work as an employee at JAKs Place, a Mental Health Drop in Center in Sturgeon Bay, and more recently as a Certified Peer Specialist for Lakeshore CAP, have given me experience working with people that might otherwise be overlooked. I believe that everyone deserves to have their voice heard and to be represented in local government. I believe I have the right qualities and real life experience to effectively represent District 6.
Lauri Fish: In my current role as VP of operations for the Better World Club and as bookkeeper for small businesses I have the right skill set to make financially responsible decisions. My convictions regarding sustainability are also well suited for our community which is located in a geographic location with unique opportunities. I am a great team player but will not be bullied or forced into decisions that I don’t believe in. I’m looking forward to serving as alderperson for District 6.
- If the city is unable to enact a Premier Resort Area Tax to pay for street improvements, what mechanism would you support to pay for improvements?
Stewart Fett: Funding street and sidewalk improvements is challenging. Using debt is essentially the same as raising property taxes; special charges like wheel taxes are an option, but only apply to the people who have vehicles registered in the city. Cutting other programs to pay for streets is difficult as well; as the amount of money needed is significant and cutting programs has negative effects elsewhere.
The citizens will have an opportunity to vote on this issue at the spring election if the tax referendum is passed, the Governor has to okay it. One thing also to keep in mind is our major tax contributors are manufacturing and tourism. If this method of paying for our infrastructure upgrade is not passed and approved, we will have to explore other financial options.
Bob Starr: Should voters reject the Premier Resort Area Tax, the vehicle registration fee or wheel tax would be the next best way to provide additional funds for road maintenance. However, it would generate about half the monies that would likely be generated through the Premier Resort Area Tax. The benefit of the Premier Resort Area Tax is it allows visiting tourists to contribute about 50 percent of the funds raised annually. I support the Premier Resort Area Tax as the best way for the roads of Sturgeon Bay to improve as quickly as possible.
David Hayes: Raising taxes should always be the last option. State and Federal Highway Administrations are frequently looking for projects where they test new products and asphalt mixes. I will seek these opportunities for future road improvement projects. I will also review existing contracts and ensure future road contracts address the primary and secondary impacts to the environment, the community, and existing infrastructure. I’ve seen many projects that just rebuild the road but fail to correct the issues that caused the roads to decline such as poor stormwater management, misdiagnosed geologic substrata (what the asphalt lies upon), or improper superelevation (the direction the road slopes – is it flat, slopes to the left or the right).
Seth Wiederanders: This is a tough question. I think the PRAT tax is the way to go but as I understand it it will be a long process. A wheel tax would draw from a much smaller pool of money and wouldn’t include tourist dollars. If the PRAT tax fails I would be in favor of trying just about anything other than taking out loans. We should be able to figure this out, not leave it to future generations to pay for.
Lauri Fish: I am against the wheel tax, which will put all the funding on the backs of the year round residents here. I will look for other avenues we can implement that will minimize the financial impact on those residents, including state and federal grant programs we may be eligible for. I would also research similar communities and how they’ve dealt with this issue and support ongoing efforts by the road committee.
John Lodl: The City of Sturgeon Bay has already approved the process of short term borrowing for some of the improvements that will take place. Obviously the time table of implementation of a plan would be adjusted. It would not be the end of the world if the PRAT would not pass. Funds would have to be found from other sources that may be less taxing. We will improve our infrastructure.
- What issue deserves more attention from the Common Council, and how do you think it should be addressed?
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 rate of children who qualify for free or subsidized lunch. To provide these 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. The city must continue to address the housing shortage.
Bob Starr: From when I was in city government during the 1990’s, the City Council has shifted slightly as a way of operating. We would have longer Council meetings so as to provide ample time for discussion of items. The public therefore always knew the opinions of the Alderpersons and the Mayor as a result. More recently, I have felt the public may not have a full and balanced reflection of Council views as most discussion is done at committee level. I would encourage the Council members to be more explanatory during Council meetings, always remembering that the viewers and interested public may not understand what all was discussed at committee meetings. It’s important for the public to know all issues are explored, discussed and researched so that the best decisions are made on their behalf.
David Hayes: The issues before the Common Council are not that complicated or complex by themselves. What’s happened is, the Alderspersons and the mayor have created an environment where it is stressful to discuss, listen and process the issues, the issues contexts and the issues root causes. So, I don’t think the issues deserve more or less attention, what they deserve is; fair and un-biased representation before the Common Council; an appropriate amount of time to discuss openly; non-threatening public engagement; and common-sense decision-making that is shared with and understood by everyone including the public.
Seth Wiederanders: I think we all need to come together to figure out how to draw more young people to our city. To do that we need living wage jobs, excellent services and schools, and affordable housing. Young, working professionals and laborers are the future of Sturgeon Bay. We need Sturgeon Bay to be not just a beautiful place to live but a place that is attractive to young people.
Lauri Fish: Housing is probably the biggest issue I hear about. The shortage of available rental inventory has driven prices up. The best way to stabilize this problem is with more inventory. I’ve heard many great ideas on how to implement that, including multi-generational housing, incentives to residents who add auxiliary housing on their property and remodeling existing buildings. We should also look at regulations of vacation rentals, especially properties being used exclusively for short term rental such as AirBnB and VRBO.
John Lodl: More attention than what??? City hall has been a pretty conservative and responsible place for the most part. Can it improve? Sure it can. And in time will. Our city budget and comprehensive plan are very important. We have a good thing going in Sturgeon Bay and we need to keep the rope pulling in a positive direction. Time to embrace the great place we live in.
- Do you believe city government needs to repair its relationship with residents, and if so, how would you recommend doing so?
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. Residents can now watch a council or plan commission meeting from the comfort of their own home, via either the City’s cable access channel, live streaming on the City’s website.
Minutes and recorded meetings are posted on the website as well and current updates are given via 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.
Civility is an important factor if strong commitments and ideas are going to be communicated and considered.
Bob Starr: Similar to National and State politics, there does seem to be a divide among the population of the city at this time. More listening, explanation and discussion at City Council should help to allow citizens to understand better the decisions made on their behalf. There are no party Democrats or Republicans on City Council, just elected citizens who want the best for Sturgeon Bay and I would hope to bring a level of healing to that government body.
David Hayes: Yes. Everything I recommend is to renew the trust between the residents and City Administration/Common Council.
Immediate steps should be: allowing public comment during the Common Council meetings; having set office times for public listening sessions – these would get the most benefit when more than one Alderperson attends and when the Alderpersons don’t share the same desired outcome (assuming their opinion has already formed); and a published letter to the residents from the Mayor simply stating what is being discussed/researched/planned in the last week and in the upcoming week – this would allow the Mayor to release decisions on issues facing the City.
Intermediate and Long-Range steps should be: review all committees/authorities and ask, what is the value added with their current structure and membership; review all out-sourced contracts, and determine the efficiency and objectivity of the results; review or create a Sturgeon Bay Position Management Plan, that looks at each position in the administration and asks for the value added, the effectiveness and interrelationship of each position; finally, create a Sturgeon Bay Days to celebrate who we are. There are many festivals for our guests – we need to celebrate who we are as a community – celebrate our diverse history – celebrate our shared future – celebrate our leaders – celebrate our citizenship. I chose to move here after looking at towns in New York, Florida, California, and New Mexico. I chose Sturgeon Bay because it feels like home to me and I want every citizen to have that feeling – a place to call home, a place where you trust your city officials and can talk to them openly, a place that has tons of fresh air and the sounds of seagulls and bridge whistles and children screaming at each other at the playground and tugboats. That’s a Sturgeon Bay I want to be part of.
Seth Wiederanders: People are not happy with many of the recent decisions made by our Common Council. It seems that we have been misrepresented and that decisions have been made behind closed doors. Residents should be encouraged to organize and express opinions at Council meetings and ask for further investigation into policy matters that affect us. I think that meetings should be held at times that are convenient for working people to attend. I believe that to repair its relationship with the residents city government needs to be open and accessible. City government needs to be reminded that it exists to serve the people.
Lauri Fish: Residents feel they’re not being heard. City government definitely needs to repair its relationship with the community and it’s not that hard to do if we have open dialogue and respect for each others’ opinions and ideas.
John Lodl: I’m not going to claim what percent of residents need relationship repair. If we look at the whole picture there is a lot of satisfaction in what the city provides its residents. There is plenty of room for both sides to handle themselves and actions in a better way. Time to move forward!