Sturgeon Bay Common Council Election: District 3 Questionnaire

Sturgeon Bay attorney Sean Linnan has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Drake University and Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from UW – Green Bay. The 43 year-old is married with three children and has held public office on two prior occasions. He said his legal experience will be an asset as a council member.

“As an attorney, I handled high-conflict situations and mediated hundreds of hostile issues creating solutions between the most emotionally invested of parties – a skill which this council desperately needs help with,” he said. “Building consensus between opposing groups is a critical piece of the political process. It doesn’t matter how good the solutions are if the council can’t build consensus or common goals.”

Dan Williams, 70, is the former director of emergency service for Door County who has also worked as a paramedic and as Chief of EMS for the state of Wisconsin. “I have spent my entire life helping and serving the public,” he said. The married father of two adult children has attended more than 2,500 hours of continuing education in EMS management, communications leadership and disaster management. He has also served as president of the Paramedic Systems of Wisconsin and chair of the Wisconsin EMS Advisory Board.

What attributes and skills would you bring to the common council?

Sean Linnan: I am highly experienced in the law and in mediation. Both of these skills are missing from the city council. My primary motivation for running is that I have been disappointed with how a lack of legal knowledge and an inability to resolve conflicts has mired the city Council down- turning short-term disputes into years of stagnation, indecision and lawsuits. Personal differences and politicking have taken a front seat to respectful dialogue and the mutual goal of problem-solving which has left the city a list of unanswered issues for far too long. I have participated in hundreds of mediations over the last 20 years and I have successfully built a 12-person law practice by assisting historically highly-combative parties to come to the table and quickly work out their differences allowing for resolution of old topics.

DW: I have the ability to calmly listen to people, study the facts and figures to make decisions. Now more than ever there is a need to bring civility back to the proceedings of the Common Council. The duty of an alderman is to represent the district and make decisions that are in the best interest of the City in an honest and ethical manner. My work history has centered on leadership of municipalities and businesses. I have the expertise to understand labor agreements, purchasing contracts, development and management of budgets and personnel related matters. I have been requested on many occasions to mediate situations that have split relationships between people, organizations, municipalities and government bodies.

What changes would you suggest, if any, to the way the city conducts council meetings and solicits public input at those meetings?

Sean Linnan:  In a small town there is nothing more critical than allowing people to feel like they have been heard, their opinions considered, and that they are part of the process – especially regarding sensitive marquee or divisive issues.  However, public input/debate must be expedited so that decisions can be made in a matter of weeks, not years. Appointing more volunteer committees to handle larger topics and sift through public input will increase the public’s access while reducing the workload at council meetings.

Sometimes the wishes of our visitors are different that those of the tax paying residents and it’s important to know where support for various plans before the city comes from.

For more routine discussions, I’d suggest an electronic straw poll of residents at random by using an electronic web-based product developed by a LOCAL resident called BALLOT HUT. While currently in beta-test phase, Ballothut is a real-time polling app for your phone or desktop which allows Sturgeon Bay residents to be sent questions and weigh-in on topics before the city council. If the city has a topic they want quick, free feedback the voter would receive a 5 second question asking for a “yes”, “no” , or “not enough information” and the city will receive results capable of being broken down by age, income, proximity to plan, marital status, political leaning, and a host of other factors so that the city knows who is in favor and a good idea as to why or why not.  With this type of real-time feedback, the city will know who needs to be educated further or why people reject various solutions.

What changes would you suggest, if any, to the way the city conducts council meetings and solicits public input at those meetings?

DW: One of the things I frequently hear as I talk with people is their concern over the disrespectful manner in which the members of the Common Council treat each other. Tighter rules for engagement need to be followed and council members need to respect the position they hold. One simple rule; “Treat people the way you would like to be treated”. I do believe that it is important to hear from the public at Council meetings. The current method that allows for a 3-minute time period to state your concerns, is adequate. How individuals have been chosen to be allowed to speak has come under fire and I believe that a reasonable and fair solution can be developed.

Would you change the way the city approaches economic development, and if so, how?

SL:  A successful economic development plan will account for private and public partnerships and investment.  But to have one, we need to build consensus on a coordinated strategy reflecting our values and goals. I would work with Door County Economic Business Development to create a volunteer committee, including local business leaders, and ask them to answer the following 3 questions: 1) Why is it said that “Door County starts in Egg Harbor?” 2) What has been the chief cause of our population decline over the past 30 years and 3) Why do our young families relocate after high school and college? Answering these questions will help Sturgeon Bay formulate a plan for economic and population growth thereby growing the tax base while reducing individual tax liability.

Would you change the way the city approaches economic development, and if so, how?

DW: I believe that the city has done an admirable job regarding economic development. The current partnership with the Door County Economic Development Corporation has produced the expansion and procurement of businesses, new housing developments and overall growth to Sturgeon Bay. However, with the ongoing litigation and divisiveness, it does not appear that we are a progressive community that encourages development. Our vibe is we are closed for business instead of being open for business. Good efforts are currently being made about the activities taking place in Sturgeon Bay. However, I believe that we have to increase our commitment in marketing the City.

How should the city encourage development of more affordable apartments?

SL: The city should be more vocal about what it needs when developers bring their plans. The city has put a call out to our industrial partners to expand their plants and invite new businesses to join our park but has failed to create housing or daycare which these employees desperately need in order to accept employment in Sturgeon Bay. If we prioritize and promote tourism or expansion of the industrial park, we will need to make affordable housing and accessible daycare for 2nd shift or young children a reality. Further, the city should create an aesthetic review board to ensure that proposed apartments fit within our greater plan to beautify the city in recognition of tourism. We’re looking to house our citizens while beautifying our town. We can do both… as many others have.

Affordable housing is a delicate issue for a variety of reasons and our zoning plan should accommodate this need. The city could help by rezoning large parcels to allow for multiple unit housing in a way that wont detract from current property owners and would be sensitive to our city’s aesthetic goals.

DW: We need to work with potential developers to meet the needs of all people in Sturgeon Bay. Noted in the recent study, Door County and specifically Sturgeon Bay has a shortage of workforce rental housing of 330 apartments. There will be a future need of 135 apartments to meet the demand for senior housing. The City needs to be proactive in the consideration of zoning to allow both for future development and to protect the neighborhoods that currently exist. It is my understanding that since the study was released on February 5, 2019 numerous developers have made inquiries to areas available for development. The bottom line is we need to do better and make Sturgeon Bay a place where a young family starting out can afford to work, live and raise their family.  

If the proposed PRAT Tax to fund street improvements does not gain traction in the state legislature, what should the city do to address the state of its crumbling streets?

SL: The PRAT tax MUST work. If we have difficulty at the State, our work is not done. My neighbors cannot afford any new taxes.  Sturgeon Bay is already over-taxed. We already see increased taxes sending our business to other communities and our residents to the other side of the street.  If all else fails, I would get to work finding out how all of the thousands of cities our same size get it done across this country and come up with some sound alternatives.

DW: This is a difficult question. There are many issues facing the city from a budgetary standpoint. It will be extremely difficult to manipulate the budget enough to have a significant impact on the ability to increase road projects. The fact that the city will need to come up with UNBUDGETED funds in the amount of more than 3 million dollars in 2020. will make for tight budgets going forward. This $3 + million debt is the cumulative effect of the lawsuits that the city has been dealt. That amount was bonded for the original westside waterfront development. Instead, the city has had to use that money to defend itself and pay $362,500.00 for the hotel settlement that they had no obligation to pay against the advice of at least 5 attorneys. So, if the PRAT tax does not materialize be prepared for patched roads and not new ones.

What is the biggest opportunity you see for the City of Sturgeon Bay?

SL: As my daughter Ophelia says, “Let’s make Sturgeon Bay the HEART, not just the START… of Door County”. We have a great year-round small town as we have wonderful restaurants, shops, grocery stores, waterfront resorts and services open year-round.  If we could convince tourists that Sturgeon Bay is the heart of Door County, we will reduce our individual tax burdens by growing our population and simultaneously expanding our local economy.

Sturgeon Bay is the only community in the region whose population has actually gone down over the past 30 years. With grown industry and tourism, Sturgeon Bay is poised for population growth. The policies and priorities we adopt will dictate who chooses to move to (or who will stay in) our community. Let’s create policies that bring in people we need to make our city thrive.  Let’s create incentives that will bring in more industrial partners who provide living wages and let’s create daycare/ housing which will meet the needs of young families.

DW: I believe that the City has many opportunities in its future. We have several housing developments that are in progress, with more on the horizon. The Economic Development Corporation is second to none, with the things they are doing to grow Sturgeon Bay. The support given to start up businesses and working with established businesses so that they can prosper and grow. All of this brings very positive energy, which is exciting. We need forward thinking individuals on the City Council that will work for the city and respect the ethical obligations that come with an elected office. We need to show that Sturgeon Bay is OPEN for business.