Spring 2014 Election

Six seeking four seats on Milton City Council

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MILTON—The rubber has literally hit the road on the Highway 26 bypass, and its first impacts—driver confusion and a hit to commerce for some local businesses—have begun to reverberate in Milton.

At the same time, some glimmerings of an economic recovery are bringing prospects of business expansion and development interest to Milton's east side. West of town, California developer Bill Watson has hit up the city on an audacious and mysterious plan to bring a new highway interchange, a large industrial development and a potential annexation deal along County M and Interstate 90/39.

Amid that turbulence, four Milton City Council seats are up for election April 1. Six candidates are running.

Incumbents David Adams, Nancy Lader, Theresa Rusch and Maxine Striegl are defending their seats. They face challengers Lynda Clark, a former two-term veteran on the city council; and newcomer Larry Laehn, who is looking to make the jump from local volunteer to elected office.

The Gazette asked candidates the following questions:

Q: Why are you running for city council?

Adams: Over the last few years, I've seen the council change from a strictly reactive, bottom-line-oriented council to a really progressive, forward-thinking, forward-planning council. The next two years are going to be really vital, with a lot of new programs and things coming. I'd like to contribute to that.

I believe my many years in production management and planning will continue to be a positive asset to the council in making decisions that will affect the future of Milton.

Clark: I'm very serious about the growth in the city being organized. I don't like sporadic things coming up. I believe Milton is now and has always has been in a position to be selective in how they want their city to be, whether it be an industry or a residential district or a downtown business.

Lader: Milton is a wonderful small city that I want to encourage to grow in the manner described in the City of Milton Comprehensive Plan. That speaks of a desire to maintain a friendly small town vision. I want to encourage the TIF funding for the East Side Industrial Park for job growth in keeping with our progressive, small-town employment ideal.

Laehn: I want to build on what already is here in Milton. I could bring education and work experience. I work in human resources. I know what it's like to be a small businessman and work for a large company of 1,000 or 2,000 people. It's tough to balance historic Milton with progressive Milton. I felt like I wanted to step up to the plate.

Rusch: I wanted to make sure we're continuing to go forward with economic development, and be a part of it. I know there's been a great deal of frustration and disagreement about how to go about that, particularly with issues associated with County M and the potential for a large business park there. I think there are a variety of ways to attract businesses in a lot of areas. We need to look at all of the issues that can benefit or hurt economic growth in those areas.

Striegl: We've been in bad need with our services. I'm very concerned about our fire department. I want to see that they get what they need. Their building on Madison Avenue is deteriorating. You can't have people risking their lives and not have proper equipment and proper facilities.

Q: What's the biggest immediate issue or challenge the city faces amid the new Highway 26 bypass? 

Adams: The most immediate need is development of the area just west of Highway 26, the commercial property. We need to promote not just that we have land, we need to decide the businesses we want, and we need to actively recruit those businesses.

Clark: We could have been and need to be more proactive about what we were doing preparing for traffic changes. I knew we'd have increased traffic along Parkview Drive and at Madison Avenue and John Paul Road, where we now need a four-way traffic stop. I understand the importance of the Goodrich square program. We need to direct people to come to downtown, to be able to find things like the Milton House.

Lader: There is still a lack of visible, clear signage that the (state) DOT is dawdling on helping get posted.  Milton does not want as much signage as the Dells, but in fairness to all small businesses, Milton needs more and bigger signs for commerce, schools, BTC, the Gathering Place and campers.

Laehn: Our goal as a city is to figure out how to get people to stop, perhaps working on getting the city's own signage, making it a destination. We have to figure out how we can build off the bypass as an opportunity. We have places people would want to go, and it isn't like the traffic moved 20 miles away. It's right there.

Rusch: Right now it's signage. Getting people to know where to go, how to get there. I know many people and the chamber are frustrated with the lack of signage and rightly so. People sail right by Milton and don't know it's there.

Striegl: Some signs are up there. There isn't anything we can do anymore. They sidetracked us, and we've got to accept it. We've got to get more sings out there and attract more traffic. That's about all we can do.

Q: What do you think of Bill Watson's proposals for an industrial park proposal, an interchange and annexation into Milton? Have the city and the council handled those proposals properly?

Adams: The council has reacted correctly. We've had a special listening session. What alarms me is he's proposing an idea with no details. He's been reluctant to give us details. He keeps pushing this gravel mining. That's a red flag. I don't trust the guy to develop what he says he's going to do. If I don't trust a guy, I don't want to do business with him. 

Clark: The process is different than what the city's done in the past for industrial growth. I think the mayor (Brett Frazier) was aggressive in what he did. Opening the can of worms was a good thing. On the other hand, I feel it was something that should have first gone to council for a little more discussion. Otherwise, you're blindsided.

Lader: Before the towns of Milton and Fulton could answer his first proposal, Mr. Watson moved on to the city of Milton. Before Milton could read his annexation request, he moved on to Janesville. There's nothing in writing for the city to review. Until there is a written annexation proposal presented to the city of Milton, there is no issue.

Laehn: The council was as open as it could be. The big key is it seems there's a lot of information floating around and a not much clarification. Mr. Watson owes people clarification. Even if the interchange is built, there's an awful lot of shovel-ready parcels in Rock County that don't have business. Why is that?

Rusch: The council didn't even know the proposal, the details, and what it entailed. It came to the towns first, and it became news. There was a great deal of feelings out there before we had a chance to discuss anything. The order in which it took place made everything look worse than it may have been.

Striegl: We have nothing in writing, and we have no proposed pan. I don't see we could do anything more that what we've done. We've just had a lot of talk. Until you have something in black and white, how can you make any decisions?

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