Six candidates—including three incumbents—are running for three Janesville City Council seats this spring.
Council Vice President Rich Gruber and members Paul Williams and Jens Jorgensen are running to stay on the council. They’ll go up against Jeffrey Navarro, Harry Paulsen and Jason Davis. The top three vote-getters will serve on the council.
James Foss took out nomination papers but didn’t turn them in before deadline, said Dave Godek, city clerk/treasurer.
Gruber said Janesville has a lot of momentum with some recent big accomplishments in its pocket, and he would like to be involved to continue that, he said.
“To continue that momentum, I think it’s important there be some continuity,” and Gruber said he can be part of that continuity.
The council and city have done “remarkable” things in the past few years, from bringing in businesses and family-supporting jobs to making significant advances downtown, he said.
“There’s so much more we can accomplish,” Gruber said. “I’ve been behind it, and I want to stay in front of it.”
Gruber was appointed to the council in 2015 and was elected the following year.
Williams is a Janesville native who has lived in the city his whole life, and he brings plenty of council and committee experience to the table, he said.
Williams enjoys the job of being a council member and the work and research it takes to make tough decisions. Williams always explains his thinking when voting on controversial topics, “and I feel that’s important,” he said.
“I always try to do what I feel is best for the city as a whole,” Williams said.
Williams served on the city council from 2000-08 and took a hiatus before being re-elected in 2016.
Jorgensen was elected to the council in 2016. Having served only one term, “there’s s till a lot of things I’d love to do,” Jorgensen said.
His first year on the council was learning how it operates and its ins and outs, and his second year allowed Jorgensen to start working on his goals. Now that he knows how the council works, he’s more effective at doing the people’s will, Jorgensen said.
“I look forward to another term,” he said. “There’s just so much left to do.”
Navarro ran unsuccessfully for Janesville City Council last year, earning the second-lowest number of votes in the nine-person race.
But that’s not stopping him from giving it another go.
Navarro wants to make sure the Monterey Dam stays or that it is properly removed if it has to come out. That includes properly restoring any affected shoreline.
He wants to make sure ARISE isn’t doing anything frivolous or spending money needlessly.
He would like to see more businesses occupy vacant storefronts downtown and a grocery store in the food desert on Janesville’s south side.
Navarro is a member of the Monterey Dam Association, a nonprofit group fighting to keep the Monterey Dam that has expressed distrust in the city. That distrust isn’t one of Navarro’s motivating factors in running, he said.
“I’m sure the people in city are doing the best they can, and they’re very sincere,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that are done wrong, can be done better or can be fixed.”
Paulsen is another Monterey Dam Association member who says it’s “time for a change.”
Paulsen wants to put an end to the “rubber stamping” of anything the city manager wants done, he said. He would also like to stop the city from overspending on projects such as ARISE and economic development such as SHINE, he said.
What convinced Paulsen to run was when the city council recently approved the city’s strategic plan by consent and with minimal discussion.
Paulsen also has concerns the Monterey Dam project will cost much more than estimated and that nearby contaminated sediment won’t be properly handled, he said.
Davis is a former chairman of the African-American Advisory Liaison Committee to the Janesville Police Department and runs Rock County Cares, an organization that aims to bring people together through community involvement.
Davis has lived in Janesville his whole life and has deep connections with those who live here, he said. He believes the city’s welfare depends on the leadership the Janesville City Council provides.
Davis said he has spoken to hundreds of residents, and several of them care about “small issues,” such as leaf collection. Davis is running because he wants to take care of people and their problems, big or small, he said.
Davis has no public office experience but has been doing private work such as fundraisers and food drives for a long time, he said.
The Janesville police force will increase by two officers starting Wednesday, the first increase in 13 years.
One result should be shorter response times for non-emergencies when the officers start patrolling this spring.
Police Chief Dave Moore said two officers will be assigned to second shift, which starts at 3 p.m. It’s a busy shift, Moore said, but if it appears later that help is needed elsewhere, those officers’ hours could be changed.
Janesville police are “very good” at getting to emergencies, Moore said, but response times for things such as barking dogs, loud parties or abandoned vehicles tend to be slower.
“While those are not emergencies, it’s certainly important for those citizens when they call the police,” Moore said. “At times, people just need to wait.”
Moore said people often come to the lobby of the police department, expecting to see an officer right away, but they can wait up to two hours, depending on how busy officers are on that particular shift.
Sometimes, they are sent home to wait for an officer.
Janesville police have had 102 sworn officers since 2013. The new officers will bring that total to 104.
The department is hiring seven new officers in total. Five of those are replacing officers who retired or are leaving for other opportunities, Moore said.
One of the new officers must complete four months at the academy before field training.
Two of the new hires come from other police departments and one from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. Three more have finished the police academy.
Those six will be ready for patrol once they finish field training in May, Moore said.
Moore said the city is fortunate to hire experienced officers, in part because the city provides pay and benefits while recruits are in the academy.
The city council gave Moore funding for three new officers, but Moore said he plans to hire two officers and use the rest of the money to bolster his overtime budget.
“This allows us to put resources almost with pinpoint accuracy when and where we need them,” Moore said, citing the nine-day hunt for Joseph Jakubowski last April as one of those unexpected times when overtime funding helped the department focus on a high-demand incident.
Moore said if the extra money is not needed for overtime in 2018, he might hire a new officer next year or earlier.
Moore has been pushing for years for an increase, and it appears he will continue to do so.
“Even with the additional funding for police officers in 2018, JPD is still well behind the officer-per-citizen ratio as compared to our peer cities,” Moore said in an email.
“Just to get to average, we would need to hire 15 police officers,” Moore continued. “Additionally, our officers wish to provide—and our citizens have come to expect—a high level of police service. With our current staffing, it is difficult to provide a quick response to low-level calls for service, increased traffic enforcement, patrols on our bike trails or preventative community policing in our neighborhoods.”
Among the officers leaving, two wanted regular Monday-Friday day-shift hours, something Moore couldn’t offer.
Moore said he supports their decisions.
“If we are not a good fit, I respect they want to move on to something different,” Moore said.
The desire for regular hours as a reason to leave police work is unusual but appears to be a trend, Moore said.
“I talk to chiefs all over the nation, and they’re seeing the same thing.”
Another officer who is leaving and his family had concerns about officer safety, given homicides of officers around the country in recent years, Moore said.
As of Thursday, 128 officers had died in the line of duty in 2017, with 44 shot and killed, according to data released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, as reported in USA Today.
The number of deaths is down 10 percent from 2016, when 143 officers died on duty, 66 of those from gunfire.
The 2017 death toll was the second-lowest in five decades. The lowest was in 2013, which saw 116 deaths.