The six candidates running for Janesville City Council gave city staff grades ranging from A to C during a forum Thursday, with the three incumbents offering the highest praise.
Incumbents Rich Gruber, Paul Williams and Jens Jorgensen are seeking re-election. Newcomers Harry Paulsen and Jason Davis also are running, and Jeff Navarro is on his second try for council.
The candidates also discussed diversity and future projects during the forum, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Hedberg Public Library. Each candidate was given a minute to respond to several questions, including some from the audience.
Q: How would you grade the city manager and staff and why?
A: Paulsen gave them a C+. They’re not as responsive to residents’ concerns as they should be, sometimes ignoring residents entirely, Paulsen said.
Navarro gave staff an A and the city manager a C. He’s concerned about the accuracy of information coming out and the transparency of City Hall.
Davis gave them a solid B. Janesville is moving forward, but not always in the directions many in the community would aim toward. With the right direction, they could get an A, he said.
Gruber gave them an A-. Looking at the key metrics the city uses to measure progress, there aren’t many areas that residents could seriously complain about, he said.
“We’re doing some remarkable things on constrained resources,” Gruber said.
Williams gave staff an A+ and the city manager an A-. The city employs some of the greatest workers a city could have, and many of them stay with the city for decades, he said.
Jorgensen said it’s hard to grade such a large body, but overall, they deserve an A.
Q: What are the most important challenges facing the city, and how should the city address them?
A: Several candidates mentioned the importance of developing Janesville’s south side.
Jorgensen said he’s trying to start a south-side business coalition.
“The south side of Janesville is something that I hear about every day,” Davis said.
Navarro said the food desert on the south side needs to be addressed. The city could apply for grants to help get a farmers market or grocer in the area, he said.
Paulsen said it’s important to plan how to recruit and where to put incoming businesses.
Public safety, finances, infrastructure and economic development are the most crucial issues to focus on, Gruber said. If the city concentrates on those, “we’re going to succeed,” he said.
Williams said it’s important to redevelop the former General Motors property and fix the formula that determines how much state-shared revenue Janesville gets, which isn’t much.
“Janesville taxpayers are really getting the short end of the stick,” he said.
Q: What more can the city do to welcome other cultures and encourage diversity?
A: Davis, the sole black candidate running for council, said he was impressed with the council’s recent vote to move a temporary polling place out of the Janesville Police Department. However, he said he was disappointed the council voted to change the location out of convenience and didn’t realize what people’s real concerns were.
Gruber said Janesville is headed in the right direction. He applauded the police department’s progressive mindset, including its diversity training and its African American Liaison Advisory Committee.
Williams said the city is doing a good job but could do more. The police and fire departments have had a difficult time hiring people from diverse backgrounds. Such employees help because minorities’ first contact with the city might be through the police or fire departments, Williams said.
Navarro said all people are the same deep down, but we can celebrate our physical differences. What helps is education and identifying the groups that are feeling left out and finding out why, he said.
The city has different committees that promote diversity, Paulsen said. People can improve relations with other cultures by talking to and learning from them, he said.
Jorgensen agreed that open, honest and compassionate conversations help. Great things happen when people step outside their comfort zones, he said.
Q: What’s your assessment of downtown development, and what should be the next step?
A: Lots of good changes have occurred, including removing the downtown parking plaza over the Rock River, Williams said. The city needs to fill vacant properties, especially along Milwaukee Street, he said.
“We still have a long way to go,” Williams said.
Davis said any time Janesville progresses, it’s good. He wonders, however, where the city is headed regarding areas that appear to be ignored, such as the south side and the Fourth Ward.
“There’s a lot of things we could look at that could help the redevelopment of Janesville,” he said, mentioning areas outside the downtown.
Jorgensen said he’s proud of how well the council, city and other groups are working together toward a shared goal. He wants those relationships to grow.
Gruber agreed, saying the private sector has contributed time, talent and treasure toward downtown redevelopment. What’s good for the heart of the city eventually will be good for the rest of the city, including the south side and Fourth Ward, Gruber said.
Paulsen said the city should try to attract well-known businesses to downtown to entice shoppers. He commended the remodeling some downtown buildings have undergone to make them more attractive.
Navarro said the city needs to work with both building owners and business owners to take care of vacant buildings and get the most bang for its buck. The city should streamline its permitting process as well, he said.
First responders thought Mike Ehlers was dead when they arrived at the scene of a crash in 2016.
Ehlers’ car had hit the rear of a school bus on Highway 14, crushing his body and vehicle underneath the bus.
Before the MD-1 program came to Mercyhealth, Ehlers said he probably would have died at the scene.
Since MD-1 started in 2013, Rock County first responders have seen an increase in on-scene resuscitation and more cases of cardiac arrest survival, said Dr. Jay MacNeal, director of emergency medicine at Mercyhealth.
“When the officer did a 360 around the vehicle, he stuck his head in the window, and I said hello,” Ehlers recalled in an interview. The officer then yelled, “We need to get him out now! He is alive!”
The MD-1 physician gave Ehlers ketamine to keep him unconscious while he was extracted from his car.
As MacNeal held the cake for a photo at Mercyhealth’s five-year celebration of MD-1 on Thursday, he noted the cake-cutting experience he has gained at birthday parties for his four children.
The MD-1 program is like MacNeal’s fifth child. He was instrumental in bringing it to Mercyhealth and has watched it grow over the last five years.
He even designed MD-1’s sport utility vehicles, right down to the color of their antennas.
MacNeal worked in emergency field vehicles during a fellowship at Yale University, and they inspired him to create MD-1. The program has standardized training and protocol for EMS organizations across its coverage area, MacNeal said, making it easier for first responders from different communities to work together.
The MD-1 program consists of seven physicians and seven vehicles across Rock and Walworth counties and Winnebago County in Illinois, MacNeal said.
Unlike ambulances, MD-1 vehicles do not transport patients. The units are called whenever first responders need additional or advanced help on the scene of an emergency, he said.
Program physicians are trained in emergency medicine and can provide care that an EMT or paramedic cannot provide.
MD-1 vehicles carry all the equipment of an ambulance and then some, including ultrasound equipment, advanced medications and full radio communication equipment for Illinois and Wisconsin.
The physicians make themselves available to answer questions from first responders and act as a 24-hour resource center in the field. That helps the nearest hospital emergency room because those doctors would otherwise have to answer those questions, MacNeal said.
“(MD-1) takes the knowledge of the field into the hospital and the hospital into the field,” he said.
MD-1’s services are free to patients. Mercyhealth funds the program as a community service, MacNeal said.
Ehlers volunteered as an EMT for the Footville Fire Department for nine years before stepping down for family reasons. He said MD-1 was a “huge help” to him as an EMT, especially in Footville, where the fire department offers only basic services.
Besides helping patients, MD-1 physicians also can evaluate firefighters and first responders on the scene and make them go home or to the hospital when needed, Ehlers said.
That helps emergency responders stay at their jobs longer because they aren’t working to exhaustion, he said.
It also allows people such as Ehlers to continue helping the community.
“(I) always wanted to help people, show up on the day when they’re at their worst and leave without them realizing who I was,” he said.
President Donald Trump declared Thursday the U.S. will impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, escalating tensions with China and other trading partners and raising the prospect of higher prices for American consumers and companies.
With “trade war” talk in the air, stocks closed sharply lower on Wall Street.
Trump said firm action was crucial to protect U.S. industry from unfair competition and to bolster national security. However, his announcement came only after an intense internal White House debate. It brought harsh criticism from some Republicans and roiled financial markets with concerns about economic ramifications.
Overseas, Trump’s words brought a stinging rebuke from the president of the European Commission. Though the president generally focuses on China in his trade complaining, it was the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker who denounced his plan as “a blatant intervention to protect U.S. domestic industry.”
Juncker said the EU would take retaliatory action if Trump followed through.
Canada, the largest source of steel and aluminum imports in the U.S., said it would “take responsive measures” to defend its trade interests and workers if restrictions were imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum products.
Trump, who has long railed against what he deems unfair trade practices by China and others, summoned steel and aluminum executives to the White House and said next week he would levy penalties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports. The tariffs, he said, would remain for “a long period of time,” but it was not immediately clear if certain trading partners would be exempt.
“What’s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful. It’s disgraceful,” Trump told the executives in the Cabinet Room. “When it comes to a time when our country can’t make aluminum and steel ... you almost don’t have much of a country.”
The president added: “You will have protection for the first time in a long while, and you’re going to regrow your industries. That’s all I’m asking. You have to regrow your industries.”
Increased foreign production, especially by China, has driven down prices and hurt U.S. producers, creating a situation the Commerce Department has called a national security threat.
However, critics raised the specter of a trade war, suggesting other countries will retaliate or use national security as a reason to impose trade penalties of their own.
Trump’s move will likely raise steel and aluminum prices here. That’s good for U.S. manufacturers. But it’s bad for companies that use the metals, and it prompted warnings from industries ranging from tool and dye makers to beer distributors to manufacturers of air conditioners. The American International Automobile Dealers Association warned it would drive prices up “substantially.”
“This is going to have fallout on our downstream suppliers, particularly in the automotive, machinery and aircraft sectors,” said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade official who is now vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. “What benefits one industry can hurt another. What saves one job can jeopardize another.”
Steel-consuming companies said steel tariffs imposed in 2002 by President George W. Bush ended up wiping out 200,000 U.S. jobs.
The decision had been strenuously debated within the White House, with such top officials as economic adviser Gary Cohn and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis raising concerns.
The penalties were pushed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, an economist who has favored taking aggressive action.
Mattis, in a memo to Commerce, said U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum represent about 3 percent of U.S. production and that the department was “concerned about the negative impact on our key allies” of any tariffs. He added that targeted tariffs would be preferable to global quotas or tariffs.
Plans for Trump to make an announcement were thrown into doubt for a time because of the internal divisions. The actual event caught some top White House officials off guard and left aides scrambling for details. Key Senate offices also did not receive advance notice.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the decision “shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone,” noting that the president had been talking about it “for decades.”
But some Republicans in Congress were plainly upset.
“The president is proposing a massive tax increase on American families. Protectionism is weak, not strong,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. “You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one.”
GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, “Every time you do this, you get a retaliation, and agriculture is the No. 1 target.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said through a spokesman he hoped Trump would “consider the unintended consequences of this idea and look at other approaches before moving forward.”
Trump met with more than a dozen executives, including representatives from U.S. Steel Corp., Arcelor Mittal, Nucor, JW Aluminum and Century Aluminum. The industry leaders urged Trump to act, saying they had been unfairly hurt by a glut of imports.
“We are not protectionist. We want a level playing field,” said Dave Burritt, president and chief executive officer at U.S. Steel.
Trump last year ordered an investigation into whether aluminum and steel imports posed a threat to national defense. Ross said last month that the imports “threaten to impair our national security,” noting, for example, that only one U.S. company now produces a high-quality aluminum alloy needed for military aircraft.
Under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the president has the authority to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs if a Commerce Department investigation finds a national security threat.
Commerce recommended a number of options. The president’s plan is more stringent than any of them.
It was the latest move by the president to engage in trade actions after campaigning to revitalize the “forgotten” workers of the country. Trump earlier raised duties on Chinese-made washing machines, solar modules and some aluminum and steel products to offset what he said were improper subsidies.
Local • 3A, 5A
Commission tosses complaint
The Janesville Police and Fire Commission on Thursday threw out a malfeasance complaint against Janesville Fire Chief Randy Banker, saying the former employee who made the complaint didn’t provide enough evidence to prove wrongdoing. Donald “Jeff” Bowen filed the charges last year against Banker, Janesville Fire Marshal Sue North and Janesville Fire Department union President Lt. Paul VerHalen. Bowen, a former Janesville Fire Department fire inspector, claimed the men lied in retaliation for Bowen saying unfavorable things about Banker’s leadership in an exit interview last year with Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag.
State • 2A
Walker shifts on gun laws
Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican with an A rating from the National Rifle Association for his supporting pro-gun measures, is shifting his approach following the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school. Walker opposes proposals to arm teachers and said he’s working with lawmakers on legislation for this spring. Walker said he hopes for moves similar to measures put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks that increased airport safety.