Janesville34.2°

Crowded field for council

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Ann Fiore
Marcia Nelesen
January 3, 2008
— Three open seats on the Janesville City Council—and no incumbents seeking reelection—have lured 11 residents to run in the April council race.

The city clerk's office confirmed the signatures on nine sets of nomination papers Wednesday. They were continuing this morning to check on the signatures of the papers filed late Wednesday by Kelly O'Brien and Kevin Bishop.


The last time Wulf can remember so many candidates was when 10 ran for four open seats in 2001.


Because of the large candidate field, the council will meet at 6 p.m. Monday to decide whether to hold a primary election, council President George Brunner said.


State statutes are "very permissive" on the issue of primaries, Brunner said. If more than two people are seeking each seat, the city may hold a primary but isn't required to do so. If one were held, the top six vote getters would advance to the general election in April.


Brunner said that as far as he knew, the city had not scheduled a council primary in 40 years.


The cost would be minimal because the primary would be Feb. 19, the day of the presidential primary.


The candidates are:


Kevin Bishop, 49, 1602 Liberty Lane, is an assembler at Fairbanks-Morse in Beloit. He has worked there for 29 years.

Bishop wants to see the city continue to grow at a reasonable pace.


Janesville is the "gateway to Wisconsin," he said. "It's a great place for businesses to locate."


Bishop said he would encourage more public input if he were on the council.


"I'd like to make sure everyone has their voices heard and that we look at everything from top to bottom," he said.


He thinks the city could use more family-friendly activities, but he hasn't made up his mind about the aquatics issue.


K. Andreah Briarmoon, 55, of 339 S. Locust St., is self-employed as Briarmoon Enterprises since 1990 for residential and commercial real estate services.

Briarmoon has attended most council meetings over the last couple years, and this is the fourth time she is running for council. She said she has board experience on a national, state, and county level.


"I believe that we have to repair our checks and balances so that democracy functions properly once again so that the citizens have a real voice and that their input and priorities are the agenda for our city administration," she said.


Briarmoon said the city needs more openness with the budget process, better input procedures for the general public, every city council meeting televised, "much more" disclosure of city information on the city's Web site, ward supervisors, a repaired and functioning citizen board of appeals and a citizen nomination committee so that the city administration is not choosing citizens that oversee him.


"Then we can maximize the wonderful potential of Janesville," she said, "and make it an even better city than it already is."


Karl Dommershausen, 65, of 2419 Plymouth Ave., owns 27 West Appraisal and Estate services. Dommershausen ran unsuccessfully for council last year.

Dommershausen, who attends most council meetings, said the budget is his priority.


"Everything I am uncomfortable with goes to the budget," he said. "Where the money comes from, where it is going, how it is allocated, how much the city council gets involved, and how much does the city administration lead."


The recent cut in funding for the historic Tallman House was the last straw, he said.


"When they couldn't find $13,000 … with the millions spent in the city, something's wrong," Dommershausen said.


For instance, he would not support a big project such as a proposed water facility when the city cannot maintain the things it has.


He also would take a close look at how federal block grant money is distributed.


And he would ask the council to increase the size of the council because he believes residents are underrepresented.


Richard "Duke" Ellingson, 62, of 17 S. Atwood Ave., is retired director of the Dane County 911 Center.

Ellingson said he is running to get involved in the community. He and his wife moved here six years ago, and they love Janesville, he said.


He isn't a single-issue candidate, but his interests include a vibrant downtown and the Tallman House.


Ellingson attended a recent vision meeting on the downtown and believes good things are planned.


"I just feel like I need to be involved in that," he said.


Ellingson is vice president of the Rock County Historical Society, which runs the Tallman House. The city recently cut funding there.


But taxes, he believes, are the most important things on people's minds.


"Whatever we can do to make that levy situation better is something I'd be most interested in, also," he said.


Ellingson is glad the city appears to be scaling back on what it can afford for a water facility. He prefers maintaining and upgrading what the city has.


David Henke, 37, of 1327 Hawthorne Ave., is a salesman for Werner Electric with a passion for politics. This is his first run for public office.

"It's important we have good, levelheaded folks on the council" who can make decisions they'll be proud of 15 years down the road, he said.


Aquatics is one issue residents seem concerned about, he said. Henke describes himself as "fiscally conservative." He believes any project involving a discretionary tax, such as a new aquatics facility, should be put to a referendum.


"I don't want to spend money we don't have or tax people for money they don't want to give," he said.


Henke also is interested in more discussion on Janesville's downtown plan, particularly on parking.


George Mark, 76, of 206 Shady Oak Court, believes his experience as a local builder, real estate agent and landlord would be an asset to the council. He belongs to several builders organizations, the South Side Business Association and the Janesville Kiwanis Club.

"I'm interested in serving the people of Janesville," said Mark, who has lived here 45 years. "I think I've got the experience and involvement in the community, so I understand what's going on."


He's most interested in issues such as taxes and fees, which he says are too high, and sidewalks. Mark disagrees with the current council's expansive sidewalk policy.


"I plan to use the professionals on staff to set the standards for sidewalks," he said.


Mark also is concerned about the drop in residential building permits because new construction adds to the tax rolls. He wants to make it easier for residents to get their building questions answered by city staff.


Billy McCoy, 55, of 1326 Putnam Ave., is on disability from General Motors.

McCoy, who has lived here for 25 years, said it's time for a change at City Hall. That started back with the 2002 assessments, he said. McCoy in 2002 organized a petition drive that by statute then required a state investigation. The state eventually gave the city high marks as a result of the investigation, but McCoy said some people still did not receive money they should have when they were over assessed.


McCoy believes assessor Charlie Knipp who was fired shortly afterward was fired because he stood up for Janesville residents.


"… It will take more than just me as a councilmember—it will have to take a vote—but I'd like to see Charlie get his job reinstated … People who should have been fired will be fired."


McCoy said the city's infrastructure is suffering, and he pointed to the railings on the Jackson Street bridge, some streets and some downtown terraces as examples. The parks should be mowed and Riverside Park wading pool reopened. He would like see more shopping opportunities on the south side.


He said people have asked how he would work with City Manager Steve Sheiffer, whom McCoy has criticized. He noted one instance in which Sheiffer walked out of council chambers when members questioned him on finances concerning an employee break room.


"I'd say, 'Mr. Sheiffer, just pack your bags and keep walking if you're not going to the can,'" McCoy said.


"The council needs to take control and be the bosses they're supposed to be."


Tom McDonald, 27, of 64 S. Fremont St., is an attorney at McDonald & Gustafson.

McDonald said he believes in community service and volunteering.


"I think the council would provide me with an excellent opportunity to give back to the community and serve the residents of Janesville," he said.


He also would bring a diverse voice to the council.


"What I'd like to do is bring a young voice and a new perspective to Janesville's leadership," he said.


"I'm going into this with an open mind on all issues," he said.


He would keep two principles in mind.


"It's very important to spend taxpayer dollars wisely," he said.


"The other thing is informed decision-making. When the council makes a decision, big or small, it's important to know the issues," he said. He would get recommendations from committees and work with the administration.


But, "The main thing (is) to get citizen input since, as council members, we are there to represent the people," he said.


Kelly M. O'Brien, 33, of 2309 Kellogg Ave., is a waitress and bartender at the Ground Round.

O'Brien said she started following the council during the aquatic facility issue.


"I just totally disagreed," she said. "I didn't think the city council was listening to all the little people. We just went through the school referendum, and I didn't think we could afford another jump like that."


During that debate, she and her friends became interested in government and how it works, she said.


"The best way to learn is first-hand," she said. "My friends are asking more questions, and they're getting involved. Before, decisions were made for them.


"I don't think they even voted, to be honest. Now they do."


O'Brien, who has lived in Janesville for about 15 years, said she would bring a different voice to the council as a young, single mother. She is not a white-collar worker.


"I try to teach my kids to stand up for what (they) believe in," she said.


Yuri D. Rashkin, 32, of 226 Forest Park Blvd., owns Service First Mortgage.

"I'm running because I believe the best way to change and to continue to strengthen our community is to become involved," said Rashkin, who has lived in Janesville for more than three years.


Rashkin said he would bring experience of running his own business for nine years. As a mortgage consultant, he is comfortable with numbers, he said.


"To me, it is more about listening to the citizens, making sure all points of view are represented," he said.


He also would ask questions.


Rashkin said he spoke to many people about the aquatic center, for instance.


"I have not heard one person who is supporting it," he said.


One quality of good leadership, he said, is proposing things that may not be universally accepted.


"But, at the same time, if you propose something and everybody says, ‘No thank you,' you have to respect that."


Rashkin was born and raised in Moscow and has been in the United States for 20 years.


"Part of the reason I'm running is because my parents left the Soviet Union to give me and my brother these types of opportunities—to own my own business and to be involved in a community politically," Rashkin said.


Kathy Voskuil, 48, of 3417 Amhurst Road, is a pain specialist representative for Pfizer.

She was chairwoman of the plan commission when the Wal-Mart Supercenter was under discussion and also ran unsuccessfully for council last spring.


"I've been involved in the community in a lot of different aspects—PTA, my church, different schools. As a resident, I feel it's important to give back to the community. That's the way I was raised."


One of the city's challenges will be how to maintain infrastructure, including police and fire services, with dwindling state funds, she said.


The council also will have to ensure the downtown and comprehensive plans are carried out in a timely manner.


And then there's the city's growing poverty problem. Voskuil hopes the city can collaborate with groups that already are working with impoverished areas.


Voskuil said she wants to be a good listener and to encourage communication between the city and residents.



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