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Activist runs as write-in for Janesville City Council

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 16, 2009
— Environmental activist Julie Backenkeller got so upset last week she decided to run for Janesville City Council.

One problem: It's much too late for her to get her name on the ballot. So, she's running a write-in campaign in the April 7 elections. She acknowledges it's a long shot.


But Backenkeller said she can't stand by after the city council March 9 approved a comprehensive Smart Growth land-use plan that was opposed by a roomful of farmers and conservationists such as herself.


She faces eight candidates, including three incumbents, whose names will be on the ballot, vying to fill four seats.


One of those incumbents is Russ Steeber, whom Backenkeller blames for "railroading" the land-use plan through when it would have been easy enough to delay action and learn more before deciding, she said.


"I don't feel like the council was listening to the public, to what people wanted," Backenkeller said Sunday. "I don't think they were thinking of the best interests of the majority of the people."


The only council member who seems to understand the issue is Tom McDonald, Backenkeller said.


Backenkeller said she has been working on the city's Sustainable Janesville Committee for seven months to increase the plan's preservation of farmland.


The plan is not required to be in place for another 10 months, and if it isn't amended soon, it could bury under new development thousands of acres of prime farmland that surround the city, she said.


Backenkeller said Steeber and other council members acted on the recommendation of city staff without understanding.


"I think they've made some horrible mistakes that can be redone, but it needs be taken care of right away," Backenkeller said.


"I don't know that they've done their research, and to me that's disturbing. You should not be casting a vote just because someone told you this is the way to vote," she added.


Backenkeller said she also would like to get high school students involved in city government, change landfill policies and support "green" jobs and locally owned businesses.



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