Five candidates are running for Beloit City Council on April 6 for a chance at three seats on the city’s highest board.
Incumbents Clinton Anderson, Sherry Blakeley and Nancy Forbeck are all seeking reelection as challengers John Petersen and Dayetoven Raleigh look to unseat the incumbents and bring new ideas to the council.
Anderson, 27, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW-Whitewater. He is a youth support specialist for the Professional Services Group. He is the council representative on the Beloit Appointment Review Committee, Alcohol Beverage License Control Committee, Business improvement District and the Municipal Golf Committee.
Blakeley, 67, has a bachelor’s degree from Beloit College and is a freelance writer. She is the council representative on the Beloit Landmarks Commission and Municipal Library Board.
Forbeck, 75, has a bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison and is retired from being a teacher and director of both Visit Beloit and the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce. She is the council representative for the Metropolitan Planning Organization and Equal Opportunities Commission.
Petersen, 52, graduated from Webster Groves High School and holds certifications as a firefighter and certifications from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Petersen is a retired U.S. Marine and U.S. National Guard member and previously worked as a firefighter in the Great Lakes Fire Department at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Great Lakes, Illinois. Petersen is chairman of the Beloit Board of Appeals and is active with the Beloit Youth Hockey Association and VFW Post 10430.
Raleigh, 32, has a bachelor’s degree from Waldorf University. He is a fifth-grade teacher at Rock County Christian School and works part-time as a commercial truck driver and dry ice specialist at Welders Supply. He is a coach in the Beloit Area Youth Wrestling Program with Beloit Turner and Beloit School District students and has made many connections with the community as a delivery driver.
Q: How would you rate the city’s pandemic response?
Anderson: I think we’ve done an excellent job, and we were one of the first communities to issue a mask requirement. I think the only thing that we could have done differently might have been with reopening public spaces and parks. At the time, we did everything we possibly could to help keep residents safe.
Blakeley: I’d say we did very well. I think we did a really good job of alerting to it and responding. I feel like I should have helped to communicate more clearly with our residents to help educate people that they could see what we were doing was based in science.
Forbeck: I think our response was excellent. I think it was proactive and always our number one goal was safety of the community. I think we followed that goal and we followed that even though some citizens didn’t understand or support it.
Petersen: I think there was quite a bit of overreach in my opinion. People in general understand how to protect themselves with measures of wearing a mask and washing their hands. We need to open these businesses back up and allow the businesses to make their own decisions. If you’re sick, stay home. Common sense has to rule the world. It’s hurt our economy and we need to make sure we get people back to work and get the kids back in school. We need to work on the overall response.
Raleigh: I think the way it was handled in the beginning was great. As we’ve progressed, I don’t believe our city has adjusted to the latest data and I believe the city is still operating the same way it was when the pandemic first started.
Q: What priorities should the city focus on for its pandemic response this year?
Anderson: We recently voted on a grant to help us do outreach, and we’re making sure that underserved communities have access to the vaccine. We need to do that to gain trust and show people why it’s safe as we continue with our COVID-19 response. That’s the most crucial thing.
Blakeley: We need to be helping to bring us back into normalcy to help the community feel safe and stable. I know there are a lot more vaccinations to be given and I know there are underserved parts of our community. We need to focus on communication and helping bring Black and Latino residents into the fold, and helping to educate people who are skeptical of the vaccine.
Forbeck: I think we need to focus on safely reopening. We’ve been so lucky that we are being able to be vaccinated. The more the city can help with getting the whole community vaccinated, the better. We have plans to make sure no one is forgotten.
Petersen: I think public service announcements should be everywhere promoting common sense and best practices for people to make their own decisions, while keeping the community safe.
Raleigh: I would love to see events happening again and the parks reopening. I’d like to see the farmers market happening. I want things to reopen this summer safely and I would hope this summer is when we would be moving back to normal.
Q: Are you satisfied with the city’s emergency management operations?
Anderson: I think it’s the way it should be. The public can take time and ask questions of the community during our council meetings. That’s their opportunity.
Blakeley: As an individual councilor, people brought me their concerns and I tried to respond to them. I would say that residents in the city benefit from the EOC and even as a councilor, I didn’t hear minute-by-minute activities that were going on. As a council, we assess the policy and have those hard discussions. Overall, I am happy with it.
Forbeck: I am totally OK with the way things are working. I think there are some citizens in the area that keep insisting that there was sort of a hidden agenda or policy initiative, and that’s just simply not the case. The council is made aware of all situations, and we have deliberate conversations in a public setting when it comes time to actually make our decisions in the best interest of the community.
Petersen: I think no matter what, there needs to be a recorder on those meetings to provide transparency to the community. In general, things need to be kept open. I think our entire form of city government needs to change. I would support having a mayor and not a city manager to provide more accountability to the entire system.
Raleigh: I wasn’t aware of those things, but I am all for transparency and accountability. If I am elected, there are areas that need to be more transparent, and I wouldn’t have a problem speaking to that need and hearing what the community is inquiring about. I believe fully we need to be open and honest.
Q: Is City Hall doing enough outreach to Beloit’s Latino community?
Anderson: I think so, but we could always do better, and it’s up to us to do the outreach, and there are still lots of issues. We need to work with the leaders in the community.
Blakeley: We’ve made improvements in that area, but we can always do more. We have started in the right direction, and we will be doing more in the near future.
Forbeck: They are difficult to reach, and the city has made sure to attend any and all meetings that take place within the Latino community. We are really paying attention to that demographic and constantly knowing where language is a barrier.
Petersen: I think there needs to be more outreach. A lot of people are getting information from elsewhere and not from the city. We need to do more for them. I think there should be a bilingual broadcast of Beloit City Council meetings to increase participation.
Raleigh: I believe that there are equal opportunities here for Latino families, I believe that the Beloit community has adjusted and is continuing to make adjustments where necessary to provide a wonderful livelihood for all of our Latino/Hispanic families. My fifth-grade classroom is predominantly Latino/Hispanic, and I have had the privilege to work with and get to know many of these families and learn more about the culture.
Q: How can the city work to attract retail development to Beloit?
Anderson: That’s going to be a tough one. As you’ve seen with the rise of Amazon, brick and mortar retail have become less and less common. It’s about getting more disposable income in people’s pockets. I think getting good paying jobs here is step one. We have to look outside the city limits for economic development and see what can be done regionally.
Blakeley: We have a new director of development, and she will be doing all she can. With COVID-19 as an overlay, it’s difficult to have economic initiative. We will be looking into it, of course. I urge everyone to be patient to try and see what we do this year as we come out of the pandemic.
Forbeck: We sure try. But I tell you, retail companies take their own data and they take a look at demographics and we are a tertiary community between Janesville, Rockford and Chicago. We are surrounded by it but have trouble attracting that growth to Beloit, and the market is changing more and more to people focused around online shopping.
Petersen: One of the greatest things we have is the internet, and it’s also one of the biggest problems we have in terms of attracting new brick and mortar development. We’ve lost a sizable portion of our retail base because people are shopping online. We need to find ways to share downtown businesses and their points of service. I think there needs to be more of a focus on delivery of goods. That’s the only way they might be able to stay open long-term. We need to find money to put back in our local businesses and we need to support minority businesses. If we don’t get people back to work, they aren’t going to be able to afford things to build a disposable income that helps grow our local economy.
Raleigh: I think there needs to be some focus on redevelopment of our existing property base. I think new growth is going to happen near the Interstate, and we need to promote that. I believe we can be creative and innovative and bring some of those retailers down.
Q: With litigation pending with the town of Turtle regarding a boundary issue, what type of resolution do you believe is feasible for the city?
Anderson: Because it’s pending litigation, I am going to decline to comment but we will be monitoring the communication.
Blakeley: We’ve really been emphasizing partnerships as we go forward with a regional approach to cooperation. Patience is important in the process as we move along. I would want the final agreement to reflect the nature of partnership.
Forbeck: I can’t speak to that, but I think cooperation is best for both communities and the region.
Petersen: The city has a right to expand. It’s the only way Beloit is going to succeed in the future. I think Turtle is in a protectionist position, but the city needs growth. Without it, we can’t sustain our economy. It’s a tough decision, but the city is going to have to move forward.
Raliegh: I think one of the issues is that these boundary lines are not clear cut. I ran into this as a candidate getting signatures for ballot placement. I think it’s something the city needs to reevaluate with partnership in mind.
Q: The city saw a major increase in gun-related crime in 2020. What ways should the council approach the problem in conjunction with the Beloit Police Department?
Anderson: I think we have to figure out why those things are happening. The next thing is we need to continue to do is focus on diversity hiring in the department while working and collaborating with the new police chief.
Blakeley: I think talking about it openly is a key factor here. We have increased the diversity on the police force, which will help turn things around.
Forbeck: We always support our police and have been thrilled in the last several years that our closure rates have improved. I think that this is a national problem, and we will be right there with whatever the department needs.
Petersen: We need to ensure the enforcement of the law. If you commit a crime, you need to go to jail. There are seemingly no repercussions for people.
Raleigh: I know that issue wasn’t solely an issue specific to Beloit. Other cities saw a major increase in violence. With all the tension between communities and police departments, and a lot of those situations those officers not having that trust, there’s been a disregard for law and opportunism prevails. I support our first responders, police and military. I think we need to continue to have those conversations with the police department and the community. We want every community to be safe and to be shown support. We need a stronger sense of community.
Q: Does Beloit have an issue with race relations?
Anderson: I think every community faces those challenges. Saying we don’t have issues is an ignorant comment, and I think we could always do better. That’s why we need to continue to push people with diverse backgrounds getting involved in city government. It’s tough to have community engagement now due to COVID-19, but we need to be more of a close-knit community.
Blakeley: Most cities do, and Beloit isn’t immune to it. I think there’s an overall atmosphere of acceptance here, and yet tensions continue. I would say that although Beloit has its share of problems in that area, I think we have a big history of cooperation among races and a shared respect for one another.
Forbeck: I have been stunned to realize that there are so many race relation problems in our nation. I have been educated in the last few years looking at the data and have been humbled through that. I think that we have been so lucky in Beloit that we’ve had at the appropriate times we’ve had leaders in the majority and minority communities to stay calm during a time of high tension.
Petersen: From what I’ve seen with the police department, they are doing very well. I am not going to answer that question from a perspective of someone who is in the minority. I don’t know how those people feel. Government should be administered through statutes. We need to develop things in the community, but also we have to stick to the statutes to ensure uniform enforcement.
Raleigh: I believe the city is very diverse. I don’t believe it’s always been that way. As far as race, I have not seen issues in that way. I have been in parts of the country where I have seen systemic racism by police. I haven’t experienced that here. I think the community is helpful, and kindness prevails. With the interactions I see in the community, I just don’t see it.