Tuesday, January 25, 2011

10th District County Supervisor Candidates

One of three special elections to be held this spring is for the 10th District seat on the County Board of Supervisors, made vacant due to the incumbent, Elizabeth Coggs, winning election to the State Assembly in November. Five candidates filed nomination papers and submitted to requisite number of signatures to appear on the ballot on February 15th. I contacted the campaigns and asked them to answer a few questions for me about their vision for Milwaukee County and how they would fix the problems we currently face. Below are the answers from three of them.

Legend: AP - Armchair Pundit, CJ - Cavalier Johnson, EB - Eyon Biddle, CA - Charisha Allen

AP: Given that the 10th district includes a portion of Milwaukee's central city, Downtown, East Town, and Marquette University, how do you plan to be a champion for the entire district, specifically for the southern and southeastern portions of it that tend to be neglected in campaigning and policy formation?

CJ: It seems very fitting that I am seeking a post that includes places not only in the Central City but also areas downtown. I've lived in and around the portion of the district that covers the Central City all of my life. But, much of the development that has helped me to become a leader happened by my attendance and participation in YMCA programming taking place in the southern/southeastern edge of the 10th District. I'd be remiss if I were seeking a spot on the Milwaukee County Board but neglected a portion that not only encompasses Milwaukee's central business district but also a place that has meant so much in my own growth. There are great institutions, businesses and residents that run throughout the entire 10th District - including in the southern/southeastern portion. I know that there is room for cooperation and connectivity between businesses, organizations and residents that will help us to create an expanded network while bringing all areas of the district into the fold.

EB: From living and growing up in the district and walking it now, I have gathered that the 10th District community has been ignored all together. If elected County Supervisor, I will represent the whole district, not just specific parts. I have a background in community organizing, so I will use those skills to engage residents from all parts of the 10th District continuously. I am passionate about mobilizing and organizing my neighbors around the issues that affect us all and making the people an integral part of the governance of Milwaukee County. Together, we truly can move Milwaukee County forward.

CA: I will be a Supervisor for ALL the people and bring my passion to representing them on the County Board.

AP: With Milwaukee County's financial picture such that, in 2016, every dollar derived from the property tax levy will go to pension and health care obligations for county employees and retirees, serious consideration must be given to both reducing costs and increasing revenue. How would you propose doing both of these as a County Supervisor?

CJ: This, obviously, is one of Milwaukee County's most pressing issues. Living outside of our means and not carefully directing revenues generated will result in a Milwaukee County that can only afford to pay health costs to employees/retirees rather than providing services to the constituency. Ultimately, it becomes an issue of reconciling expenditures with the revenue that Milwaukee County brings in - and working along with our partners and workers to stabilize costs. Milwaukee County workers and their representation are great. But, we all need to work together and share in the tough, smart choices that will help Milwaukee County to remain a solvent, service delivering level of local government. In regards to increasing revenue, Milwaukee County is a vast real estate owner and the operator of a number of great attractions. I'd like to bring folks together to see what sorts of ideas we can come up with and implement here in Milwaukee. There are excellent examples all over the country with best practices that we can tap into. We don't need to reinvent the wheel but we do need to change with the times and take advantage of what is already in place elsewhere while also producing our own unique ideas to generate additional revenue for Milwaukee County.

EB: We have to find ways to eradicate waste and redundancy in County government. We also have to look at our most profitable assets like the Airport, and find out how we can maximize those systems to bring in more revenue. We need to come up with a strategic plan for Park East. I also believe we should sell off non-park land to pay off long-term liabilities. A sales tax for transit, parks and EMS will help lower the strain on the property tax levy. Hopefully health care reform implementation can help make health insurance more competitive, bringing down costs.

CA: In order to fix the current picture regarding the county’s finances, we as a community need to work together to find ways increase revenues and decrease costs. I plan to work with others to bring new ideas to the fore and help the county move forward.

AP: Are you in favor of the creation of a regional transit authority for the Milwaukee County Transit System and/or a regional parks authority for the Milwaukee County Parks as a means of gaining them dedicated funding through increases in the county sales tax, thereby not having them funded by property taxes as part of the county's general budget? If these entities were created, what would be an acceptable tax rate for them?

CJ: Nothing says no to growth, investment and economic development like an under funded transit system for one of America's largest cities that constantly hikes fares and slashes service. It doesn't make much sense to have a city/county that runs on a model grid system and not have the transportation infrastructure to move people, goods and services along these arteries. We not only need to focus on creating jobs for people in Milwaukee County but we also need to focus on creating a dedicated funding source to keep the wheels on the bus moving. The Milwaukee County Parks system is one of our most sacred jewels. Every family may not ride the bus but I'd have to think that every family spends a fair amount of time in our parks. It is important that we keep our parks in great condition so that all Milwaukeeans may continue to enjoy our proud tradition of public parks. We mustn't forget though, that there are great parks that offer welcoming green space and play space throughout our entire county. So while we continue the conversation about our parks, remember that Veterans Park and Bradford Beach are not the only parks in the system. Washington Park and Tiefenthaler Park are also a part of the system and these community-serving parks deserve attention as well. In 2008, the electorate of Milwaukee County accepted a referendum that allowed for a 1% sales tax increase that would fund Milwaukee County Parks and the Milwaukee County Transit System. Let's continue to pursue that and move on from there.

EB: I am in favor of RTA, and dedicated funding for transit, parks and EMS. I am not supportive of a Regional Parks Authority. In my current capacity, I lobbied for RTA and dedicated funding in the past legislative session. I am disappointed that it was not made into law. Research has shown that the funds from the sales tax would have brought down the property tax levy, made those entities self-sustaining and given the County the opportunity to tackle the drastic deferred maintenance problem within those systems.

CA: I am in favor of both of these as they will be self-sustaining and reduce property taxes while also providing the necessary funding to reverse the neglect the Walker administration enforced on transit and the park systems.

AP: How can Milwaukee County provide a viable and sustainable economic and social safety net for its least-well-off residents in these tight economic times?

CJ: We can provide a social safety net for our residents by working with the various municipalities in our county. We need to work together to spend money smarter. While doing this, we need to be weary of those that become wholly dependent on social services and essentially drain resources without doing their part. A vigilant system with county and municipal cooperation, timelines for participation with the availability for extensions that hones in on accountability will help us to shed fraud and create a stronger, more respectable social safety net system.

EB: There are viable and sustainable programs like Childcare, BadgerCare, FoodShare and other income maintenance programs. I hope that the County would be able to manage those services directly in the near future instead of the State. Milwaukee County has a farm ran out of the House of Corrections, which is managed by the Hunger Task Force, that provides food to different pantries. More importantly, we have to look at how Milwaukee County can play a bigger role and coordinate with other levels of government to stimulate job creation and economic development. I want to work with the all stakeholders including 10th District residents, community groups, elected officials, and the business and labor community to find ways to encourage economic growth. There are big parts of the 10th District, and other communities outside my district, that are in dire need of a vision and a strategic plan to bring jobs to the area. We have to focus on increasing the working class, encouraging home ownership, and empowering people economically. I truly believe that the 10th District is a great place to live and we need to work harder to develop it to its full potential.

CA: We can maintain an economic and social safety net in this county through teamwork and collaboration between private and public entities.

AP: What would you suggest to improve the quality of life in Milwaukee County and how would you forge positive relationships with cultural entities in the county (e.g. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee Art Museum)?

CJ: To improve the quality of life in Milwaukee, we need to get to the core of what shapes people's immediate outlook. We need to focus on finding ways to help people realize that they can be proud of who they are, where they come from and where they live. There used to be a time when folks could own their homes. They had jobs that supported them and their families. The commercial districts in their neighborhoods were filled with life and young adults could make honest money by working in the shops there. That community dynamic has changed so much. Homeowners, people that have a strong and vested interest in the well being of their neighborhood, have been replaced mostly by people who view their neighborhood as where they currently live - not home. Good paying jobs, engines that powered neighborhoods, have seemingly dried up. Thriving commercial districts that were the pride of neighborhoods have traded in small family businesses for boarded windows and young people have turned from making honest money to a life on the street and apathy. The key to improving quality of life in Milwaukee is making sure that our government is doing all that it can to grow our job market so that all Milwaukeeans can get to work and have stability in their lives. Cultural Attractions in Milwaukee County like the Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee Art Museum, etc are bona fide community treasures. I'd like to strengthen our relationship with these places by fighting for grants that allow them to do more. I'd like to link our cultural institutions with high performing institutions similar to them in other places. I'd like to push the imaginations of young Milwaukeeans by encouraging the schools to keep engaged with our cultural institutions, which will help to grow their relevance for maturing groups and future generations. Getting folks to work is only one part of the puzzle to growing a stronger and better Milwaukee. Our cultural institutions can provide the means to create a more competitive and "well rounded" Milwaukee.

EB: Milwaukee County has positive relationships with those different cultural entities. The County provides some level of funding to those organizations, so we need to make sure that we continue to receive some community benefits. We have to make sure that we protect those assets and make sure that they are accessible to all residents of Milwaukee County. I also believe that we need to find ways to market those cultural services more to the people in the 10th District.

CA: We need to find ways to allow more people to access these cultural treasures through the lowering of prices and a wider range of free days for the Zoo and museums.

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