With election approaching, Mount Pleasant candidates address trust, other concerns BY BRIDGET THORESON—This story originally appeared in the Racine Journal Times March 27, 2008
MOUNT PLEASANT - Financial and government responsibility were the hot topics Wednesday evening during the Racine Taxpayers Association-sponsored candidate forum at Village Hall, 6126 Durand Avenue.
About 60 people attended the forum to hear from the six candidates running for three seats on the Village Board in Tuesday's election.
Submitted questions were read to the candidate by a moderator.
The answers where the three incumbents and three challengers differed the most were those in regard to distrust in the way the current board operates.
One question asked if the candidates would support holding a referendum on capital expenditures. Incumbent John Hewitt pointed out that an ordinance is in place to hold referendums for projects costing over $10 million.
''You can't have a referendum on every single expenditure," Hewitt said.
Challengers Harry Manning and Don Schulz suggested a lower limit so the people could have a bigger voice in more decisions.
After one question expressed a concern that the village's borrowing was "out of control," the challengers said they wanted the money to be handled responsibly, and the incumbents said that is already being done.
Challenger Ruth Gedwardt said she opposed taking money out of the reserves.
"This will come back to haunt us, because it's a one-time strategy to keep taxes low," she said. "I don't like taking reserves and I don't like huge borrowing."
Incumbent Ken Flones said the tax base is low, and the money borrowed was needed to make improvements to roads.
“We had to improve our roads and keep our roads up to standards," Flones said.
The recent anonymous $10 million donation for the village to construct a-new village. campus was hit upon; with questions about whether the board knew who gave the money and if the donors should remain anonymous if they have no development ties. The candidates, who said they did not know who the donors were, agreed their identity should remain private.
"It just bothers me that there's a cloud that's hanging over it," Schulz said. "It's a wonderful gift and I applaud them for their generosity and commitment to the town."
Manning said he supported moving the village hall location because of the donation. "I would much prefer to have a $10 million donation than $10 million more debt," Manning said. But Schulz said the village should use its, current facilities, if possible.
The incumbents supported the move. Robin Garard said a new village hall would allow for better storage facilities, improved housing for the police and fire departments and opportunities for more staff.
"These are all amenities that are needed for our community to grow," Garard said. ''We've obviously outgrown this building.”
A question addressed specifically to challenger Ruth Gedwardt asked if she had supported legislation to abolish Mount Pleasant, referring to a 1967 resolution brought before the County Board of Supervisors.
"That's ancient history," Gedwardt said. "Municipalities used to fight so much they created chaos."
She said incorporating the village was a good solution to those problems, and that her focus for the future is to work together with neighboring communities.
The challengers and incumbents differed on the answer to whether the consent agenda, where the board votes on items that have been addressed in previous meetings, should be removed. Incumbents said they supported the consent agenda, while challengers Manning and Schulz said the public should have more access to information.
"I don't support it one bit. As a matter of fact, I resent it," Schulz said. "The perception of the people in the audience is that they don’t know a thing that's going on. And that's why there's such a negativity."
At another point in the meeting' Hewitt said he did not appreciate the negativity of some residents.
"I'm sick and tired, I have to say this, of the negative approach that some people have been taking," Hewitt said.
In response to a question asking why the board has a reputation for making it difficult for people to develop businesses . in the village, Garard said she was not aware of any consistent problems and that the board attempts to work with small businesses to help them develop.
"I think we really need to bring small businesses back to the community," Garard said.
Gedwardt said the fact that concern was raised ought to be addressed.
"I think that if there's rumors out there that people are not welcome to come in here, we should find out why," she said. "Then maybe we can make some changes."
Manning said that what he has heard from citizens revealed their perception of some "arrogance" on part of the board.
''We need to work harder at being more public-friendly as a village," he said.
The candidates agreed that focusing on the quality of development was important, and that consolidating services with other municipalities should be examined.
"If all the communities are going to survive, they're going to have to consolidate to survive," Flones said.