The Appleton League of Women Voters (LWV) was originally going to host forums for the candidates for Alderperson. As a result of the Coronavirus, these have justifiably been canceled. In lieu of the forums, each candidate was asked to answer 12 questions that would be shared on the LWV Website. To this point, our responses have not yet been published. With absentee voting already happening in Appleton and with many people already sending in their mail in ballots, I am publishing my responses today. When the LWV posts our responses, I will link to that page from my blog and my social media post so that voters can compare the responses from each candidate. With that being said, here are my answers to the questions posed. (Note, I have corrected some writing/spelling errors from what I submitted to the LWV and added some more content to a few of the questions.)
1. Please introduce yourself and explain why you are running.
I come from right here, in the Fox Valley. I grew up in Neenah and graduated from UW-Oshkosh. I then moved around the country a bit, working with software, before finding my way back to Wisconsin about 15 years ago. I have been living in Appleton ever since. But who I am isn’t important. Why I’m running is.
I am running to give people a choice between the status quo and going in a different direction. What is the status quo? It’s the life you are living today. Including the Coronavirus and an unimaginably quick economic meltdown. Half the families in the country couldn’t afford an unexpected $500 bill before this hit. With unemployment expected to continue skyrocketing, it is only going to get worse. And if it isn’t you or me, it is friends, relatives, and neighbors that don’t know how they are going to pay their mortgage or rent in a few days. And what about the ecological stuff? Wasn’t Australia just ravaged by megafires a few months ago, or did we already forget about that? Or closer to home, the Camp fire in California, remember that? Or the year before that, when three Category 4+ hurricanes hit the US? Worried yet? You should be.
The virus and our fast economic collapse are just showing us the underlying issues that have been there for quite a while. For the last 50 years, we have just printed money to cover up real problems in our economy. Meanwhile, the health of the average American has deteriorated significantly. It isn’t just the Coronavirus, almost half of us are chronically unhealthy and dependent on a broken medical system. Then there is fractured political system and its corruption. But instead of addressing these things, we are lost in our technology and our distractions.
In short, we’ve become hostages to the societal structures and ever more intricate complexity in order to maintain an economic and political system designed to maximize its exploitation of ourselves and of rapidly diminishing natural resources.
And I want to talk about those things, and how we can address them, bottom up, in Appleton. I want to ask hard questions and offer up new ways to thinking and new ways of being. Some of these ideas will be suggested below. They aren’t the standard answers to these types of questions. But that is a good thing, because business as usual is what has put us into our current situation.
2. What is the City of Appleton doing—and what should we be doing to control and mitigate the effects of the Corona virus?
I don’t think we are doing enough to be proactive. From what I see, we seem to be reacting to events rather than getting out in front of them. This is not a knock on the city or county employees. I’ve talked with some of them and they are all doing what they are supposed to. My concern is more at the leadership level. I don’t want to hear “Don’t worry about it, we’ve trained for this and we have a plan.” from our elected officials. I want to see the plan shared with the public, I want as many people as possible looking at it and suggesting how to improve it for the unique situation we are in. I want to see a task force created with the public health departments of the city and the county out in front. I want to see our first responders, medical providers, and local business leaders on this task force. I want to see our elected officials doing everything in their power to help this task force succeed in protecting our health. All of us, including the poor, the uninsured, the homeless, and all of the critical front line workers, whether they are stocking groceries, going out on emergency calls, testing people for the Coronavirus, or treating people with it.
But that alone is not enough. I don’t believe in saying I think there is a problem unless I can provide a possible solution. So here is what I think we should be doing:
1.) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, morning, noon, and night. I say each of these things three times, because they are that important. We should have our own version of Dr. Fauci, with the Appleton city health officer leading the way and working with the communications director to make sure we are hitting every communication channel we can to get the information out and create a dialog with as many people as possible. There should be asks being coordinated through this task force. For example, this taskforce (which doesn’t currently exist so far as I know) should have been on the PPE before the hospitals had to ask. There were concerned citizens who were looking to do this well in advance of our health care providers asking for PPE via the press. But that is just an example. I get into some of the other things we should be having a dialog about when I talk about data and what we should be measuring a little further down.
2.) Test, Test, Test This is the only way we can understand where the risk is and make informed decisions. It is also the only proven way to combat this pandemic. I know this is difficult as we don’t have the capabilities to do widespread testing, but we should be putting all the pressure we can bring to bear on the system to get massive testing efforts under way. (The lack of testing capabilities is another incredibly frustrating story that we don’t need to get into while the pandemic is going on, but should be reviewed once we come out of this.) While we are waiting for the test manufacturing to ramp up, we should be putting into place plans on where and when testing will happen, including testing random testing of geographic areas, including non-symptomatic people, so we can better understand where it has spread. We should also start working on and advocating for anti-body testing, so we know who has had the Coronavirus and now has immunity. This will be critical to getting the economy and at least some sense of normalcy going again. Again, these are testing processes, locations, and planning processes that can be but into place before the tests are here in the case of testing for the Coronavirus, and before they are developed and readily available for the antibody test.
3.) Data, Data, Data While I don’t often agree with most of our elected politicians in either party, I do agree with Mike Gallagher when he recently said “We must use data collection and technology to counter misinformation and make better decisions in near real time. If we are indeed on a “wartime footing,” let’s use intelligence and reconnaissance to fight smarter. A continuously updated, transparently accessible “Battle Update Brief” — with statistics on tests, masks and ventilators — would allow Wisconsinites to track how we are doing in the fight. Uncertainty, panic and fear — from lack of accurate information — are also dangerous contagions.” His “Battle Update Brief” is what I would call a balanced scorecard. They are a familiar tool used in business and we should have one. What are the KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) and how are we tracking in these key areas, Red, Yellow, or Green? The key areas are the things we would determine, update, and track via the task force. These could include things like what are we using for 1.) Health Determinants and Status (i.e. number of positive tests, number of hospital cases, number of people with antibodies, etc.), 2.) Community Engagement (What do we need from the community and what do they need from our regional health and first responder services (i.e. PPE, Tests, directions for home care of suspected cases or plans for co-location of positive cases – if not in a hospital, then at a local hotel, or the expo center) 3.) Resources and services, and 4.) Integration and Responsiveness. (I included some examples for a proposed scorecard here, but this isn’t the place to go into such details. I just wanted to provide an example of the kinds of things I think our elected officials could do and what our businesses, health care providers and citizens could do.)
There is quite a bit more I’d like to get into with this subject, but I’ve likely already written more than the average viewer is going to read. So I’d like to close this question about what more we should be doing to combat the Coronavirus by saying that we all need to be more transparent and we all need to hold each other accountable. And right now, I don’t feel like I’m seeing enough of that. I would like our elected leaders to do what we elect them for, to lead with servant based leadership.
3. What adjustments should the city make to adapt to the changes in climate—the increase in number and severity of storms- storm damage, heat waves, etc.—in terms of things like infrastructure, budget impacts, department headcount and emergency preparedness? What is your position about developing a climate preparedness and resilience plan in light of the increasing frequency of severe weather events?
We aren’t doing anywhere near enough. As the Coronavirus shows, we are not very resilient. In fact we are very fragile. And it isn’t just because of a pandemic. That is but one area we must build resilience against. Besides climate change, there are many other threats to our future. There is species biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, atmosphere aerosol loading, biogeochemical system change (our massively broken phosphorus and nitrogen cycles), land system change, industrial pollution, environmental toxicity, etc. We are poisoning ourselves and we have squandered our economic and ecological inheritance. And worse of all, we are leaving nothing for future generations. How do we start addressing it? Easy, we start by simplifying and consuming less. Here are but a few ideas. I know they are radical, but if you believe, as I do, that these threats are real, we must stop business as usual and we have to start pursuing new ideas. Instead of tax subsidies for building new offices, lets do what the earliest developers of the Fox River Valley did and tap into the power of the river. Let’s become more resilient by securing our own energy supply with hydroelectric power. Let’s install and then make city wide broad band freely available so those among us who are knowledge workers don’t have to commute as much. That lowers wear and tear on roads and other infrastructure. We also need less capital investment in cars. Knowledge workers are working from home now and many are finding it to be a workable solution. Another thing is changing zoning to allow for urban agriculture. Food security is a critical feature of resilient communities. We should also consider changing zoning codes to accommodate more mixed-use residential needs, as I outline in other questions. i.e. different and more flexible family cohabitation as well as more neighborhood-based businesses/houses.
There is much more we could go into about how we have to simplify our systems, which include the economy, health care, government, supply chains, and the like, but those are even harder issues to solve than what I talk about above. They also require longer form communication and changes in multiple areas and levels of society. If I am elected, I would gladly use the position of alderperson as a platform to engage with others and have these types of discussion.
4. What adjustments should the city make to accommodate for changes in transportation to encourage cleaner, more economical, public, technological driven advances on the horizon (like electric cars)? What is your vision?
I mean no offense to anyone when I say this, but our master urban plan document needs to get torn up and rewritten. It assumes many things that I don’t believe to be true. The one-time pulse of carbon energy from fossil fuels can not be replaced with green technologies in terms of energy density. (We are not all going to be driving around in Tesla’s in 10 years, it is an impossible transition. It you don’t believe me, look up Vaclav Smil and read some of his stuff.) As this carbon pulse spike is on its down slope, we must use what is remaining (and is economically and environmentally viable) to start redesigning our infrastructure now. Infrastructure happens over 30 to 50-year timelines. We live in cities and suburbs designed around cars and cheap fossil fuels, not designed around people and not designed for sustainability. If we want to prepare for what’s coming, again, we must start now. Europe has reasonably good models for what urban areas should look like. We need to encourage more closely constructed housing built around walking. Walking to work, to the grocery store, a hardware store, to school, and to visit friends and family. Farmland and industry are generally along the edges of towns. Regarding personal transportation needs, we need to move away from having to hop in a car to go from an overly large and expensive suburban home to a big box store miles away to pick up a few things. Part of this also involves more mass transit, but not via buses. We need to phase that approach out and move towards very light rail up and down the valley. As many of you know, Appleton was one of the first cities to install electric trolley cars. It became interconnected with other service providers and at one time, you could go from Milwaukee to Green Bay by light rail. This system was taken apart after World War II. But we should investigate what it would take to put a modern version back together.
5. What is the importance of the Diversity Coordinator position to the city—why do you support/not support that role?
I do support the Diversity Coordinator position, but it isn’t enough to just have someone in that role. We all have to play our part, elected officials, city employees, businesses, and citizens who live in or visit Appleton. And to me, it isn’t just about supporting diversity. It is about eliminating all manifestations of injustice. I’m paraphrasing and extending the words of MLK here, but when we are faced with the evils of poverty, racism, sexism, intolerance and militarism, we must confront them by holding each other accountable to call out the incidents of injustice we see in our daily lives and then taking direct action to resolve the injustice in that instance.
6. Have you taken the Dignity & Respect Pledge and have you participated in any of the initiatives of the City of Appleton’s Diversity & Inclusion Office?
I was not aware of the Dignity and Respect Pledge until I just googled it and I have not yet read it or taken it. I will take some time this weekend to read through it. And while I know of both the former and current Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, I do not know them personally and have never been involved with any of their initiatives, so far as I know.
7. What can you do to encourage better voter turnout in Appleton? Are you willing to increase early voting hours to increase voter turnout?
I’d like to open this section by saying that we shouldn’t be having an election this April 7th as in person voting will be severely curtailed because of the Coronavirus. I know at my polling location, almost all the election volunteers are elderly. They are the most at risk for complications from the Coronavirus and it is reprehensible to ask them to volunteer. Additionally, it isn’t fair to either myself or my opponent as neither one of us can get out and talk to District 4 residents at this time. I believe the outcome of holding an election now will be very light voter participation. And that is a shame. But back to the question, I am willing to do anything and everything to increase voter participation and turnout including increasing early voting hours. In fact, I’d like to lobby to the state level to automatically register eligible citizens to vote (or update their registration) when they interact with government agencies – at the DMV, getting a hunting license, etc. I also think we need to more than just increase voter turnout. As I’ve called for on my blog at my website, I would like to enact as much of the American AntiCorruption Act as possible and as it applies for Appleton.
8. What do you see as the role of private Early Childhood Education and Care in economic growth and stability?
The framing of this question assumes business as usual. Which is what has gotten us into the mess I outlined in my introduction. While I understand the benefits of Early Childhood Education and Care within our current system, it is the wrong problem to attack. Instead we should be asking ourselves why we need to have parents of young children going to work. A child should be raised be their parent, not by somebody providing a ‘service’ for financial profit. We need to change our thinking and slip ourselves free from the trap of assuming a modern industrialized consumer driven economy is the only way to go. Just like we need to eliminate the thinking that we need early childhood education and care, we need to eliminate the thinking that we need economic growth as a measure of wellbeing. Instead, think of structuring ourselves around Blue Zone concepts (It’s from a National Geographic article about areas in the world where people have low rates of chronic disease, and generally happy, long lived lives. One of the core concepts involve putting family first, often expressed by multi-generational family cohabitation.) We need to encourage this. We need to have more parents raise their kids. And if they can’t, we need to support ways for our elderly family members to spend time with the young and thus obviate the needs for child rearing as a financially compensated service. This also addresses the question regarding senior or community centers. While I know not everyone comes from a good home situation or has a single parent household, there are ways to address this as well through community and service to others. To me, that is the preferred approach, to ask our selves what we are to do to help support healthy individuals, living in a healthy and supportive family structure (traditional or non-traditional), living in healthy, supportive, and sustainable neighborhoods. They all stitch together. There is a lot more to unpack here along with the following questions on neighborhoods and senior centers. The answers I provide all interrelate, but I don’t have the time or space to sketch out a full picture here.
9. Do you believe that strong neighborhoods -- where citizens are actively engaged in enhancing quality of life -- are a backbone of our community? And if so, what specific increased investments will your administration make in supporting the launch and development of effective neighborhood organizations?
As I mentioned in the previous questions, I believe neighborhoods are the key to transforming our society. But it won’t just happen by itself. We need to find ways to incentivize it. Some things we might need to do include zoning changes that allow for more neighborhood autonomy in how the people that live in a place want to structure themselves, their buildings, and their land use. I’m a big believer that the lower we push government, the more representative and the more effective it is. Other things that can support a move in this direction include:
· Neighborhood participatory budgeting.
· Public/Private events to repair a block of housing
· Encourage and support neighborhood gardens/composting services
· Potential Co-op models
10. What is your position regarding Senior or Community Centers? The surrounding cities have Senior Centers that are funded by the city and / or county. (i.e. Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Menasha, etc.)
See above, question number 8. Just as we shouldn’t financialize services like child care, we should also not financialize services such as elder care. The best way to treat our youngest and our most experienced isn’t to herd them all into their own buildings as cohorts, it’s to let them live with everyone else, in a family and neighborhood setting.
11. Besides media reports, how knowledgeable are you with the negotiations with US Ventures, relocating city hall and new library proposal, and any other major projects that the city is involved in? What is your stance on these issues?
The U.S. Venture agreement is the key to the other two projects. And before the Coronavirus outbreak, it was one of the primary reasons I decided to run. While I have nothing but good things to say about U.S. Venture, and I can’t fault them for pursuing a deal with the city, I for one, am against it based upon the public information that I’ve been able to find. The more traditional political and economic reasons are as follows:
It is a very large sum of money (I’ve heard between $25 to $45 Million) we are talking about and I think we should put the issue up for referendum. If it makes sense to invest this much money, make the case to the citizens of Appleton and let them decide. Part of that case should be explaining what a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) is and what the benefits and risks are with using them as a development vehicle. I also think it would be a good idea to make it a policy for the city that any capital project in excess of a certain amount (say $10 Million as a suggestion for now), should be voted on via referendum.
Before starting a new, large, and long term TIF, we should examine Appleton’s other TIF’s and how they have preformed vs. expectations. While I don’t have all the data on all the TIF’s, I do know from the Appleton Concerned Taxpayers Website (now defunct) that as of February of last year: “TIF District #3 was established in 1993 and won’t expire until 2031. Since 1993 the city of Appleton has advanced TIF district #3, $42 million dollars. In the last 25 years TIF district #3 has only repaid $9.7 million of the $42 million advanced by the city.” They further state “In the last 25 years only $9.7 million of the $42 million has been repaid to the city through taxes that exceed the 1993 base levels. TIF district #3 was scheduled to expire in 2021 but the city filed and received an extension for another 10 years which brings the scheduled expiration now to 2031. This extension allows the TIF district another 10 years to repay the city advances. Based on the rate of repayment, it doesn’t appear likely that the city will be repaid for the entire remaining $32 million that was "advanced" to TIF district #3.”
We are entering into unprecedented times with our economy and our financial system. The markets are highly volatile, and we are going to be in a recession, if not an outright depression, as soon the numbers start coming in. It is really a good time to take on a large investment such as this?
While the three points listed above are what I believe to be commonly accepted perspectives we need to ask of ourselves when we look to make public/private investments, I’d like to add a fourth one that is of my own concern. Namely that I believe we should only invest in maintaining what we have, not building new. I am concerned that we have blown by the carrying capacity of this planet and that our belief in constant growth is unsustainable. We must start living in a fundamentally different way. Not next year, or in 10 years, but right now. Like my Grandma, who went through the great depression, said: “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without”. That is what we need to start doing in our personal life and what we should be doing that in public life as well. Instead of subsidizing office buildings built around a parking a ramp that is required to support business as usual, let’s think of alternatives. I’ve outlined some of those alternatives elsewhere in this list of questions.
12. Appleton has a thriving arts community. What do you see as the value of this and what do you see as the city’s role in supporting the arts?
I think art is awesome and I think we should do everything we can do to encourage it. I recently read something from a friend that had a great quote from Bertolt Brecht that goes like this: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”
But let’s cut to the chase. There is a lot of talk about the Easter island looking sculpture by the College Avenue bridge. I for one love it. But we shouldn’t move it. I can’t believe such an item is even on the common council agenda, especially given the other pressing issues at hand. But I do think there is room for improvement in how such situations get handled in the future. Perhaps we should do a neighborhood/site assessment to communicate with residents or businesses by future art installs to ensure there is foreknowledge and agreement amongst a majority that they would support that installation. It’s like what I said about the Coronavirus, communicate, communicate, communicate. As for budgeting for Art in the city budget, while I support it, it isn’t up to me. It is up to the citizens of the city. I think that things like this are a perfect example of why we should have more citizen involvement via participatory budgeting processes, which is a sub topic within something I mentioned above regarding neighborhoods. But I’ve likely exhausted you with my answers, so if you’d like to talk about civic engagement, or any of the things I talked about here, or anything else, feel free to email or call me. I’d love to hear what you think. And I’d love to represent your voice on the common council.