With three village trustee positions up for election and five candidates, Gays Mills voters will have a few choices to make when they head to the polls on Tuesday, April 3.
The three incumbent village trustees, Albert Zegiel, Earl Winsor and Aaron Fortney, have all chosen to stand for reelection. Challengers Jim Showen and Donald Lampert are also interested in serving on the Gays Mills Village Board.
Al Zegiel, a 56 year-old baker, lives at 223 Main Street above his bakery with his wife Brenda. They have four grown children.
Zegiel has been a baker for close to 40 years, working first in his father’s bakery while in high school in Montana, then joining the Army and working as a cook while stationed in Florida and Texas. He went on to study baking and fermentology in Minneapolis after leaving the Army. After moving to the area over 20 years ago, he also studied Agricultural Business Management and Real Estate at Western Wisconsin Technical College.
Having run unsuccessfully in the past, Zegiel was appointed to the board mid-term in 2008. He was reelected to the position in 2009.
Prior to his appointment to the board, Zegiel served on the Gays Mills Long Range Planning Committee formed in the wake of the 2007 and 2008 floods. He went on to serve on the housing committee, which took bids for both removals and elevations of significantly damaged homes.
According to Zegiel, people make a point of talking to him about the village wherever he’s at.
“You go out and you’re not thinking about the board, you’re just doing what you need to do,” Zegiel explained. “But people see you, they know you and they take the time to talk to you about their concerns.
“I try to listen to people and take their concerns to the meetings the best I can,” Zegiel said. “I work to get the best results I am able. It’s a sacred trust, representing people.”
Zegiel views being on the board as an opportunity to give back to a community which he feels has treated him well. And remaining on the board means being able to see flood recovery projects finished.
“This is kind of the most worthwhile thing I have done as a community member and I would like to keep doing it,” Zegiel stated. “There are so many times I was glad to be there to argue for or against something. And I would like to see us finish what we’ve started.”
Stressing that board decisions are a compromise and that you have to be willing to set your own opinions aside temporarily to hear what others really have to say before making a decision, Zegiel feels community participation is necessary.
“I have been both for and against many things,” Zegiel said. “You don’t get everything the way you want it. Most people still feel that what they say doesn’t matter. They need to realize how powerful their opinion is. If they come to meetings and speak up, they impact the decisions made.”
Zegiel has a number of things he still hopes to accomplish. He wants to be involved in improving the remaining downtown area, envisioning new sidewalks and landscaping of vacant areas to make it attractive for those who live here and those who visit. He would also like to see events such as the Apple Blossom Festival reinvigorated.
Zegiel wants to be part of finding a financially feasible way to keep the old Gays Mills Community Building on Main Street in the hands of the community.
“I don’t want to see the building sold or leased to an outside entity,” Zegiel said. “The people already own it. I would like to see that maintained.”
Earl Winsor is a 49 year-old lineman with Scenic Rivers Energy, who lives at 444 State Highway 131 across from the Log Cabin Park with his wife Denise. They have four children: three grown and one still in high school.
Winsor went to school to be an industrial tech teacher, but never did teach. Instead, he went back to lineman school and entered the career where he has spent most of his adult life working.
Winsor has a history of civic involvement. In addition to his current board position, he serves on the church board at Maple Ridge Bible Church and volunteers with both the Gays Mills First Responders and the Gays Mills Fire Department.
Winsor first came to the village board without seeking the position.
“Six people wrote my name in,” Winsor recalled. “That was enough in that election.”
Recognizing that the flood recovery has been difficult and not something everyone has always agreed upon, Winsor would still like to remain on the board as they work to finish what was begun during his tenure.
“We’re just finally seeing the fruits of our labor – the new community building, the Mercantile Center, the townhouses,” Winsor said.
The incumbent village trustee would also like to be part of nurturing new growth for the village.
“I would like to see the size of the town grow,” Winsor added. “I would like to see more business come in. And obviously, that means more families too.”
Winsor acknowledged the difficulties of serving on the board that all village trustees face. The small village population means fewer people with time, ability and inclination to serve. It also means knowing most of your constituents, knowing that your decisions will affect friends, neighbors or family.
The numbers who may serve as trustees can be further pared down by conflict of interest rules, according to Winsor. This was the case early in the flood recovery efforts when current trustee candidate Jim Showen had to step down from the board in order to compete for bids in the recovery projects. It occurred later as well, with Kate Vereshagin who was required to resign her position as a village trustee because of census work she did with the Federal government.
Aaron Fortney, 42, lives at 16703 State Highway 131 with his wife Nicole. They have two children, one in high school and one in college.
Fortney is a graduate of North Crawford. He attended college, but did not receive a degree.
Fortney works at Sunrise Orchards full-time and is the substitute rural mail carrier for the Gays Mills Post Office. In addition to serving on the village board, he also serves on the Franklin Lutheran Church’s church council and on the North Crawford School Board. The busy village trustee is the Gays Mills Fire Department Secretary and serves wherever else he can, such as helping with the “learn to hunt” program that pairs new hunters with mentors.
Fortney first ran for the village board after the August 2007 flood, wanting to assist the village recovery.
“Right now, things are going well,” Fortney said, referring to the recently completed Gays Mills Community Commerce Center and nearly complete Gays Mills Mercantile Center. “There is still more we need to work on. We need to rebuild our tax base.”
“I would like to see the town get some of the old residents back, if we can,” Fortney said. “And, we need to create interest to bring new people here, and new business.”
Fortney feels his close ties to the community and his focus on family help make him a good candidate. For him, those ties and values create a long-term commitment to the village.
“I live here with my wife and children. My grandmother lived in this town,” Fortney said. “I want to see this town survive. I’ve seen what it has been and what it can still be.”
Jim Showen, 53, and his wife Allison have two grown children. He and his wife live at 610 Mulberry Street.
Showen is a 1977 graduate of North Crawford High School. Jim and Allison Showen own and operate Showen Excavating, Kickapoo Stumpdodger Campground and All County Signs.
Showen served on the village board at the time of the 2007 flood and has served in the Gays Mills Lions Club. He also volunteered with North Crawford sports while his children were in school.
Showen feels his business sense, management experience in financial and practical concerns, and common sense make him an excellent candidate.
“I want to stop wasteful spending,” Showen said, citing board committee meetings which he feels are increasing village costs by as much as $500 per month. The former board member pointed out the meetings mean additional pay for staff and board members.
Showen sees becoming a village trustee as an opportunity “to try to put the village back in local control instead of control by out-of-towners.”
“It feels like it’s the paid people running the town,” Showen declared.
Showen feels that the course of flood recovery has been taken out of the hands of village residents and “feels terrible about the continuing buyouts.” He also feels that many people he knows don’t find their views represented by the village board’s actions.
“My main purpose in running is to see if our town can grow in a way that helps the town, not private interests,” Showen said. “The people who don’t say anything in public talk in private. They are private people. But, they do have opinions and I talk to them all the time.”
Don Lampert, 60, lives at 216 Orin Street. He has an undergraduate degree in technical theater production and worked in set design, construction and lighting until the mid-1980s, when he began his own decorative painting business.
Lampert still operates the business since moving to Gays Mills more than 10 years ago, though supplements his income by working at the Gays Mills Public Library and driving a delivery truck part-time for Star Valley Flowers during the growing season. He currently plans to open a bed and breakfast later this spring in the Orin Street home.
Lampert has served on the boards of the Kickapoo Exchange Food Co-op, the Old Mill Preservation Society and on the Association to Restore the Temple Theater (Viroqua). He also worked for many years with the Landmark Preservation Council in Chicago.
Lampert feels that being on the village board would allow him to give a voice to those who have not been heard in the process during the flood recovery efforts.
“Now that the project is wrapping up, the money is drying up,” Lampert said. “We need to put the old downtown in the forefront. And, we need to become more proactive, plan for our future and how we will pay for it.
“There is still money for buyouts, but I am not in favor of continuing down that path,” Lampert explained. “That is milking the system, at this point. It hurts the village. It keeps reopening an old wound, when most people want to move on.”
Lampert sees preparing for costs of maintaining and upgrading the geothermal systems in the new community buildings as important. He also feels the village should consider restoring the hydroelectric power station.
“After seeing the floods in 2007 and 2008, I understand why restoring the mill buildings doesn’t really make sense,” Lampert said. “But with the rising fuel and energy prices, I would still like to see us working on becoming a more self-sustaining community.
“We have taken on big challenges I hope we can keep up with,” Lampert continued. “Moving the village offices and the library to higher ground was a good idea. I would like to thank everyone that made that happen. Now, I want to preserve our existing downtown. And, I would like to see the old community building restored as a performing arts center, a proposal I have already placed before the village board.”