The Platteville Common Council interviewed the five candidates for the council’s at-large vacancy Tuesday night.
The council is expected to vote Tuesday on which of the five candidates — former at-large Ald. Mike Denn, Plan Commission and Community Development Board member Staci Strobl, Commission on Aging member Shanshan Thompson, UW–Platteville student body president Ben Behlke and Jason Artz — will serve the remaining 19 months of the term of former at-large Ald. Cena Sharp, who resigned July 11.
Each of the five candidates wrote letters saying why they were interested in the position and their own priorities.
Denn was on the council from 2013 to 2016. He also served on the Plan Commission, Park Board, Police and Fire Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.
City accomplishments Denn listed as part of his city service included the Family Aquatic Center, returning city employees from a 37-hour work week to a 40-hour work week, completion of the David P. Canny Rountree Branch Trail, the Library Block project, purchasing the former Pioneer Ford Sales property for what is becoming Ruxton Apartments, and Southwest Health Center’s takeover of Platteville EMS.
“I believe that to be an effective member of the Common Council, you need to do your research on all new projects brought to the City Council, get out in the public, and communicate with the community,” said Denn. “I have been a Platteville resident for 68 years and have seen many changes and improvements. We have much to offer to new residents and I am proud to say I belong to this community.”
Denn listed as his priorities reducing the city’s debt load and “the ongoing Kallembach properties that are now a problem.”
“Platteville is a growing small city that can boast a high quality of life and strong community cohesion,” said Strobl. “In my time here, I have come to know many wonderful people who care deeply about their city and from them I have been inspired to be involved.”
Strobl’s first of three priorities is affordable housing, “particularly for low-income families, and families who seek to buy starter homes.” She said the city housing study “has identified the challenges we face in this regard, but I think with planning we can make a difference.”
Strobl listed “water management and flood preparedness” as another issue, pointing to 2018 flooding “highlighting the need to be proactive to avoid trail bridge washouts and overruns [of] culverts and sewers in the future.”
Strobl also emphasized economic development: “I would like to contribute to policies and programs that would attract new small businesses to our downtown area, as well as maintain a positive and beneficial relationship with our larger businesses.”
“As a Chinese first-generation college student who valued education as the most important thing in life, I found that it is easy to bond with people since historically Platteville is an educational hub in the surrounding area,” said Thompson, who earned a master’s degree from UW–Platteville, moved back to China to start a business, then came back to Platteville to raise her son. “Although I am from another culture, I think work can be done. I believe empathy is the key, along with will to collaborate, effective communication, being creative and using critical thinking skills while solving the problems.”
Thompson listed her priorities as “the constructive and creative planning in the area of library, museums, recreations, local businesses and tourism,” along with “more investment and resources on providing up-to-date innovative learning and playing opportunities for kids under 7. By doing that, we can not only retain the existing talents and their family, but also attract more valuable ones. A vibrant city is built by active hands and vivacious minds.”
Behlke has attended several council meetings since he was elected UW–Platteville student body president, and in some of those meetings “it really made me want to say my opinion on matters, however I obviously couldn’t. There were some instances that I saw the students’ voice being a perfect fit. This is where I see my biggest qualification. I see myself being the students’ voice on the council, since many of them call this place home.”
Behlke said he wants to “focus on the university and city relations, not that they are bad, but communication is always a plus. Having me on council will open up this pathway and would allow many of the students voices to be heard. Also, another improvement would be adding improvements to the city with activities to do that will spur new families to check out the city or have people stay here after college. It would be cool to get a new face on Common Council to share ideas.
“I think being able to represent the people and not be a trustee is what makes an effective council member. I have always prided myself on being a representative. I am always willing to set aside my own views and beliefs for the people I represent. I am also going to do my best to hear community members views on issues, since I will be representing them as well.”
“As an effective Common Council member, I feel it is important, to the best of their ability, to be free of any personal agendas and/or solely focused on only supporting specific issues,” said Artz, a University Counseling Services counselor at UW–Platteville. “While it is impossible to meet the needs of every citizen in our city, I feel it is important to work as much as possible to have an impact on the most people we can. I also feel it is important for a council member to be a strong listener — being able to hear others and refrain from defensive responses.”
Artz also lists housing as a priority, specifically “rental properties and the lack of options for some demographics. I previously have owned a rental property, and have been frustrated with accountability of landlords at times. I am also concerned about the removal of the requirement of having a rental inspection from the city code.”
More generally, he said, “When considering areas of focus and/or improvement, I believe that making data driven and needs driven decisions is important. It is vital for our community members to be able to provide a voice and input into what their needs are versus what a handful of individuals think are the needs of the community. If selected, I would want to spend some time reviewing existing data and continuing to look for opportunities in which additional data will be important for decision making.”
The candidate the council selects will serve until the April 2021 election.