The five candidates for the Platteville Common Council got together Thursday for the only scheduled joint appearance before Tuesday’s election.
The Platteville Journal, the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Program hosted a forum in the Municipal Building for at-large candidates Steve Becker, Michael Denn and Zan Shields, and District 1 candidates Mike Dalecki and Barb Stockhausen.
The debate, carried live on Centurytel channel 36, can be viewed at the city’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfXc9aUC70w.
The debate positioned the two incumbents, Becker and Dalecki, and the council’s approach to issues against their three challengers — Denn and write-in candidate Shields against Becker, and Stockhausen against Dalecki.
“Platteville’s been a boom town for the past few years,” said Becker. “We’ve had good economic growth. We’ve held the line on taxes. … The biggest thing facing us is how we are going to continue growth in the city and finance our growth in the city, particularly when we look at our operating expenses.”
“I’ve maintained for the last three years that our economic situation is the most important kind of problem that we face, and a lot of things roll into that,” said Dalecki. “Taxpayers trust us to spend their money well, and I think we’ve done a really good job doing that.”
“We need to get the city back to a 40-hour work week” for hourly city employees, said Denn. “The Police Department does not need to be closed on Friday, and neither does city hall.”
Denn said that discontinuing “jobs that maybe the city doesn’t really need at this point in time” and funding from the city’s garbage collection fee could restore the three hours per week cut from hourly employees’ salaries in 2012.
“I would be the different candidate,” said Shields. “I would be the candidate that would be for the city growing its own business.”
“Everyone here has talked about taxes, but I also think it’s about the representation of District 1,” said Stockhausen. “We also have to be part of the community, and there’s many opportunities out there that we can use that are not part of the tax structure.”
Dalecki said the city’s reduction of hours prevented layoffs and benefit reductions to city employees.
“I looked to see if the roads are still being plowed; they were, and parks were still being mowed; they were, and city hall work still getting done,” said Dalecki. “We’re obviously getting the work done at 37” hours per week. “My hope is we’ll come down to a point where we can gain hours back so people can go back to 40; in the meantime, where will that money comes from, and is that good stewardship of tax dollars?”
Becker pointed out that 67 percent of the city’s operating budget is wages and benefits. “You can spend a lot of time looking at cutting $5,000 here or $5,000 there … but where are the dollars?” he said. “This wasn’t one person’s decision; this was seven persons on the city council along with city management.”
“Businesses run on a five-day week, and there’s nothing worse than trying to do business on a Friday” and have the Municipal Building closed, said Stockhausen. “I also think people do complete more work in a 40-hour work week and they have a better understanding, more comfort, love of the community.”
“The money that you saved by doing this, if you still had it some place, that would be wonderful, but you immediately turned around and hired some positions that the city never had before,” said Denn. “All this time we’ve never had an assistant city manager. We don’t need that.”
“I don’t like seeing people where they’re losing part of their income,” said Shields. “I just think there was another way of doing this. … There are single women that work in city operations; they can’t afford that. There are men that take care of their families; they are meat and potatoes of the community.”
Dalecki and Becker had a different opinion about whether the city council micromanages from two of their opponents.
“This is a representative democracy right here, and the seven members of the council, for better or worse, are the ones charged with making the policy decisions that guide this town,” said Dalecki. “We listen to people, we try to hear what’s going on, we listen for ideas, but in the end the city manager has to manage within the criteria of those policies that we set.”
“When I look at the paper, and I look at what people say, half the people are saying you’re not watching the city manager enough; the other half say you’re spending too much time watching the city manager,” said Becker.
Becker said the council directed City Manager Larry Bierke to come up with ways to reduce city spending during the 2013 budget process.
“Then we start sitting down going through each one of them,” he said. “If you call that micromanaging, that’s what we’re going to do, but that’s what we should be doing.”
“We need to more adequately use the committees and commissions,” said Stockhausen. “As much as we tell the city manager to do his job, many times the job is taken from him and done at the council level. That’s not their job. … To do the committee work before it goes back to the committee, I basically don’t appreciate it.”
“I don’t believe that the last decision should rest with seven people,” said Shields.
Some of the most interesting answers were tied to a question about Second Street bars.
“You have about 200 people that are not students that now come into town … and they come from areas like the south side of Chicago [or] Dubuque,” said Shields. “The fights break out, and to me no one has to ask the question of why they’re there. … When you have a bar, and the bar caters to certain things, and you have patrons who go into a bar and act a certain way, you have a problem, and that is a problem that the owner and his staff needs to work out.”
“I’ve gotten a number of complaints from people,” said Dalecki. “The rest of the business owners downtown should not have to suffer because we have a Second Street. When you have broken windows and other kinds of property damage repeatedly and continuously from what happens on Second Street, we have a problem. And I think we ought to look at that and figure out what to do with that.”
“A service fee from [bar owners] is ridiculous,” said Denn, who said Platteville has “a tremendous amount of law enforcement for a small community.”
Denn said house parties are supplanting the bars in terms of serving people, but “you see a fight starting, you don’t stand around and wait until there’s 10 or 12 people in a fight, and there’s three police officers watching … you stop it right away.”
Denn said “there have been some ridiculous tickets being written in this city,” including, he claimed, a $200 fine for a homeowner who put out a cigarette on his own property.
“The question I’ve been asking for several years is what bars are really causing this problem?” said Becker, who wants to see alcohol-related citations used as criteria for liquor license renewals.
“Yes, we have to ask the bar owners, but you’re not going to close Second Street,” said Stockhausen. “They’re still businesses, and the people who run and operate those businesses do whatever’s asked, and they do it to the best of their abilities.”