While many local elections are passing as uncontested challenges this spring, this is not the case in the race for Gays Mills village president, where longtime resident and former village trustee Pat Brockway has stepped forward to challenge incumbent village president Craig Anderson.
The Anderson-Brockway race offers Gays Mills voters a clear choice. Anderson assumed office two years ago, after defeating longtime village president Larry McCarn.
The candidates’ differences are immediate. Anderson moved to Gays Mills 10 years ago, while Brockway has lived in the village almost his entire life and is a graduate of North Crawford High School as are his, now adult, children.
Despite some very distinct differences, the candidates do share a couple of things in common. One is age—Anderson is 59 and Brockway is 58.
Anderson lives with his domestic partner Kile Martz, at 17175 West River Road in the old village, overlooking the Kickapoo River near the bridge. Brockway lives in a recently built house on 515 Sunset Ridge Avenue in the relocation area. He moved to the house about two-and-a-half years ago, following the government buyout of the house he owned at 105 Main Street in the old village.
Lived on Main Street
Brockway described his former Main Street house as a nice small home that was a “fixer-upper.” Following the first flood, he repaired damage to the house and installed new carpeting, but when the second flood destroyed all of that work just eight months later, he decided taking a buyout and relocating out of the floodplain seemed like the “right idea.”
Brockway currently lives in his new residence alone with a small dog. His adult daughters, Casey and Sara, live and work in the Madison area. Patrick also proudly declared he has two young grandchildren living in McFarland.
Brockway is the son of the late George Brockway. His brother Jerry Brockway and his family own Brockway and Sons, a local trucking and excavating company. His other brother Gordie lives in Lone Rock and his sister lives in the nursing home in Soldiers Grove.
Brockway is a retired heavy equipment operator.
“I worked all of my life in the construction field,” Brockway explained. “I started as a truck driver, but moved on to heavy equipment.”
Anderson’s background is quite a bit different than Brockway’s. Craig grew up in Dallas, where he graduated from St. Mark’s High School. He went on to get a Bachelor of Arts degree from Macalester College in St. Paul, majoring in Urban Studies and English. Anderson went on to get a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Minnesota.
Why are they running?
“One term (as village president) wasn’t enough punishment,” Anderson declared with a chuckle in explaining his decision to seek a second term.
Actually, Anderson sees it as his “civic duty” to offer himself as a candidate. He was quick to add that he was “glad to see there is a choice on the ballot.” However, Anderson is very much about finishing the work started during his term.
“At this point in the village’s history, stability and continuity would be a good thing,” Anderson said. “We should be wrapping up the flood recovery projects this year.”
Brockway is running to become village president based on his many years of experience being “on and off the village board a few times.” While he realizes the village president and board have their hands tied in many matters by state and federal mandates, he still feels the board needs to do what it can to save money and set the village’s financial house in order. Among things that Brockway would address is the monthly joint committee meeting, which is paid work for both the board and the village clerk, who is required to takes minutes. The former board member recalled his days on the board, when committee meetings were scheduled at the behest of the committee not held at regularly scheduled day each month and were not paid.
Brockway also believes the current board process is not allowing enough public input from village residents.
Brockway noted that since he has taken an option to retire after 25 years of service as a heavy equipment operator, he has a lot to time to invest with helping the village.
Both candidates can point to a variety of accomplishments of the village during the time in which they served on the board.
Anderson is proud the village didn’t “become paralyzed or implode” from the incredible amount of work from the recovery project during the two years he has served as village president.
“The recovery projects were far beyond the capacity of a village of 500,” Anderson said. “We couldn’t abdicate our responsibility to the consultants. We were still responsible to oversee the project. The responsibility was ultimately with us. Plus we had to live with the outcome.”
Dealing with the recovery projects meant addressing large agendas, Anderson explained. The village also addressed the retirement of a village employee and the addition of a half-time position. Recently, the village hired some part-time police protection from the sheriff’s department.
Anderson is also proud of the fact that he believes the board has become “more representative” of the village.
“Our decisions are not necessarily unanimous, but that’s a good thing,” Anderson said. “We have a range of opinions, yet we have managed to make decisions.”
The state of the village is “very good, considering what it could be,” according to Anderson.
Brockway has a longer-term view of the accomplishments he’s seen during his years serving on various boards.
“It’s hard for me to single out these accomplishments as something I did for the board while I was on it,” he said. “There was the village president and five other people. It was everybody working together as a united board that got things done.”
Brockway noted that he had served under three or four different village presidents, “each with a different perspective.” However, he pointed out that they were all the same in one regard, “they were not doing the job for any self gain. They were all looking out for the good of the community, to make the community a better place to live and work. And make it possible for the village residents to live together in harmony.”
In the future, Anderson sees a transition toward attracting private redevelopment initiatives.
“Going forward, the village will have to go from subsidized redevelopment to being able to attract people who want to be here and who can keep living here because it’s affordable,” Anderson said.
More people will result in more taxes and fees (revenue) to pay for the increased infrastructure that has been built in the village, the village president explained.
Another issue facing the village will be its aging population, Anderson pointed out. Not only is the general population aging, but so is the business community. He sees the challenge as keeping current businesses alive as the current owners retire and step away from them.
Anderson also sees a continuation of psychological process of letting go of notions of the old village and embracing the new village, as a necessary adjustment to making the village thrive in the future. He embraces the proposed recreational trails and hopes that some day in the future a new segment of Highway 131 between the new village and the old village will include pedestrian and bicycle friendly additions to make it safer.
Anderson sees tourism as part of the village’s future economic mix, but also believes there must be increased economic development in other areas like value-added agricultural products.
Finally, Anderson explained that going forward the village will need residents to continue to step forward to volunteer to serve on the board and committees to make the village functional.
Brockway sees the village’s financial situation as the major issue facing Gays Mills going forward.
“Right now, the village seems more strapped than at any other time that I was on the board,” Brockway said. “We tried to keep taxes on the low side and get by on what we could. We can’t tax people any more than we already are.”
Brockway believes the village must do its best with whatever it has going forward and work with the debt as it exists trying to reduce it where possible.
In fact, Brockway sees some of the same solutions as Anderson does. He believes it’s necessary to get more businesses and entice more people to build houses to ultimately produce more revenue for the village.
Brockway also believes it’s time to see the village, both the new part built with relocation funds and the older part in the floodplain, as one village and not two different villages.
“It’s still one village,” Brockway said. “I don’t like to hear ‘down here or up there or up here and down there’.”
When it came to their opponents, both candidates had kind words in describing their differences.
“Craig Anderson has done a good job,” Brockway said of the current village president. “I approach people differently than he does. He’s more business like and I’m more friendly or neighborly.
“I don’t think he’s done a bad job,” Brockway continued. “We have a variety of different approaches toward things which is good. I certainly have no ill feeling toward Craig.
“It’s a small town,” Brockway said. “It’s really not about whether you win or lose (the election). It’s about who can do the best job for the village. If I lose, I will support Craig and the village as we strive to move forward toward a better financial situation.”
For his part, Anderson was equally as gracious about Brockway’s candidacy.
“Pat Brockway has certainly volunteered and contributed to the village in the past,” Anderson noted. “And that he is willing to do so again is really a wonderful thing. I respect anyone who is offering to energize the village.”
Anderson respects the fact that Brockway, who questions some of the policies in the relocation project, is willing to run on those issues. The village president feels that Brockway’s decision to run is “much better than the alternative, which would be to sit on the sideline and do nothing or worse than that snipe or undermine other people.” Brockway is clearly not doing that and the voters are being given a choice.