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Four vie for three seats on village board
Gays Mills
gays mills village board

GAYS MILLS - There are three open positions for two-year trustee terms on the Gays Mills Village Board, and four candidates on the ballot.

There are two incumbents, Lee Ruegg and Seamus Murray; a former village president, Craig Anderson; and a newcomer, Ethan Eitsert.

Lee Ruegg
Lee Ruegg

Lee Ruegg

The veteran of the group is Lee Ruegg, who lives at 228 S. Gay Street in Gays Mills. Ruegg, 67, lives in the floodplain and has seen her share of flooding. She has three adult children, one of whom lives in the village. She survives her spouse David George, who passed away five years ago.

Ruegg graduated from Logan High School in LaCrosse. She also graduated from WWTC in LaCrosse with an associate degree in computer science. Ruegg studied business management through the University of Phoenix.

Lee Ruegg has had more than few jobs in her life. She worked at Transformer in Boscobel; Ray-o-Vac in Fennimore; and S&S Cycle in Viola.

Ruegg has also worked at the former Cenex and the Marketplace in Gays Mills, and bartended at Michael’s Pub and J&Js.

Ruegg worked as a lobbyist for the International Machinist Union for three-and-a-half years in Madison and Washington D.C. She has been deeply involved with ABATE, a group that represents the interests of the motorcycle, ATV and UTV riders. She has served as the regional legislative representative and treasurer.

In addition to her work on the village board, Ruegg serves on the Gays Mills Library Board, as the village board’s representative.

Why is Lee Ruegg running for another term on the Gays Mills Village Board?

“I have a strong attachment to what goes on in our village and our community,” Lee told the Independent-Scout recently.

The candidate sees growth and redevelopment as major issues for the village going forward. She believes a priority for the village is getting the new to merge with the old.

“We need to build a bridge to better understanding between the two,” Ruegg said. “We need to combine the two; to reconnect the two.”

The village trustee sees growth as necessary to the village because the damage and buyouts from the major floods have led to a dwindling tax base.

“There’s this ghost in our past and it just lives with us,” Ruegg said describing the impact of the floods on the village.

Ruegg sees some missteps in the redevelopment of the village after the floods. She thinks there were a lot of changes to what was going to happen, and priorities were switched. 

“At least it should’ve been voted on…it should’ve been put on a referendum,” Ruegg said of the redevelopment plans. “It left a lot of hard feelings. People moved away and others felt they no longer had a voice in the community.”

Ruegg explained that the DNR and others control a lot of things in the village.

The village trustee remains committed to growth for the village. She sees an economy turning to work-from-home jobs, and believes the new sewer plant is a necessary component of growing the village.

Ruegg is committed to getting more housing in the village and points to the lower lot prices in the redevelopment area as a positive step in that direction. 

“So many problems the board faces are created from the budget,” Ruegg explained. “If we can get a better tax base those problems will start to go away. We have to start thinking outside the box. Things are not going to get easier for Gays Mills and communities like Gays Mills.”

Seamus Murray
Seamus Murray

Seamus Murray

Seamus Murray is the other incumbent candidate for the Gays Mills Village Board. 

Murray, 26, lives with his wife Christina and two children; Ian, 3, and Claira, 8; at 707 Mulberry Street in Gays Mills.

Seamus graduated from Aquinas High School in LaCrosse and went on to graduate from UW-Platteville with a Bachelors of Science in Agribusiness. 

Murray has been employed in industrial sales for Scot Industries in Muscoda and is about to take a new job in software sales for an Atlanta-based company.

Why is Seamus running for another term as a village trustee on the Gays Mills Village Board? 

”I’ve enjoyed my time serving on the village board up to this point,” Murray said. “I think providing a young person’s perspective is a value to the community. And, I want to continue to provide that perspective.

Like others, Murray feels the construction of a new sewer plant is the largest project facing the village

The village trustee explained selecting the engineering firm was the first part of process. He sees a lot of work on the project ahead for the board and the village.

Secondarily and tied to the sewer plant construction is growth, according to Murray. In that regard the village recently launched a small social media campaign promoting inexpensive residential lots in the development area, and was pleased with the response. 

“It was tremendous success on a rather limited budget,” Murray said of the social media campaign. “The engagement was phenomenal.”

Murray wants to see the residential lots begin to sell and then see the village engage in selling the industrial lots.

Editors note: the Independent-Scout was unable to obtain photos for candidates Craig Anderson and Ethan Eitsert.

Craig Anderson
Craig Anderson

Craig Anderson

Another person experienced in Gays Mills politics and planning is Craig Anderson, a former village president.

Anderson, 68, lives with his partner Kile Martz at 17175 W. River Road in Gays Mills.

Anderson graduated from high school at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas; and went on to get a Bachelor of Science in English and urban Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul. Anderson also attended the University of Minnesota, where he earned a Master of Social Work degree.

While Craig is largely retired at this point, he has a small part-time job doing supportive homecare for a disabled individual.

Anderson arrived in Gays Mills 20 years ago, and rescued and restored four empty houses and one commercial building. Those structures were either elevated or otherwise flood mitigated, and all are still in use post floods.

At one point, Anderson operated a local real estate business on Main Street in Gays Mills. From 2005 to 2020, Craig owned and managed the Hotel Fortney in Viroqua, and also had a retail business in the building .

While living in the Twin Cities, he pursued a two-career track, sometimes at the same time–one as a clinical social worker and the other as a community planner.

Anderson is a past member and president of the Gays Mills Library Board. He currently serves on the  Crawford County Design Committee; the Gays Mills Plan Commission and the Architectural Review Committee. He previously worked on the Gays Mills Trail Committee, the Crawford County Tourism Council and the Crawford County Community Fund Board.

Craig Anderson served as the Gays Mills Village President from 2011 to 2013. He is currently the Vice Chairperson of the Friends of the Gays Mills Public Library, a member of the tree board and a Chief Election Inspector for the village.

“It’s weird being so involved in the election and then not working on this one because I’m a candidate,” Anderson said.

Why is Craig Anderson running to become a village trustee in Gays Mills?

 Well, I was asked to consider running and I was flattered to be asked,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t sure others would run and I had the time now. So I thought I’d step up. I’ve always felt a commitment to the community.”

Anderson has a different approach to moving the village forward than others. 

“Well, village life in a small town like this is a collaborative do-it-yourself project,” Anderson said. “We have to work together. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to work together.

“We have the freedom and responsibility to seek solutions, not just have opinions,” the former village president explained. “The purpose of government is to balance self-interest and the common good with what’s good for the village.

“We have benefitted from the work and efforts of people that came before us, and have an obligation to leave something for others.”

The major issue facing the village in Anderson’s opinion is to keep the village viable, and that means keeping it fiscally solvent and able to provide services.

Anderson believes the chickens have come home to roost on some of the redevelopment efforts.

“We have to be able to afford all the costs of the ‘free money,’ like the endless mowing (of the vacant lots created by the buyouts).”

Like others, Anderson identified building the sewer plant as a major infrastructure project facing the village.

Anderson noted that affordable housing used to be a commodity for the village 

“People want to move here,” he noted.

Anderson believes the village may have lost its economic purpose and may have to re-invent it.

His three-legged stool of redevelopment includes value-added agriculture, light manufacturing, (some tourism) and cultural and educational organizations.

Anderson like others believes the redevelopment area must become the downtown of the village, making the area work as the center of the community.

“We need the new town to function as the traditional downtown,” Anderson said.

Ethan Eitsert
Ethan Eitsert

Ethan Eitsert

The newcomer to the Gays Mills Village Board election this spring is Ethan Eitsert. 

Eistert, 36, lives with his wife Krista and nine-year-old daughter Ella at 724 Mulberry Street in Gays Mills.

Eistert in a graduate of Riverdale High School. He went on to WWTC where he became an HVAC and Refrigeration Technician.

Eitsert is currently employed by Madison Gas & Electric, as the local natural gas representative.

Eitsert is member United Methodist Church in Gays Mills. He is also a lieutenant and secretary in the Gays Mills Fire Department.

“I love this town and want to help out the best I can,” Eistert said. “I have utility experience and I think I could help out with the sewer plant. I love this place and just want to try to help.”

Eitsert, like most everyone else, sees the construction of the new sewer plant as the big issue facing the village. He believes the cost of the project is the main thing to be addressed.

So, four qualified candidates and three positions to fill–that’s a pretty good position for the residents Gays Mills.