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Write-ins add interest in village board election
Village of Gays Mills
gays mills village board

GAYS MILLS - Well, the Village of Gays Mills annual spring election has taken a competitive turn with the emergence of two registered write-in candidates.

The first to register as a write-in candidate was Leland ‘Lee’ Hagen and last week another candidate, Josh Kasinkas, also registered as write-in candidate in the election for three village trustees. The write-in candidates  are joining two incumbent village trustees Larry McCarn and Kevin Murray. The incumbents registered by the deadline to have their names appear on the ballot.

The election features three trustee  seats and the highest three vote getters of the aforementioned candidates will be the winners.

In addition to incumbents McCarn and Murray, the third trustee seat was held by Kim Pettit, who decided against seeking re-election.

The two registered write-in candidates are both in their 30s and seem eager to make a contribution to the village in which they live.

Joshua ‘Josh’ Kasinkas is the newest resident in the race. The 31-year-old father of three moved with his wife and three children into a new home built at 16833 West Point Road. 

The Kasinkas have owned the property for some time, and moved a trailer onto the property in the spring of 2019 to use for recreational purposes.  The family lived in a rental farm house near Boydtown until the new home was completed and they moved in December.

Josh Kasinkas grew up near Port Washington, Wisconsin in Ozaukee County in the eastern part of the state. He attended and graduated from Sheboygan Lutheran High School. He attended UW Green Bay for three years, where he majored in business management with an emphasis on marketing and a minor in accounting. Kasinkas took his fourth year of study online and received Bachelor’s Degree in business management from Walden University.

The Kasinkas have three children, including a six-year-old Eden and four-year-old Henry, who attend North Crawford. The youngest member of the family is two-year-old Gideon.

Kasinkas telecommutes for work in his family’s company GSC, which offers engineering and technology solutions to the manufacturing industry. The firm employs 80 people at several locations in the Midwest.

Kasinkas has been working remotely for GSC for the past year-and-a-half or more.

Ironically, when Josh and Jessica bought the property on West Point Road, they had no intention of moving there, However as they grew to know the  area,  they “fell in love with the people and the area.”

“I have this passion to see things are restored and built back up,” Kasinkas said.

“I have an entrepreneurial mindset….I want to be part of the solution,” Kasinkas said. “I want to be part of moving the community forward. That’s really why I’m running. I’m not a political person.”

Kasinkas believes being an outsider allows him to have a unique perspective on the history of the village. He feels to understand the history of Gays Mills it is necessary to look past the history of flooding to the history of the village’s people and businesses.

“I think we have an ability to see what the place could be,” Kasinkas explained. “We see it from a different perspective. We see the past as what was, the present as what is, and the future as what could be.

“We need get past the history of flooding. Seeing the village as a ‘flood-stricken community’ is a chapter in the story not the title of the book.”

Kasinkas sees the revitalization of the Main Street area, utilizing existing space for more activity, as a necessary step in revitalizing the village.

The other registered write-in candidate for village trustee in the Gays Mills Spring Election  is Leland ‘Lee’ Hagen. The 32-year-old father of three lives at 176 Blue Bird Lane with his wife Ashley.

Ashley Hagen is the well-known locally as the Vernon Memorial Healthcare athletic trainer, who works in the North Crawford and Seneca school districts. The couple’s three children are Jace, 17, Liliana, 11, and Bristol, 8.

Hagen is employed as the manager of the Bridnow Chevrolet dealership in Monona, Iowa. It is a position he has held for the past eight years.

Lee Hagen grew up in Soldiers Grove and attended school at North Crawford, where he graduated from high school.

Hagen studied criminal justice at Southwest Tech for a year-and-a-half. He did his last semester online through the University of Phoenix, earning an Associate Degree in criminal justice.

The Hagens have lived in the Village of Gays Mills for the past six years.

Lee Hagen is running to become a village trustee, so he can be more involved in the community. He noted there are not a lot of young people involved in the village government. He feels he is stepping forward to be that person.

Hagen believes his acquired life skills will be useful in the role of village trustee. He noted in particular his communication and problem solving skills and his sympathy for other people.

“I have been encouraged by a lot of people to run, so I decided to  do it,” Hagen said.

While he noted that he likes to hunt and fish and things like that, he believes he has the ability to serve on the board and help bring a perspective of younger people living in the village.

For Hagen, a big issue facing the village is improving recreational opportunities.

“I think they’re doing a nice job with (upgrading) the swimming pool,” Hagen said. “I’d like to look at some options to bring in people from other communities. Maybe starting a bus route to nearby communities to bring people to use the pool and help us pay for it. 

“I’d also like to see the ball field at the park used a lot more,” he explained. “I’d like to see it used more than just the Fourth of July.”

Hagen noted that when he’s been on the field, the grass was overgrown in the infield. He also feels upgrading the bathrooms and getting a viable concession stand would help to get more use of the field and the village could have some tournaments like Eastman has done with their field.

“It used to be a big thing in the 80s,” Hagen noted. “We need more things for people to do in Gays Mills. We have the campground, and the fairgrounds and a new swimming pool. We need to improve and expand the bike trail and provide more access to it.”

Hagen definitely wants to improve recreational opportunities in Gays Mills for kids and younger adults.

“Working on a dog ordinance is not my cup of tea,” Hagen said.

Hagen noted he has seen life in other places, having lived in Prairie du Chien for six years and Watertown for two years.

“I think it’s a good way to improve the village and it has potential to bring more people to Gays Mills,” he noted. “it is one the nicest areas in Wisconsin.

Hagen acknowledged one of the biggest issues facing the village involves  the wastewater treatment plant. He is ready to weigh in on that decision and his greatest concern is that it doesn't result in much higher taxes that could stop younger people from buying houses in the village. As for Parks and Rec, Hagen is committed to seeing what we can do to bring it to life.

Hagen said he knows several of the trustees well, like Skip Fortney and Larry McCarn, as well as the village president Harry Heisz, who he met at North Crawford when he attended school there.

“I guess I see myself as a younger version of an old soul like Harry Heisz,” Hagen said. “I just have a different perspective on things and see different options.”

On the other end of the spectrum from the two 30-something, write-in candidates is the long-serving incumbent village trustee Larry McCarn, who restarted his stint on the board with being elected again in the 2019 election.

McCarn is in the running for having attended more village board meetings than anyone else in Gays Mills. And, he probably holds that title. McCarn was first elected to the Gays Mills Village Board as a trustee in 1992. After serving a few terms, he was elected village president. McCarn served as village president until 2011, when he lost the election for village president to Craig Anderson.

Larry McCarn lives at 140 Bluebird Lane with his wife Tresa. The couple have four adult children, Banita, Miranda, Brent and Adam. 

McCarn is 68 years old. He graduated from Boscobel High School.

Larry recently retired as a custodian at Seneca Schools.

The McCarns have lived in Gays Mills for 43 years. Larry is a past member of the Gays Mills Fire Department and Occooch Mountain Rescue. He is currently a member of the Friends of Gays  Mills and serves on the Gays Mills Village Festival Committee.

McCarn explained that he decided to run for the village board in 2019 to offer his extensive experience with the wastewater treatment plant, the sewer system and grants necessary to do the work.

“I know a lot about what’s involved and I know a lot about dealing with the people that are involved in the process,” the former village president explained.

McCarn offered some of his insight during the recent board decision on selecting a new engineering firm for the village, with the wastewater treatment situation now front and center.

“I always felt strongly for this community,” McCarn said. “I just want to keep doing all of the things I can to help it.”

McCarn feels bringing businesses to the village is a priority, which must be addressed. However, the real pressing problem is replacing the aging sewer plant in the floodplain.

“We need to get the (new) plant in as easily as possible so it’s not such a devastating thing to the community,” McCarn said.

“Basically, we have to keep things functioning and get more people to move here,” McCarn said. “Having a Dollar General open here, that’s a boost.”

The fourth candidate running for one of the three village trustee positions is incumbent Kevin Murray, who lives with his wife Risha at 103 School Street. The couple have four adult children Seamus, Connor, Finn and Morgan. They also have three grandchildren.

Murray, 55, graduated from Bourne High School in Bourne, Massachusetts.

Murray is a residential building contractor, who has lived in the Gays Mills area for the past 27 years, including the last 15 years at his residence on School Street.

Murray is a member of St. Mary’s Church in Gays Mills.

Kevin Murray was initially appointed to the board as a trustee in August of 2010 to fill a vacated seat. He was re-elected to a two-year term in April 2011. More recently, Murray was elected to another two-year term in 2019.

Murray chuckles when asked why he’s running.

“Why? Because I live here. My kids live here and my grandkids live here,” Murray replied. “It’s important to participate in local government. Local government has the most direct impact on people.”

Murray noted that local government can infringe on your rights more than many other forms of government.

“I have all my money invested in the village through owning my house,” he explained. “I don’t just want the village to do well. I want it to thrive.”

Murray, like many others, is concerned about the impact of a needed sewer plant project. 

“To keep the village a good place to live and raise a family, people have to be able to afford to live here,” he said. “We need to work to keep the utility costs down to keep the village a good place to live.”

Murray is also concerned about government over stepping its boundaries. He worked to change a tree board policy that would have allowed village officials to go onto private property to inspect trees. Murray said he understood why the tree board wanted to do that, but didn’t think it was right to enter private property without permission. He was able to get the provision dropped from the proposal. 

Similarly, Murray was concerned about portions of a county hazard mitigation plan that outlined evacuating areas due to pandemic diseases, but did not specify how this would be done or who would have the authority to order evacuations.

Murray got the village board to withhold final approval of the county plan until those questions were answered by statements in the plan providing specifics.

Going forward, Murray sees the most important task as working on the sewer plant. However, he also believes the village should continue to fix up the parks by the river and he is committed to working on the roofs of the old dam building by the river and the old community building on Main Street.

Incumbent Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz is running unopposed for another two-year term in the upcoming election.