St. Joseph candidates address past town board conflictPast animosity among some members of the St. Joseph Town Board was a topic of discussion at a March 14 candidate forum at the town hall.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Past animosity among some members of the St. Joseph Town Board was a topic of discussion at a March 14 candidate forum at the town hall.
An audience member raised the issue by asking the candidates, through moderator Adele Dolan, how they would deal with conflict if they were elected.
The questioner reported having attended meetings in which board members engaged in “excessive bantering, crude language and a lack of cooperation.”
“This is one of the main reasons I’m running for this position,” said town chair candidate Dan Gavin.
He related being the eighth child in a family of 14 siblings and said he learned at an early age how to get along with people. That ability has also served him well in his career in the telecommunications industry, he said.
“I’ve learned over a lifetime of working with people that nothing gets done if you can’t get along,” Gavin said. “…I hope if I am elected I’ll be able to conduct these meetings in such a way that everyone will be proud of it.”
Gavin, who has served two four-year stints as a town board supervisor, said he never held animosity toward another board member, and didn’t give other board members a reason to be angry with him.
Kevin Adkins, Gavin’s opponent for the town chair, responded to the question next.
“It was an interesting year,” Adkins began. “I would say it’s great for people to get along, but respect is earned.”
Adkins and Gavin were also opponents in the 2010 election for the first supervisor position on the board. The election ended in a tie with each receiving 226 votes. Adkins won a coin flip to determine the winner.
Early in his term, Adkins was frequently at odds with Town Chairperson Theresa Johnson.
“In the past couple of months, it has gone better,” Adkins said at the candidate forum. “I wish it had gone better at the beginning. You can go ahead and blame me for that. That’s fine. But I will tell you that I work very hard to bring ideas, and I don’t accept the word no. I research it, bring it forward, (and) just want a vote up or down.”
He promised, in the future, to “work very, very hard to respect everybody on the board.” He said he would respect fellow board members’ opinions and try to find common ground with them.
“All I ask for is a vote up or down, and then I’m done,” he said.
Gavin and Adkins stepped forward as candidates for town chair after Johnson announced three months ago that she wouldn’t be seeking another term. She served as town chair for eight years.
Adkins will remain on the board whether or not he wins the election for town chair. He has a year left on his term as second supervisor. The board will appoint a replacement to the second supervisor position if Adkins is elected town chairperson.
Also participating in the forum were clerk/treasurer candidates Joan Gerhan and Mary Stanley; second supervisor candidates Fred Meyers and Jim Traeger; and fourth supervisor incumbent Rick Colbeth, who is unopposed in the April 5 election.
Gerhan and Stanley are vying to replace Marie Schmit as clerk/treasurer. Schmit is retiring after 12 years in the position.
Each of the candidates addressed the question about board conflict.
Stanley said it is important to listen to others with an open mind.
“There’s always a middle ground,” Stanley said. “There’s always a way to compromise and (reach) a solution without bantering back and forth, yelling.”
Gerhan replied: “The tension here has been high a few times and I think it needs to ratchet down a lot. I think that cool minds and tempers are a lot better. You get more things done.”
She indicated that she has a even disposition and would be a calming influence on the board.
Meyers, the challenger for the second supervisor position, agreed with what the others said about the need for civility on the board.
“Just because one board member doesn’t agree with another, it shouldn’t cause conflict,” Meyers said.
Traeger, who was appointed to the second supervisor position six months ago, sympathized with what Adkins had to say on the issue.
He said there was “some trouble” on the board during his first three months as a member, but that the past three months had been “a pleasure.”
Traeger said he had asked for a closed meeting so the board could “air out dirty laundry,” but his request wasn’t granted. He added that he still thinks such a meeting would be beneficial.
Johnson says Wisconsin’s open meetings law doesn’t allow closed sessions for dealing with conflicts between board members.
Colbeth quoted a saying that “where there’s no spark, there’s not energy.” The he added, “But we have way too much energy.”
He agreed that tempers have subsided in recent months. “It’s almost getting fun again” to be on the board,” he said.
Traeger and Adkins emphasized a desire to contain town expenses in their responses to questioning.
“I will be the watchdog of the people’s money. I’ve got a reputation of that in the past, and will continue to have that reputation in the future,” Traeger said in response to a question about whether he would represent all of the residents of the town, and not just one faction.
“We are in trouble when it comes to the debt of this town,” he said. “…We have to make sure that we don’t continue to run this town on borrowed money.”
Adkins said: “If you’ve been to the last town meeting, you know that I go through bills and look at costs. There’s no doubt about it. As a self-employed (person) balancing my own budget, I have had to make tough choices.”
Adkins was responding to a question about the town contracting for the services of an attorney, engineering firm and excavating company.
“As long as they are the best bang for the buck, they can stay there,” he said of the town’s contractors.
Gavin said contracted services aren’t a necessary evil, but a necessary good. It’s less expensive to contract for services than to hire employees to provide them, he said.
Adkins sells commercial real estate for a living, but said he won’t be involved with any deals in the town of St. Joseph.
Traeger is an entrepreneur who started a business in 1991 and sold it two years ago. He also has bought and sold several other businesses.
Meyers, a town resident for 25 years, owns and operates the Cajun Club in Houlton. He worked in the construction business with his late father and his brother for 15 years, and also is a trained law enforcement officer.
Stanley highlighted her associate degree in business management and accounting background as qualifying her for the clerk/treasurer position. She said the kept the books for several restaurants where she worked and has experience with computer bookkeeping systems.
Gerhan emphasized her work ethic and commitment to doing a good job.
“I work hard. Quitting isn’t in my vocabulary,” she said. “When I tell somebody I’m going to do something, I do it.”