Mayoral candidates face off

Incumbent, challengers address budgeting, businesses, crime issues

The three candidates for Shawano mayor offered a variety of thoughts on how to make the city a better place to live on Tuesday during the only forum prior to next week’s primary election.

Incumbent Mayor Jeanne Cronce is fighting for a second term, facing challenges from retired businessman Jim Oberstein and retired police chief Ed Whealon. Cronce and Oberstein faced each other for the mayor’s seat in 2016, but she received 1,434 to Oberstein’s 1,290. This is Whealon’s first bid for public office.

Cronce said she has been a lifelong member of the Shawano community and was part of the Shawano School District for 34 years.

“As the mayor for the past year and a half, I have focused on the revitalization of the community,” she said.

She plans to focus on downtown redevelopment and said she would continue to work with the Redevelopment Authority to improve Shawano.

Oberstein feels community leaders need to have business expertise to help move Shawano forward. He said it might seem overwhelming, but he is interested in moving the city into a more prosperous state.

“I will bring a fresh approach to bring this community to the next level,” Oberstein said.

Whealon, who was battling a cold, said he’s aware of the responsibilities of the mayor’s office. He vowed to control excessive spending, and he said the empty buildings on Main Street are a problem.

“Other corridors, like Green Bay Street and County Road B, need to be addressed,” Whealon said.

The city experienced its largest tax increase recently, which includes a $100,000 budget shortfall. Oberstein said the city needs to increase its revenue and decrease its spending, and it’s only because Shawano County and the school district cut its property taxes that Shawano property owners didn’t experience massive sticker shock when they got their tax bills in December.

“From a business perspective, the wait-and-see approach was not the right one to take,” Oberstein said. “The department heads should have been given a directive to look at $100,000 in projects that could be cut or postponed.”

Whealon said he agreed with Oberstein on some points, particularly the issue of not making the budget fully solvent.

“The wait-and-see attitude is a dangerous one, and not the right approach for the city,” Whealon said.

Cronce said the shortfall concerned everyone on the council, but she claimed department heads knew they needed to ask only for things they needed.

“All of the things they asked for were needed things,” Cronce said. “The taxes mainly went up because of the parks referendum, which two-thirds of the voters voted for.”

Addressing the vacant buildings in downtown Shawano, Whealon noted some of them are beyond repair and might have to be torn down.

“The challenge is going to be to find the funds to redevelop the buildings for the community,” Whealon said.

Cronce said the city’s Redevelopment Authority is working on the problem, purchasing some vacant property, but she expects it to be a long process.

“Everything takes time,” Cronce said. “There is no way I can make things work faster, and no way either of these gentlemen here can move things faster.”

Oberstein said he drove from the courthouse to the post office and found 15 vacant properties in that corridor.

“I feel sorry … for the people who have their businesses downtown and try to keep them up,” Oberstein said. “It’s time to support the businesses downtown.”

Cronce said the city has been transparent and noted that most people do not take time to go to the council meetings or the committee meetings, which is where the first discussion of items take place.

“We’re willing to sit down with people and talk about it,” Cronce said, noting it was important to go out and talk to people and urge them to come to City Hall.

Oberstein said he vowed to make sure all the committees and commissions posted agendas on the city’s website. He also wants to move the Common Council back one week.

“The reason for that is most of the boards meet in the first 10-15 days, and then it goes to the council,” Oberstein said. “There is no time for the public to know what might be voted on.”

Whealon feels part of the problem is the current city government structure with a strong council and weak mayor. The city administrator should report to the mayor, along with all the other department heads, because the mayor is the chief executive officer, no matter the structure, he said.

“It wasn’t the city administrator’s responsibility to solve the problem; it was mine,” Whealon said. “As mayor, I believe it’s the same thing.”

Cronce noted department heads do make regular reports to her, but City Administrator Brian Knapp is very capable, she said. She thinks a solution would be to have the mayoral elections happen every three years instead of every two years, because the first year is more learning than managing.

“I would like this position to be a three-year position rather than a two-year position,” Cronce said. “There is a learning curve.”

Oberstein said he couldn’t really answer the question about the city government structure without doing some research, but he suggested not changing the current structure.

“I think the mayor should still be held responsible for all council decisions made,” Oberstein said.

Drugs and break-ins are the two biggest crime issues, in Cronce’s view. She said the big problem is criminals come into the city, commit their acts and then exit again.

“As mayor, I don’t feel there’s much I can do other than making sure there’s enough money in their budgets … to push these drug abusers out of our community.”

Oberstein feels the crime prevention efforts should begin at home, helping parents and schools to raise children right. He feels the mayor can support the agencies that help families.

“Drugs and crime are everywhere,” Oberstein said. “It’s not a Shawano issue. It’s a Bonduel, Cecil and Appleton issue.”

Whealon, as a former police chief, addressed the recent armed robberies and noted most of those crimes are drug related. He agreed that home is where prevention begins, but sometimes home is the problem.

“Sometimes, home is the problem,” Whealon said. “They go to school for eight hours, and they go home to utter chaos.”

The 2018 Shawano Mayoral Candidates Forum was presented by The Shawano Leader, the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce and WTCH Radio.

The two top vote-getters in next Tuesday’s primary will face off in the city’s general election on April 3.