The spring primary is less than two weeks away and the ballot for the Waukesha County executive seat is crowded.
Four candidates seek to advance to the April 7 nonpartisan general election a ballot that only has room for two. A spring primary election will be held Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Larry Barthen of Waukesha, State Sen. Paul Farrow of Pewaukee, County Board Supervisor Thomas Schellinger of Brookfield and Kim Wentz of Pewaukee look to replace County Executive Dan Vrakas, who announced last fall he will not seek re-election.
In advance of the primary, each of the four candidates were given a 100-word limit to answer the following questions. If an answer exceeded the word limit, it was edited for length.
Why are you the best candidate for this position?
Barthen: I have the most experience and knowledge about the operations of Waukesha County. As the long-term care coordinator I became informed of Health and Human Service programs and initiatives, particularly those directed at special populations. As preparedness coordinator I was privy to the highest levels of decision making and familiar with operational capacities and plans. I have a working knowledge of all county departments.
Farrow: As a small-business owner for over 17 years, and a proven leader in the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly, I believe I am the most qualified candidate to lead Waukesha County. I have a conservative, common-sense approach to government. We should continue to be a low tax leader, make public safety a priority and support the creation and retention of high-paying jobs. My experience in the private and public sectors will allow us to do that.
Schellinger: Ive been honored to serve as an elected official in Waukesha County for the past 15 years (2006-15 county supervisor, and 2000-06 city of Brookfield alderman). My knowledge of county and municipal government processes and operations is thorough and complete. I will step into the role of county executive and immediately begin addressing the issues and challenges facing Waukesha County, always employing a fiscally-conservative approach. I have a good working relationship with county department heads and my fellow county board supervisors, which will lend itself to collaborative problem-solving and smart solutions.
Wentz: My wisdom and life experiences are intergenerational (My father and husband are veterans World War II and Vietnam, respectively). I deeply understand and appreciate the blessings and opportunities of our land of freedoms and dreams. I know how to listen and care, gather vital information, work to serve others, problem solve and promote hope and prosperity. I enjoy talking with people and am always learning something new from them. The hard work of our elected and non-elected county stewards is to be respected and commended and I look forward to partnering with them to protect and foster the good in life for all.
How do you plan to ensure controlled spending while meeting the demands of a growing county?
Barthen: In regards to spending controls in Waukesha County, in my assessment the AAA bond rating reflects the fact that the countys current tax revenue is sufficient to meet current commitments barring any unknowns. We tax at a rate that allows us to keep and maintain what we have. There doesnt appear to be provision for growth and or change.
Farrow: Government has to be lean, willing to change and open to partnerships and collaborations in order to save money. We need to work with our surrounding counties and local municipalities when it makes sense and take advantage of natural opportunities to form partnerships.
Schellinger: The countys priorities should reflect citizens priorities. My budget philosophy, honed over 15 years of crafting local government budgets, uses these guidelines: balance spending with the publics ability to pay, utilize citizen and stakeholder input to the fullest degree, follow strategic planning guidelines, base decisions on measurable objectives, maintain best budgeting practices and protect the countys AAA bond rating. I will continue the countys strategic leadership in providing high-quality services at the lowest possible cost via shared services, public/private partnerships, collaborative initiatives and investing in technology to streamline business processes.
Wentz: County spending is an extremely detailed process of listening, learning and exercising due diligence in order to make reasonable and care-filled decisions. I credit our current county executive, county board chair and the countys elected and non-elected stewards for Waukesha Countys supernova status of economic strength and prosperity. Quite honestly, it would be an honor to be able to work with them. A good leader, in this situation, would do well to let these gifted people do their jobs and serve as advisory and final say when and if need be.
What is your plan to combat the ever-present heroin problem within the county?
Barthen: Heroin is one reason we need to invest in strong, resilient, close knit communities. Communities in which each citizen has the opportunity to succeed as well as to get help when they need it. The heroin epidemic in Waukesha County is not solely a law enforcement issue, it is a public health issue and a Health and Human Services issue, it is a community, church, school, and family issue, and must be dealt with on all levels.
Farrow: We need to support the district attorney and the Sheriffs Department, communicate with parents and students about the reality of this problem and partner with the nonprofit community doing the boots on the ground work. We should also raise awareness on the issue of disposing prescription drugs that we all have in our homes. Our children are getting hooked on pills found in our own medicine cabinets and then progressing to harder drugs like heroin. We need to talk to our kids and be smart about the realities of this huge problem.
Schellinger: Addressing the scourge of heroin requires action on many fronts. I support all efforts by the Sheriffs Department, local police departments and courts to jail drug dealers. The Waukesha County Drug Free Communities Coalition, Addiction Resource Council and Drug Treatment Court are critical elements. Marketing is needed to educate citizens about available county resources for assessments, referrals and crisis intervention. Education is vital, especially alerting parents to early warning signs of heroin use. The program to collect and dispose of unused prescription drugs should be expanded. Finally, lets collaborate with surrounding counties and Attorney General Brad Schimel.
Wentz: Former Waukesha County District Attorney and now current Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel plans to really energize the war on heroin and illegal drugs. He will have my full attention and support and I applaud his courage in taking a stand against drug dealing thugs. To those who bring harm and death to our people, especially the young and most innocent, consider this your notice that Waukesha County is closed business.
If elected, what are the biggest challenges you foresee?
Barthen: The biggest challenge for Waukesha County in the next decade will be strengthening the bonds within our communities. Each is a unique wonderful place to grow and raise a family, but each has unique challenges from internal and external threats; each presents a unique profile of needs. Accessible/affordable housing, transportation and life skill training are unmet and unplanned for needs in many of our communities.
Farrow: Supporting job creation and economic development. We have to be aggressive about creating high-paying jobs. We all want a more vibrant, diverse economy and we need to be proactive to make it happen. The tough part for government is knowing when to step-in, when to invest in targeted, key opportunities and when to get out of the way. The challenge is that counties dont have the same tools and tax incentives that the state or local municipalities have. So we have to keep taxes low, support our infrastructure, and make Waukesha County as attractive as possible to businesses.
Schellinger: I am the only county supervisor to vote against pay increases over the last eight years. The mentality of annual salary increases must change. The Sheriffs Department will face tremendous budgetary pressure to maintain effective patrol services, ensure prompt response times and operate a jail. An aging population drives higher demand for county services. As federal and state budgets tighten, more mandated services will fall onto county taxpayers. The county trunk highway system is critical to our economy. In 2015, the county is spending nearly $11 million in capital highway improvements.
Wentz: I would be starting off on a fresh and new road professionally while daily understanding and remembering that my work impacts so many other lives. But, great things are really achieved at the grassroots level and not through a government nanny state. When just one person gives their time, talent, treasure or simple prayers and encouragements to the big picture, it is this gift of good acts that keeps on giving. What a great investment. If one sees something that needs to be done, do it if possible. If one sees someone in need, help them. Inspire generational good citizenship.
Waukesha County recently partnered with the city of Milwaukee to construct a new single-sort recycling facility. Do you have plans to build further partnerships?
Barthen: Waukesha County needs to be engaged in regional planning efforts regarding water, accessible/affordable housing and transportation.
Farrow: I believe the future of government should be less government. We have 37 municipalities in Waukesha County alone and too many duplicative services. We need to partner with other counties and municipalities, work together and eliminate inefficient programs and services. Being the steward of the taxpayers money comes with great responsibility, part of that responsibility is to partner and collaborate when opportunities makes sense in order to make government more efficient and save money.
Schellinger: My record demonstrates unwavering support for collaborative agreements that save tax dollars and streamline services. As an alderman, I supported the city of Brookfield joining the Waukesha County dispatch center, resulting in huge savings in hardware, software and personnel. As a county supervisor, I voted for the employee Health and Wellness Center (saving taxpayers more than $7 million in health insurance costs over the next five years), Lad Lake as a shelter care service provider (saving $130,000 annually), and a collaborative agreement with Walworth and Washington counties and the Waukesha County medical examiners office.
Wentz: We need always to be open to exploring all kinds of partnerships and cooperation with our neighbors while protecting our own community identity and needs. Look at the great gains in partnerships/cooperation within police, fire and emergency services countrywide in the last 20 years. Many things are possible when we are willing to find ways to work together.