Friday, March 06, 2015

Eye on Oshkosh begins interviewing candidates for upcoming election

Last night I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tony Palmeri to begin interviewing candidates in the upcoming spring election. As I stated in an article earlier this week, this is, without a doubt, one of the strangest local elections I’ve ever seen. There are three seats open on the Oshkosh Common Council and three candidates running: They are incumbent councilors Deb Allison-Aasby and Tom Pech, Jr., and newcomer Benjamin T. Stepanek, a student at UW-Oshkosh. Barring a very successful write-in campaign by someone, all three are assured a seat in this election. Councilor Sean Fitzgerald is not seeking re-election.

A similar scenario is at play in the Oshkosh School Board race, with three open seats, and three candidates actively campaigning. School board president Matt Wiedenhoeft and Kelli Saginak are not seeking re-election, leaving Allison Garner as the only incumbent on the April 7 ballot. Three newcomers — Jim Evans, Kelly Olmsted and Huma Malik — will also appear on the ballot. Mrs. Malik withdrew from the race, however, on Feb. 15, citing her recent return to college and a belief that her course load might not allow her the amount of time she’d like to invest in her school board duties, if elected. Unfortunately, her withdrawal came too late to remove her name from the ballot, per state statutes. That being the case, it is conceivable that she still might get elected, in which event, if she chose not to accept, the district would have to appoint a replacement to fulfill the length of her term.

So during last night’s taping of Eye on Oshkosh, Tony and I spoke with school board candidate Jim Evans and Common Council candidate Ben Stepanek. I don’t want to say too much about the interviews, as we’d rather you watch the show and judge for yourself, the merits of these two candidates. I will say, however, that neither candidate was willing to say where they might make cuts in their respective budgets, when budget time rolls around later this year.

With deep cuts proposed for public education by Governor Walker in the next biennium budget, instead of suggesting any local cuts, Evans actually said we’ll be facing more referenda in the future in order to maintain the current level of operations, etc. This, despite my telling him that the average Oshkosh taxpayer cannot just continue paying more and more when their own income is not keeping pace to offset the higher taxes.

This idea of Evans’ was offensive to me to say the least. I understand we may need a referendum here and there, but how many times can a district go to the “referendum well” before the taxpayers say, “Our well is dry and we have no more to give you?” Evans also said he’d like to see more art in the current school curriculum, saying you can never have enough art. That may be true, but again, how will it get paid for, especially when we often struggle to pay what we already have?

On the other hand, Common Council candidate Stepanek, was at least willing to admit that cuts may need to be made. But he was reluctant to list any specifics, saying unless he knew how much money was needed in the budget, he couldn’t say what might have to be cut. That’s a fair response, and a seemingly responsible one. He’d also like to see a greater partnership between the city and university; he’d like to see the city do something in partnership with the warming shelter to house more of the city’s approximately 100 homeless people; and he’d like to see the city be more proactive in hiring people of color or minorities — something the city, thus far has been unwilling to do, with the exception of Chief Scott Greuel at the Oshkosh Police Department, who has not only made that commitment, but has begun taking steps to put his promise into action.

On a personal editorial note: Benjamin T. Stepanek is only 20 years old, but he is smart, articulate, does his homework on the issues and is thoughtful in his approach. I believe he will serve this community well, despite being one of our youngest ever elected officials.

You can see the entire hour-long Eye on Oshkosh interview on Oshkosh cable access channel 2 Tuesdays at 11 am, Fridays at 10 pm or Saturdays at 8 pm. Or you can see it on You Tube at the following link: And while there, please subscribe to the Eye on Oshkosh channel, so you never miss an episode. Other school board candidate interviews will be done later this month.

Incidentally, there is one contested race — that for the Mayor of Oshkosh. The race is between two current council members, Steve Cummings and Caroline Panske. This is also a rather odd race because no matter who wins, they only have a ceremonial title at best, and the other candidate will remain on the Common Council to finish out their current councilor term. Like I said: It’s a strange election. Nonetheless, please go to the polls and exercise your right, and responsibility, to vote on Tuesday, April 7, or earlier by absentee voting.


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