Four candidates will seek three spots on the McFarland Village Board in the April 7 election.
They are Justin Rupert, Alyssa Charlesworth, Carolyn Clow and Michael Flaherty. Each spot is a two-year term. Incumbents Jerry Adrian, Dan Kolk and Mary Pat Lytle are not seeking re-election.
Each candidate was asked a series of questions by The Herald-Independent and McFarland Thistle. Charlesworth did not respond to multiple requests.
The four candidates appeared at a forum earlier this month, and the event can be viewed on the McFarland Cable YouTube channel.
What is your education background?
Clow: I received by BA from Carleton College in Spanish and my MA from UW-Madison in public affairs.
Flaherty: B.A. In Journalism from the University of Minnesota and graduate credits in economics from the former Mankato State University.
What is your occupation?
Clow: I work as the lead purchasing agent for Dane County.
Flaherty: Self-employed. President of Flaherty & Associates (communications and leadership strategies). Senior lecturer, life sciences communication, UW-Madison.
Rupert: I am a sheet metal worker/commercial HVAC foreman for Harker Heating and Air.
How do your education and occupation backgrounds qualify you for this position?
Clow: I have 20 years’ experience working in local government at Dane County. In my time at the county, I have learned how the local government works. In addition to my experience working in local government, I also have a strong educational background in government from my master’s program.
Flaherty: I’ve been involved in public policy for most of my professional life. I was a journalist for 20 years, including a Washington, D.C., correspondent and a business and state government reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. As a policy communications strategist, I’ve spent another two decades working with governments, nonprofit organizations and companies. As such, I feel I know a lot of the players in the public and private sector and can help bring people together to get things done.
Rupert: In my profession, I am a leader that makes the tough decisions. Communication is key in the construction field. Listening, hearing and discussing the different issues with other trades is something I believe can translate well into serving on the village board.
Why are you running for this position?
Clow: I am running for this position because the village is at a crossroads. We are a decade past when we transitioned from being a small bedroom community to a larger community that needs to provide additional services and amenities. I am running to help provide leadership in making this transition.
Flaherty: This is an exciting time for McFarland. After a few years of stagnation following the Great Recession, McFarland is now growing again as people are discovering our community as a great place to live, work and raise families. With that growth comes challenges – and opportunities. Because of that growth, now is the time to make key decisions that will forever shape the culture and layout of our community. That growth also generates new property tax revenue so we can invest in that future vision without big tax hikes, which is also critically important.
Rupert: The number of younger people and families has been rising, and I believe that I can relate, connect and be a voice for them.
What is the best attribute of the village, and what can be done to make it even better?
Clow: The best attribute of the village is the composition of the village itself. We have a terrific geographic location and terrific people. The village government needs to provide leadership to enhance the community and to bring improved infrastructure and amenities. We need to finalize one plan for the infrastructure the village needs and to work through that plan to finance, construct and staff each of those new improvements. To accomplish this, it will require dedication and concerted, careful effort over time.
Flaherty: The old cliché in real estate is also our best selling point: Location, location, location. We’re an easy drive or bike ride to downtown Madison; we have incredible natural resources – lakes, trails and parks – within minutes of our collective doorsteps. And we have excellent, well-run schools in the Madison metro area that really attracts newcomers with children. We can’t improve our location. But we can continue to invest in McFarland’s “livability’’ – pedestrian and bike trails, recreational amenities and continue to build that community “feel’’ that, frankly, we’ve always struggled with as a bedroom community.
Rupert: McFarland is a great place to raise a family. From schooling to the community in general, people have a desire to live here. Even with those two things drawing people here, I believe more can be done to help entertain and keep the citizens active. A pool/splash pad along with a community center could go a long way.
What is the most significant opportunity (housing options, services, economic development, etc.) that the village lacks, and what would you do to help make it happen?
Clow: Economic development is the area of most significant opportunity. The village has not pursued a researched and planned process of economic development in more than a decade, if ever. We need to use the resources of the university to help us to understand the potential of our community and to develop a plan for how we intend to develop our business community. We need to then look at the resources and connections we need with other units of government, businesses and nonprofit organizations to execute our development plan.
Flaherty: Like most Midwestern communities, McFarland grew up around the automobile. Our streets, businesses, our urban layout designs are all structured around cars, making it difficult to even go to the grocery store without getting in a car. Rethinking communities as a place to live – and not just to drive and park your car – means future investments in bike and pedestrian trails, park facilities, and affordable multi-unit housing that brings more folks into the village and more businesses to serve them. Heck, one day we might even have a pedestrian bridge over Highway 51 that would enable folks to cross that highway without taking their lives in their hands.
This is also critically important as it’s an essential component of sustainability and energy efficiency, which must be part of all future building and street plans.
Rupert: As I previously stated, a pool and community center would be great. I also believe that the village could benefit from more business opportunities. If elected, I would be sure to listen to the views and opinions of the residents and act for their best interests.
What grade would you give the village for its communication with residents regarding available services, decisions pending or made by the village board, personnel moves, etc.?
Clow: I currently give the village a C for its efforts in communicating with residents. The village has been improving its social media presence for the past year, and it is showing residents are better informed about things going on in the village. The next step is to open that communication to a two-way communication by better engaging residents. One of the primary ways to do this is to rework our committees so they represent the demographic diversity of our community and best utilize the considerable skills of our residents.
Flaherty: This is hard to grade, because it’s difficult to compare what our village is doing relative to our neighbors who also have websites, cable TV and You Tube channels and newsletters.
But I give recent village boards a strong grade for investing in improvements in village communications. Until recently, the village had no communications director – no one actually in charge of telling McFarland’s story. Now we do. There’s still a lot more to do, but we can’t go from zero to 100 miles an hour overnight. As a side note, as a former newspaperman, I understand the difficult economics facing today’s weekly newspapers. But I’d love to see a way to bring back a community newspaper solely dedicated to our village. Websites and newsletters are informational. Newspapers are a forum for discussions, controversies and community vision.
Rupert: Social media is the way of the future and I believe the village needs to utilize this more to reach and inform the community. An interactive community calendar is also something we could benefit from.
Several luxury apartments and condominium projects have been built in the village in the past few years. Does the village need to pursue affordable or workforce housing, or is the demand for that not enough to warrant action by the village?
Clow: The need for the village of McFarland and all communities to make an effort to develop affordable/workforce housing is indisputable. We have data from the Dane County Housing Needs Assessment to demonstrate the need. It is our moral obligation as a community to take steps to facilitate the construction of affordable/workforce housing. The demand for affordable/workforce housing is invisible, because since there are not affordable units available in the village and people struggle with people paying more than they can afford to keep their families sheltered and to provide their children with a high-quality education. We know there are members of our community who are regularly using the community food pantry and supplies provided for students through our schools. It is our obligation as a village to work with developers to leverage the state and county funding needed to allow affordable housing projects to come to fruition.
Flaherty: I know affordable housing is on the village’s priority list and McFarland has substantial multi-unit housing. As we go forward, future affordable housing projects will continue to require joint public/private partnership policies so that developers can profitably build the affordable housing we need. We can plan all we want and have great policies in place. But if developers lose money building affordable housing, it’s simply not going to be built.
Rupert: I believe more affordable housing should be made available, especially for our senior residents. The high-end apartments and condos are something I am not for.