The April 7 election for Monona City Council will see at least one new face.
Four candidates, including two incumbents, are campaigning for three open seats on the council.
Incumbents Molly Grupe and Jennifer Kuhr are joined on the ballot by Chris Henderson and Kristie Schilling.
All four were asked a series of questions about their backgrounds and beliefs on select issues.
What is your education background?
Grupe: She earned a bachelor of arts degree from St. Olaf College in 2005, and a master of science degree in communicative disorders from UW-Madison in 2011.
Henderson: I have a bachelor of arts in history from Lawrence University and an MBA from Georgetown University. I am also a proud graduate of MG High School.
Kuhr: I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration.
Schilling: I graduated in 1998 with a bachelor of arts in geography and a bachelor of arts in conservation biology from UW-Madison. I also have a minor in fine art.
What is your occupation?
Grupe: She is an early childhood speech-language pathologist in the Waunakee Community School District.
Henderson: I am a partner and managing director at M3 Insurance Solutions Inc.
Kuhr: I am a research administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Schilling: I’m a consultant in the tourism industry for chambers of commerce, and I do business development with Momentum Art Tech, the company responsible for putting up the murals throughout the city.
How do your education and occupation backgrounds qualify you for this position?
Grupe: My previous work on the council and as a leader in my teachers association, community garden network, and on various boards and committees has involved a great deal of community organizing, partnership building, and collaborative problem solving. I am a skilled and creative networker, and know how and where to access my resources to achieve positive outcomes for my personal and professional communities.
Henderson: I have spent my career in business building and leading teams. As such, I will bring a common sense and “get it done” approach to the city council. At the same time, I am active in the community through coaching youth hockey and serving in leadership positions on a number of nonprofit boards, including the Clean Lakes Alliance.
Kuhr: With degrees in political science and public administration, I have always had an interest in local government. I have worked in higher education for nearly 20 years, spending the last 11 in research administration. Working in a university setting is very similar to the pace of local government. I rely on the skills I have learned working in a state-run institution to get things done for the people of Monona.
Schilling: My degree in geography includes an urban planning emphasis and my conservation biology degree includes education on land management, wildlife management, limnology (study of lakes), dendrology (study of trees) and forestry. My education provides me with valuable education for managing many facets of a city. I will bring thoughtful decision making to our street design and land management challenges. Additionally, as a member of a Native American tribe, I bring a unique perspective and representation to the council that currently doesn’t exist.
My professional career has focused largely around tourism, communications, design, marketing and business development. I am a cartographer, a graphic designer, a copywriter, a marketer and a business owner. I am the former executive director of the Monona East Side Business Alliance (MESBA) (Monona’s chamber of commerce).
I have served on numerous boards and committees including the Monona Grove School District Community Engagement Committee, Monona Farmers Market board, Dane County Grant Review Panel for Cultural Affairs and Monona Business Watch. I currently serve on the Monona Transit Commission, Wisconsin Bike Fed Board of Directors and WVMO Festival Committee.
Why are you running for this position?
Grupe: I am a proven, progressive leader on the Monona City Council and want to carry forward the work I began in 2018. I have championed and will continue to advocate for sustainable city practices, expanded senior center programming space and a stronger relationship with Dane County Community Restorative Courts. I am committed to expanding accessibility and inclusion in our community.
Henderson: I grew up in Monona and recently returned with my wife and three kids. I love Monona and want to do my small part to strengthen and improve our community.
Kuhr: I am running for re-election because I truly enjoy the work and the people I serve. We have fantastic, committed city staff who are great partners. I have initiatives that I started in my previous term that I would like to see through including a focus on city communications, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and the public safety building.
Schilling: I want to serve as a liaison between the businesses, residents, and the city so we can work together to form a vision so all can prosper. My urban planning background will bring forth fresh planning concepts to tackle issues like the need for more housing and street design that promotes multimodal safety and protects our natural environment. My experience managing tight budgets will be helpful in seeking ways to not spend more, but to spend what we have more effectively. My communication background can assist in implementing an effective comprehensive communication plan with our residents and businesses.
Lastly, I have 20 years of tourism experience and, for the first time in history, Monona will be investing a significant amount of tourism dollars into marketing the community outside our region.
What role, if any, should the city take in the potential sale or development of the San Damiano property?
Grupe: While Monona’s leadership (and many city residents) would prefer this exceptional piece of waterfront property be purchased by the city and maintained primarily as a publicly accessible green space, the city cannot be the sole investor in this process. Community partnerships and fundraising will be integral components in any potential sale of the property to the city by the Norbertine Order.
Henderson: The city should help facilitate the development of the property with two purposes in mind. First, I support residential development on the southern side of the property to help increase our tax base and housing supply. We should also include a park on the northern edge that includes lake access, a boardwalk and a public garden.
Kuhr: The city has made the move to secure a four-month window to determine if there is a community coalition interested in purchasing the San Damiano property. The city cannot be the sole financial contributor to acquiring the property, but rather may serve as an intermediary to determine if a collaborative partnership of stakeholders could be formed to pursue a purchase agreement. The city will solicit an outside contractor to complete a feasibility study to see if this is a viable option.
Schilling: The city should absolutely play a key role in San Damiano. The piece of property is a gem like none other of its kind in the area. It’s challenging to appraise the parcel due to its uniqueness – almost 10 acres, 1,100 linear feet of shoreline, with historical and cultural significance. We cannot let the property be purchased by the developer with the deepest pockets and lose control of what happens there. I believe the city should find a way to gather a group of citizens to invest and secure a loan for the property. I personally am willing to invest in that endeavor. That will allow us time to do our due diligence with public engagement and to formulate a plan that benefits the city and its residents.
What are your thoughts regarding a new public safety building – does the city need one, where should it be located, what should be included and what should not be, what should be the maximum cost, when should the city pursue this project?
Grupe: The city’s current public safety facilities are in dire need of improvement and expansion to more adequately accommodate our growing police and fire departments. The mayor and council currently are discussing potential sites and specifications for a new public safety building, which likely will be engineered and constructed over the course of the next two to three years, and will carry an estimated price tag of $15 million. The new facility must provide sufficient space for vehicle storage and staff accommodations (in particular, dressing and sleeping quarters for fire/EMS staff and volunteers); appropriately sized and easily accessible vehicle bays; and fitness facilities. Additionally, it should be constructed in a centralized location.
Henderson: I fully support a new public safety building. I have visited the current facility, and it is old and outdated. We should move quickly to select a centrally located site that allows for efficient vehicle entry and exit. This will undoubtedly be a large capital expenditure, so as we budget for this project we should be mindful of taxpayer dollars.
Kuhr: The public safety building is suffering from extreme deferred maintenance and as a result is literally crumbling. We have had portions of the ceiling and pipes bursting over public safety vehicles. The building does not have a safe entrance for the police department to use in transferring suspects. The city is just in the planning stage of this process, and we made strong steps to limit the 2020 budget to plan for future borrowing needs for the new building. Ideally, we would put the building on city-owned property so that we would not have the additional cost of a land purchase as well as the cost of the building, but a site has not been identified yet. As for the cost of the building, we should spend what we need to create an energy efficient and sustainable property that meets the needs of public safety now and well into the future. This is a project for the long term, and we need to act quickly to address the needs balanced with proper planning to do it right the first time.
Schilling: We definitely need to take action, because the building is falling apart. The trick will be figuring out where to locate it. Some at the fire station like the current location, because it’s centrally located and provides connectivity to the civic campus. The residents in that area are accustomed to the sirens, not that they enjoy it, but they are used to it. If we try to relocate it to another neighborhood, there may be push back from residents (NIMBY), so that may be a challenge.
I don’t believe we should take a prime piece of real estate off our tax roll for a public building.
I’d like to make sure we’re talking with Monona Grove School District for their plans for the Nuestro Mundo property. That site could make an ideal location for the community center and senior center, since it’s one level and reduces accessibility issues. It also has some security measures in place. It may not be the permanent long-term location for the community center as Nuestro Mundo is also outdated, but it could provide a stop-gap measure to bide us time so we can prepare for this large expenditure.
Then, maybe the community center could be converted to the public safety building.
While several new luxury apartment buildings have been built in the city in the past five years, has the city failed to meet the needs of those who need affordable housing, what Dane County officials refer to as workforce housing? Should the city be doing something to attract this type of housing, and if so, what can be done?
Grupe: Monona’s comprehensive plan includes a provision to rezone single lots into small-lot, single-family subdivisions, which are efficient and relatively affordable housing options. I also support the future re-examination of our zoning codes to include the integration of cooperative and communal living concepts in our city. Perhaps most importantly, Monona must continue to attract new businesses and visitors to ensure a diversified tax base.
Henderson: As Monona continues to redevelop portions of West Broadway and Monona Drive, we need to increase our housing supply. Specifically, we should expand our variety of housing options so that all people (including seniors, young adults and working families) can afford to live in Monona.
Kuhr: Monona is a community with minimal land to spare and therefore viable property for this type of development comes at quite a price. As such, developers are not motivated to create affordable housing in Monona. Though the city may wish to attract affordable housing options, we do not have the funds to incentivize developers to include affordable options in their development. Monona has utilized the Renew Monona program to make housing in Monona more affordable by providing downpayment assistance for persons looking to buy a home or to renovate an existing property to meet their needs.
Schilling: Right now, Monona does have affordable apartments although they are not regulated or designated as “workforce housing.” They are happening organically. When that happens, you can get large concentrations of low-income populations living together, which can result in a less than desirable scenario.
The key to successfully integrating workforce housing is to encourage developers to include 10 percent of their apartments for workforce housing. Then, it’s so minimal that nobody even realizes it’s there. It’s also key that it be Section 42 not Section 8 housing. Section 8 is extremely low-income (earning less than $20,000 per year). Section 42 tenants do not receive government assistance and must meet minimum income requirements. An example of workforce housing rental rate on our border is a two bedroom at $1,325 per month.
I would like us to modernize our zoning code and implement the strategies outlined in the UniverCity year project like Cottage Courtyards. Cottage Courtyards are townhomes situated around a courtyard where every unit has a sliding door to the courtyard.
I think we should explore allowing housing co-ops in Monona. When you live in a co-op, you are a part owner of the home, it’s much more affordable than an apartment, you have a set list of maintenance jobs, and you are part of a community that can provide support for single parents, the elderly or the disabled.
What do you see as the biggest issue facing the city in the next few years?
Grupe: Monona residents care about responsible budgeting that reflects our community’s values. In recent years, the council has prioritized the allocation of funds toward pedestrian/bike safety improvements, paid parental and family leave policies for city staff, thoughtful property redevelopment and TIF district expansion, and the aforementioned future construction of a new public safety building. Initiatives emphasizing resident safety and accessibility will continue to be at the forefront of city business as our population continues to age and expand.
Henderson: Monona needs to continue to attract young families to stay a healthy and vibrant community. To do so, we must focus on continued economic redevelopment to increase housing options, build a public safety building and sustain our city parks.
Kuhr: The public safety building will be the biggest issue for the city of Monona in the coming years. A building project of this scale has not been done in the city for some time. It will require proper planning, design and budgeting to be successful. This is a project that cannot wait. The city will need leaders that can see the big picture and weigh the cost and benefit for the long term. The project will require balancing a vision with fiscal constraints. I believe that I have the temperament and experience to take this on.
Schilling: We have some big expenditures coming our way like the public safety building, city hall is in disrepair, the community and senior center need to be updated, and the pool will need to be replaced in five years. We must draw back our spending on the optional expenditures to prepare for the necessary expenditures in our future. We are a small city with small resources. We have an incredible amount of wonderful services and amenities for a city our size. Just like many are doing in their households, we need to cut back our spending so we can prepare and save for these large projects.