It's rare that an incumbent gets booted from the Dane County Board. So when Supv. Rich Brown lost his seat in the primary election, it was clear the residents of Dist. 15 were mad about something. The district, on Madison's southwest side, has seen an increase in crime. But Brown, who owed thousands of dollars in back property taxes and was struggling financially, didn't have time to address the issue.
There are two challengers vying to replace him in the general election on April 1: Ronn Ferrell, the Vice President and COO of Inpak Systems and a former interim member of the Madison city council; and Lisa Subeck, a housing advocate for the YWCA and a neighborhood activist. Both candidates recognize that concerns about crime cost Brown his seat. But fortunately, they also both seem to understand that crime is not the only issue. How to create jobs, improve water quality, ease traffic congestion and help care for the elderly are also on the agenda. And without solutions for some of those problems, then the crime issue will never go away.
What is the single most important issue for your particular Dane County Board district?
Ronn Ferrell: While crime has grabbed the headlines in Dist. 15, it is only one of the important issues facing us. Residents and voters here are ready for a supervisor and County Board that will set priorities towards core services. Protecting the public, encouraging quality job creation and retention, protecting the environment, and serving seniors, children and those in greatest need should always come first in our budgets. People understand the need to budget in their personal lives and they demand that government do the same. We are facing difficult decisions and having our priorities at the top of the list allows us to make the best choices for the future of Dist. 15 and Dane County.
Lisa Subeck: Increased crime and a surge in poverty are the biggest issues facing most of Dist. 15. While traffic back-ups and use of our neighborhood streets by commuters seeking a shortcut are serious concerns, public safety weighs most heavily on the minds of most residents. We've experienced increases in both serious crime and generally disruptive behavior. Even those in neighborhoods not directly touched by this increase feel its effects in our schools and throughout the area.
The city's addition of police officers provides some relief, but real long-term solutions require more than increased police presence. Collaboration between the city, county, law enforcement, residents, and school and community organizations is critical. I have been a leader on the southwest side as we work to address our safety concerns, and I will not ignore these problems as I work for real common sense solutions.
If Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk were to leave office, who would be her ideal successor?
Ferrell: Her ideal successor would be someone who is a fiscal conservative, protects the environment, and prioritizes core services.
Subeck: County Executive Kathleen Falk's ideal successor would be someone who would carry on Dane County's long-standing tradition of providing the highest quality human services, protecting our lakes and parks, and prioritizing public safety without substantial increases to our county tax bills.
Do you support a Dane County Regional Transit Authority, with its own taxing ability? Why do you think some communities oppose an RTA?
Ferrell: I do not support a Dane County RTA as currently proposed. An unelected, unaccountable board with taxing and spending authority goes against democratic principles. I do support planning for reasonable, sustainable, and affordable transportation solutions for everyone. "Regional" is the key part of any RTA. Dane County does not exist in a vacuum; we must cooperate with surrounding counties to create a system everyone can support.
Some communities may oppose the RTA because they were not consulted nor listened to at the time of its proposal. The current RTA proposal does not even address transportation solutions for areas outside the isthmus. Everyone needs to have input throughout the final decision-making process.
Subeck: Dane County absolutely needs to take a regional approach to transit and transportation. The city of Madison, Dane County, and surrounding municipalities must work together to reduce traffic congestion and cure traffic safety problems in our neighborhoods. A Regional Transit Authority may provide the tool needed for a collaborative approach to road and transit improvements. Formation of an RTA is dependent upon enabling state legislation, possible federal funding, and voter approval through referendum. I support allowing county residents the opportunity to vote on the issue. I also favor improved and expanded bus service as a sensible transit option.
I suspect that some communities oppose the RTA because they are concerned that the RTA will unfairly favor Madison residents. To ease their concerns, the RTA must proceed with input and influence from all municipalities in the region to ensure benefit to all. Such collaboration is the necessary ingredient for success.
Has the County Board become more or less relevant over time?
Ferrell: The County Board is more relevant now than ever. The interconnectivity of many issues between both rural and urban areas requires a strong, well-balanced and flexible board to find solutions. For instance, water quality can be affected by rural and urban areas in both similar and different ways. Solutions for water quality issues should be created to work for all areas. Control of farm runoff and animal waste disposal solutions require different thinking than control of pollution entering our lakes from storm sewers.
Subeck: The Dane County Board has become more relevant as we work toward a more regional approach to many issues. However, most southwest side residents do not feel the County Board has given our area the attention we need and deserve. We recognize that the County is an essential part of the solution as we work to overcome the challenges of increased crime and poverty. I will provide the accessible, responsive, and accountable representation that our neighborhoods need on the County Board.
Name the one quality you possess that is most essential to the job?
Ferrell: My ability to listen to multiple points of view, consider all input in a nonpartisan fashion, and be accessible to everyone is my strongest quality. Being independent of political pressures would allow me as a supervisor to work for the best solution possible for all. My education and experience in accounting have taught me to listen to both experts and ordinary people in order to make reasoned and reasonable decisions. I know that all of us together are wiser than any one of us alone.
Subeck: A strong sense of commitment is essential in a County Board supervisor, especially in a district that faces such serious challenges. I possess a demonstrated commitment to our neighborhoods, having served during the last several years in Dist. 15 on the Southwest Neighborhood Plan Steering Committee, the Board of the Wisconsin Youth and Family Center (serving the Greater Elver Park area), and as President of Woodhill Condominium Association. Through my work in the human service field and community advocacy, I have demonstrated a strong commitment to issues of affordable housing, workforce development, early childhood education, and other areas necessary to eliminate poverty and care for our elderly and disabled neighbors. My demonstrated commitment to my community and extensive experience will serve Dist. 15 and my neighbors well on the Dane County Board.