Incumbent Dorothy Wheeler doesn't regard her challenger, Sal Al-Ashkar, as much of a threat. And since Dist. 18, on the north side of Madison, is not embroiled in the public safety or traffic controversies that have become big issues in other County Board races, she may be right. Voters might decide to stick with the incumbent here.
But Wheeler, a retired teacher, has faced a challenge both times she's been up for re-election, so she's clearly regarded as vulnerable herself. This time around, the challenger is Al-Ashkar, a retired biochemistry researcher.
The Daily Page: What is the single most important issue for your particular Dane County Board district?
Al-Ashkar: Dist. 18 is in need of a comprehensive economic development plan. We lost a large grocery store when Kohl's closed. Brennan's and Hancock Fabrics both also recently closed. Other than Shopko there is no place to purchase clothing on the north side of Madison. I hope that the county is able to coordinate planning with the economic development plan for the city to create a positive business environment for the north side.
Wheeler: I think over the course of the years I've lived on the north side, environmental issues have always topped the list, whether it was advocating for Troy Gardens, fighting to hold on to green spaces like Lake View Hill, or protecting the lakes and marshes with all the development planned close to Cherokee Marsh. Citizens in the 18th district are very aware, and care very much about what happens to their green spaces and to the lakes. We have many miles of lakeshore and environmentally sensitive lands that need our vigilance and we are paying close attention!
If Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk were to leave office, who would be her ideal successor?
Al-Ashkar: I have heard that Supv. Scott McDonell might be interested.
Wheeler: I would support Scott McDonell because I like his leadership style and his vision for the future of Dane County, and I agree with his position on almost every issue.
Do you support a Dane County Regional Transit Authority, with its own taxing ability? Why do you think some communities oppose an RTA?
Al-Ashkar: I do not support an RTA as it now exists. I fully support the need for a multi-model regional transportation plan.
Why is there opposition to the RTA? The public had little time or opportunity for input; the decision on an RTA was rushed to a vote in nine days. There is no consensus on what the transportation problems are or what a thoughtful, well-planned solution might be. Some communities see no benefit to themselves in the RTA plan, yet they will be taxed, along with those who do benefit, the $45-$50 million annually to run the RTA's planned rail system. Wheeler: Yes, I absolutely support the RTA! I believe that transportation is getting to be a major problem with people complaining about all the autos, the slowness of traffic at rush hour, the danger of streets that are over capacity, and drivers speeding to get to their destinations, so we must diversify our commuter transportation!
We need an entity that will coordinate these efforts, plan for the future with the greatest care and information, and have the authority to tax if necessary. We need to get our transportation needs off the overused property tax and spread the cost out to people who do business in Dane County using our roadways but who are not now paying for the privilege. Of course, some citizens think of this as only a method to begin a rail system, but it will be much more than that and will help every community, not just the Madison area.
From bike trails to a rail system including upgrading highways and perhaps establishing express bus service, this transit authority should bring Dane County into the future with an efficient transportation system.
Has the County Board become more or less relevant over time?
Al-Ashkar: I do not believe that relevancy is the issue; polarization is causing the board to become ineffective. Two questions come to mind: First, if not the board then what entity will make decisions about county issues? Second, how could the polarization of the board be addressed so the county's work goes forward?
Wheeler: I think the County Board will always be relevant -- whether more or less as time goes on, I can't really say. As long as the state uses the county as its enforcement vehicle, we will need to have a County Board that can oversee all the requirements the state imposes on the county. We also need the board to make policy for the county that helps us grow very smartly, protecting our lakes, streams and farmland.
The county must also facilitate intergovernmental agreements with the many governmental bodies that make up our county's political landscape. Of course, the authority of the county is limited when it comes to cities and villages who have "home rule," but there are many ways that the county can help the townships and even protect them from encroaching cities and villages.
County government must have the broadest vision and the strongest ability to plan for the future. Dane County's comprehensive plan was completed in 2007 and, even though the goals and objectives are advisory, I feel it will have a great influence over policy decisions of the future.
Name the one quality you possess that is most essential to the job?
Al-Ashkar: Education in agri-science, and a background and career in biochemistry research and agri-business, plus management experience, have all given me an understanding of both the farming and land issues that come before the board. My service in the Optimist and Lions Clubs opened my eyes to human service issues and how to get things done for people.
I hear about the desire for independent and responsible leadership from residents here on the north side of Madison, and I am committed to be that independent voice for responsible leadership. If I have to pick one trait that makes me eligible, it would be my patience to listen.
Wheeler: I am a person with great integrity. I come to the County Board with long-standing ideals about the government and what it needs to do. I have deep-seated values that drive my votes and my personal goals. I am a person of my word who will carry through on my promises and other supervisors know they can trust me.
As a teacher, I looked for the strengths in my students and I now look for the knowledge and strengths of my fellow supervisors, so I know who understands what issues the best and who can lead for a desired result or policy. I am not a grandstander nor even a good public speaker, so I rely on my relationships with other supervisors to get my resolutions passed. It's worked well so far!