Vicky Selkowe, 33, serves as vice chair of the city's Affirmative Action Commission and also serves on its Equal Opportunities Commission. She was a lead advocate for raising Madison's minimum wage and has fought to pass a mandatory sick-leave ordinance.
A graduate of UW Law School, Selkowe is an attorney with the nonprofit Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. The Wisconsin Community Action Program has named her the "Advocate of the Year" for her work providing free legal services to low-income residents. She is a member of the Schenk Atwood Starkweather Yahara Neighborhood Association council, and serves as secretary of the Worthington Park Neighborhood Association.
A brief interview with Selkowe follows below.
The Daily Page: The Stoughton Road Revitalization Project seeks to revamp the east-side corridor with alternative transit and mixed-use developments. Last summer, the city approved a $20,000 neighborhood grant to hire a consultant. Do you agree with the project's vision?
Selkowe: I have talked to neighborhood residents close to Stoughton Road, many of whom share tremendous concerns about the future of this project and who are fearful the "revitalization" will bring even more traffic and noise into their residential neighborhoods.
I am hopeful for a Stoughton Road that facilitates alternative transportation options and mixed-use developments, enables access to the businesses that line the road, and contains less advertising. I will not quietly accept a plan that only provides more accommodations to cars passing through our neighborhoods.
Given Stoughton Road's proximity to so many important places and destinations, it is particularly ripe for public transportation options for commuters, shoppers and others. I will push for redevelopment along the Stoughton Road corridor that will allow for the growth of local employers and family-supporting jobs. Most importantly, I will ensure that the plan for Stoughton Road respects that this roadway runs through long-settled neighborhoods, whose residents need to be assured of their safety and continued ease of access to their homes.
What lessons from being vice chair of the Affirmative Action Committee would you use to bolster the city's minority recruitment?
The city has made some improvements, including creating a position within the Department of Civil Rights geared toward recruiting traditionally underrepresented people. Still, the goal of diversifying the city workforce is the responsibility of every city department, and we must establish -- and meet -- high benchmarks for progress.
The Parks Division, for example, made extensive efforts to hire minorities for jobs at the new Goodman Pool, but many of their minority hires ended up working in concessions, not the higher-paying lifeguard positions. In response, [the division] reached out to high school populations, minority community groups and news media serving communities of color to expand their recruitment pool and increase their success rate. We must do that for all city departments that are falling short in their own recruitment and hiring efforts.
Beyond the city's own minority hiring, the creation of the Department of Civil Rights gives us an opportunity to take a hard look at the reality that Madison's communities of color struggle in Madison in a way that their white counterparts do not. We need to develop an action plan to turn this around.
You identify one of your issues as enhancing cooperation between the city and neighborhood organizations. What problems would you address and how?
Neighborhood planning is vital for Madison's future, and residents should have a proactive voice in how our city develops. As Madison grows, the needs of our neighborhoods are too often overshadowed by the power of developers.
Many of the district's neighborhoods do not have current neighborhood plans in place -- leaving neighbors in the less-than-desirable position of reacting to development proposals, instead of proactively driving the process.
At least one neighborhood within the district's bounds has decided that it cannot afford to do a neighborhood plan because it cannot raise the $15,000 needed. We should work towards a system where neighborhoods can substitute sweat equity for the cost-match currently required for neighborhood plans.
We also need increased city/neighborhood cooperation to address traffic issues. I created the Eastside Neighborhoods Traffic Action Network to bring residents of four neighborhood associations together to collaboratively develop practical solutions to traffic problems on our busy streets. Many residents are frustrated by traffic engineering's slow response and seeming lack of interest in partnering with neighborhood residents.
We have to work harder to develop a cooperative relationship between that department -- which is made up of many smart, highly competent, helpful individuals -- and concerned residents, to get better results.
What kind of transit needs do you see for residents living in and passing through your district?
Dist. 15 residents are incredibly supportive of, but frustrated by, our bus system. We do not yet have a system that meets the needs of eastsiders. Unlike my opponent [Palm], who has repeatedly voted against Madison Metro (including voting against funds for paratransit service for those with disabilities), I will advocate for our bus system as a basic service, one essential to reducing traffic, increasing job opportunities, and benefiting our environment.
I look forward to the report of the committee studying long-term improvements for Metro. We need a Metro system with more frequent service, including expanded evening and weekend hours, as well as "flyer" buses that cut down on the enormous amount of time it takes to get from one side of town to the other by bus. I would also like to see more bus shelters in the 15th district.
While my focus is on improving our bus system, I will actively work to improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as [working to implement] the recommendations of Transport 2020. We have to move towards a regional transportation system that will make it easier to connect Madison residents to the high-paying jobs being created in outlying areas, where land is cheaper, and that will create a broader and more sustainable base of funding for our bus system.
The city is pursuing restoration and development of the Garver Feed Mill and Royster-Clark properties. What uses do you envision for the properties? How should these projects be funded?
The Royster-Clark site presents a tremendously exciting opportunity for mixed-used, high-quality infill development. Neighbors are excited about the site's possibilities, sharing my hopes that it will contain space for small, locally owned businesses and family-supporting employment, as well as housing options and green space.
I have been active in the early planning meetings for the site and my focus is on:
- Ensuring that neighbors have a great deal of input into what happens at the site;
- Making sure that the company that bought the site, Agrium, commits to conducting and sharing the results of environmental studies with the neighborhood; and,
- Preventing residents from having to pay for a marketing study.
(The city has asked the neighborhood to fundraise $15,000 to $20,000 to pay a consultant to conduct this study. Agrium should be asked to pay; neighbors should concentrate on partnering with the city to complete a plan that lays out our vision for the site.)
The Garver Feed Mill is similarly exciting though more financially challenging. As I've gone door to door in that neighborhood, it is clear that many residents would be delighted to have that space utilized to support local artists and to provide community space for meetings, gatherings, performances, etc. The building contains numerous interesting architectural features that I hope we can preserve. I'm hopeful that, through a combination of private and public dollars and tax credits, we can figure out a way to make renovation of this site financially viable.
How do you balance your interest in funding various city programs with keeping taxes low?
We enjoy a very high quality of life in Madison, in part because of the services our tax dollars support. Being fiscally responsible is not incompatible with prioritizing programs that support our community's working families, strengthen our neighborhoods and that prevent future problems. Instead of trying to balance the budget on the backs of our community's kids, neighborhoods, seniors, or transit users, as my opponent [Palm] has disappointingly done, I will instead fight for wise investments that give us long-term results.
For example, if my opponent had succeeded in cutting the Senior Center's new coffee urn, he would've "saved" the average homeowner less than three cents. I will not engage in that kind of distracting micromanaging that diminish services, and that does not result in real savings for the taxpayer.
I will instead ask tough questions about what we're getting for our investments in the Overture Center and the Monona Terrace and I will insist on better information from city departments to ensure that programs and services are justified, efficient and successful.
I will also carefully scrutinize our capital budget expenditures on large road construction projects on the periphery that contribute to sprawl and traffic in our neighborhoods. And I will partner with our state legislative delegation to reform state funding formulas and close corporate tax loopholes.