Incumbents, challenger tout leadership roles in community development
Differing views are difficult to find among the four Grafton Village Board candidates vying for three trustee seats in the Tuesday, April 5, election.
Incumbents Ron LaPean, Richard Rieck and James Grant are seeking re-election to two-year terms, and challenger David Antoine is making his first try for a board post.
During a candidates forum March 23 at the Rose-Harms American Legion Hall, Grant cited his experience and leadership as reasons he should be re-elected and said he would actively work with the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce and EDGE, an economic development group, to attract new businesses to the village.
Grant, who has been a trustee since 2003 and was also on the board from 1976 to 1991, cited the new Aurora Medical Center hospital and a soon-to-open cancer care center as major developments that have enhanced the community.
LaPean rhetorically asked if life for village residents is better now than it was nine years ago, when he was first elected. He cited his work on a variety of public-works projects, including a decision to not widen Cedar Creek Road after talking with residents — a move he said saved $400,000.
LaPean said he continues to be committed to fighting for smaller government and holding the line on taxes.
Rieck, who has been a trustee since 2005, said he deserves re-election because of his service on the board and an array of committees, including the Library Board, Public Works Board, Finance Committee and Plan Commission.
Rieck also cited his leadership as a 24-year co-owner of a downtown business and on the Grafton Lions Club and Sons of the Rose-Harms American Legion Post.
Antoine said he has demonstrated leadership as chairman of the Grafton Library Board and groups such as the Grafton Lions, Celebrate Grafton, Grafton Holiday Events and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Ozaukee County. In 2000, he was the recipient of the Grafton Chamber’s Outstanding Citizen Award.
A 26-year village resident, Antoine described himself as “one of Grafton’s biggest cheerleaders.”
With Grafton and other communities facing cuts in state funding, candidates were asked how municipal services should be prioritized to ensure the village maintains its current quality of life for residents.
Grant, the chairman of the Safety Committee, said police service cannot be sacrificed. He said street maintenance and snow removal are also priorities, but not necessarily park and recreation programs.
“That’s not an element that keeps life going,” Grant said.
LaPean declined to list priority services but said he is “keeping an open mind” in the decision-making process.
Rieck said he is also taking a wait-and-see approach but believes the village cannot do without police and public works services.
According to Antoine, cutting municipal services shouldn’t be necessary. Instead, he suggested trimming library hours or turning down the thermostat to reduce costs.
“I don’t think we in Grafton need to cut services if we can find more efficient ways to do what we do,” Antoine said.
All four candidates said they supported preserving the Bridge Street dam, a move residents forced the village to make by passing a binding referendum last spring. Plans now call for a fish passage to be constructed this year on the east side of the Milwaukee River above the
dam to allow native species to travel upstream to spawn.
“That (mill) pond needs to stay there. It needs to be the gateway to the community,” Grant said. However, Grant said he opposes the use of federal stimulus money to cover the cost of the fish passage.
LaPean said he isn’t confident the fish passage will work and would rather see the dam left alone, even though the village is committed to having the project done.
Rieck suggested the village have the pond dredged when the water is lowered for the fish passage work “because it’s cheaper to do than in wet conditions and the pond will be more usable.”
Antoine said he supports construction of the fish passage and that the dam has become a symbol of Grafton’s heritage.
The candidates differed over ways the village can attract businesses and redevelop areas such as the south commercial district.
Grant said Grafton is fortunate to have continued growth despite the struggling economy and will find ways to fill vacant buildings and restore key structures such as the Grafton Hotel.
“It’s only a matter of the time it takes for the economy to turn around,” Grant said. “I guarantee you these buildings will be taken care of.”
Rieck suggested changing the zoning in some areas to planned-unit development and continuing to use tax incremental financing districts to encourage development.
LaPean said he is proud of what has been done in the village and will continue to support the use of tax incremental financing and zoning changes to help attract businesses.
Antoine said some vacant manufacturing buildings may not be suitable for high-tech industries and other uses will have to be found for them. Retail businesses have been hurt by the slumping economy and a boom in on-line shopping, which makes their challenge even more
difficult, he added.
If elected, Antoine said, he wants to serve on the Community Development Authority and will work closely with the Chamber, EDGE and other groups.
Grant said attracting business is “very difficult with the economy.” He said the village’s commercial success in the I-43 corridor has contributed to a downtown slowdown, and that the future of the south commercial district is worrisome.
LaPean said the village’s quality of life — including excellent schools and police and fire protection — are assets that can attract commercial and residential development. He said that while state taxes under Gov. Jim Doyle drove businesses out of state, Gov. Scott Walker’s
plan can help bring in new businesses.
All three incumbent candidates said they oppose subjecting trustees to term limits, which the Village Board rescinded in 2008.
LaPean said the village would risk losing good leaders if term limits were reinstated.
“My personal opinion is that you have the right to vote anyone in and anyone out. That to me is called term limits,” LaPean said.
Rieck agreed, saying he would be done serving if a three-term limit was now in effect.
However, Antoine said he supports term limits because changes in elected leaders would bring in fresh ideas. He said he stepped down as Library Board president after five years to give someone else a chance.
“Term limits to me are something that should be set in stone,” Antoine said.
All four candidates said they support the village’s recycling program and want to keep it in intact even though Walker’s proposed biennial budget eliminates mandated recycling.
Grant said recycling is part of quality of life but will be difficult to maintain without state funding. He doesn’t support charging a fee to offset the funding cut.
“A fee is nothing more than another tax you can’t write off,” Grant said.
LaPean, chairman of the Public Works Board, agreed. “We want to keep it, and we want to find things that reduce expenditures so we can keep it,” he said.
Rieck suggested cutting from other programs to retain recycling.
Antoine said Grafton exceeds the general standard of a 25% recycling rate for a good program and wants to keep it.
Village trustees are paid $3,750 per year.