Port mayoral candidates promise City Hall changes

Becker, Richert vow commitment to open government, different approach to development

Marty Becker and Adele Richert
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington voters will have the choice of two candidates for mayor on the April 3 ballot who say they are committed to mending the rift that has emerged between city officials and the public.

The rift developed in large part when the Common Council took steps to develop the city’s lakefront, particularly when aldermen agreed to sell the north slip marina parking lot for the Blues Factory — a move spearheaded by outgoing Mayor Tom Mlada as a way to spur downtown development.

Both Marty Becker, 69, of 669 W. Pierre Ln., and Adele Richert, 74, of 304 S. Webster St., said communication is the key to re-establishing trust with the public — something that’s essential for the new mayor.

“You have to have more open communication with the community and residents, and you have to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Becker said, noting he would use the city website, email and the newspaper to do this.

In keeping with that stance, he said he would make sure the Common Council holds fewer closed sessions and, when they are held, they would be scheduled before regular meetings so the public would be on hand to hear whatever is decided.

Richert said she would work to ensure the city doesn’t repeat mistakes made in the past, particularly in terms of development.

“A lot of the decisions were made behind closed doors,” she said, adding that many believe these sessions were illegal or bordered on being illegal.

“That’s the perception, if nothing else,” she said.

Richert said she is committed to holding listening sessions and would have regular weekly office hours when residents could stop by to share their concerns.

On major issues, she said, she would like to have the Common Council have public hearings and then vote on the issue at hand at a different meeting instead of voting the same night.

“You don’t have time to absorb what’s been said,” she said. “And the perception is that what the public says doesn’t count, doesn’t matter.”    

Both candidates agreed that council meetings need to be shortened, perhaps by limiting the length of agendas.

“We definitely don’t need to go into the morning hours,” Richert said. “It’s not fair to the public, or constructive for aldermen.”

And public hearings should be held at the beginning of meetings, she said.

“I think all public comments and hearings should be held at the beginning of the session,” she said. “That way the people have a chance to have their voices heard before everyone gets tired. 

“I think it’s more of a courtesy to the public that attends, and it might create an environment in which more people sit through a meeting.” 

Becker agreed that public hearings should be held early in the agenda.

“Let the people have their voice,” he said. 

The council should stick to the agenda and not take items out of order, Becker added. 

Development remains a major issue, both candidates said.

In downtown, Becker said, he is in favor of development on privately owned land as long as it meets the city’s codes and doesn’t require any aid from the city’s tax incremental financing district. 

These developments would need to fit in with the look of downtown, he said, adding he doesn’t have a problem with buildings that are taller than 35 feet.

“I think it’s OK that the city has the ability to change (the height limit) with a two-thirds vote,” he said.’

Incentives, he said, should only be used for development on raw, undeveloped land.

 “You’re creating something,” he said. 

Richert said she would like to expand the concept of downtown to the west and north, including portions of Grand Avenue and Wisconsin Street.

“We need to include those businesses that are there and let them know they’re part of our business community,” she said.

How far west and north the downtown would extend should be the subject of a long-range plan, Richert added, noting that the growth would be incremental and create walkable neighborhoods where people could find something as basic as a corner market.

“We have to get the community’s thoughts as a whole — what do we want Port Washington to be,” she said, adding she would like to spur that planning process.

The proposed Blues Factory, which spurred much controversy in the city, is something Richert said she believes will become reality.

“The city decided to sell the property,” she said. “Whether or not that was the right things to do, I believe it will happen.”

And if it is, she added, the city needs to support it.

“The last thing we need is to have a vacant building on our harbor,” she said.

She said she would like to see less construction and more green space in the marina district particularly, adding that the inclusion of public areas as part of the proposed Newport Shores development is something she supports.

Becker said the Blues Factory is a good idea, but in the wrong location, particularly since the city sold a prime parking lot for the development, but noted that he supports the Newport Shores development, which is being done on private land with no incentive funding.

 He does support the idea of a north-side TIF district, Becker said.

“You might have a business or industrial park on the north side, and I think that’s OK,” he said, adding sewer and water services should have been extended to the far north side years ago to open it for development. 

Richert said the city needs to do its due diligence and get plenty of input from residents before signing on to a north-side TIF district, particularly since there are two other open TIF districts in the community.

She also noted that the city has to decide what it wants there before implementing a TIF district, saying she would not want to see a big-box store but mid-size to smaller businesses would be something she favors.

“The hurdles the city would be facing infrastructure-wise, those are things we really need to look at,” she said.

The community also needs to plan for the area, Richert said, noting that’s something it didn’t do well in the marina district.

Becker, a pharmacist and former small business owner, is a seven-year member of the Police and Fire Commission. He said the only agenda he has in running for mayor is to get a second fire station built on the west side of the city.

“There is definitely a need for a fire station on the other side of town,” he said, noting that it’s difficult for the department to house all its equipment in the current facility, there are limited restrooms for men and women and no comfortable quarters for paramedics to stay overnight.

Having a west-side station will cut the department’s response time, something that’s vitally important, Becker added.

“One minute does make a difference,” he said.

Richert, who retired after 30 years in information technology, agreed that a station is needed, adding the city doesn’t need another study to prove that fact. 

But instead of building a large facility immediately, she suggested the city may be able to build a small facility for the ambulance service and a fire truck with room for expansion as the population grows and money can be allocated for it.

The condition of the city streets is another expensive concern for the city, with Mlada endorsing a wheel tax last year that was ultimately rejected by the Common Council.

Richert said she would be in favor of a referendum to increase the city’s tax levy for street repairs, adding that a public information meeting should be held first to gauge people’s interest.

“There would have to be a lot of discussion first,” she said.

“There’s no question the roads need work,” Becker said, adding he’s not in favor of always narrowing roads and installing sidewalks, saying that can actually increase the cost of road projects because of the additional work involved. 

He, too, favors a referendum to increase the city tax levy to finance roadwork so residents can decide if they want to increase the pace of road repairs, he said. 

Both candidates said they decided to run for mayor at the behest of others, adding they have the time and life experience to do a good job leading the community.

Richert has a background in finance as well as information technology and is a LEED accredited professional and member of the U.S. Green Building Council, and said her background gives her the breadth of knowledge needed as mayor.

“I feel I have the ability to talk to developers on a more knowledgeable level,” she said. “I’ve met with clients all over the world in my previous business. I’m very concerned about the environment.”

Becker said he has gotten to know the city and its people during his 40 years.

“I think living in town for 40 years and seeing the people, and the diversity of people — I think I have the feeling for what people want and are looking for in local government,” he said, adding he wants to make Port a good place for his children and grandchildren to live.

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