It's an unusual election season in Wauwatosa.
Of all the positions up for election April 5 — including three seats on the Wauwatosa School Board, eight aldermanic seats on the Wauwatosa Common Council and the mayoral position — there are only two contested races in the city. One of those races is a battle between two write-in candidates who each announced their candidacy for an otherwise vacant District 6 seat.
The election is also a presidential primary in the Republican and Democratic parties. Voters will be allowed to vote for a candidate in one party only.
Voters must show photo identification prior to receiving a ballot. For information on forms of identification that are acceptable, visit bringit.wisconsin.gov.
The four local candidates — Joe Johnson and Nancy Welch vying for the city's third district seat and Craig Wentzel and Kelly K. Rifelj as write-in candidates for District 6 — each answered questions about their background and about where they stand on key issues impacting Wauwatosa. Each seat on the common council carries a four-year term.
The candidates were limited to 50-word answers.
Why are you running?
Johnson: Wauwatosa is a great place to live and raise a family. I will work to keep it that way and keep striving to make it better. I plan on being a lifelong Wauwatosa resident, and as alderman I will be a vigorous advocate for the residents of the 3rd District.
Welch: After 20 years working as an urban planner with many communities, I have a passion for improving neighborhoods and providing community service. I want to use my knowledge and talents to ensure that Wauwatosa retains all the great qualities that made me decide to live here for over eighteen years.
Wentzel: I care about the decisions being made concerning the future of Wauwatosa. Being a lifelong resident I feel I can bring a unique prospective to the council that others can't.
Rifelj: I run to bring the perspectives of a wide swath of residents to the issues that Wauwatosa faces today and will face. Not everyone looks for opposing viewpoints, but I know that compromise from differing perspectives can result in the best solution for the greatest good.
The budget is a large responsibility of the city's common council. How much of an annual tax increase are you willing to support? Would you rather increase taxes or cut services?
Johnson: No one wants to increase taxes. As alderman I will seek to support smart development to increase the city's property tax base. By encouraging smart development I would hope to offset any increase in revenue the city needs to maintain the quality of services Wauwatosa residents have come to expect.
Welch: Wisconsin state law places limits on tax increases, therefore it is not within my power to determine a specific percentage. Generally, I would consider the minimal amount necessary to maintain quality services for residents.
Wentzel: Taxes are the most important and controversial issue I expect to be involved in. The city has done a very good job, to this point, of holding down increases or even lowering property taxes by promoting development. I think we are in a position to continue this practice.
Rifelj: Raising taxes is always the option of last resort. Taxes hit all citizens regardless of how much use they derive from a service. As an alderperson, I would look for alternative revenue streams that would impact the people or businesses that use, or benefit from, the service.
Crime — and what to do about it — has been a growing topic of discussion in Wauwatosa. How can the city curb crime and promote public safety?
Johnson:Reducing crime is a priority. Through the budget process, I will work to increase funding for patrol officers. Additionally, we need to continue to work on improving communication between the police and the community through liaisons that can disseminate accurate information and prevention tips to neighborhood associations and block watches.
Welch: We need to work hard to understand the cause of crime and develop effective responses so that we concentrate resources on identified problems or areas. Neighborhood Watch and encouraging neighbors to watch out for each other is a good cost-effective response that can assist public safety efforts.
Wentzel: I feel that Wauwatosa is a relatively safe community. No community is without some level of crime. My job as alderman will be to work jointly with the police department and the citizens of the community to communicate better in an effort of prevention.
Rifelj: Our first line of defense is a consistent flow of information between police and residents. I will work to ensure all neighborhoods are connected at high levels. Additionally, I would utilize police-offered support to mend poorly lit areas and potential hiding spots for criminals.
Wauwatosa is a thriving center for development in the Milwaukee area. How can elected officials support growth while responding to neighborhood concerns?
Johnson: We need to encourage pedestrian-friendly smart development that leads to increased property values as that will keep taxes down. However, we need to be very cautious against over-development or any development that infringes on the character of Wauwatosa's unique neighborhoods. Neighborhood concerns need to be acknowledged and adequately addressed.
Welch:Positive growth isn't just looking for any development, it is about finding the right development. We need family supporting jobs, not just retail. We need housing that is affordable for our residents and meets the market needs of this community, not just an excuse to build greater density.
Wentzel: Development is a key element in maintaining lower property taxes. The city needs to promote development in areas where it makes sense. We also need to retain green space to supply a balance for a healthy environment. Being aware of the problems of over deployment should also be a concern.
Rifelj: Balanced economic development considers if a business is valuable to the surrounding residents and if there ample space/parking to support it. If the business is a value to some, while others find it problematic, work to assure businesses and patrons are accountable for general safety along with a prosperous business.
If elected, what are specific constituent concerns you intend to work on?
Johnson:The 3rd District has diverse neighborhoods and its residents have seen the expansion and expansion attempts of various entities over the years. The city needs to be sensitive to the concerns of residents related to any expansion attempts and work with the parties to preserve the character of neighborhoods.
Welch: There have been several consistent concerns expressed by residents as I talk with them, including coyotes, replacement of freeway landscaping along Chippewa Park, public safety including impacts from the St. Charles home, traffic, and allowing citizens to have a more active voice in local government decisions.
Wentzel: There are many issues that concern me and the people I have talked to. To name a few: 1) Heavy traffic and parking problems on North Avenue (68th to 76th). 2) Congestion in the downtown area. 3) Crime. 4) Development in the community. 5) Poor road conditions. 6) Wildlife concerns.
Rifelj: I would look for development that not only supports the tax base and brings jobs into our community, but that is beneficial for generations of residents. I will promote all that makes Wauwatosa wonderfully unique because the more we are a destination, the better we can control our destiny.
Joe Johnson, District 3
Address: 947 Currie Place
Years in Community: 5
Education: Juris Doctorate, University of Wisconsin Law School
Bachelor of Science in history, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Political History: This is the first time I have run for office.
Community Involvement: N/A
Family: Married for seven years to Sarah. Two children: Reed, 3, and Kyle, 10 months
Nancy Welch, District 3
Address: 8213 Rockway Place
Years in Community: 18
Occupation: Urban planning consultant
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Oberlin College
Master of Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning
Political History: First run for public office
Community Involvement: Wauwatosa Historical Society, Red Raider Band Boosters, Wauwatosa Farmer's Market, Friends of the Monarch Trail, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Grassroots Tosa, Glenview Heights Neighborhood Association, 30th Street Industrial Corridor
Family: Husband David Plank, and grown children, Nathaniel and Kelsey
Craig Wentzel, District 6
Address: 2344 N. 103rd St.
Years in Community: Raised in Wauwatosa then moved back here 24 years ago
Occupation: Part-time instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College
Education: Wauwatosa West High School (1969)
Three years at University of Wisconsin-Madison
Technical training (welding) at MATC
Political History: None
Community Involvement: Treasurer, Grassroots Tosa
Member of SOS Wauwatosa
Family: Mother is a Wauwatosa resident and 30-year-old daughter living in Milwaukee
Kelly K. Rifelj, District 6
Address: 2630 N. 85th St.
Years in Community: 10
Occupation: Education Policy Analyst
Education: Eisenhower High School, 1996
Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education and French, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000
Masters of Public Affairs from UW-Madison, 2007
Political History: I have never before run for public office.
Community Involvement: Teacher in Wauwatosa Public Schools in 2002-2003, parent of a child at McKinley Elementary School, regular volunteer at McKinley
Family: Husband Paul Rifelj, daughter Charlotte, age 6 and son Cole, age 4