Two candidates vie for vacant seat in Second District

By Vicky Wedig

SLN STAFF

Two contested races for the Delavan Common Council will be decided in Tuesday’s spring election.

In the Third District, newcomer Chris Lindloff is challenging incumbent Ryan Schroeder.

In the Second District, two candidates – real estate agent Chris Phillips and retired tool and die maker Ron Grair – are vying for a seat left vacant by former Alderman Dave Kilkenny, who moved to Ecuador.

In the First District, incumbent Mary O’Connor is seeking re-election to her seat uncontested.

A third candidate, mechanic Sam Riggs, also sought election to the Second District seat but was eliminated in the primary election. Riggs, has served on city committees, said neither Phillips nor Grair has served on any committees or commissions or worked with the city council or knows the workings of city government.

“I’m sure they both have grand intentions,” he said, but added, “I don’t think either one of them is qualified.

 

The candidates

Grair, 67, is retired from Borg Indak. He served on the Delavan-Darien School Board for six years after Delavan and Darien schools merged. He has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 30 years, served six years on the Delbrook Golf Commission and served three years on the redevelopment committee for the industrial park.

Grair is active with the Legion Riders motorcycle group, and he and his wife, Leanne, have six children between them – Tim, 47, of Milwaukee, Joe, 44, of Arizona, Jamie, 38, of Arizona, Gavin, 25, of Delavan, Anya, 23, of Walworth, and Garrick, 21, of Delavan.

Lindloff, 36, is a probation and parole officer for the state Department of Corrections in its Janesville field office. He grew up in the Delavan area and moved in to the city in 1998. He served 16 years on the Town of Delavan’s fire department and rescue squad.

He and his wife, Heather Lindloff, have two sons – Logan, 7, and Connor, 4.

O’Connor, 55, grew up in Delavan but left to join the military at the age of 25. She retired from the military in 2007, returned to Delavan and now she works as a certified nursing assistant for a Milwaukee-based hospice service.

O’Connor has served two terms on the Delavan Common Council. She has two children – Kimberly French, 26, who is pursuing a doctorate in psychology in Florida, and Kristina French, 24, an art student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Phillips, 37, is a real estate agent for Shorewest Realtors. He and his wife, Michelle Phillips, have one child – Jordyn, 16, a Big Foot High School student.

Schroeder, 38, is chief of staff for state Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee). He served on the Delavan Common Council from 1999 to 2009 and was re-elected two years ago. He has a 7-year-old son.

 

Where they stand

Lindloff said a priority for him is to improve the city’s image to attract residents and businesses to Delavan to fill vacant homes and empty storefronts. He said Delavan overall is not viewed well by people from outside the city, and that perception is erroneous. Lindloff said Delavan has amenities like the Phoenix Park Band Shell and a nice downtown.

“Delavan is a great city,” he said.

He said the city needs to sell itself to “get people to come back” and make companies aware of the demand for businesses in the community. Lindloff said the Common Council should work with the Delavan-Darien School Board to determine what the goals are for both and find out how each can benefit the other.

“I really want the city council to meet with the school board,” he said.

Lindloff said he would like to see more of the city’s recreation programs in the district’s schools and have the district’s facility more open for city residents.

O’Connor said the top issue facing the city is its budget and paying down its debt. She said Alderman Bruce DeWitt is doing a fine job as chairman of the Finance Committee trying to pay for capital improvements and major purchases within the city’s budget rather than borrowing.

“If we continue that – stay within the budget and do as little borrowing as necessary – we will be on a good track,” she said.

As chairman of the Public Works Committee, O’Connor said she has also worked to stay within the department’s budget and avoid borrowing.

“I am being very, very strict on the capital improvements within the public works (budget),” she said.

In the past four years, O’Connor said, the Public Works Department has completed 16 reconstruction projects on roads badly in need of repair but spent less than $1 million per year on capital projects.

Phillips agreed that the city’s budget is improving by borrowing less for capital improvements, and the city is on the right path to bringing down its debt.

Schroeder said the city has tightened its budget to the point that residents will need to face a small tax increase or a major decrease in services.

Schroeder said in 2003 or 2004, he brought a list of about 20 “wasteful spending” items to the council, which cut a couple of the items, and city taxes decreased. But, he said, cuts have now been made wherever they could  be.

“There is no more wasteful spending,” he said.

With the dissolution of the Delavan Rescue Squad, O’Connor said another priority is ensuring city residents continue to receive high quality emergency medical services.

“I want to make sure that we incur the same level of services but that it doesn’t cost a lot,” she said.

The Common Council earlier this month selected Curtis Universal Ambulance Service to take over the emergency medical services in the city April 1.

Schroeder said a priority for him is to maintain a good, healthy, clean and safe environment. That involves keeping a strong police force, he said.

Schroeder said the department has two full-time police officer positions – one vacated through retirement and one by a resignation – that have not been filled. With the addition of Darien’s officers, the department’s staff is back up.

“But, we’re covering more area,” Schroeder said. “We technically should have more (officers) on our streets … to make sure our citizens are taken care of.”

He said city police respond to domestic abuse and shoplifting situations, and although homicides have not occurred, when they do, people will demand “more cops on the street.”

“The calls aren’t going down,” he said.

Schroeder said keeping a safe community goes a long way in attracting people to the city. He said the goal is for people to start building homes on the many lots the city already has platted.

O’Connor said another goal for the Common Council is to draw businesses to its downtown that will increase retail traffic.

“Obviously we need to be concerned about our downtown and getting that up and going,” she said.

O’Connor said the city needs to make good decisions about the businesses that come in to downtown to make sure they bring people in from out of town.

A committee, on which Lindloff serves, is working on ways to revitalize the downtown.

Phillips said the city is creating a Tax Incremental Finance district to help rebuild downtown but has made no solid decisions about what to do in the area.

“Downtown Delavan is No. 1 on my mind,” he said.

He said the area needs a theme or attraction. At one time, he said, the circus was its focal point, but that emphasis has essentially washed away.

“You have the statues – that’s it,” he said.

Phillips said putting new brick facades on existing buildings is not enough to revitalize the area. Something has to be done to make it a destination, he said.

Grair said he is concerned about a TIF district downtown because of the tax dollars it would divert from the city and the school district.

“That affects everybody,” he said.

Grair, whose mother owned Edna’s Cut ‘n’ Curl downtown, said business owners there are diverse and everyone needs to get on board to fill empty storefronts. He said his parents owned the building his mother’s business was in, but now many business owners don’t own the buildings and some are from out of town and lack incentive to fix the buildings.

“I don’t know how to get the participation,” he said.

Lindloff said the downtown is great but needs improvements. He said the council needs to listen to the public and be more open to their input.

He said aldermen need to discuss matters publicly at council meetings and describe what they’re voting on.

“They’re not explaining things to people,” he said. “It’s the people’s government.”

Schroeder said bringing jobs to Delavan is his No. 1 priority.

“The economy is still down but hopefully it’s coming back,” he said.

Phillips said the city also needs to advertise outside of Delavan the vacant lots in its industrial park to bring businesses to the city.

“We need lots more business in Delavan,” he said.

He said Delavan needs to reach out to businesses in Illinois where companies can no longer afford to locate because of the state’s taxes. The city needs to tout its central location along Interstate 43 with easy travel to Milwaukee, Chicago and Rockford, Ill., and the availability of rail to industry.

“You can’t beat our location,” he said.

Lindloff said the city needs to find out why businesses are not locating in Delavan. He said all the companies that chose to locate in Darien’s industrial park should have been brought to Delavan.

Schroeder said NAI MLG Commercial has brought the city prospective businesses for the industrial park and has been successful in bringing industry to the city in the past. He said nothing has panned out in the past few years, but it takes a lot of work to market the area in this economy. No lots have been sold in any industrial park in Walworth County in the past five years, according to MLG.

Schroeder said all city leaders whether it be the mayor or aldermen need to actively “market that we have a great community.”

He said although they’re not popular with everyone and weren’t needed when the economy was strong, the city needs to offer incentives to businesses to locate in Delavan.

“You have to look at packages,” he said.

Schroeder said the city needs to refresh its incentives and base them on the number of new jobs a company will create and how much the jobs pay.

“I really want the jobs that you can sustain a family with,” he said.

Schroeder said he was criticized for voting against Walmart locating in Delavan and admits Walmart brought in jobs. But, he said, the jobs it created were lost at Big K, Ben Franklin and the Fast Foot, which are now closed.

He said the city needs to work with Gateway Technical College to create an educated workforce ready to fill technical jobs.

 

School Board

Also on Tuesday’s ballot are two races for the Delavan-Darien School Board. Incumbents James Hansen and Sharon Gonzalez are seeking re-election uncontested.

 
 

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