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Oak Creek mayor's race is a developing story

Scaffidi and Verhalen agree and disagree on key issues

March 20, 2012

Oak Creek - Development is the key issue identified by the two candidates in the April 3 mayoral race.

Alderman Steve Scaffidi, who is also Oak Creek Common Council president, and Mark Verhalen, a member of the Oak Creek-Franklin School Board, are contenders for the seat, a three-year term.

Mayor Al Foeckler was appointed to that position following the unexpected death in December of Mayor Dick Bolender. Foeckler indicated he would not run for the post.

Both Scaffidi and Verhalen said development of the Delphi site remains a major issue, even though the council has already voted to move both the City Hall and library, currently on the civic center property, to the site of the former automotive plant.

Scaffidi, 53, voted against the move, favoring a plan in which only the library would move. Nevertheless, he said, if elected, he would honor the body's wishes.

"Once the decision's made, you have to support what the council's done," he said. "I think this council's going to be very fiscally responsible moving forward. We don't waste money. We're aware of the economic situation in the community."

Verhalen, 56, had indicated he wanted the library to stay on the civic center property, close to Oak Creek High and the Community Center. And as a School Board member, he voted against a land-swap deal in which the district received 12 acres of the civic center property in exchange for 50 acres of land the district owns at Oakwood Road and Howell Avenue.

Verhalen said it would take years before the relocation could take place, and much could change - including the city's leadership.

"I don't think the book is totally closed on that," he said.

And he defended his opposition to the land swap saying the school should have been allowed to sell its 50 acres for fair market prices, not be beholden to a deal the city struck with Wispark. Wispark LLC is the development arm of We Energies and owns the Delphi site, as well as about 250 additional acres in the city.

"Taxpayers came up short," he said. "We were taken advantage of. The city had its agenda."

Scaffidi also identified communication - between the city and school district, the county and its residents - as a key issue.

"Residents have to be engaged," said Scaffidi, who added he would continue Bolender's monthly meet-the-mayor meetings and extend them beyond City Hall to local businesses to "get a sense of community going."

He also said he would establish a city Facebook page where residents could learn of upcoming meetings and issues.

Verhalen agreed that communications could improve.

"Oak Creek's had a bad reputation as being hard on developers," he said.

Scaffidi said if elected he would take steps to streamline city processes, including having shared support staff and move toward paperless record-keeping.

"We spend a lot of money on paper, printing, ink," he said.

Verhalen said, if elected, he would not relinquish his School Board seat, which Scaffidi called a conflict of interest.

"At the very least, he can't vote on issues affecting both the city and School Board," Scaffidi said.

Verhalen, however, didn't see it that way. He said the mayor only votes in the event of a tie - such as the vote to move the library and City Hall to the Delphi site.

"The mayor is not a voting member of the council," he said, adding that the current School Board policy, which says "no board members should hold two public offices if the two are deemed incompatible," is open to interpretation. If elected mayor, he would seek city and School Board attorneys' legal opinion as to what was "deemed incompatible."

Verhalen said, if elected, he would gauge his success by having a commitment from an anchor for the Delphi site.

Scaffidi said he would consider his first term a success if he attracted business to Delphi and the Oakwood Business Park.

"I'd be very happy if we had another balanced budget and didn't raise property taxes," he added.

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