Monday, March 14, 2011

Jef Hall's Oshkosh Northwestern Candidate Q&A

Read Jef Hall's answers to the Oshkosh Northwestern's City Council Candidate Q&A here.

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Here's the text:

Oshkosh Common Council Candidate Questionnaire
Oshkosh Northwestern

Please provide biographical information about yourself:

Name:  Jef Hall
Age:  37
Hometown:  I grew up in Princeton, but Oshkosh has been my home for the longest time
Educational background:  Some College: I came to Oshkosh for college, stayed for the community
Work:  E-Commerce Search Specialist, J. .J Keller & Associates, Inc.
Hobbies:  Music, movies, current events, debate, web design, writing
Community involvement:            Advocap Board, Treasurer
Aging & Disability Resource Center Board, Vice Chair
Winnebago County Human Services Board
Winnebago County Board
Winnebago County Democratic Party
East Central Counties Railway Consortium, Secretary

And please provide answers to the following questions:

1. What can the city of Oshkosh do to influence or encourage the owners of the City Center Hotel match the community’s investment in downtown, particularly the Oshkosh Convention Center.

There is very little we can directly do, as this is owned by a private business.  There are incentives we can grant for improvements, and there are penalties we can extract for violations.  I would support using the tools we have to encourage as well as partner for improvement of this property.

One of the most important things we need as a destination city is quality hotel rooms downtown.  This is a priority through which all downtown development

2. At present, the Sustainability Advisory Board cannot recommend resolutions to the Oshkosh Common Council. Would you support empowering them to do so? Please explain your answer. 

This is an advisory board, they should advise.  There is a Council Member on the Sustainability Advisory Board, and any actions or decisions taken by the board can be submitted in the form of a resolution by this Council Representative, or any other Council Member.  If a recommendation of the Sustainability Advisory Board does not have enough support to be submitted by one of 7 Council Members, I do not see it having the support to pass the full Common Council. 

I do not see a large hole in Oshkosh’s ability to operate if this board can not submit resolutions directly to the Common Council, but I would also not campaign against their ability to.  The important part of the equation is if the board is discussing and recommending viable solutions for Oshkosh.  If they are viable, any Council Member can bring them to the full Common Council.

3. How would you balance the cost versus the need for parking, bike lanes, sidewalks and terrace space as the city plans road construction projects?

This depends on the individual road’s traffic and main purpose.  We do need to focus on the best way to get both residents and visitors to destinations, events and businesses in Oshkosh.  Movement through the city is an important part of commerce and enjoyment in our community.  We need to make sure that all types of traffic can easily flow through Oshkosh.  I would take all of this in consideration when allotting funds for road planning and building. 

Sidewalks are very important to safety, movement and community.  Safe bike lanes add to the enjoyment of a community as well as a good way to attract visitors.  Terraces are great ways to add to the beauty and welcoming feeling for visitors, as well as add value to neighborhoods.  They all add value to different types of streets and neighborhoods, and should be looked at individually.

4. Why should or shouldn’t the city automate garbage collection along the same lines as it did with recycling?

We need to look at what the possible cost savings vs service level would be to any major change.  We also must make sure these projected savings or service levels would be reliable over the long term.  It seems that the automated recycling collection has been a success.  However, with the proposed removal of recycling funds in the 2012-13 WI state budget, this program may be in jeopardy on its own.

The next few years are going to be tough ones in local government.  I will look at all options to keep service levels consistent giving the frame we are given by the state.

5. The city’s health insurance is self-funded, which means it will not be required to increase employees’ share of premium costs to 12.6 percent. Would you support the city requiring that of employees? Please explain your reason.

City employees are our partners as well as our employees.  The framework of collective bargaining has worked for more than 50 years.  I believe we need to be fair and open with our employees, while ensuring that we are responsible for our budgets as well.

The changes to benefits dictated from the state do not apply to police and fire as written, exempting a large number of city employees.  We need to look at savings and benefits that will affect the city overall.  People often forget that there are two sides to any equation, the provider as well as the recipient.  At the county, we have found savings through re-negotiations with both employees and the insurance providers.  Once again, we need to keep all options open.

6. What is your criterion for applying the city’s Special Events policy? For instance, do you think it was appropriate to waive the fees for Sawdust Days but not for the Polar Plunge? Why or why not?

I would look at the economic impact to the city as well as to the finances of the event organizers.  If we are going to be “Oshkosh, Event City” – which I support, we need to bring in these events.  We also need to properly balance the impact to the city economy overall for any event.  If an event will have an economic multiplier throughout the community, then a discount or waiver may be appropriate.  If the event is profitable or beneficial for the sponsors and organizers only, then the framework of the Special Events Policy should be less flexible.

7. Should the city continue to invest in downtown and central city revitalization efforts? Does this come at the expense of other areas in the community?

Investment downtown should not be viewed as at the expense of other areas.  Bringing people downtown also helps all of the businesses along the routes to downtown as well.  However, we should have a definite plan or vision to manage the perception of Oshkosh, and the type of character we want to preserve in areas of Oshkosh. 

We have an opportunity and challenge: Oshkosh has two “Main Streets.”  We need to focus efforts for downtown on North Main Street as well as Oregon Street.  Revitalization efforts for downtown should remember that both of these areas need focus and connection as an overall trip through Oshkosh business.  We have the initial steps to connect these through the Riverwalk, following this with a traffic plan to ease flow of visitors into, between and out of these areas will keep both areas vital. 

8. What is the appropriate solution to tackle Oshkosh’s urban wildlife issues, such as urban deer and geese in city parks?

These are separate issues; and should be viewed separately. 

The urban deer do not belong in the quarry in the populations we have seen.  The DNR has given us a very limited amount of solutions to this problem.  While unfortunate, culling, as recommended by the Council in the past, is the proper solution.  As long as we are not allowed to remove the deer to another area and cannot allow a large population to live there, while unfortunate, it is the only reasonable option.  I would be willing to research other options as they are made available to us.

The geese are different.  They can be moved, by looking at options to discourage them.  But, let’s face it… Lake Winnebago and Menomonee Park is beautiful.  I can see why they would want to be there.  We need to balance our enjoyment of the park with the fact that is a natural space, and as such, will have nature visiting it.  If the populations get too large, making health and sanitation an issue, remedies will need to be looked at.

9. There has been concern the cost of the river walk urban trail system may slow continued progress on the project. How much of a budgetary priority should be placed on completing the system?

The Riverwalk will, in the end, be something that brings great value to the City of Oshkosh.  We need to continue the work on this, completing it as soon as fiscally reasonable.  This is an attraction that will bring people to Oshkosh as well as bring value to properties, businesses and attractions adjoining it.  These are the types of projects that a municipal government can directly focus on to encourage new business and development from the private sector. 

As discussed above, it will also provide a key connection between areas of Oshkosh, the University, Oregon Street, North Main Street and the Conference Center/Leach Amphitheater.  The easier that visitors and residents can travel between these areas, the more they will be used and the more attractive they will be.

10. The 2012 city budget is shaping up to require cuts and changes. Which areas of city spending do you favor reductions and which deserve to be protected from cuts. Please be specific.

First: we need to protect basic services.  The garbage needs to get picked up, the streets plowed and Oshkosh residents protected with police and fire. 

I believe we can, with imagination and innovation in the funding and delivery of services, meet these challenges.  I hope that, should this budget not be fixed, we can ensure that we do not fall behind based on this budget.  I hope that we will be able to move forward as other cities, without focused imagination and innovation in the delivery and finance of services, become stagnant.

While I do not support the budget constraints that Oshkosh will face in the next two years, I refuse to throw up my hands and give up.  We will work harder, innovate more and imagine better ways to do things to ensure that Oshkosh remains a great place to live, work and play/visit.  I believe we should keep all options for improvement on the table.  However, giving up in the face of external challenge