Lori Palmeri is running for the seat of Oshkosh Mayor, with local elections scheduled for April 2, 2019. We connected with Lori, who currently sits on the Oshkosh Common Council as Deputy Mayor.
Palmeri is challenged by current sitting Mayor Steve Cummings (read the Steve Cummings interview here).
For more information about Lori Palmeri’s election campaign, visit palmeriformayor2019.weebly.com
Oshkosh Independent: You have made the concept of change an important part of your campaign. Describe 3 major / signature changes that you would pursue if elected mayor.
Lori Palmeri: A. Accessible to government through inclusive leadership, including adding new voices and faces to the boards and commissions, getting more citizen input in budget decisions.
B. Accountable government through measurable results for tax dollars with a policy analysis lens rather than a marketing spin, business as usual approach
C. Attitude change of welcoming and listening respectfully to all, not just developer interests and attending social events as the current Mayor
Oshkosh Independent: Your professional work history presented in forums and online appears relatively minimal and ambiguous. What are your professional work qualifications? Describe two professional work positions / experiences you have held and how they relate to, or have helped prepare you for, the role of mayor.
Lori Palmeri: In addition to hundreds of listening hours over the last 10 years, 3 of which were in official Council capacity, I have served on multiple boards and commissions in the City as well as the State. I’ve provided consulting services both paid and volunteer to numerous non-profits throughout the State and City.
I have worked as a professional urban planner for several entities in Wisconsin, including Agape Community Center Neighborhood Development in north central Milwaukee, East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, as well as a graduate level internship for Planning Services City of Oshkosh.
My experience working for the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission on issues like the Safe Routes to Schools and Regional Transportation Inventory, as well as the Fox Wisconsin River Heritage Parkway gave me a better regional lens to view Oshkosh, not just as a City, but a neighbor to other municipalities.
I’ve worked for the UW Milwaukee Center for Urban Initiative Research, across the state surveying and researching communities and schools’ health issues.
I’ve spent time as a commuter for various executive level administrative positions at Fortune 500 Companies such as Kimberly Clark Global Headquarters, Finance Recruiting, Diversity welcoming – So, I’m familiar with corporate culture.
I have combined over a decade of property management and paralegal experience, worked for Architecture firms, lawyers, real estate companies in various capacities across the country. More importantly, I don’t have experience in the slick advertising world like the current mayor, therefore I offer a more authentic and relatable servant leadership approach allowing for more genuine inclusion of stakeholders opinions.
Oshkosh Independent: Part of city hall’s culture appears to be focused on awarding sizable “gifts of support” to wealthy and powerful interests in the city through controversial TIF financing in non- blighted areas, controversial no-bid awards of public assets such as public park space, and questionable exemptions from municipal requirements such as impervious surface mandates. How will you promote development in the city while balancing the interests and needs of Oshkosh’s middle class working households?
Lori Palmeri: Gifts of support is an interesting way of describing taxpayer dollars incentivizing corporate development and retention. While TIF was originally designed for the purpose of blight elimination that would otherwise not be built, it has evolved to include “it seems like a good idea” and it’s the only “tool in the toolbox” to get what we think we want.
Analysis of the over-reliance of TIF impact has been minimal, and challenging the merits of potential public benefit discussion has been suppressed by the current council. I have pushed staff and this council to arrive at a TIF analysis policy. One was created but not yet implemented. I have and continue to question development and am very aware of the du jour and the de facto duplicitous and dissonant implications of having a policy and following that policy.
We have some TIFs that have not performed well and others that have. I am not against the use of the tool but believe they should be used judiciously.
The middle class business owner needs workers that have affordable housing to live in and living wage jobs, transportation networks that meet the needs of the workforce, we can achieve this through responsible vetting of development incentives, we can achieve this through thoughtful planning and land use decisions, we can achieve this with inclusionary zoning.
Oshkosh Independent: Much of your visible action within the city has centered around the Middle Village Neighborhood. What accomplishments have you had that have impacted other regions of the city, and if elected mayor, how will you support and represent residents from the southern and western parts of the city?
Lori Palmeri: I regularly check in with neighborhood associations across the City, have met with many neighbors in all districts of the city, including some neighbors that live in designated association geographies that don’t believe they need City support.
I have performed research and given input on neighborhood recognition and planning, neighborhood identity research, revitalization opportunities, and worked on the original team to bring the education workshop on creating neighborhood associations for the purpose of creating social capital and resilience.
Given that Council members and the Mayor represent the entire city “at large”, that is a great question. I have mindful of the fact that much representation and staff time has focused on west side and south side, I would point to an example of my Lead Pipe Notification efforts to require notification to all property owners of construction impacted elevated lead ahead of construction across all neighborhoods. And, pressing staff to look for ways to facilitate funding for replacement.
I have spent three years in a retail location on the south side for the very reason that I needed to have a better connection with constituents in the area.
I have attended multiple Westside association events and had many conversations about concerns with westside business owners as well as friends and residents from the west side. Keeping a watchful eye towards mitigating impact and supporting sustainable resilient land use decisions across all neighborhoods.
Oshkosh Independent: Lake Winnebago, which is the city’s water source and key quality of life facilitator, becomes an annual green display of thick and smelly algae due to pollution and runoff. Municipal leadership has largely scoffed at the issue, resulting in minimal visible gains over the last decade. What steps will you take if elected mayor to make water quality a priority for Oshkosh and the region?
Lori Palmeri: Promoting green infrastructure, in combination with the grey, is critical to the current and future generations water quality living in Oshkosh. “Green” infrastructure” can complement and make the “grey” more cost-efficient reducing the volume of stormwater collected—avoiding overflows during heavy rain events. Green stormwater infrastructure reduces runoff by absorbing stormwater.
For example, bioswales and rain gardens directing runoff to green spaces that retain and infiltrate rainwater. Green infrastructure can also have community benefits by acting as recreation areas, while increasing property values in the neighboring blocks.
By including more parks, private-sector development projects, and vacant land reconversion in strategic locations of the city, generating cost savings. Investment in green infrastructure will reduce the need for upsized gray infrastructure, thus yielding savings – allows water quality to be addressed by imitating nature.
We improve water quality by continuing to educate the public and keep staff looking at ways of water and land stewardship…..on the importance of mitigating stormwater runoff from the built environment through creative and evidence based practices…we must also work upstream and with our neighbors, we cannot delay in requiring development to offset the impact through those best management practices– encouraging smaller footprint in a denser built environment rather than sprawling development – blue, grey and green infrastructure can work together towards that goal.
Oshkosh Independent: A key function of the common council is to legislate new policies and to improve existing ones. Detail two policy proposals that you have authored and describe how they have improved the city.
Lori Palmeri: Accessible government – I led the effort to implement changes to the Council meetings using technology to allow all council representatives of the People of Oshkosh, as well as being able to register online about topics citizens wished to speak on, so that more voices could be part of the decisions impacting the City.
Accountable government – It is vitally important to improve our existing policies and not just keep adding new policies that are unenforceable or have limited chance of operationalization/implementation.
I led the initiative to inform citizens of Lead pipe notification and replacement in advance of street reconstruction as well as pushed staff to come up with a program to address the replacement – we now have begun to notify people and help with that replacement even on the private side.
I pushed for Tax Incremental Finance policy changes – we now are using more Pay as You Go, instead of up front development payments, have specific criteria for granting TIF incentives.
An example of oversight reviewing existing policies is Special Events, Farmer’s Market being classified as a special event – while in technicality it may be interpreted as special event, in the spirit of what we intended to build as community, making it an exception or,
I promoted the idea of neighborhood identity through a survey and GIS analysis prior to Neighborworks or GoHNI ever getting their boots on the ground, and brought home the idea and funding for creating neighborhood associations (formal recognition) to strengthen neighborhoods and I continue to hold accountable the money that goes into these efforts.
I asked for more current technology to be made available to allow more reporting of issues – we now have a new app, Connect Oshkosh, which has grown the number and accessibility for reporting.
I pushed for Rental Housing Inspections to assure safe housing – we are now beginning to realize the benefits of more repairs as more renters allow inspections of their units.
Oshkosh Independent: The Greater Oshkosh Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative was recently awarded a no-bid $300,000 grant for various neighborhood initiatives and housing development projects. You were opposed to this measure, which passed the council and was awarded. Why did you not support this grant?
Lori Palmeri: While I have been part of the genesis of creating neighborhood associations, it was never intended to create a divide. I am an avid supporter of neighborhood associations (as long as they do not operate as homeowner associations exclusivity) and the social capital they can and do spur, I voted against the extension of a $100,000 a year grant for 3 years and asked Council to exercise caution and stewardship by reducing the award to 1 year until measurable results from the past years outcomes can be demonstrated.
We continue to throw money at efforts that expand the breadth but not the depth of associations. It amounts to a largely marketing effort to say we are building strong neighborhoods but in fact it appears that it is a building strong neighborhoods stronger, while leaving weak neighborhoods behind, creating further disparities and a path for gentrification in certain areas.
Additionally, the mayor’s position on the board for GOHNI has managed to politicize affluent neighborhoods as the “models” when in fact, not all neighborhoods are resourced or have the same strengths. We have little public benefit accountability for the hundreds of thousands put into this program over the last 10 years.
Oshkosh Independent: Significant gaps exist in the city’s housing continuum, including the reliance of a temporary use permit for the center city’s homeless shelter, and the absence of both transitional housing and supportive housing. What role as mayor will you take in working to close these crucial gaps that address some of the most vulnerable populations in our community?
Lori Palmeri: I support land use decisions that benefit all income and ability ranges. I will look for real policy and data driven housing stock and assessment. Out of respect for the private entity warming shelter efforts, I will not publicly comment on their current efforts, I will continue to promote awareness and advocate for inclusion of their future plans.
We do not currently have enough affordable safe housing stock for what is called healthy “filtering” in the housing market, we have minimum lot sizes and space requirements that are unsustainable both economically and we have to provide more supportive housing be it in the form of sober living homes, parent/child homes, multigenerational housing opportunities and other forms of housing besides single family development.
WE must recognize that workforce housing and supported housing are not just the right thing to support but economically impact the community, and there are costs of ignoring or NIMBYing the issue. I will work to promote inclusionary housing on various levels.