Primary voting day is February 19, 2019
Voters will narrow the Oshkosh mayor candidate field from three down to two on February 19, 2019. Deputy Mayor Lori Palmeri and political newcomer Nate Stiefvater are challenging incumbent mayor Steve Cummings.
The Oshkosh Independent submitted questions to each candidate, seeking clarity on their positions on important issues facing the city.
1. Why are running for mayor?
Nate Stiefvater: The older I get and the more embedded in Oshkosh I become, my need to make a difference in my community grows. I have always believed that if you desire your surroundings to be better, then you have a duty and obligation to be an active participant in such.
I am running for Mayor to get a better understanding of how our city works and operates. The Mayor (as well as the Council) is the citizens’ liaison to the city government. I want to be that liaison. I want to be the one who the people of Oshkosh can look to for support. I am hoping for the opportunity to instill pride in our community.
Lori Palmeri: I am running for Mayor of Oshkosh to provide a choice for change to the face of Oshkosh. We need a change in Attitude, Access and Accountability.
2. What are your main qualifications for this position?
Nate Stiefvater: (a) I am a 20+ year business owner and family man. I have vested interest in Oshkosh.
(b) Being in the business that I am, my communication skills are my greatest strengths. Being able to not just talk with, but truly understand different arguments and perspectives.
(c) I feel I have the ability to see issues for their ‘Big Picture’. I am not easily swayed by narrowly-focused arguments.
Lori Palmeri: (a) During my Council terms, I have demonstrated commitment to holding City Hall accountable through regularly questioning why we do what we do for the people we represent.
(b) I have been responsive and diligent about providing access to timely and accurate information to the Citizens of Oshkosh.
(c) My combined 25 plus years experience in Administration, Law and Land Use has given me the listening skills to serve the health, safety and welfare of the Citizens of Oshkosh. Hundreds of listening hours in recent years and my responsiveness/follow up action, to those that reach out (and those that don’t} affirm my ability to represent the City.
(d) My formal education, Masters in Urban Planning (UWM 2013) and Urban/Regional Studies (UWO 2011) give me a technical land use perspective on development and planning.
3. As mayor, what are four actions or changes you will work to implement in the city?
Lori Palmeri: (a) Increasing accountability for land use decisions impacting future generations as it relates to green infrastructure, sustainability, and social infrastructure, within reasonable budget feasibility. For example following the impervious surface area guidelines in zoning rather than consistently allowing exceeding the maximums.
(b) Increase access to the peoples’ government by including different voices in the annual Citizen’s Survey and our boards and commissions
(c) be the face and voice for attitudinal change as it relates to being perceived as a more welcoming and inclusive community.
(d) Organizing an annual poverty/homeless/disability simulation by City leaders in an effort to promote additional affordable housing and accommodations.
Nate Stiefvater: (a) I feel that Oshkosh is moving in the right direction, and has been for last decade or so. An area I feel could be improved is access to city officials. I see the role of Mayor as being one of city support and promotion, visibility and approachability as the most important attributes. Everyone in Oshkosh should know (or at least have the opportunity to know) the Mayor. This idea is the cornerstone of my campaign … access to the Mayor.
(b) I will be doing as much as I can to support and promote our small businesses. I understand the importance of our ‘big’ neighbors (big box & industry), their contributions economically and employment-wise are vital for the sustainment of Oshkosh, but it is our entrepreneurs who are the life blood of our streets and the driving force of our culture. Being an active promoter of these businesses helps them with legitimacy and acknowledge within the community.
(c) When it comes to access to the office (as well as small business support) I have a plan that I’m calling “Happy Hour w/ the Mayor”. Every Wednesday at 5 o’clock I would be visiting a local bar or restaurant to not only draw attention to but also get the chance to meet and chat with individuals from different parts of our city. These places would be picked completely at random and would be available to any hospitality businesses who would like to participate.
(d) I do hold issue with the ‘Event Fees’ structure we have adopted over the last few years. Being now known as the “Event City” and being privy to a few coordination efforts, it seems this line of business has made it harder and much less inviting for event organizers to choose Oshkosh. Admittedly I do not know enough about the inner workings of this concern but it will be one I study.
4. Do you support expansion of bicycle lanes and routes in the city to create a comprehensive network of bicycle infrastructure (and why)?
Lori Palmeri: Expanding bike lanes in the city would be a more equitable means of transportation subsidy and more fair to those who rely upon cycling for their main means of transportation to and from work, shopping and appointments as well as rounding out recreational options for a Healthier Oshkosh. Additionally, attracting and retaining young people in the community commands a comprehensive bike network.
Nate Stiefvater: I do support this effort. I think it’s an easy argument to make to say we as a population should make every attempt at a healthier lifestyle. Exercise and cleaner air are 2 hard examples of the benefits. People on bikes = less people in cars.
5. Do you support elimination of established bicycle lanes to make room for additional street parking (and why)?
Nate Stiefvater: The idea of getting more people to ride bike is a ‘change-of-culture’ issue. It will take time and cannot be done overnight. Eliminating bike lanes at this point would be a step backwards in this fight and reinforce the ‘cars-over-bikes’ mentality
Lori Palmeri: I do not support removing bike lanes to add parking at this time. To do so would be to regress on our forward movement on the bike and pedestrian plan worked on by many citizens and groups in Oshkosh.
6. Would you support the allocation of additional funds to improve and more quickly expand bicycle lanes and infrastructure (and why)?
Nate Stiefvater: I would be in favor of allocating more funds. Although, it would need to make sense fiscally. I am not yet versed in the city budget and cannot make any definitive remarks on what and what-not-to spend money on.
Lori Palmeri: I would consider that in the budget season if there is support from the Citizens of Oshkosh through the budget process or leading up to it. It is important that those who wish to see more bike infrastructure participating in the process and making their voices heard. Additionally, use the current facilities that we have so that the critical mass is seen and not just heard.
7. What is the city’s role in responding to the presence of individuals experiencing homelessness in Oshkosh? How will you as mayor help respond to this challenge?
Lori Palmeri: We cannot ignore that there are people in Oshkosh without housing., we have to stop saying they are not “from here” and we need to be more diligent and deliberate with regard to spending on this priority housing need. More importantly, as development opportunities present themselves, we must question service sector wage type jobs vs. family supporting living wage jobs because there are a significant number of households one paycheck away from becoming unhoused. Emphasizing the need to expand affordable housing options in Oshkosh must include the working poor, as well as a range of affordable housing for the middle class, so that there are housing filtering up and down options. That is having choices at different life stages of your housing need such as the starter homes, downsizing options, aging in place, etc.
Nate Stiefvater: Our homeless situation cannot be unique. I would be interested in seeing any reports that may be had about creative ways that are being implemented elsewhere dealing with this issue. As the city government, working with the places that are directly involved (Day by Day … Father Carr’s) would be paramount. Understanding not only the immediate needs of our homeless citizens but also the stresses our shelters are under (space, supplies ..etc.). My biggest interest would be what is being done to educate and enable not just house and feed.
8. What role and responsibility does the city have to address the poor water quality of Lake Winnebago related to elevated e coli levels, the absence of natural habitat, and blue-green algae blooms?
Lori Palmeri: Water quality is of the utmost priority in the city and yet, it gets the least amount of scrutiny at the municipal policy level. At the state level we have unfunded mandates with regard to our water quality. All cities have TMDL and phosphorous limits with which they need comply. We must improve our approaches to water quality at our land use and development decision level, or “blue infrastructure” along with green infrastructure options such as increased shoreland restoration and buffers.
Nate Stiefvater: In dealing with Lake Winnebago I will first say that the Lake should be considered as our greatest asset, and whenever issues arise that threaten its ecology, we have an obligation to address the problems as soon as possible. The Lake, however, is not just our responsibility. As Mayor I would reach out to the other city leaders in Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, and Fond du Lac, as well as the smaller communities on the east shore. With our leadership, and the advice of such organizations like the DNR, we would be better enabled to not only inform the public of the need to preserve this body of water but also to devise the necessary plans of action.
9. The city has a documented presence of lead in many older homes and water service lines. Is the city doing enough to address this issue?
Nate Stiefvater: I cannot comment on subjects and concerns I know little about, the problem of lead in older homes being one. The Mayor’s role, however, in all issues such as this is simple – listen, acknowledge, and consult with the appropriate people to determine legitimacy. Answering this question should not be looked at as ‘dodging’ but rather how I answered is indeed the merit. There will plenty of issues put forth by concerned citizens. If I, as Mayor, do not know the answer then it is disingenuous and plain wrong to act otherwise. The Mayor is only a conduit for the people not the solution.
Lori Palmeri: The city has a documented presence of lead in many older homes and water service lines. Is the city doing enough to address this issue? We could do more. I introduced concerns about our approach to this issue before I ran for council in 2016 and am pleased that we now have a program in place. But we can and must do more. Approximately 4% of Winnebago County children testing in 2016 were positive for elevated lead levels above 5 ppb. While the City may not be fiscally able to replace all lead lines at once (public or private side), and many of the housing stock contain not only lead lines and lead paint, we can continue to educate and evaluate and plan for eventual replacement.
10. The events policy continues to receive attention from parties that organize events, including entities such as the Farmer’s Market seeking exemptions while others such as Sawdust Days implement significant changes to conform to the policy and to limit costs. Is the policy working? What changes, if any, would you support?
Nate Stiefvater: This issue is already on the forefront of my campaign. Events that wish to call Oshkosh home bring everything from entertainment to education. I fear we will miss out on the next great event if we continue to make it more and more cumbersome for these organizers. I understand the fact that cities incur costs that need to be covered, but to what extent have we decided that it would more advantageous to turn away events than to take a chance. I need to learn more. This is one of those items on my agenda to understand fully. This city grows its culture and pride from the events we host.
Lori Palmeri: The Public events policy has need of revamping in multiple areas. For example, on how an “event” is defined, is it singular annual, multi day, or every week during high season. Does it command more services as alchohol serving events compared to non alcohol involved activities. What value does the event add to the community. Should we determine a priority criteria for the types of events we attract or approve? How do the events impact neighbors, or traffic patterns, what monies are donated locally by the organizer. I believe we need to survey the community and also review the policy for refinement while balancing attracting the kinds of events that lift up the community, not just “rent out” our places and services for hosting them.
11. The city has a growing population of individuals from other regions of the country and globe, including more than 50 languages spoken in the OASD. Is the city doing enough to support diversity within the municipal organization and in the broader community?
Lori Palmeri: Are we doing enough to be welcoming and inclusive to all who come into our community? I would say no, we are not. We can and should do better. There are pockets of inclusion and bigger pockets of exclusion. From zoning to social infrastructure, and I mean places for people to feel comfortable from other communities. I have learned there are situations where approaching elected officials or city staff can be quite uncomfortable. We do not have enough representation of diverse thought on our boards and commissions. The City has officially sponsored one event to “showcase” diversity in our community; we need to take the topic beyond a once a year festival.We need to include “inclusion” in neighborhoods and everyday interactions between staff. We need training for city staff. We could do better in a public participation and outreach
Nate Stiefvater: This question can be addressed with reference to the prior. Events. As a community, we should always be concerned with harmony, and harmony comes from understanding and respecting our fellow citizens. Cultural events that highlight our differences. As I am running out of time to finish – the remainder of this question I am dodging. Not for the fact that the topic can be sensitive but rather that I just do not know what is being done or what can be done better. We are all citizens of Oshkosh, if I say I will do something for one how can say I won’t do the same for all. The city’s role in these matters can only be to attempt to influence openness and understanding, mandating that we love and respect one another will always fall short.
Steve Cummings did not provide answers to the candidate questions.