“When you understand people and you understand community, you understand what it means to be a mayor.” – Chris Frederickson
BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
Editor’s note: This is the second of three profiles the Star Journal is publishing on the Rhinelander mayoral candidates.
Chris Frederickson wants to bring hospitality to the forefront of the mayoral role, viewing the position as the facilitator and motivator to “getting things done” in the city. He said he lives by the mantra of “Meet, Exceed, Next,” in which one meets a need, exceeds the expectations, then moves forward to the next thing.
About Chris Frederickson
Frederickson grew up in a busy household in Stanley, Wisconsin; he and his sister were raised around 21 foster children, a family of seven from Laos, seven foreign exchange students, and three adopted Korean siblings.
“We had an open house, and it was open by far to a variance of opinions,” he recalled. “My dad, as he helped with the city, had all of his discussions around the kitchen table. And as kids…we were invited to be there.”
Frederickson attended University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison Area Technical College. He has worked as a respiratory therapist in Rhinelander for nearly 20 years, saying he exceeded expectations and has been a high performer for each of those years. As a system manager for MUSE, a cardiology data management system, Frederickson noted he implemented the program and trained over 400 positions in its use.
In addition to his medical career, Frederickson coached girls soccer in Rhinelander for 12 years. He frequently cited experiences and lessons learned as applicable to a mayoral role.
“Human behavior doesn’t change much. Interactions and reactions, how to communicate with them, does not change from a child all the way up to an adult.”
Of particular note was the “Hodags vs. the World” girls soccer team trip to England in 2015, in which he played a primary leadership role. Frederickson cites that experience as an example of the trust that Rhinelander parents place in his leadership.
“People, do they trust me? I took their kids to England.”
Frederickson wants to make hospitality a key function of his job as mayor, referencing the possibilities of introducing “Walks with the Mayor” or even “Yoga with the Mayor” as ways to reach out to the community and make his position more accessible. He noted hospitality is key to hiring individuals for such positions as city administrator who have “heart and character…not just the knowledge base.”
“[The mayor] is the face plate of what happens. I take responsibility for the negative and the positive. I address issues of what my taxpayers want, regardless of my own agenda, and express that to the committees, to the council, and to the city administrator.”
He wants to push the city council towards greater proactivity, as opposed to what he views as a largely reactive role in recent years. Drawing again on his experiences in coaching, he believes that a major part of his role as mayor is to rally city government around a common goal for which they take ownership in a similar way to how he encouraged the girls he coached to take ownership of their games.
“If you have a strategic plan of where the city is going, you’ll do it all together. Fighting over budget issues or anything else goes away when everybody understands it’s still moving towards a goal, a common goal.”
“I can go across the hall and ask,” he explained in regards to his lack of experience in city government. Frederickson said that he viewed the leadership role as empowering others to do their job, using the resources available to him, and “learning the language” of government. “I’ll learn the state statutes,” he noted. “At the hospital…I’ve learned the language. I can speak to the highest professional in the hospital all the way down; I can speak to our community.”
“Do I have what it takes to rally those people and get them to work together and work harder and move us forward? I absolutely have. I’m absolutely the choice for mayor.”
He currently works three 12-hour shifts per week, and has plans to reduce that to two 12-hour shifts weekly if elected. He said he viewed the mayoral position as essentially a 24/7 job, where the need would dictate his office hours and availability.
Projects and plans
Attracting new family-supporting jobs and keeping young professionals in Rhinelander is central to Frederickson’s goals as potential mayor, in which he says amenities and housing play a major role.
Economic development, in the form of jobs that provide livable wages, is a matter he said is close to his heart. Citing a report from the Workforce Development Board that put livable wage for the Northwoods at $12.84/hour, Frederickson wants to research what jobs could be brought into the city that provide that income.
“We’re going to have a deficit of skilled employees at some point,” he warned, adding that brilliant kids are graduating and leaving Rhinelander every year. “They’re not coming back to the area. Why? Figure out why and fix it.”
Next to amenities, he identifies housing as a major component to bringing in and keeping professionals. “We need to increase our housing stock here in Rhinelander…People haven’t invested back in their properties. When you have a young professional move to town, there’s X amount of things they want to have. Finding out what those are so we make sure we match them is key.”
Frederickson has cited what he calls “urban sprawl” around Rhinelander, or the natural attractions of lakes, forests, and rivers outside of the city that draws people to settle outside city limits. He wants to make city proper more attractive to newcomers by matching natural attractions with city amenities and other supporting factors.
Frederickson also discussed the need to pursue federal funding to address drug problems in Rhinelander, referencing the SAMHSA recovery grant available for states. In addition to funding, he wants to encourage a culture of “hard conversations” that promote healthy lifestyle choices. He believes that setting the trend of accountability dialogue from the mayoral position will help cultivate a climate of conversations throughout the city for those struggling with drug use.
A key issue Frederickson discussed was what he saw as a failure of city government to work together and with the public in the past, sharing the recent turnover in city administrator as an example of that. Rather than the “abrupt-ended answers” he says governing officials currently often give, he wants to see a growth of dialogue between city hall and the public. “The current council has insulated themselves and we can do better,” he wrote on Facebook.
Rhinelander’s reputation from outside the city “is kind of negative,” he noted. “I can change that.”
In regard to how he will maintain transparency for himself, he said his office door will always be open. “If you come into the mayor’s office, there’s going to be three, four, five whiteboards with what I need to do today, what I need to do in the next hour, what I need to do this week, what’s going to happen this month, and so on. And the transparency is where you can come in and read them.”
Another aspect of Frederickson’s plans is reaching out to the schools and making an impact on young people and their parents. “You build a strong sense of community quickly when you deal with people’s children,” he noted. He mentioned possibilities regarding using a mayoral blog to pose questions related to current events and issues to school children as a way of getting them involved in studying and understanding city government. “You’d be amazed at the answers you get,” he said.
In his own words
“When you understand people and you understand community, you understand what it means to be a mayor.”
“This is not a step on my political ladder. This is me understanding that we need leadership in the city to move us forward. I believe I’m the absolute choice for that guy; I want to be the mayor of Rhinelander. Write me in.”