BY NAOMI KOWLES
FOR THE STAR JOURNAL
The League of Women Voters hosted a forum for Oneida County Board candidates Tuesday, March 20, at James Williams Middle School.
Major issues covered at the forum included mining, broadband, public transit, diversity, loss of local control and economic development. All candidates agreed that broadband was a high priority for them, although William Liebert mentioned potential health effects with 5G networks. Nearly all supported the concept of the public transport system, although some expressed structural concerns. In response to the question of diversity, all candidates noted they wanted to see greater involvement for everyone, especially in regards to women in local government.
Candidates running in contested districts who were present at the county board forum are summarized below, including their responses on the key issues of mining, economic development and whether they support the loss of local control to Madison. Candidates in contested districts who were not present at the forum are listed without additional details.
Robb Jensen, Alan Van Raalte, Jack Sorenson, and Jim Winkler, all running unopposed, also participated in the forum.
District 3: Rhinelander (Wards 5 & 10)
Alex Young (Incumbent)
Alex Young is running for his third term on the county board, and is also currently campaigning to be mayor of Rhinelander. He has served as an alderman in Rhinelander for almost 14 years. Issues important to him in the county race are retaining young people in the community, pursuing economic development, preserving the area’s natural beauty, and advocating in Madison for greater local control.
Mining: “Mining is important because certainly it’s necessary for a lot of things that we use in daily life…That said, I think that certainly the question is at risk to our waterways and water resources…Does that mean we shut the door entirely on mining? No. I would not support mining if it put those waterways at risk.”
Local vs. State Control: The closest level of government to the people is going to be the most responsive level of government. Therefore, local control is going to be more responsive to the concerns of local individuals…What can we do about the problem? Advocacy is important.”
Economic Development: “We’re all in this together, the city and the townships, the entire county. So when we talk about economic development…a rising tide floats all boats. You have high paying jobs, those people are going to spend money in restaurants and support local businesses.”
William Liebert has resided in District 3 of Rhinelander for the past 20 years and currently is the sole proprietor of Liebert Architectural Design. He said he has strong views on fiscal responsibility and open government.
Mining: “If we’re not going to harvest the resources that are necessary…those resources are going to come from other countries or other states that probably have less environmental oversights than what I believe Wisconsin has had and I believe still do. I think it’s a case by case situation.”
Local vs. State Control: “Does the state constitution, does the language of our state, put the county just as merely an arm of the state? Because if they do…then we don’t really have a choice in the matter. But I like to think that we do.”
Economic Development: “I have to try and look at it from more of a hands-off perspective, but I understand and I respect the idea of an organization trying to provoke economic development. I think the county has more responsibility to public health and safety concerns, roads and infrastructure; those things all promote business.”
District 4: Rhinelander (Wards 7, 11 and 13)
Bill Freudenberg (incumbent)
Originally from Chicago, Bill Freudenberg has lived in Rhinelander for 33 years and currently works full time. Issues important to him include reclaiming local government control from Madison, keeping mining out of the Northwoods, and preserving the area’s properties and waterways.
Mining: “I really believe in preserving the precious lands that we have up here along with our waterways; there’s a time and place for everything…maybe another area, but not the Northwoods.”
Local vs. State Control: “I firmly agree that we need to keep control local…Control coming out of Madison is very dangerous to us…We need to keep it local.”
Economic Development: Referencing the capabilities of TIF districts and land trusts, Freudenberg said he was “very much an advocate of economic development and always will be.”
Steven Schreier, originally from Marathon County, has lived in Rhinelander since 2004 where he has worked as an executive chef at two assisted living facilities and is now retired. He noted that all issues raised by residents, including infrastructure, responsible budgeting, broadband, loss of local control, environmental protections, and more, were equally important to him.
Mining: “Everybody will be able to have an equal voice in this, whether they believe that or not…Please contact your representatives and let them know exactly how you feel about mining.”
Local vs. State Control: “There is only one way to regain local control, and that is on April 3 and on the first week of November. You vote, that’s how you get local control back.”
Economic Development: “I think there is something to be said for utilizing government funds and taxpayer funds to move things along.”
District 5: Rhinelander (Wards 9, 12 and 14) Pelican (Ward 2)
(Carol Pederson, incumbent, not up for reelection)
Russ Fisher (absent)
Gerald Anderson said he views county government as having the most direct impact on people’s daily lives. He cited experience in engineering, law, and ministry as being useful to potentially serving on the county board. Issues important to him include preserving lakes and groundwater, as well as mining and over development concerns.
Mining: “Ideally, we’d have state regulation of a lot of environmental issues. But if we’re not going to have it, then we have to do the most that we can on a local level. [The repealed mining moratorium] seemed quite reasonable to me; asking someone wanting a permit to show that they could operate a mine and have it closed for a number of years without damaging the environment, that doesn’t seem unreasonable.”
Local vs. State Control: “County is an arm of the state, and the state has the right to give as much or as little control as it wants to…I look forward to being a part of what creative solutions we can still do on a local level for some of these issues.”
Economic Development: “This is probably the area of board activity that I know the least about…I don’t think I’m in favor of big outlays of public money ala Foxconn or things like that.”
District 7: Enterprise, Schoepke, Monico, Peihl, Three Lakes (Ward 2) Stella (Ward 2)
Dennis Schoeneck (absent)
Robert Mott (incumbent)
Robert Mott taught school for 33 years and coached basketball for 28; he has served on the Oneida County Board for six years and is in his third term on the Schoepke town board. Mott chairs the Health and Aging Committee and sits on four other county committees.
Mining: “Mining is site-specific…it’s needed in America, but sites aren’t always right in Oneida County for it.”
Local vs. State Control: “Throw the bums out,” he declared, to laughter and applause from the audience. “I’m a great believer in compromise…That does not seem to be happening in Madison right now.”
Economic Development: “I’m really proud of the support we gave Expera when they were looking for a $15 million loan…I think those types of things are very important for the county board to do.”
District 19: Minocqua (Wards 5 & 6) Lynne (Ward 1)
(Lisa Zunker incumbent, not up for reelection)
Robert Almekinder (absent)
Jeffrey Vollmer wants to prioritize tourism in Minocqua and the mining issue in Lynne if elected to represent the 19th district of Oneida County. Vollmer ran for the County Board in 2016, losing on a flip of the coin to incumbent Lisa Zunker, who filed a declaration of non-candidacy.
Mining: “None of them (in Lynne) want mining. It would be a 400 foot hole if they go for the 40 to 70 million tons of aggregate that they would pull out of that area, it would be about a mile wide and a mile long…Putting a hole that large in that area would devastate our water table.”
Local vs. State Control: “I think [local control] is about pressure the state is using more and more often. To remedy that I think we need to get rid of our elected officials,” he said to the laughter and applause of the audience.
Economic Development: “A strategic plan would have us look at our core competencies, and our core competencies in Oneida County are wood and water. So I’d like to see…a strategic plan that’s based on building that economy.”