With news last week that a third candidate was running for Village Trustee, Whitefish Bay now has a race, three people for two spots on the Village Board. Since incumbents have a great probability of re-election, David Fee will probably retain his job, which means this race is mostly between Julie Siegel and Thomas Fehring, who submitted campaign paperwork last week.
Again, please note, I am not a journalist, I'll endeavor to be fair, however, I suppose I will write an endorsement later in the election process. In general, I will ask each candidate the same questions.
I contacted Thomas Fehring, and spoke to him at length, asking a range of questions, from his educational background to specific issues that will be discussed in this election.
Thomas is a long time resident, living in Whitefish Bay for the last 34 years, which is probably why this interview took two hours. He has a rich feeling for the Village and its direction.
He has a Bachelors and Masters from Marquette in Mechanical Engineering, and was formerly a vice president and general manager at We Power (Wisconsin Energy Corp.) and is now consulting on energy matters out of his home office. Tom is currently the secretary on the WFB Historic Preservation Commission, and was named "distinguished volunteer" by the board in 2007. He's also served as a director for Dominican High School.
His engineering background may account for one of his platforms for running. He explained that he has a great concern for the deterioration of Village infrastructure, from roads, to water mains, sewers and street lighting systems. "At a time when residents are making an unprecedented investment in improving their own homes, through remodeling and additions, the municipal infrastructure is deteriorating, and our efforts to improve it aren't keeping up," he said.
His other reasons for running were due to his concern with the lack of action on the renovation of Silver Spring. "There doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency. The streetscape has deteriorated, businesses have left, and this reflects badly on the community. We can and should have a vibrant, pedestrian friendly, shopping district." Fehring believes his background in engineering and project management and long history of service to the village will be an asset on the board. He has worked with and has great respect for outgoing Trustee Ken Berg, and felt his leaving is a great loss.
And, his wife encouraged him to run to get him out of the house. Whose wouldn't?
We spoke at great length about the re-development of Silver Spring. Fehring is frustrated by the lack of urgency that has surrounded the process, noting that the Village has been talking about the issue for years and yet very little has been accomplished, while during the same time, Bayshore has been planned and constructed. He believes that Silver Spring desperately needs new businesses, especially restaurants.
We had a long discussion about how that could be accomplished, and Fehring tended away from monetary partnerships between the village, landlords and entrepreneurs, and instead wants to create regulatory environment through which businesses can prosper.
"WFB probably took a step backward when Silver Spring properties were valued so highly. This increases taxes and, of course, rents." "Heinemann's was a great asset because it served as a community meeting place for decades. Whitefish Bay needs to partner with businesses like that to accommodate their needs, make it work for them, for example, with outdoor seating space, alcoholic beverage sales, or increased hours of operation."
Fehring also said that it is important for existing Silver Spring merchants to be proactive in developing and enhancing their own businesses, and the Village officials should be willing to work with them to facilitate the improvements.
He believes the Village should, on an informal basis, bring together strong community voices who can assist developers with their projects, and help communicate their ideas to the public.
We spoke about eminent domain for a while, and generally speaking, Fehring is against the use of eminent domain except as a last resort, if a land owner was allowing a property to go unused for a protracted period of time, or when a single hold-out is preventing a desirable project from moving forward.
As for the demolition of residences, or tear-downs, Fehring believes the historic preservation committee and architectural review boards have gotten the regulations "about right" although he noted that there remains opportunities to strengthen them. While around 150 homes would qualify to be on the Village historic register, he believes that property owners should have rights to improve their buildings as they see fit, as long as it is not disproportionate to the neighborhood and has proper mass and scale and is sensitive to historic and architectural features.
As for my pet issue, night-time Trick or Treating, Fehring believes WFB should encourage the use of Neighborhood Associations, like Wauwatosa does. Neighborhood Associations can do many communal events that bring the smaller areas together, including night-time Halloween celebrations.
Tom had a ton of things to say and I've tried my best to summarize our conversation. I appreciate the time he took with me. I will try to follow up with all the candidates later in the election cycle.