As individuals nationwide plan how to spend their upcoming stimulus checks, candidates for Janesville City Council were taken to task on how they would prioritize municipal COVID-19 relief funds.
It was one of several questions asked by the League of Women Voters on Friday night during a council candidate forum.
Six candidates are running for four of the seven city council seats. Doug Marklein is the only incumbent trying to retain his seat; Sue Conley, Jim Farrell and Tom Wolfe have chosen not to run.
Jack Herndon, Michael Jackson, David Marshick, Heather Miller and Dan Neal are the other five challengers. All are newcomers to Janesville politics. At least three of them will be elected.
The forum was hosted the day after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which will send billions of dollars to aid state and local governments.
It is unknown yet how much money Janesville will receive. Relief funding is slated to be sent to states and then disbursed to municipalities.
One Janesville organization, the Friends of the Indoor Sports Complex, has publicly announced it hopes to encourage local officials to designate some federal funding to support the construction of an indoor sports complex.
Two candidates, Marklein and Jackson, said they would not support using federal relief funding to help construct an indoor sports complex.
The city should get that money to people and small businesses while also finding ways to use dollars to support COVID-19 testing and vaccine initiatives, Jackson said.
Marklein, along with Herndon and Marshick, said the council would have to comb through what rules or strings are attached to the aid before making decisions.
Each candidate said helping businesses would be a top priority.
Miller took a slightly different approach to that, saying she would specifically like to find ways to reimburse workers who had to use paid time off or lost pay because of quarantining.
Marshick emphasized the need to make decisions quickly and suggested funding rent assistance programs as one way to help individuals in need.
Neal was the only candidate to suggest the need to comb through the city’s budget to find areas where the city might need help in the form of relief funding.
Candidates were asked to rehash their thoughts on hot issues such as a proposed transportation utility and economic development, which candidates addressed in a previous forum.
One question that seemed to catch most candidates off guard was how the city can improve on hiring more diverse staff members to better reflect the community’s racial and ethnic makeup.
A 2019 story from The Gazette found 2.9% of the city’s workforce was made of employees of color, despite the city’s non-white population being about 9%.
Neal suggested concrete strategies such as auditing the city’s hiring process, broadening recruitment and offering diverse internship opportunities.
Miller and Marklein said the city is already working to attract diverse communities. Marklein added the city should acknowledge its troubled history with race.
Listening to people of color and having uncomfortable conversations is the first step in learning how to enact more diverse recruitment, Marshick said.
A life of helping people of all backgrounds through ministry and advocacy has prepared Jackson, he said, for helping the city be more diverse. He said every individual needs to work to promote diversity.
Herndon said he believes all people should be treated equally.