Janesville City Council candidates talk road funding, COVID-19 recovery, police reform | Spring 2021 General Election

Janesville voters will choose from among six candidates to fill four city council seats in the April 6 election, and their selections will determine the shape of an almost entirely new council.

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 candidates have participated in two publicly broadcast forums, where they shared their thoughts on a proposed transportation utility, downtown redevelopment, economic development, a proposed new sales tax and other issues.

The Gazette asked candidates these questions to expand on the conversations in recent forums.

Q: What options do you want the city to consider for road funding? Are there funding options you don’t want the city to consider?

Herndon: The proposed transportation utility recently presented to the city council is not acceptable, he said.

He would support Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed half-percent sales tax increase for municipalities if it was moved forward by the state Legislature.

Jackson: He opposes a transportation utility because it would put Janesville at a disadvantage for attracting new businesses. 

The city should continue to consider a transportation utility moving forward, but it would have to be modified, he said.

Jackson would support a half-percent sales tax increase, but he does not expect it to receive legislative approval.

Marklein: A new council gives the city a chance to start over and look at the root of its road funding challenges, and then work from there, he said.

The council should lay every option on the table and consider a blended approach for road funding, he said.

Marklein believes that solving the city’s road funding issues will take a long time and will need community buy-in. He favors assembling a panel of community representatives to help guide decision-making.

Marshick: No options should be off the table as the council considers how to pay for roads, he said.

The transportation utility is worth pursuing further, Marshick said, but the ultimate solution likely will be multifaceted and include a combination of borrowing, transportation utility, wheel tax, a referendum to approve a levy increase, potential sales tax or other solutions.

Miller: Now is not the time to pursue a transportation utility, considering so many people and businesses are still financially impacted by the pandemic.

Council members need to review detailed information on how much a transportation utility would cost each business or resident before voting on it, she said.

Neal: He would support bringing a half-percent sales tax increase to voters if the state Legislature allows it.

He also wants to explore whether federal COVID-19 relief funding could be used to boost the city’s road maintenance program.

The transportation utility as proposed is not a good solution, Neal said. The council should revisit all the transportation utility framework provided and look for a better solution.

Q: What specific role do you think the city should take in pandemic recovery?

Herndon: Relief funding should be used to get local businesses back on their feet, he said.

He is afraid people will lose their homes when the federal eviction moratorium expires, and the city should consider funding programs to help people secure housing.

Jackson: The city should support the Rock County Public Health Department in promoting vaccination, testing and reliable information about COVID-19, he said.

Funding should help individuals and small businesses first, he said. Then the city should consider paying off its own debts or use funding to offset costs to residents.

The proposed indoor sports complex should receive aid funding only if there is money left over after other priorities, he said.

Marklein: Council members need to consider the conditions the federal government will place on relief funding before making decisions, he said. Small businesses, landlords and tenants should be the city’s top priorities.

Marklein also thinks the city should look at using aid to recover expenses related to COVID-19 preparedness or safety guidelines.

Marshick: The entire community needs to work together to follow safety guidelines as life returns to normal, he said.

Small businesses should be prioritized for federal funding. Other funding decisions will have to be made quickly and stay within the federal government’s guidelines.

Miller: She believes less government interference with reopening is better.

Businesses and individuals have been financially strained because of the pandemic, and it is time people get back to work and back to normal, she said. Federal relief money should be used to help small businesses, and the city should analyze which businesses have lost the most revenue and use that to drive decision-making.

Neal: Businesses that were financially affected because of occupancy limits should receive federal help, he said.

Neal believes the council also should consider using the money to offset costs and ease the financial burden on taxpayers.

Q: Police reform and police funding have been at the forefront of national conversations. Do you think the council should consider police reform or police funding as a priority? If so, what specific changes do you think should be made in local policing?

Herndon: Local police are doing a great job with the funding they have, he said, noting that he is a passionate supporter of first responders.

Jackson: Police Chief Dave Moore is sensitive to the issues facing police across the country and does a great job of training his officers not to use force, he said.

The city’s crime rate is at a historic low, which is a testament to strong policing, he said.

Marklein: Nationwide, discussions about policing are important and are long overdue, he said.

Marklein thinks Moore does a great job of training officers and doing community outreach to establish trust between police and people of color. The city’s police force is strong, he said, but there is always room to improve, and the department should continue to be willing to learn.

Marshick: He said Janesville is fortunate to have Moore. The police department’s outreach is breaking down barriers between police and the community.

The department should continue to keep the mental health of people it serves at the forefront and consider adding more mental health resources as needed, he said.

Marshick does not support defunding or cutting funding to the police department.

Miller: The city’s police department is doing a great job, and Moore is well aware of the challenges the nation faces, she said.

Miller also praised Moore, calling him a great leader who is in touch with the people he serves.

The department was smart to add a social worker to aid officers, she said.

Neal: “I am opposed to any type of police reform,” Neal said.

Janesville does a good job with policing, he said, and he supports more training and educational options for officers.