Interviews to Fill District 6 Vacancy

This coming Tuesday, October 22, at 6:00 p.m., the Common Council, sitting as the Committee of the Whole, will meet to interview the candidates for alderman for District 6. There are three candidates (click here for resumes and other information):

  • Carol Leonard, 1430 West Donges Bay Road (resident since 2008; managed care administrator; and Chair of the Joint Mequon-Thiensville Bike & Pedestrian Way Commission)
  • Richard Mueller, 10529 West Burning Bush Lane (resident since 2000; pharmacist; and President of Bayberry Fields Subdivision)
  • Brian Parrish, 1824 West Sunnydale Lane (resident since 2012; commercial real estate broker and business owner; and member of the Planning Commission)

There was a fourth candidate, but he decided to withdraw his name.

Thank you to these people for stepping forward. From what I know of the three candidates, the City will be well-served no matter who is selected.

Interviews. Interviews will be in alphabetical order. After a few opening remarks, I will ask Messrs. Mueller and Parrish to leave the room. The Common Council will then interview Ms. Leonard. After Ms. Leonard is done, she will be asked to join the others, and Mr. Mueller will be interviewed. Mr. Parrish will follow. I expect, based on past experience, that each interview will last about 30 minutes. However, the interviews could take more or less time.  After all three candidates have been interviewed, they may come back into Christine Nuernberg Hall.

Public Comments. After the interviews, members of the public will be allowed to speak. In the past when the Council has interviewed to fill a vacancy, there have been no public comments; however, this time there appears to be an interest. We always allow the public to comment on any matter before the Council or its Committees, and this will be no different, except that we will limit the time and number of speakers because we have a very long night of meetings following this interviewing process. To be heard, a member of the public who wishes to speak should fill-in a registration slip. Slips  will be available in the back of the Hall. I will allot an equal amount of time for speakers supporting each candidate. When the allotted time for a candidate’s supporters is done, there will be no more speakers for the candidate and I will read the names and addresses of the remaining people supporting the candidate. There is an alternative. If you want to ensure that your opinion is considered, you can send an email to the City Clerk by clicking here. All emails will be provided to the Council. Public opinion is always important; however, the number of people showing up for a particular candidate or the number of emails received should not weigh heavily into this process. The number of people will be infinitesimal compared to the number of voters in the district and certainly will not be representative of the district. Instead, the Common Council should be seeking to choose the person who will best represent the district. The public will make the real decision at a special election in April.

Voting. The Committee will then vote. If there is a majority for one candidate at the end of the first vote, that candidate will be recommended to the Common Council. If not, there will be a subsequent rounds of voting. After the first round, if a candidate receives only 1 or 0 votes in a round, the candidate will not be included in the next round. When a candidate receives a majority, the voting will end and she or he will be recommended to the Council.  I do not vote except in the case of a tie.

At the regular meeting on Tuesday, November 12, the Common Council will vote to confirm the candidate recommended through the process described above.

CPR Saves Lives: a City of Mequon Proclamation In Appreciation of JEFFREY ZILISCH

I presented this proclamation at last night’s Common Council meeting:

On Monday, August 5, 2019, Mequon resident Jeffrey Zilisch heard a commotion at a nearby residence and went out of his way to go to help. He found Mequon resident Timothy Ridley in cardiac arrest. Mr. Zilisch promptly commenced cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while Mr. Ridley’s wife Jill called Mequon Dispatch.

Mequon dispatcher Leah Heimsch took the call and promptly engaged her supervisor, Melina Bowen. The dispatchers utilized Mequon’s Emergency Medical Dispatch software to assist Mr. Zilisch and to coach him in the correct rate of compressions. Their prompt and professional assistance under pressure was instrumental in Mr. Ridley’s survival.

Mequon Police Officer Jason Moertl, the first responder to the scene, applied his Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to Mr. Ridley and delivered a shock as indicated by the AED. Mr. Zilisch and Officer Moertl continued CPR until Mequon Fire and Ambulance First Responder Joshua Lipp arrived on scene and took over CPR and switched Mr. Ridley over to the advanced cardiac monitor.

Mr. Lipp and the rest of the responding team, Greg Gilles, Jacob Evaska, Robert Bell, Quantavious Tucker and Deputy Chiefs Dave Depies and Kurt Zellmann delivered another three shocks after rounds of CPR. After the fourth shock, Mr. Ridley’s heart restarted. As Mr. Ridley was being moved to the stretcher, his heart stopped again, and CPR was resumed and one more shock delivered. The fifth shock was the last one needed and Mr. Ridley was placed in the ambulance for emergency transport.

We should be very proud of our dispatchers, Officer Moertl and our fire and ambulance personnel who responded. They performed in a manner that is a credit to our city, their departments and themselves. Nationally, only about 5% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims survive.

However, resident Jeffrey Zilisch deserves special recognition. If not for his selfless, quick and heroic response, Mr. Ridley would not be with us today. Each year, more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States. CPR can double or even triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival, and for every minute that a victim is without CPR, his or her chance of survival drops by 10%. Unfortunately, bystanders perform CPR only about 37% of the time. Mr. Zilisch did the right thing and started the process that saved Mr. Ridley’s life. Mr. Zilisch provided an example for all of us and a tangible reminder that we all should obtain basic CPR instruction.

In consideration of the foregoing, on behalf of the citizens of the City of Mequon, I proclaim that today, September 10, 2019, is Jeffrey Zilisch Day in the City of Mequon.

Community Wide Survey Results Are In!

East GrowthThe survey results are in. Click here to see them. Some of the results are interesting. Most are expected. That’s good. About 3,800 of us returned the survey. That is about the same as six years ago. 

The survey is another way the City seeks your input. It will be a good guide for us for the next few years.

Which result surprises you the most?




[UPDATED August 26, 2019]

For years, I have heard people say that Mequon needs more restaurants.  Heck, I have said that also.

However, in reality, I doubt there is another community our size with so many places to eat. Here is the list I put together (let me know if I missed any). I originally published this list in April of 2017, and this is the second time I have updated it. The list excludes our four grocery store delis, two private country clubs and gas stations like KwikTrip that sell sandwiches. Of course, we can always use more!

  1. Anodyne Coffee
  2. Bavette La Boucherie
  3. Beans & Barley
  4. Bowls
  5. Café 1505
  6. Café Corazon
  7. Café Hollander
  8. Chancery Pub & Restaurant
  9. China Buffet
  10. Colectivo Coffee
  11. Crave
  12. Culver’s
  13. Dairy Queen
  14. Dominoe’s Pizza
  15. Einstein Bros Bagels
  16. Ferrante’s
  17. Fiddleheads
  18. First Watch
  19. Happy Dough Lucky
  20. Harvey’s Central Grill
  21. Highland House
  22. Hong Anh Palace
  23. Jimmy Johns
  24. Jodi’s 19th Tee at Mee-kwon Park
  25. Landmark
  26. Leonardo’s Pizza Parlour
  27. Libby Montana
  28. McDonald’s
  29. Mequon Pizza Company
  30. Mr. B’s
  31. Nines American Bistro
  32. Noodles & Company
  33. Panera Bread
  34. Pizza Hut/Wing Street
  35. Purple Door Ice Cream
  36. Range Line Inn
  37. Ruby Tap
  38. St. Paul’s Fish Market
  39. Santorini Grill
  40. Screaming Tuna
  41. Sobelmans Pub N Grill Mequon
  42. Spanky’s Hideaway
  43. Starbucks
  44. Subway
  45. Taco Bell
  46. The Fox Den
  47. Vietnamese Noodles
  48. Wooden Goose Café
  49. Yummy’s
  50. Zaffiro’s
  51. Zarletti

Additionally, Thiensville has another 10 places:

  1. Baree, The
  2. Cheel, The
  3. Chuck’s Place
  4. Cousin’s
  5. Downtown Pizza
  6. Falafel Guys
  7. Fiddleheads
  8. Prime Minister Family Restaurant
  9. Remington’s River Inn
  10. Skippy’s Burger Bar

The variety is fairly extraordinary: fine dining, family, sports bar, a public market and fast food places.  Note also that less than 20% of these restaurants are national chains.

Mequon and Thiensvile collectively have about 27,000 people, and there are 61 places to eat (excluding the four grocery store delis, two country clubs and KwikTrip). That means there is about one restaurant for every 440 people.

Plus, the Foxtown development will soon have a couple of places to eat.

Bon Appetit.

(Please let me know if I missed any.)

Highland Road Interchange

The state funded I-43 reconstruction in the most recent biennium budget. As part of that, the Mequon interchanges would be reconstructed, at least according to the most recent plans, and an interchange would be added at Highland Road. Of course, adding a project to a budget and actually completing it are two different thngs and, in all probability, changes will be made; however, it is never too early to start planning.

Many people express concerns that, from what they hear, an interchange could not fit at Highland Road because of the railroad tracks and existing uses. Here is a depiction of the interchange prepared by Wisconsin Department of Transportation engineers:

highland road interchange

Rest in Peace, Brian Schneider

I have waited to post anything because I wanted to make sure friends and family were first notified. Tragically, Alderman Brian Schneider passed away yesterday.

Brian was devoted to his sons and fiancée Renee. They are in my prayers. He contributed greatly to youth sports and stepped forward to serve Mequon as an alderman and candidate. He wanted to make our community a better place. I am saddened for his sons and Renee and by the loss of a passionate life cut far too short.Schneider3

The New Planning Commission Policy Subcommittee: the Future of Port Washington Road

East GrowthOn Monday, the Planning Commission’s Policy Subcommittee will have its first meeting. I appointed the Subcommittee because the Planning Commission has been spending most of its time reviewing applications and, often, failing to review the policies that underly those applications. Mequon’s developments and planning are only as good as the policies and ordinances the Planning Commission and Common Council apply.

Mequon has a reputation for being difficult. I have long believed part of that reputation is based on a failure to listen to the market, state to the market what is allowed and then consistently following through and approving consistently with that message – no less, and no more.

Among the Subcommittee’s highest priorities will be a review of land use on Port Washington Road.

To start the process rolling, I state below what I would allow on Port Washington Road (subject to results of the citywide survey and the Subcommittee finishing its work). Being so forthright is risky. It is easier for an elected official to keep opinions hidden and stay “flexible” so as not to rile up people. I think that is the wrong approach.

During the recent mayoral campaign, I stated the following:

With the completion of the East Trunk sewer project, there will be pressure to develop north along the Port Washington Road corridor. I will initiate a comprehensive review of that entire corridor. I share many residents’ concerns over retail creeping north, vacant stores, traffic and some recent architecture. Much of the northern portion of the corridor can and should remain residential. Whatever happens there needs to be done correctly, both to avoid sprawl and to ensure that the southern part of the corridor does not suffer. The vitality of that southern portion is important to both the vitality of our community and to our tax base.

I am not changing my position now that the election is over. We need this process.

The City commissioned a market study for the area along Port Washington Road north of Highland Road in mid-2013. That study suggested a lot of changes – four-plus story buildings, multi-family housing, tax incentives, significant public infrastructure expenditures and high-intensity development. The study said the most likely and best developments would be four-story hotels, a sporting or other entertainment venue, some office and apartments. It said that there would be limited demand for manufacturing and cautioned that it would require many thousands of new residents in the vicinity, or destination centers, for retail to work without it cannibalizing existing retail. The report effectively suggested another area as intense as the Town Center, just different.

From what I heard during the campaign, and during my years as an alderman before the campaign, I do not think that is what most Mequon residents want.

If I am proven wrong by the citywide survey, so be it. I will adjust my approach. However, until I learn that Mequon wants that kind of intensity, I will not support it.

I believe that we have adequate retail areas. The city needs those areas to thrive. We should encourage redevelopment in those areas to meet additional needs.

If I were a one-man committee, here is what I would suggest for Port Washington Road:

  • Encourage redevelopment of tired properties, particularly on the southern end of the road.
  • Direct most intense uses to the areas between County Line and Mequon Road.
  • Allow in-fill south of West Glen Oaks Lane similar in intensity, height and size as the surrounding retail and business properties (with the west side of the road being less intense).
  • Except for a couple of acres on the corner of Port Washington and Highland Roads (which could be neighborhood commercial, a restaurant or an office building), keep the west side of Port Washington Road zoned single-family residential from Highland Road to just south of Pioneer Road. The residential would be ¾ or one-acre density, in conservation-style subdivisions. These would be great subdivisions, particularly considering the amount of undevelopable land that would stay open.
  • Allow the market to dictate the east side of Port Washington Road from Highland Road to just south of Pioneer Road, but exclude retail uses, large apartment buildings and uses similar to retail (e.g., hotels). Missing Links is great there. That area would be a fine location for another Newcastle Place, senior housing (not to exceed two or three stories), duplex or townhouse condominiums, light industrial, medical or office. Some of the deeper parcels might even be appropriate for single-family housing.
  • Allow a limited neighborhood commercial or business park node near the on-ramp for I-43 at Pioneer Road.
  • Keep uses so that Port Washington Road, north of Highland Road, remains a two-lane road for the foreseeable future.

It is worth noting that there are hundreds of acres of wetlands along Port Washington Road that will never be developed. That is good. It provides open space.

In my opinion, this would be a realistic plan. Details would need to be worked out. For example, I believe that we need decent architectural guidelines for the area to avoid some of the more controversial buildings that have been built on Port Washington Road in recent years.

However, this plan would enable property owners to utilize their properties while not creating problems, exploding our population or cannibalizing existing uses. Coupled with the hundreds of acres of wetlands, it would be consistent with the character of Mequon. The development of the Highland Road interchange will further assist with traffic issues, particularly south of Highland Road. Sewer and water would either be extended, or property owners might be allowed to develop their properties under this plan using on-site facilities with the expectation that they would hook-up when sewer is extended.

Unless and until the comprehensive study or the citywide survey dictates something else, developers have the existing zoning or they can apply for rezoning along the lines described above. Until then, I will oppose rezoning applications that are inconsistent with the above-described plan.

Hopefully, this gives the Subcommittee, and the public generally, a starting point for discussion.

Future of Our Fire Department


Mequon has maintain an excellent paid-on-call and paid-for-service fire department with qualified, dedicated fire and ambulance personnel. However, considering the difficulties many paid-on-call and volunteer departments have in attracting and retaining members, and our changing demographics, it is imperative to be proactive in planning for continued success.

I have appointed a seven-member committee to take a comprehensive look at what other communities’ successful departments are doing and to examine what we are doing. The committee is charged with examining ways to optimize the future viability of our fire and ambulance services.

Safety services should always be our highest priority.

I tried to balance the committee to ensure that it comprehensively analyzes options. I want more than rehashed political and staff opinions. I appointed the most experienced Common Council member and one of the newer members; had the Chief appoint one member; had the department’s Association appoint another; and appointed three members with little City involvement (fresh perspectives) but excellent skills and professional experience.

The Committee includes:

Ald. Dale Mayr (Chair)
Ald. Brian Schneider
Deputy Chief Kurt Zellmann
Rick Lemke (Mequon Fire/EMS Association)
Melissa Bleidorn
Kirsten Hildebrand
Lynn Streeter

Thank You, Sen. Darling

Darling-AlbertaTonight, the Joint Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Alberta Darling, fixed its earlier proposal by including cities in the one-time appropriation proposed yesterday (the overall one-time appropriation is at a lower dollar amount than proposed yesterday). They also included money for reconstruction of I-43.

All Republicans other than Sen. Dewey Stroebel voted yes. All Democrats voted no. The difference between the parties was over what kind of tax should be increased to fix roads. Democrats favor higher gas taxes. Republicans, who control the legislature, favor higher registration and similar fees.

Sen. Stroebel voted no presumably because he opposed the spending on roads.

This is a long way from done. The vote among Republicans in the Senate will be close.

Then, even if it gets out of the legislature, it is unclear what Gov. Evers will do. The appropriations are similar to his original proposal, but he presumably opposes the Republicans’ plan for paying for it. Plus, this will be part of a comprehensive budget, There clearly are far bigger differences between the parties over other parts of the budget.

Thsi will be a long summer in Madison.

Sen. Darling & Sen. Stroebel: Don’t You Love Our “Town”?


Mequon has a Town Center, but Mequon is not really a town. And that is a problem.

The legislature is debating the transportation budget. The budget will establish the state’s transportation spending for the next two years. Over the past few years, the legislature has received criticism for arguably not appropriating enough money for roads.

Today, in response to that criticism, 10 State Senators (including Senators Darling and Stroebel) proposed a $130 million one-time transportation aid package for “local government.” But, they define “local government” strangely. Their proposal is only for towns and counties. Cities and villages, like Mequon and Thiensville, are not towns. They would get nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Mequon already over-subsidizes the county, and in turn towns.

Mequon has only 27% of Ozaukee’s population but pays 40% of the county’s taxes. That is concerning enough. But the county does not use that money equitably among communities. Instead, the county pays part of the way for towns (like the Town of Cedarburg and the Town of Grafton). Towns do not have to provide all of the services cities and villages are required to provide. The county does it for them.

A double whammy – Mequon subsidizes towns twice.  We subsidize towns’ tax collections to the county, and then the county uses Mequon’s overpayment of taxes to subsidize towns’ services.

So, why are Mequon’s senators giving another subsidy to towns? I have theories, but I will let them explain themselves.

If the state is going to help local governments, perhaps it could do it based on the amounts paid. Or population. Or some other across-the-board method.

Or, perhaps, our state representatives should be more concerned about the roads that are the state’s responsibility. My friends in city government might not like that idea – they would like the extra money. And some communities have done such a poor job maintaining their roads that they are way behind, so now they are scrambling for more money

For example (and it is only one example), the state is responsible for I-43. The I-43 corridor between Silver Spring Drive and Grafton was built in the mid-1950s and mid-1960s, and is a main artery for Wisconsin commerce and tourism. On average, more than 75,000 vehicles travel this section of I-43 daily, making it the highest volume 4-lane freeway corridor in Wisconsin. By 2040, traffic on parts of the corridor is expected to increase 32%. This means travel times will become increasingly unreliable, impacting commuters and businesses alike. Clearly, I-43’s age, increasing deterioration and growing congestion are putting motorists at risk and limiting economic development. Crash rates are higher than the statewide average for similar urban freeway segments. Continuing to simply resurface this roadway will result in throw-away costs, perpetual orange barrels in the corridor and motorist inconvenience, while doing nothing to solve the safety, congestion and structural issues.

The I-43 ramp at Highland Road is an urgent need that has widespread support in our community. It will reduce street traffic, making the need for road expansions in communities less pressing, and aid in economic development. The state should fulfill its commitment for the ramp before doling out additional dollars to make towns happy.

Now is the time to move forward with the I-43 reconstruction project. Every year the project is delayed, an estimated $9 million is added to the project’s cost due to inflation, and motorists continue to bear a congestion tax of about $8 million a year.

This is not the only state road issue that should be resolved. The state should get its own house in order before handing out more local money.

Senators Darling and Stroebel, the reconstruction of I-43 would be good for our town . . . errr . . . city.

The Joint Finance Committee will be voting on the transportation budget tomorrow. Let Senators Darling and Stroebel and other state officials know what you think.


Memorial Day 2019

Memorial Day 2019 BMemorial Day 2019


As Mayor, I am privileged to say a few words after the Legion Post’s parade in honor of those who have made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. Here is what I said today:


May 27, 2019

Remarks by John Wirth at the Mequon-Thiensville Memorial Day Observation

America’s first official Memorial Day observance – then called Decoration Day after the practice of decorating graves – occurred shortly after the Civil War. At that first official observance, the keynote address was made by Congressman James Garfield, Garfield was a former Civil War general and later an assassinated President.

Looking out over Arlington National Cemetery, Garfield recognized the futility in any speech trying to do justice to the personal sacrifice made by our country’s fallen soldiers, saying:

I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung.

But Garfield also recognized the appropriateness of recognizing the nature of that sacrifice. He said, in words more beautiful than any I can come up with, that the dead:

[S]ummed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

Although Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember and say thank you, it should serve a greater purpose. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” We must “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

We can regret the lives cut short by war and the families destroyed. But if we stop there, we have missed the point of their lives and their deaths.

The examples of these heroes reinforce the worth of heroism. Their patriotism reminds us to love our country. Their service should prompt us to serve our own communities. Their selflessness teaches that a life worth living is one that puts the greater good ahead of personal gain and comfort. Their ultimate sacrifice in protecting us should remind us to protect those who cannot protect themselves. And their deaths in the pursuit of freedom and liberation should challenge us to fight against those outside and inside our country who are willing to take away rights and freedoms, whether here or abroad.

In these ways, we honor those who, with their deaths, made the down payment for our freedoms.

Thank you to our veterans, living and dead, and God Bless America.

Fiction v. Fact

Friends and Neighbors:

I have avoided responding to my opponent’s emails, believing that Mequon voters can see through the tactics. But the factual misstatements are accelerating. He can have his own opinions, but not his own facts. Mequon deserves a mayor who knows fact from fiction. These are just a few examples:

My opponent says “Since the city must spend the remaining $7 million of the $12 million in TIF funds Wirth approved on improvements for the Town Center, why not an underpass to solve both the connectivity and safety issues of crossing Mequon Road?”

The city has no obligation to spend any of that money. It is like a line of credit – it is there if it is needed. If it is not used, it will ultimately go toward tax relief. The Council voted on the amendment to fulfill state law requirements necessary to be prepared for possible projects and uses. The city has not appropriated the $7 million or borrowed the $7 million. It is concerning that my opponent did not understand what was happening when he voted on this.

My opponent says that the 425+ people who have endorsed my campaign are “the same cast of characters who show up at Common Council meetings disparaging the businesses Wirth opposes.”

I do not oppose businesses. I opposed the location of one business. I have helped dozens of businesses cut through government red tape. There is a reason my endorsement list includes seven past presidents of the Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce, and why a variety of other local business owners have endorsed me through that the list. The list is truly bipartisan, filled with Republicans and Democrats, and reflects the demographics of Mequon. See the list by clicking here. It is unfortunate my opponent regularly disparages this large group of Mequon citizens. I do not disparage his supporters. We are one community.

My opponent says “Wirth opposes the Mequon Road underpass idea, citing his exaggerated cost estimate of $4.5 million to $8 million.”

Click here for the candidate forum and go to 1:03. My opponent, not I, estimated that the tunnel will cost $5 million to $6 million. Independent engineers have suggested it will be more because of a 30″ sewer pipe at 14′ deep set on blocks, a 6″ water main, private utilities (gas, electric, cable), bad soils, the need to acquire extensive private property and easements, ADA, the need to reinforce the railroad, Mequon’s severe drainage issues, and on and on. Even using my opponent’s numbers, that is an incredibly expensive project. It is hard to imagine how someone who opposes TIF wants to borrow that much money through the TIF to resolve an issue that can be resolved equally well at a much lower cost.

My opponent says, “Since the Town Center was initially approved in 2008, the school district has not attended meetings, added input, nor voted on anything regarding the Town Center.”

Every year since the Tax Incremental District was approved (2008), the school district has sent a voting representative to the Joint Review Board, the body that reviews the Town Center’s TIF. In 2018, over the course of two meetings, the Joint Review Board, including the school district representative, approved the $12 million amendment my opponent describes. That happened while my opponent was an alderman. He should know about it.

My opponent: “Wirth states, ‘[The Mequon Road Underpass] is more than Mequon has spent on all Town Center improvements.’ Either Attorney Wirth is 100% dishonest or he can’t do basic math. In 2008 he approved $9 million for Town Center improvements. After exhausting that he voted for an additional $12-15 million and quickly gave $4.95 million to his cronies at Foxtown. Do the math, John. That’s $13.95 million and counting.”

The amount approved in 2008 was $7 million, not $9 million. Only about 2/3 of that money was used for improvements. The balance was used for development incentives. 2/3 of $7 million is less than his estimate of $5-6 million. I am not dishonest, and I am pretty good at math.

My opponent states that I opposed adding honesty requirements.

I assisted Alderman Gierl, the proponent of the “honesty” provision, to pass two separate ordinances, one that applies to employees and one that applies to employees and elected and unelected officials. Together, they enable the city to exercise the strongest remedies for dishonesty allowed under Wisconsin law. The meeting minutes, in connection with one of the ordinances, provide: “Alderman Gierl stated this was a long time coming and that this is a great addition to the City of Mequon.”  Alderman Gierl supported both ordinances. Read more by clicking here.

My opponent says that “the city has been running a structural deficit for the last six years transferring money from the general fund to hide its deficits. Abendroth and Wirth have been the big proponents of this scheme and the fund balance is now extremely low.”

The General Fund Balance is not low. It is within the guidelines that the city first set about a decade ago. The General Fund Balance is nothing more than the account in which city surpluses are put each year. Through careful resource management, the city almost always has a surplus. The city attempts to keep this balance in an amount equal to 10% of 12% of annual operating expenses. When the accumulated balance exceeds 10%, the city may use it for tax relief in future years. He should know that. He voted to affirm that policy in June of 2018. You can see the policy by clicking here (got to page 4). The transfers described have occurred for decades. The annual budget is always balanced. There are no actual deficits.

My opponent says that “[his tunnel] is better than wasting $1 million on a Gateway Feature that would have been under eight feet of water two weeks ago.”

The city has offered to spend $150,000 toward the cost of the Gateway Feature. The rest would be paid for by private donations, most of which has been committed, and a $50,000 contribution from Thiensville. He knows the city will not contribute if private money is not raised, and he knows the total cost would not be $1 million. In a prior inaccurate email, he said it would be $864,000. And he knew that was untrue when he threw that number out there. He and I (and all other members of the Council) voted to reject bids in that amount only two days before he sent that prior email. Moreover, the proposed location of the Gateway Feature was not under water.

Don’t just read what the candidates write. Judge for yourself by watching or listening to the candidates side-by-side at this week’s forum. You can see it by clicking here (the substance starts just after the 10 minute mark).

I am happy to respond to anything else my opponent throws out there. Feel free to contact me.

Together, we can keep taxes low and have excellent police, fire and ambulance departments, maintain roads, improve the city’s other services and facilities, create more of a sense of community, support our schools and plan for Mequon’s future.

If you think city government generally does a good job, and the city is a great place to live and work, I ask for your vote.  

City Honesty Policy

My opponent tries to make the city’s honesty policies a wedge issue to make me look bad. He either does not know what he is talking about or is intentionally distorting the facts.

Before I was elected in 2016, while I was voluntarily out of office, Ald. Gierl (my opponent’s ally) convinced the Common Council to add an honesty provision to the city’s personnel code. It was already implicit in the code, but it was still a good idea.

He later decided that the policy in the personnel code did not have enough teeth. He decided that he wanted to add something to the city’s ethics code.

Ald, Gierl was still trying to get an honesty provision added to the ethics code when I rejoined the Council in 2016. Trying to work with him, in May of 2016, I came up with an ethics code provision that I thought would work. He liked my language. The Public Welfare Committee recommended approval of my language. Click here for the meeting minutes.  

We at first were all in agreement that we wanted comments from the Ethics Board. In July of 2016, the Ethics Board gave some preliminary comments but reviewed the wrong language. Mr. Gierl did not want to hear more from the Ethics Board. Ald, Mayr and I insisted. Click here for the meeting minutes.

The Ethics Committee did not think that was the appropriate place for the provision. They wanted the ethics code to mirror the state ethics code, where they had precedent to look to in fulfilling their duties, and did not want to be the arbiter in deciding what is true or not true, particularly between elected officials. They did not want to be a political tool. The Ethics Board rules on non-subjective issues. More importantly, under state law, the Ethics Board would have no authority to do anything if it found that someone violated such an honesty provision. It would have been a toothless remedy.

Click here for the Ethics Board memo. My opponent says he wants to rely on city volunteer boards’ recommendations. Apparently not this one.

Even in light of the Ethics Board recommendation, I moved to have the code change go to the Council in August. Click here for the meeting minutes. Staff did not put it on the Council agenda as my motion, seconded by Ald, Gierl, required.

Instead, staff brought the language back to the Public Welfare Committee. I persisted in supporting the idea of trying to ensure that we are committed to honesty.

In August, Ald, Gierl and I changed direction, agreeing that this did not necessarily need to be in the ethics code, but something needed to occur. We asked staff to come up with some remedies for dishonesty. Click here for the meeting minutes.

 In September, we decided to create a two-track process – one ordinance change to the personnel code and a second ordinance to ensure there was a method to review the dishonesty or other bad acts of any elected or appointed official or any employee. I made the motion, and Ald. Gierl seconded the motion!  He agreed to remove the request to change the ethics code and instead go on this new path. Click here to read the September 2016 minutes.

In November 2016, we worked on the language. Ald. Gierl agreed with my proposals. He seconded my motion. Click here to read those minutes.

We continued in December and were in full agreement. Click here to read those minutes.

Through the process, we (the Public Welfare Committee – Ald. Gierl, another alderman and I) toughened the personnel code.  When that was passed by the Common Council in January 2017, Ald. Gierl was happy. As stated in the minutes, “Alderman Gierl stated this was a long time coming and that this is a great addition to the City of Mequon.”

Also at the January 2017 Council meeting, the Council added our language to the Code  ensuring that two Council members could put anything on the agenda, This would allow the Council to censure an alderman (the only thing that can be done under state law) or review anyone else’s conduct.

I worked with Ald. Gierl. I helped him get what he wanted – a clear ordinance that allows the disciplining of staff for dishonest conduct or for retaliation and a process in which the Council (the only body that can under state law discipline an elected official) can review anyone’s misconduct.


Wirth Works to Keep Taxes Low

I have been accused of a lot in this campaign. Despite the falsity of the accusations, I have generally not responded, trusting that Mequon voters have the good sense to see through the tactics. It is sad that each election becomes more outrageous than the last.

I will briefly address one recent accusation – I supposedly am a big spender. That’s odd, because they are also accusing me of not spending enough (without saying what they would cut).

I am not the candidate proposing millions and millions of dollars of new spending without a plan for paying for it. My opponent says he will pay for it from new development but, no matter what kind of development occurs, it takes years and costs go up in the meantime.

Don’t just read what the candidates write. Judge for yourself by watching or listening to the candidates side-by-side at this week’s forum. You can see it by clicking here (the substance starts just after the 10 minute mark).Tax Freeze

In 12 of the 15 years I have been an alderman, the tax rate passed by the Council has either stayed the same or gone down. I proposed, wrote and saw passage of a tax levy freeze that limited our taxes long before the state imposed limits.

Here is a chart that shows what city tax rates have done over the 18 years since I was first elected:

Tax Rate History
The blue line is the actual rate. The reddish-orange line adjusts the rate based on two reassessments. The other two lines show the effect of inflation from two separate sources. No matter how you slice it, our rate has gone down during that period. What other community has done better?

Yes, in three of the 18 years, we had modest tax increases. This past year is a good example. Both my opponent and I voted for the increase, yet he criticized me for it in a flyer. You likely did not notice the increase. But it helped improve our police and fire departments, started a process to improve our inspections department, provided money for a park plan and paid for some additional maintenance. My opponent acted responsibly in voting for those measures (it is okay to agree with an opponent). So was I.

I am the candidate with the proven record of financial responsibility.

Together, we can keep taxes low and have excellent police, fire and ambulance departments, maintain roads, improve the city’s other services and facilities, create more of a sense of community and plan for Mequon’s future.

If you think the community is generally a great place, I ask for your vote.

Today is the Day

vote today

Today is primary election day. Our system works best when people vote.

If you want a mayor who is experienced, who understands how Mequon government works, who has operated business organizations, who tells the truth, who builds consensus, who is positive and not angry, and who listens and cares about your opinions and priorities, I humbly ask for your vote.

Turnout is expected to be low, making your vote for the future of Mequon that much more important.

Mequon Has Been Very Careful About TIF

There is a lot of talk about the Town Center Tax Incremental Financing. Perhaps we should add some facts to the conversation.

Most Comparable Communities Use TIF Much More Extensively

The following list shows each community’s new development value in its Tax Incremental Districts (increment) as a percentage of its overall equalized values:

Brookfield                       19.70%
Glendale                           19.65%
Grafton                             10.73%
Shorewood                        8.94%
Menomonee Falls           7.45%
Greendale                           7.34%
Oak Creek                           5.97%
Wauwatosa                         5.27%
Waukesha                           4.44%
Germantown                      4.15%
Elm Grove                           2.89%
Franklin                               2.46%
Whitefish Bay                     1.78%
Mequon                                   1.69%

Source: Wisconsin Department of Revenue

Mequon has been exceedingly careful. That is the way we do things.

Mequon Does Not Give Money Up Front or Make Loans to Developers

Unlike many communities, under current policy, Mequon does not give money to developers before the developer performs. It has in the past made some small (in relationship to the value of the development) up front TIF payments, but no more. Giving money up front involves more risk on the part of the community, and requires much more stringent penalties for nonperformance.

Instead, Mequon has recently incentivized development in its TIDs on a pay-as-you-go basis. The developer only receives an incentive if it actually builds the project, meets its agreed upon value, and pays taxes on that value. No development, no value or no tax payment – no incentive. Plus, there are significant penalties if the developer does not do as promised.

Also, these incentives last for a limited time.

Mequon Only Gives Incentives to Redevelop Tired, Blighted or Contaminated Properties

Most of the property that has received incentives has been environmentally contaminated. All of it has had old, unproductive improvements that are expensive to remove. The contamination and old improvements kept the properties from being redeveloped. These properties did not redevelop before the incentives were offered. However, with the incentives, contaminated and blighted properties are being redeveloped with valuable, tax paying projects.

Mequon Does Not Pick and Choose Winners

With the exception of redevelopment of city-owned property, in which case the city by definition has to choose the developer, any applicant who meets the district’s redevelopment criteria has been eligible for incentives. This takes the ugly cronyism out of the process.

Mequon Has Always Been One of the Most Fiscally Conservative Communities

Mequon has been well-managed, ensuring that its tax rate stays low while still providing excellent safety services, well maintained roads, good facilities, parks and open spaces, a fine library and other services. And it has maintained one of the best, or the best, school systems in the area.

Mequon has maintained one of the lowest tax rates in the state by being careful in the way it spends money and by ensuring that it has diverse, high value properties that pay taxes.

The same people who have held the line on taxes are the people who have carefully approved these TIDs. If the city has done such a  good job for the past 20 years, why would anyone assume that these decisions are not made with the same attention to detail and restraint?

I am proud to say that I have been on the front lines fighting to keep taxes low. Others who are running have just been critics.

As mayor, I will carry on this tradition of good, fiscally conservative government. After all, I have been part of it for most of the past 20 years. I will ensure that the existing TIDs provide tax relief for generations to come, keeping our tax rate low.

How the Town Center Helps Our Schools

A number of residents have contacted me about the effect of the Town Center on our schools. They were concerned about some information that has been circulated. It is almost entirely inaccurate but, by trying to scare school families, it does a particularly great disservice.

The fact is that the Town Center helps the finances of our excellent public schools. 

  • The Town Center apartments add very few kids to the school district. For example, the 81-unit apartment project known as The Reserve has 9 kids in the school system, and at least four of them lived in Mequon before their parent(s) moved to The Reserve.
  • Currently and for the next several years, Town Center property owners will pay about $328,000 each year directly to the school district. Those are taxes on about $41 million of value that was there before the TIF district was created. That more than covers the marginal cost of the few new Town Center kids who attend the public schools.
  • When the TIF district ends in about eight years, properties in the Town Center will contribute over $1.5 million every year to the school district. That is because, if nothing more happens in the district except the projects that are already underway, there will be a guaranteed $154 million of new development. That will result in over $2.275 million in new taxes paid every year. The school’s share (over $1.2 million) plus the $328,00 already being paid exceeds $1.5 million. The number will certainly be higher than that because of other development and the appreciation of properties.
  • An argument has been made that each additional school child costs MTSD about $11,000 per year. That is untrue. The actual additional cost per child is quite small. Most school costs do not change because of a small number of additional children. Costs for administrators, maintenance, janitorial, heat and other utilities and other building costs do not go up or down based on small changes in the number of kids. The kids in the Town Center are spread throughout grades; therefore, it is highly unlikely that they will have any impact on the number of teachers or other staff.
  • The school district voted to support the Town Center redevelopment, because it saw how our kids would benefit. Each year, representatives affirm that support.

The school district and the city will financially benefit from the Town Center for many decades. Plus, environmentally contaminated land has been cleaned up, empty and dilapidated buildings have been removed, and we have new restaurants and shops.

I would never vote for anything that would harm our excellent schools. Our schools are one of the primary reasons people move to Mequon. I have voted against proposed Mequon TIFs and against proposed developments in TIFs. They should be used sparingly and smartly but in the right circumstances, when they are objective and have a modest incentive, they can provide tremendous returns.