Mayoral Candidate Barb Jacob: City Needs Fresh Eyes
*Editor’s Note: Each of the mayoral candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, with the exception of Alex Kochanowski, has sat down for an in-depth interview with City Times staff. The conversation below is a verbatim transcript of Jacob’s interview. Additional candidates’ interviews will be published separately.
Barb Jacob is one of six candidates with their name on the Feb. 17 mayoral primary election. Jacob is a U.S. Army veteran but has never served in elected office. She is currently appointed to the city’s Deer Management Committee, and regularly attends City Council and City Plan Commission meetings.
Jacob, 56, previously ran against Alderman Randy Stroik in the 9th District unsuccessfully. She is again running for that same aldermanic position simultaneously while running for mayor.
Questions by Brandi Makuski
BM: Why are you running for mayor?
BJ: That’s a good question. I want to see change in the city and the Council and government. I don’t like what I see at Council meetings, and how things are going.
BM: As mayor, how would you have any effect on what the Council does or doesn’t do? They’re separate, designed to account for the checks and balances of government.
BJ: That’s where I think the problem’s coming in. They’re not check and balancing. They’re just taking department heads’ word. I want the Council discussing things more. I want more input from the Council. Everything has good and bad to it, and we don’t hear that.
BM: But isn’t that what we hire department heads for? They’re hired for their expertise in certain areas, and to give the Council their opinion. Shouldn’t we trust them?
BJ: To a point, but you get department heads that feel like they’re being controlled sometimes by mayors that make them feel if they don’t say what the mayor wants them to say, they’re not going to have a job. And I want to get rid of all that; I want people to be able to talk to anybody about anything.
BM: How would you address our debt?
BJ: I think the city needs to start working as a whole.
BM: How are we not working as a whole?
BJ: I think all the departments need to start working together. It’s obvious we’re going to have to do cuts. We have major projects coming up with no money to do it.
BM: But the city has already been cutting for years; where else can we cut from?
BJ” I’m not exactly sure. That’s why I need to get in there and find out exactly what could be cut, what could be done. A lot of times, things get cut at the park’s department; I don’t know if that’s the answer. Maybe we can cut a little bit here and a little bit there and make it work, but I’d have to be there and see exactly what’s going on and if the cuts could work before I could say what we can cut, and I think we need to do that as a whole.
BM: Isn’t that the comptroller-treasurer’s job?
BJ: To a point, but it’s also the mayor’s job to have foresight with everything and get everyone to work together as a team. There’s no “I” in team; everybody needs to work together.
BM: You’re running for both mayor and alderwoman. Isn’t that a little disingenuous to run for two different offices at the same time?
BJ: The reason I chose to do that is because every good plan has an alternative. I want to represent the people of Stevens Point; I do what I can to do good for the citizens. So after a lot of pondering, I chose to run for both for that reason.
BM: Because of your admitted-lack of public administration experience, why should anyone vote for you?
BJ: Maybe that is the reason they should vote for me. I haven’t been influenced. We have three Council members at this time running, and all are on the Council presently, and we’re $53 million in the hole. They say, ‘Well, the department heads didn’t tell us all the information’. Well, we’re supposed to have a strong City Council. Maybe they didn’t ask the right questions to get the answers they needed.
BM: Well, you certainly asked a lot of questions; you have been at nearly every one- if not all- city meetings over past few years. And you’re active, you constantly address the committees and speak up plenty. If you’re the one asking the ‘right’ questions, wouldn’t it make sense for someone on the Council to echo your question?
BJ: And that’s the problem, they don’t get echoed. The citizens ask questions, the questions hang there. They never get an answer. And I think those questions should be answered.
BM: You ran against Randy Stroik two years ago. Why do you think you didn’t win that election?
BJ: I think Randy’s notoriety, and the fact that people know Randy quite well, and that he is on the City Council. I think that had a lot to do with it. People didn’t really know who I was at that time. I’m more out there now, my name recognition is coming in a lot more now.
BM: Tell me about your stance on the Business 51 project.
BJ: I think it needs to be reevaluated. I think we need to know more about what the alternatives are.
BM: But AECOM (the architectural firm responsible for the proposed design alternatives) gave us six alternatives. They’re on the city’s website.
BJ: Well, not that that’s not enough, but I think we need to look into those alternatives more. I think it was just kind of decided how we were going to do it and the public wasn’t told. But I don’t think it’s going to work, going down to two lanes. I haven’t researched it a lot, or checked into it, but one of the alternatives, I was told, could be if we put bicycle lanes on a different road, that would run parallel. I heard that was an option but I’m not sure that was event looked at.
BM: That was not one of the options provided by AECOM.
BJ: Well, I was told it was.
BM: You might be thinking about a suggestion brought up by one of the Council members at the time we were looking at the alternatives, but it was only a suggestion.
BJ: Well, I think there’s more answers to that question then. I think we need to look at everything. I don’t think the public was made aware if they did look at everything.
BM: Are you supportive of the Hoover Avenue grade separation (overpass)?
BJ: I think it’s a great idea. But they’re leading people to believe it’s going to start next year. It’s not.
BM: Who’s leading people to believe that?
BJ: Well, several people have told me they were lead to believe they’re going to do that. I tell them it’s going to be 2018 at the soonest that they’re going to do that.
BM: Do you agree or disagree that milling down and repaving Business 51 is a good short-term fix for the roadway?
BJ: It’s a good short-term fix, but at what cost? We have to do something, so if we have to do a short-term fix, yes. It would give us more time to figure out what we can and can’t do.
BM: How would you attract businesses and developers to the city?
BJ: I would sell Stevens Point. Sell the benefits of living and owning a business here. The parks, the university, Mid-State (Technical College), the businesses that have been here productively for years.
BM: Doesn’t the community development department and the Portage County Business Council already do that?
BJ: I’m not exactly sure, because I don’t know what they’re doing to sell Stevens Point. There’s a lot of great things here. I’m not originally from Stevens Point; I chose to live here.
BM: You say you don’t like what you see in city government. What changes, if any, do you propose to city government?
BJ: I’m not sure the word “different” is the right word, but I’d like to see things a lot more open. I know it’s been better already with Mayor Wescott in, but before, if you didn’t know exactly what do ask, you couldn’t find it out. You had to know exactly how to phrase the question you wanted to ask. And I don’t feel the city should have anything to hide. We should be more than willing to tell people what’s going on. It just doesn’t seem like the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. We need to work more uniform. A lot of times I would go in to ask a question and I got, ‘Well, I don’t know nothing you gotta go over here’.
BM: Not long ago Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski was put in charge of the assessing department along with his regular duties. Would you change that, should we have a full-time assessor?
BJ: I think we should. But I would have to look at the books and see if financially we can do it.
BM: What’s your vision on fixing police department space problems?
BJ: The only way I can see to fix them is a different location. I don’t foresee getting any more room out of the area they’re in. But the county doesn’t have any more room, either. Maybe as the county is looking at a new justice center, the city should be looking at a new city hall to accommodate this. Maybe looking into the Copps building.
BM: What would you do to spur development, or invigorate the south side?
BJ: I think people are already starting to realize the south side is a good place to be. It’s had a bad rep for years.
BM: Why is it a good place to be?
BJ: It’s a relatively clean area, very friendly people, new businesses are starting to pop up. You’ve got O’Reilly (Auto Parts), Auto Select did a rebuild, a new Kwik Trip coming in, the gun shop, the new ice cream place coming in on Park. The bank across the street from the new ice cream shop is relatively new, in the last four or five years.
BM: What could be done to encourage development on the west side?
BJ: I’d like to see something happen with Jackson School.
BM: But that’s a school district- owned property, so the mayor’s office has no control over that.
BJ: Well, there’s a gas station over there, and a chicken place.
BM: OK, you’re listing all these great businesses, but how would you encourage economic development in the community?
BJ: Well, there’s a very good subdivision over there on the west side. You can get your economic development from building homes in there. The rock-bed, they tell me, if a lot thicker he further out you go, so it would be a lot harder for development out that way.
BM: What area of town do you feel needs to be improved the most, and how would you do it?
BJ: I would say probably the student housing area on the west side of Division Street. I would like to see homeowners that rent to students having to take more care of their places. Some are in pretty bad shape.
BM: We already have city ordinances requiring that; how would you enforce it?
BJ: I know it was talked about, at one point, making them all licensed, and I still think it could be worked out and that could be a very good idea. Some of our student housing is really bad. I know, as a landlord, if people think that you care about the place you’re living in, they take better care of the place.
BM: OK, but how would you better enforce the laws already on the books?
BJ: I’m not really sure we have a whole lot of laws on the books other than our nuisance law, and that’s not improving it. I think we need to have more laws for student housing and other rentals. I think rental properties should have to meet certain qualifications.
BM: How do you feel about our current debt capacity?
BJ: I’d like to see no debt.
BM: No, I mean debt capacity; the amount we’re allowed to borrow. We only have $14 million left to borrow against, and much of that is already spoken for.
BJ: I’d like to see us have no debt.
BM: Anything else you’d like to say?
BJ: I think Stevens Point needs a change. I’m the only person running that isn’t part of government at this point. And I think we need something new, a fresh look at things.