Mayoral Candidate Mike Wiza: Community Focus Will Drive Reputation
*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 Wiza’s interview. Additional candidates’ interviews will be published separately.
Mike Wiza is one of six candidates with their name on the Feb. 17 mayoral primary election. Wiza has served on the City Council for over a decade and the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors for 8 years. He is 48 years old and married with one adult daughter. Wiza has run unsuccessfully for mayor twice.
Facebook: Search “Mike Wiza for Mayor of Stevens Point”
Questions by Brandi Makuski
BM: Twice a bridesmaid; why a third go-around?
MW: Because I still think I can do a better job.
MW: Because the stuff that’s been done, I don’t agree with a lot of it. I think I have a different vision for the city, that is more community-based, and I still have that agenda.
BM: Give me an example of what that vision entails.
MW: A real good example is the fact that seven and a half years ago there was an eco-municipality task force created.It was comprised of over 100 people with idea for every aspect of the city, including clean energy use, multi-modal traffic, things like that. It was a good idea; I liked that idea. It pretty much got put on a shelf and nothing was ever really done about it.
BM: You were on the Council when it was shelved- why was it shelved?
MW: I can’t answer that question. I brought it up several times during meetings over the course of seven years, or some aspect of the plan; LED (street) lighting, and some of the other ideas and concepts that were formulated by that plan. One of the things that the Association of Downtown Businesses (ADB) is doing, is they’re looking at doing a traffic study on their own to look at the simple things, like bicycle racks.
BM: But that’s already been brought up during at least two different meetings, but the counterargument to that was, ‘Well, why can’t business owners take care of that themselves?’
MW: And sometimes they could, but I think it’s important the city at least do their best to accommodate the demand for alternative transportation. It’s a hot-button issue; it’s not possible with our current streets to put bike lanes on every street, but what we can have are some routes. We had the bike-ped plan (a county- run study), but we have the study. What’s been acted on? That’s just one of the things I think is important. Another important thing is, we have to get along with our neighbors. And by neighbors I mean, we have some opportunities to share in some of the services we provide with some of the communities that surround us. With budgets getting tighter and tighter for everyone, I think we need to look for options to work cooperatively with Park Ridge, Whiting, Plover, Hull- and that’s something that has not been done.
BM: What other aspect, outside of Metro Fire, would you propose working cooperatively on?
MW: You’ve got the water and sewer, that we’ve already offered to Whiting and they turned it down. But honestly, I don’t have specific ideas but there have been things where the city was approached to work together with a neighbor, and the administration at that time was less than cooperative. Park Ridge and Whiting are both in a tough spot- we have to drive through Park Ridge to plow our streets. Instead of having a contractor do the roads in Park Ridge, maybe we could do it for less, I don’t know. Since the first time I ran I’ve said I think it’s important we market ourselves, and I don’t think we see enough of that. We have the convention and visitors bureau and they try drawing people here for events, but their job really is directed at filling hotel rooms and having big events. The Portage County Business Council, I think they can work with the convention and visitors bureau and some of the other area groups to market us. And not just market us for business- that’s one of the things I want to push: it’s about time we start bragging about ourselves. We’ve got a lot to offer as far as the university, we’ve got a lot of recreational activities, we’ve got niche shops, great local food vendors, a distillery and two breweries in the area, and I think we can market ourselves to not just the tourist market, but also to the business market. Issues like, ‘Where am I going to get qualified employees?’ and, ‘How am I going to get those employees to come here and stay here?’. We really have a lot to offer, we just need to market it.
Housing is another one- we need to build mid-range housing. One of the problems I’ve seen happening is, someone opens a company here, we give them a TIF incentive to create those jobs- which is a great way to use the TIF incentive- and I see those jobs get created here, people move here but they live outside the city, so they’re housing is reaping the benefits of job creation in Stevens Point.
BM: So how do we fix that?
MW: We have to have a reasonable place for people to build that mid-level housing, $150K-$250K, and the east is the only place the city can build so it’s important to have a plan.
BM: What about further developing the west and south sides; two areas that are in need of some rehabilitation?
MW: That’s tougher. The west side is older houses but as you get further out you see some newer construction. There are several programs available for rehabbing those older homes, mostly through CAP Services, but short of housing violations you can’t compel someone to stick more money into their house.
BM: But don’t we have an inspection department that is understaffed and overworked?
MW: Yes. And I’ve got some ideas for that, too. I’ve already talked with people at the university to get interns, volunteer students, to come and do some of the less skilled tasks. Current inspection employees don’t feel comfortable going to the homes alone because of safety. I understand that, but the simple drive-arounds: if we can provide the car, the students could go around and just do drive-by inspections. They all need the experience. And there’s areas in the community development and waste water departments we could use that free labor because the student gets experience in their field, and the city gets a little boost in its ability to get things done without cost. It’s going to be a great program once we get it off the ground, it’ll help retain at least some of the students locally and it’ll also bring the community closer together for a greater cause.
BM: The Square is redone; we spent about $700 on each of those parking bollards from a company in Canada. They’re uniform and pretty and I get it; but in a project like that why wouldn’t we reach out to the boy scouts, the girl scouts, 4-H, and have professionals donate their time and supplies to teach those kids to build those benches? Why not encourage community involvement in projects that will foster long-term pride in the community?
MW: That’s exactly right; give people the opportunity get involved in their community and they’re going to take pride in that. And then you’re going to go back to that whole bragging about ourselves thing. I’ve always been big about the community; I know every single one of my neighbors. We watch each other’s houses, each other’s dogs. I don’t think I could live any other way. Here in Central Wisconsin it’s not “us” against “them”.
BM: How would you respond to someone who says, “Oh, Wiza has always got to be in the mix, always got to have his opinion heard, he never shuts up. Mike Wiza is a class clown.”
MW: I’ve heard that a few times in my life, and to a certain extent, I am. I’m full of life, I’m opinionated. But I would say look at my record. Judge me on my actions, not the rumors. I’ve got a whole list of things I’ve accomplished. I would never claim to agree with everyone, I don’t agree with everyone all the time and people won’t agree with me all the time. But with me, you know where you stand. I’m not going to play games and tell you one thing then do another. I’m reachable, I’m approachable.
BM: Your race against Andrew Halverson (2009-2010) got dirty, got nasty. Why would you put yourself in the same situation again?
MW: I’m thick-skinned. I can handle criticism. I’m free and open about everything I’ve ever done. I’m not going to hide it. I’m not proud of it, but all those bills were paid. I pay my debts. And I don’t file bankruptcy. It’s all part of, really, what made me who I am today. I’ve learned from them and moved on, but I’m very open about it. If you have a question about something I’ve done, ask me and I’ll tell you.
BM: What would you do about “the core”, as the police call it- that area surrounding the university where there’s so many claims of illegal rental units being operated, and so many noise and vandalism complaints?
MW: We’ve got rules and ordinances in place to address anything that might be going on there. We need the resources to enforce them. We have a lot of rules already in place that just need to be enforced. It’s very difficult to prove over-occupancy, for example. I don’t want to speak in generalities because I think the police do a decent job of patrolling, and they act on it. People are going to have parties; sometimes they’re going to get out of hand. I would expect for the police to address them if there are violations. The more you strengthen the community, the easier it will be to handle those situations when they arise. I have college students in my neighborhood- one time I can remember walking across the street because the music was too loud. The fact that they know their neighbors makes them less likely to have a less-than-friendly relationship with their neighbors. Other than that one time I haven’t had an issue in y neighborhood, and I’ve never called the police.
BM: Speaking of the police, they’re having space issues.
MW: They’ve been having space issues for a while. We could co-locate with the jail, which the county is looking to build a new one somewhere, they don’t know where yet. But sharing some space is a possibility. When the Sheriff’s Office moves out, there’s a law enforcement building across the street. The county is planning on using that for parking, however we can work with the county and lease or purchase the building.
BM: How would you address our debt service?
MW: Debt reduction is going to be the biggest thing; we’ve got to reduce the debt we already owe just like any household would have to do. You need to pay that down for when an emergency or need comes along. What we have to do is use the money we have responsibly, and anything extra we have, that goes to pay down the debt. We have to find ways to do the same- not more, but the same- with less, and part of that goes back to using untapped resources to the area. I don’t want to make cuts, we’re pretty thin the way it is. But cuts may be the only way in some cases.
BM: Gary Wescott has restarted the Community TV shows, which he produces and addresses constituents directly. Do you plan on continuing that?
MW: Yes, and expanding on it. I think it’s very important the general population knows what’s going on in their community, and I want to provide as much access to that as I can. We have the ability to partner with other areas of media; we have local radio stations we could maybe look at working with to provide that kind of additional access. We could maybe piggy-back on some of that. Maybe. These are way-out there ideas now, who knows if they’ll ever see the light of day.
BM: Anything else you’d like to say?
MW: I would encourage everyone to not listen to rumors, to just ask if there’s anything they want to know. I have a website, I’m easy to reach.