Mayoral Candidate Bob Larson: Old-Fashioned Sense Needed in City
*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 Larson’s interview. Additional candidates’ interviews will be published separately.
Bob Larson is one of six candidates with their name on the Feb. 17 mayoral primary election. Larson currently is not holding any public office but has previously served on the Stevens Point School Board.
Questions by Brandi Makuski
BM: You’ve been out of the public eye for over a year- why are you running for mayor?
BL: I went out and knocked on doors all weekend to get my signatures. I did it all myself. I think people are ready for a change and they know me from my time on the school board, they know I’m a straight-forward guy who has experience with finances.
BM: It’s a big leap from serving a ‘one of nine’ on the school board to being the chief executive of a city, though. How much have you been following recent city events?
BL: Oh, I’ve been to a few meetings. I’ve been following along. I’m most concerned about the debt the city is in. We’re almost $54 million in debt and we’re still spending. The one thing that has struck me about the city is how little input people actually have. I’ve seen meetings where the mayor wouldn’t even let them talk. I won’t do that. I want to have an open-door policy where the people can speak their minds during the meetings.
BM: What are some of your priorities for the city?
BL: Business 51 is one of the biggest problems facing Stevens Point right now. If you look at the meeting minutes of June 20, 2005, the mayor and the Council voted to sell the roadway to the DOT (Wis. Dept. of Transportation) for $6.1 million dollars. We got the money, but we’re stuck with the road too and now look at us. The city has been kicking the can down the road and now we’re in a big fix. So now the project is going to cost a lot more than it would have before. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million to $60 million dollars. Where’s all the money going to come from?
BM: Where is that money going to come from?
BL: Exactly. That’s what I said. Right now, you’ve got three people running for mayor who are partly responsible for this- I know at least two of them were on the City Council when this decision was made, so they are partly to blame for this.
BM: How does your past experience on the school board relate to serving as mayor?
BL: Well, I’ve got the experience operating an almost $100 million budget and overseeing about 1,000 employees. So I can manage money, I’ve got experience operating a budget for Kraft Foods when I worked there, and I was responsible for maintaining a budget and showing profit. I know how to put together a profit and loss statement, and I really think that’s what the city needs now more than ever.
BM: What do you think we should do regarding Business 51?
BL: Yeah, and there’s the big problem for this city. We need to go directly to Washington (D.C.) and work from within our federal government to get that road taken off the federal system system. That’ll save us millions right there if we can just work with Tammy Baldwin and Ron Kind. That’s there job to help cities out in these situations. I would sit down with them and use their influence to get that road returned back to a regular city road, and not on the highway system map. That will free up a lot of restrictions on us.
BM: And if those restrictions are loosened a bit, will that help encourage more growth in the city?
BL: Oh, absolutely. We need to sit down with all the business owners and representatives and ask them what they want for the city, how we can help them. We need to sit down with our business owners and see what their long term plan is for bringing good jobs here.
BM: You sound pretty supportive of businesses and their needs.
BL: I am. Business drives everything; wages, jobs, shopping. That brings new home construction, new cars being bought, more kids in the schools. That means a bigger tax base, it means more money coming into the city and a quicker route to paying off debt.
BM: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
BL: No, I think that’s it. I just ask people look at my voting record when I was on the school board, see that I was very careful about voting for spending any money and I looked through contracts very carefully before I asked my questions.