Candidate Questionnaire: Mary McComb – District 9
By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — General elections are on the horizon, and the Portage County Gazette asked candidates from multiple districts questions about why voters should pen them in on April 2. Answers are verbatim.
What is your general background? Age, birthplace, college education, occupations, etc.
I was born in Stevens Point in 1949. From UWSP I have a BS in Communication. I later earned an M.Ed. in Adult Education and a Ph.D. in Speech Communication from the Pennsylvania State University. For most of my working life I taught communication at small liberal arts colleges. Since returning to my hometown 12 years ago, I’ve worked on the phones at Travel Guard, temped for then-Stora Enso and other firms, taught part-time at UWSP, and owned Sugar Doll. I am the pianist at the Springs United Methodist Church.
Do you have any background in local government?
My civic involvement started long before I was elected Alder in 2015. I served on the Portage County Library Board of Trustees, and spoke at City meetings about preserving historical properties. I led in planning the Schierl Family Dog Park.
What is your vision for Stevens Point? What, if any, changes would you like to see in the city?
My vision has been clear since I was first elected. I’ve advocated for more housing choices, “transportation justice,” and infill development. Denser development makes neighborhoods friendlier, and more amenable to non-auto users. Also, smaller, denser parcels generate more property tax per acre than do bigger parcels. And infrastructure costs are less for denser neighborhoods.
I would like to see Stevens Point be proactive in recognizing and addressing issues connected with an increasingly diverse population. A community group and some County Board members are working on establishing a formal committee to this end. It’s in the early stages, and looking promising.
Due to decades of oil and gas company lobbying, America’s streets have catered only to drivers. We need streets designed also for walkers, bicyclists, and people who use mobility aids. My hope is that we will eventually change aptly-named Division Street into an easily bikable/walkable, calmer street, instead of the neighborhood-separating concrete barrier it is now.
What changes, if any, would you like to see come to common council and local government?
As Personnel Committee Chair, I’ve listened to City staff discuss the challenge of hiring and keeping our employees. Every time I hear our snowplows rumble down the street, I think how important it is to reward our employees’ work appropriately. We’ve made a start with a realignment of the streets department and a COLA for City workers.
We just approved a Request for Proposals for Strategic Planning. We need this conversation to explicitly reveal the community’s visions and enable us to agree about what we all want.
Climate change forecasts become more and more frightening. I’m active in the City’s efforts to improve its sustainability. I helped write the Solid Waste chapter of 2008’s “A Path to a Sustainable Point” After reporting on the progress made I’ve co-led our status as a Green Tier Legacy Community, tracking our environmental ‘scores’ to do our part to mitigate climate change. If we are to be serious about a long-term sustainability push, we need a staff person or at least a group to coordinate.
What are your thoughts on some of the more controversial local projects? (Stanley Street, Roundabout, New City Hall)
I support the 4-to-3 conversion on Stanley. I am also in favor of the roundabout and can think of more intersections where one would be safer. The property swap between the City and the County is intriguing; the forthcoming public meeting promises to be interesting.
No matter what the project or issue, our policy-making must be informed. Of course, we listen to constituents, and we also must research the issue–what have other municipalities done and how effective was their action? What do studies –the data– show? What do experts say? And, of course, how will this be paid for? “Common sense” is not enough.
There’s a vocal minority, for example, who are still angry about the Stanley Street improvements. I could repeat their objections, so clearly I listened. Colleagues and I researched the issue. We consulted a road design expert as well as our own Public Works director. We reviewed lots of data about such conversions. In the end, most of us decided that the 4-to-3 re-design would improve the neighborhood and the City. Staff came up with a money-saving idea–buying a striper that will save Stevens Point money over the long run. We listened, but based on evidence, most of us disagreed.
What, if any, housing concerns in Stevens Point would you like to see addressed?
I’m pleased with the infill housing developments we’ve approved. My platform has always included advancing Stevens Point’s livability. Local employers report difficulties hiring employees due to inadequate housing stock. Contemporary infill homes such as North Side Yard and Jeff Rice’s Grant School project will satisfy workers’ desire for contemporary housing in the energetic Downtown area.
I supported City acquisition of Edgewater and continue to speak for affordable senior and workforce housing near Downtown. In the works are two affordable projects on Water Street. We’ve started grants and loans to help working- and middle-class homeowners repair or renovate their homes.
If elected, what do you promise to do with the power of your position?
I’m interested in the findings of the in-progress committee working for inclusiveness. Delving into life in Stevens Point for marginalized groups, what problems will they find that the majority white heterosexual population doesn’t know (or care) about? For instance, might they find a need for a fair employment ordinance? I promise to use my position to work for inclusiveness for all Stevens Pointers.
The power of listening is one I will practice better. Whether it’s eating lunch at the ADRC with fellow older residents, holding more listening sessions in creative, inviting places, knocking on doors during my term—I promise to find more ways to listen. (Looking forward to ‘office hours’ at the forthcoming Ruby Coffee location!)
Finally, I promise to continue researching issues thoroughly , keeping my mind open and flexible. I’ll consult and listen to residents, colleagues, our fine City staff, and whoever else can give insight.