Brown Deer Village Board primary candidates sound off on the issues
Opinions, like candidate pool, are diverse
Brown Deer — A Feb. 18 primary will eliminate hopefuls and leave four candidates in the running for two seats on the Brown Deer Village Board.
For the primary, all six wards will vote at Village Hall, 4800 W. Green Brook Drive. Incumbent Trustee Terrry Boschert defends his seat against newcomers Jamie Awe, Otto Bunge, Richmond Izard II, Bruce Thomas and Sherry Yusuf. The top four vote-getters will move on to the April 1 spring election.
Trustee Andrea Weddle-Henning, whose seat is up for grabs, is not seeking re-election.
NOW caught up with the six candidates and picked their brains about issues the Village Board is grappling with now and could be in the near term: their thoughts on developments at the vacant gas station at 51st Street and Brown Deer Road, the strip mall on the village's west end of Brown Deer Road, and the controversial Beaver Creek development near 60th Street and Brown Deer Road; which services, if any, the village should consider consolidating with area municipalities; and how the village should continue to deal with levy limits imposed by the state.
Jamie Awe, 34, has lived most of his life in the village and said he is such a proponent his brother calls him "Mr. Brown Deer." After graduating from Brown Deer High School, Awe earned a bachelor's in finance and marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He worked at a finance and marketing company out of Mequon after college but went to Robert W. Baird about 51/2 years ago. He works there today as a vice president in the annuities department.
Awe is married and has three young children.
Awe became interested in local politics during the dispatch consolidation and said he sees a disconnect between village officials and residents. Stepped-up communication, or even something as simple as a village smartphone app, Awe said, would go a long way to connecting residents and decision makers.
"I think there could be better communications on both parties' part," Awe said.
The strip mall on the village's west end, which many agree could use some attention from the development community, would be well served by family-friendly recreational facilities which Brown Deer parents have to travel to find now, Awe said.
At the vacant gas station at 51st Street, an eyesore the Village Board recently declared a blight for the purpose of spurring redevelopment, Awe said he could see a drive-through coffee shop, an amenity that would be useful to commuters and parents using the nearby KinderCare.
The crux of the controversy at Beaver Creek was whether developer General Capital should be required to build owner-occupied housing, as was the original plan, or be allowed to change the plans to rentals. After resident uproar and a more than 1,000-signature petition, General Capital backed off its plans to build apartments and has not yet returned with a new proposal. It will ultimately be up to the Village Board to approve or deny new plans and decide the ownership versus rental issue.
As one of the project opponents who circulated the petition against General Capital's apartment plan, Awe is "100 percent against" rentals at Beaver Creek.
"Most folks I talked to are in favor of the owner-occupied versus rental," Awe said. "I would not be in favor of rental."
Awe is conceptually in favor of consolidations with area communities but couldn't speak to the viability of any one service merger.
However, shared services between the village and school district were Awe's suggestion to deal with state-mandated levy limits, which in recent years have required belt-tightening in local government as operating cost inflation has generally outpaced levy increases.
He said he is in favor of cost saving measures like the dispatch merger especially after he got all the facts.
"Cost saving measures like the dispatch (merger) I were in favor of when I got all the facts."
Incumbent Trustee Terry Boschert is finishing his third Village Board term and has lived in the village since 1987. He and his wife have raised three children, all of whom have graduated from Brown Deer High School. Boschert is an engineer at Master Lock.
Boschert counts the consolidated dispatch center, the federal Safe Routes to School grant for Dean Road improvements, and Original Village reconstruction as wins during his time on the board. If elected, he said he would be interested in bringing new businesses to the village and helping Brown Deer shed its association with the now-shuttered Northridge Mall and other problem areas on Brown Deer Road west of the village.
Boschert said the strip mall on the village's west end is "kind of bizarre" and "could use an upgrade," which he envisions as a big-name retailer of some sort to create a now-absent "big draw" in that part of the village.
On the 51st Street project Boschert said he would like to see a high-end car dealership or a (nonfast-food) restaurant.
Boschert is against rental properties at Beaver Creek, but said he would be open to proposals for commercial uses.
"I don't have a problem with anything (General Capital) has done thus far, but that's why I'm sticking to the original agreement," Boschert said. "It can't be subsidized housing. That's not going to work."
While service consolidations have worked in the past, Boschert said he would need to see "overwhelming evidence" that service levels would remain current at a "significantly reduced cost" to even consider a police consolidation.
Boschert said the village should try to receive more grant funding and will have to reconsider service levels in order to contain expenses.
Otto Bunge, 64, is a married father of one who is now retired from the finance and insurance industries. Bunge was born in Nicaragua but grew up in San Francisco. He has lived in Brown Deer for the past 24 years and in the two years since his retirement has intermittently worked for Village President Carl Krueger. He ran unsuccessfully for trustee last spring.
Motivating Bunge's bid is a belief that residents should volunteer for their community and that his relationship with Krueger would make him a good fit on the board.
Bunge said he doesn't have an opinion so far as the strip mall is concerned but would carefully review any proposals. On the 51st Street property, Bunge said he is interested in the possibility of a car dealership and is relieved to have something on the site.
"I can see how the demand for apartments is increasing, but that isn't to say that's the best thing...at Beaver Creek," Bunge said of General Capital's earlier proposal. Going forward, he added, "We'll have to see what General Capital comes up with next."
Bunge said there aren't any services which need to be consolidated.
"Not to say that in the near future, other consolidations couldn't be considered, because you have seven chiefs of police and 14 second in commands," Bunge added.
"They're messing with the municipalities by restricting their revenue streams," Bunge said, adding that the only other option the village has to address tightening budgets is to "reduce expenses, to cut off certain areas."
Richmond Izard II
Richmond Izard II, 46, is an 11-year village resident who grew up in the suburban area in Milwaukee near the edge of Brown Deer. He went to Lake Shore Middle School in Mequon and later moved to central Milwaukee and graduated from Rufus King High School. He later earned a bachelor's in business administration with a specialization in finance from Marquette University. Izard worked at M&I Bank and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development before getting into real estate, and after the 2008 market crash, became an ordained minister, his current profession.
He is married with three children in Brown Deer Schools.
If elected, Izard said he would be an advocate for minority residents and small business owners, and would want to revise well-intentioned ordinances — on fighting, or truancy, for instance — which can hurt kids by marring their permanent records.
"We want to get them on the right track, but I'm not a proponent of giving youth these misdemeanors and put those on their record," Izard said.
On the west-end strip mall, Izard said any improvements will need to be driven by market forces, though the village could help by partnering with banks to help secure loans for small businesses. He said the 51st Street property, when developed, could contribute to a sense of a "village downtown" or continuity that is lacking now.
Izard said the village can't necessarily "stand by tooth or nail" on the original Beaver Creek plans if the market doesn't support condos, though he favors owner occupancy on that site.
Izard said racial profiling is a North Shore-wide problem that keeps him from supporting a police merger.
"When minorities drive into some of these other communities, they're profiled," Izard said. "That's just the reality....As a minority, that becomes a mindset. I don't think (consolidation) will be beneficial for Brown Deer."
To address long-term budget issues, Izard said the village should develop vacant or underutilized properties to increase the tax base.
Bruce Thomas, 58, has been a village resident since 2001. He is divorced with a college-age daughter and self-employed as the owner of a uniform company. He is a graduate of the UWM school of business.
This is not Thomas' first crack at local office. In the 1990s he ran for the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, Glendale-River Hills School Board, and the Glendale Common Council, all unsuccessfully. In his later two tries for the Brown Deer School Board, Thomas was hamstrung by his run-ins with the law.
In January 1998, Thomas was convicted of misdemeanor theft by fraud for making bogus orders with other people's credit cards. It later came to light that he kept that misdemeanor off his application to the Brown Deer School District for a substitute teaching job, though he later submitted an application with the offense noted. He was twice issued warnings by the District Attorney's Office over campaign infractions, once for circulating unsigned campaign literature and once for implying on campaign literature that he had a former school board member's endorsement when he did not.
To a certain extent, Thomas views the 99 resident signatures on his nomination papers — one shy of the 100 maximum and the most ever during the village clerk's 16-year tenure — as vindication.
"I think the residents know I'm human, and I've owned (my mistakes)," Thomas said. "I'm trying to do a positive thing for the village."
Thomas said the incoming Walmart should help to draw traffic, and possible redevelopment interest, to the west-end strip mall. He said he would be open to investing village funds in the 51st Street site to spur development, with a long-term goal of bringing in a large commercial or multiuse tenant.
Thomas is against rentals at the Beaver Creek site and said that a commercial development could be a compromise.
Though Thomas said he has spoken to Police Chief Steven Rinzel and knows he favors the current arrangement, Thomas is "open to looking at proposals" for a police consolidation.
"I'm very much in favor of the North Shore Fire Department," Thomas said. "That has worked out very well and created a number of efficiencies."
Thomas sees increasing the tax base as both a way to ease budget issues over time and reduce homeowner tax burdens, which he said "everyone can agree is pretty high here in Brown Deer."
Sherry Yusuf, 56, has lived in Brown Deer since 1991. Yusuf grew up on Milwaukee's North Side and graduated from Rufus King High School, later earning a business administration degree from Mount Mary College. Yusuf has worked at American Family Insurance for the last 25 years, the last 23 out of the Whitefish Bay office. She is married with four adult children.
Yusuf said she was motivated to run by Weddle-Henning's noncandidacy, since without her, the board would have no African American or female members — in a community which, according to the 2010 census, is nearly 30 percent African American.
"There's not enough diversity and female representation on the board," Yusuf said. "...Brown Deer is a very diverse community, but you can't really tell by walking into Village Hall or board meetings."
Yusuf said she would like to see boutique retailers at the west-end strip mall and a KinderCare expansion at 51st Street. She supports rentals at Beaver Creek, which ties into her overarching theme of promoting affordable rentals to draw young people in who will eventually buy.
"I'm thinking we've got to generate some interest, some youthful interest," Yusuf said.
Yusuf is in favor of consolidations as a cost-saving move and said a police merger is "something I could probably entertain."
Promoting affordable apartments is Yusuf's solution for budget issues, since new apartments could grow the tax base and potentially bring in future homeowners.
"When people live in a community, they buy in a community," Yusuf said. "When you don't have affordable apartments, they live and move out. They don't live and buy."
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