For the first time since Mount Pleasant was incorporated and became a village, voters will head to the polls April 5 to vote for trustees according to seat number. For seat No. 2, incumbent Rick McCluskey is running for a second term against newcomer Ken Otwaska.

Rick McCluskey

(i) Rick McCluskey,
4105 Cumberland Drive
Investigator, Wisconsin Investigative Services, LLC, Associates Degree Police Science, Gateway College Kenosha, Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice Milton College, several credits towards a Master degree in Criminal Justice Administration Parkside.

Why are you running for this seat?

From June 2011 to May 2013, I watched our Village deteriorate until it tittered on the brink of financial self-destruction. The board was dysfunctional, their decisions based more on personal opinion and beliefs rather than facts or the good of the Village.

During that time the Village went through eight (8) different Administrators until Kurt Wahlen was hired on May 2013. During that same time period the Village also went through three (3) different Village Clerks until Stephanie Kohlhagen was hired in early 2013 as well.

The current board, the one where I was seated as a Trustee in 2014, reconciled many of the EOC lawsuits stemming from inappropriate actions taken by those previous boards. This board has worked hard to reinstate the good name of the Village and bolstered its reputation with new business endeavors as a great place to live, work and prosper.

But we are not done. There is still work to be done if we are going to make Mount Pleasant even better. The future is bright and returning to the days of 2011-2013 is not a viable option. I am running for re-election to ensure we maintain the momentum along that path of good common sense growth and development.

Name three great things about your community that you hope to build on.

Mount Pleasant’s strategic location alongside I-94 makes it an inviting area for economic growth and development. One of the biggest challenges Mount Pleasant faces in attracting new development are the Racine County Water Utility rec fees. I will work Racine and local business entities to reduce these fees.

Our parks need improvement. Most of them have languished in obscurity due to a lack of funding for maintenance and general improvements. It is time to change that. Two years ago I saw the conceptual plans for a new park across the street from the YMCA Sealed Air facility. It is a “state of the art” proposal with softball diamonds, a baseball diamond, open fields for soccer and other such sports as well as a fishing pond, walking trails and a concession center. All for Mount Pleasant. Yet as of this writing very little has been done to make this park a reality. The Parks Commission is trying their best to make this happen, but we need the entire Village to come forward and support their efforts. As Trustee, I plan to do all I can to find the funding to help them.

We have good people working in and for the Village of Mount Pleasant. There is a wealth of knowledge in our residents just waiting to tapped or willing to help. I will continue to contact you for your input. Your thoughts, suggestions and opinions matter.

Name three challenges your community is facing and your ideas for overcoming them.

One of the biggest challenges facing Mount Pleasant is finding a balance between the needs and concerns of impacted residents and projects of growth and development. An open dialogue must be established with everyone concerned so all issues can be openly discussed. Not at board meetings during the 3 minutes provided for public comments or on social media blog sites, but at the commission and committee meetings where residents and members can ask and answer all questions.

The Village of Mount Pleasant must meet with the City of Racine of Racine Water Utility and come to an accord to reduce or eliminate the REC fees hindering new development. The playing field must be leveled so Mount Pleasant and the adjoining municipalities east of I-94 can be competitive with other counties entertaining the same new developments we are. Charging excessive fees and chasing new developments south to other counties is a no win solution. Mount Pleasant and its neighbors lose new jobs, new businesses and revenue. I will work to find a workable solution so we can turn this around and make it a win-win for everyone.

I would like to foster more interaction between all the municipalities east of I-94. Whether in development or improving protective services, or planning mutually beneficial projects, we need to work together so all can benefit. There is no reason why we cannot grow together, for if we allow one municipality to fail surely the others will suffer as well.

What do you think our regional leaders can do to encourage job growth?

With growth and development comes new jobs, new families and new challenges for Mount Pleasant. Regional leaders must recognize this and work with us to reduce those costs which inhibit our growth.

Unified is one area. By supporting the Academies/pathways program they can help us build a better network of education that can meet the needs of local industry and manufacturing.

REC fees are another. Their staggering costs hinder growth and need to be reduced. I would seek their support is resolving this issue so new development will find the charges acceptable rather than a deal breaker.

Do you support exploring a separate school district? Why or why not?

Not at this time.

I recently attended a presentation by Mr. Dominic Cariello outlining a new Racine County Education Master Plan. In short it is the creation of Academies/Pathways for students in Unified. It encompasses all students and enables them to be, “educated, skilled and capable to have successful careers and be an integral part of “OUR” community and “ITS” need.

Through a coalition of community, industry and educational representatives, the final result will be a permanent blueprint for students to follow through high school and beyond. It will also hold Unified accountable to the residents in municipalities east of I-94 (and to the residents of Racine County as well) to ensure these goals are achieved.

If we can come together as one cohesive group working together to provide our children with the opportunity to succeed in the business world here and elsewhere, I believe Mr. Cariello’s proposal is the answer and can solve many of the issues confronting the success of Unified.

If you could implement one idea – no matter how crazy it might sound – what would it be?

A closest response to any emergency through a metro police and fire Department comprised of all municipalities east of I-94 with Mount Pleasant as its base of operations.

What is the best solution for funding the Highway V sewer and water project?

Notwithstanding the past contracts and agreements dictating why water and sewer can go in along Highway V, the issue at hand is how to pay for it. The proposal before us is recommended by staff and is the only alternative that mitigates the costs and lessens the burden to the residents paying the assessments. This proposal is based upon the uniqueness of the Highway V project and to some degree past practice, namely Highway 20 and the Racine Water Utilities desires to run water out to the frontage road of I-94 ten years ago. Residents along Highway 20 were also assessed, required to hook up to sewer immediately (within one year) while the water assessment was deferred indefinitely and accrued interest until the resident decided to hook-up.

In contrast, residents along Highway V are not required to hook-up to sewer within one year due to a recent amendment to the ordinance governing sewer hook-ups. Residents along Highway V are also not required to hook up to water, though both are assessed with a twenty year deferment and a ten year payment plan following the expiration of the deferment period. To pay for the water assessments the Village will bond the total amount and become “the bank” holding each water assessment interest free until the resident hook-ups or activates one of the triggering mechanisms. Because the gravity flow sewer is a Village project those assessments will also be deferred with the same twenty year deferment and ten payment plan thereafter, or until the resident activates one of the triggering mechanisms.

The addition of sewer and water along Highway V enriches the value of each parcel and benefits each resident. To ask the entire Village population to absorb the cost benefitting a few is not reasonable. Therefore I do not support the idea of adding the costs of the assessments to the tax rolls and spreading the cost across the entire Village. It was not done on the Stewart Road Project or the Highway 20 Project, and I see no reason to do it now. The fact the residents didn’t ask for it is noteworthy, but the Village is bound by past contracts and agreements that negate that option.

How should the village address fire department staffing and/or station locations(s) to answer residents’ concerns about high response times?

Staffing levels and requirements are determined by the Fire Chief. He determines the needs of his department, not the Village Board. To interject my opinion or be a part of making those decisions into his needs is a study in futility and micro-management. I do not have the expertise to make such decisions, he does. And quite frankly neither does anyone else who has not served as a fire chief or a fire administrator. Limited experience and personal opinions based upon assumptions or outdated information into the functions of a fire department in this era is inappropriate and I do not support it.

Chief Stedman can and does prepare annual budget requests outlining his needs whether it be personnel or capital improvements. He, like all department heads, is bound by budgetary constraints. He is aware of the time responses in the northeast sections of the Village and Lake Park, yet his solutions on how to remedy the situation often go unnoticed or unheard by the public.

Station 7 was my fire station. I did not like it being closed, yet I understood the reason why the decision was made. Station 7 only served half the Village. The other half was Lake Michigan. It made more sense to move Station 7 further west to provide that area of coverage wasted on Lake Michigan. The McGrath Study had suggested a location near Taylor Avenue and Meachem Road to facilitate that, but their recommendation was not followed. Station 8 was built beyond the limits recommended and with numerous costs reductions in the construction to save a few bucks. What we, and Chief Stedman, are now faced with are the affects of those decisions made by a previous Chief and Village Board.

I invite Chief Stedman to submit his proposals on how to fix the problem he inherited. Will it be expensive? Yes. But at least you will know what it will take to protect everyone in the Village.

 

Some residents are questioning the transparency of both elected leaders and staff members. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

Every time I receive a call from a concerned citizen or am asked a question by a resident before or after a committee or commission meeting, I answer them. If in public, I do the same thing. If I don’t know the answer, I go find it and call them back with the answer.

I do know that some residents attending Village Board meetings often ask questions during the three minutes allotted for public opinion. And this might be the cause of the transparency issues. Trustees are not permitted to engage the speaker or answer their questions at that time. Normally, neither is the Village President. When we were a Town, the meetings were less formal and Trustee were permitted to engage the speakers.

Though in the interest of wanting to answer the person’s question, I have often sought them out after the meeting to offer my help. I cannot speak for anyone else, though if a Village employee does not answer a legitimate question or refuses to provide the name and phone number of someone who can, I urge that person (or some of the residents) to contact the Village Administrator or me.

Questions concerning what occurred during a closed session cannot be answered. Trustee are bound by law not to respond with specifics when questioned by interested residents when we come back into open session or in a public venue after the meeting is adjourned. We are permitted to give generalities in some instance, but only after authorization by our legal counsel of what can be said. Most of the time I informed those very words.

Ken Otwaska

Ken Otwaska, 72
1628 Lakewood
Retired from CaseIH and charter member of Mt. Pleasant fire Dept.

Why are you running for this seat?

To make a difference. You pay your taxes and in return you deserve respect especially if you have a concern about your home or village services.

Name three great things about your community that you hope to build on.

1 Fire rescue services

2 Job training programs set in place.

3 Creating an open dialogue addressing residents’ concerns.

Name three challenges your community is facing and your ideas for overcoming them.

1 Adding firefighters and fire station locations

2 Returning trust to the village board

3 Creating training that provide skilled workers through apprenticeship programs. A skilled workforce is a big plus when businesses are looking to locate.

What do you think our regional leaders can do to encourage job growth?

Offer job training and tax incentives.

Do you support exploring a separate school district? Why or why not?

I would support a study to find out the pros and cons for keeping with Unified or going our separate way. It would be interesting to see the actual impact it would be financially.

If you could implement one idea – no matter how crazy it might sound – what would it be?

Now that trustees are numbered 1-6 I hope someday to see the area of Mt. Pleasant be divided into 6 districts. Each trustee would be responsible for their own district and be held accountable for their decisions.

What is the best solution for funding the Highway V sewer and water project?

My opponent has given the residents the impression that the sewer/water expansion is routine and those that oppose it are selfish, who just don’t want to pay their fair share for development for the benefit the community. The facts are; this project is for development in Caledonia not Mount Pleasant. The original contract was amended in August of 2014. My opponent voted for it. The amendment changed the type of sewer from a closed system to an open system- which is more expensive. It also forgave interest owed to Mount Pleasant by Caledonia and capped their overall costs. Hwy V residents never requested sewer/water services-nor were they polled to their agreement as outlined in state law. The benefit is for Caledonia not Mount Pleasant. Residents had to file a legal request to find out what was in the amendment that my opponent voted in favor of. Infrastructure items could be financed in a few different ways-TIF districts, borrowing and spreading the cost among the entire community. The Campbell Woods project sets a very clear precedent in Mount Pleasant that development is payed by the developer.

How should the village address fire department staffing and/or station locations(s) to answer residents’ concerns about high response times?

The village should look for ways to hire more firefighters and fire stations to house them. With the rapid growth of our village I feel we have remained stagnant. We have not added to our fire department personnel since 2009. What has been done in the last 2 years to address critical life support services in this area? If building another fire station is out of question; I feel we have to look at other options.

Some residents are questioning the transparency of both elected leaders and staff members. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?

Yes I agree, the decisions that were made without full knowledge of the total village board is troubling to say the least. The hiring of the village administrator, the closing of a fire station, the contracting our fire services to another village while we have longer response times, the Hwy V debacle and the golden parachute severance package to name a few. We pay our taxes and in return we deserve respect ; especially if we have a concern about our home or village services.

 

Love what we do?

In addition to our education features, we’ll be kicking off a series of stories highlighting how parents, students, and educators are adapting to the impact of COVID-19 on education. If this is important to you, please consider donating to our education reporting fund. https://business.facebook.com/donate/1846323118855149/3262802717172659/