Sophia Voight | Appleton Post-Crescent USA TODAY NETWORK – WISCONSIN
APPLETON – Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson will face former County Board member Kevin Sturn in the April 4 election for a four-year term in the county’s highest office.
Nelson, who has held office since 2011, is seeking his fourth consecutive term. He ran unopposed in his previous two elections and secured his spot on the spring ballot after getting 50% of the primary vote.
Sturn served on the County Board from 2012 to 2020 and is looking to bring new leadership to the executive seat and remove politics he says are used in the county office. turn received 28% of the votes, securing him a spot in the spring election and knocking out primary challenger and County Board member Justin Krueger.
The Post-Crescent asked each candidate to fill out a questionnaire before the spring election explaining their stance on county issues. Candidates’ responses are listed in alphabetical order.
For information about registering to vote and polling locations, visit the MyVote Wisconsin website at myvote .wi.gov.
Tom Nelson (i)
Occupation: Outagamie County executive
Highest level of education: Master of public affairs from Princeton University
Relevant experience: Outagamie County executive (2011-present); state Assembly (2005-11), Assembly Majority Leader (2008-10)
Occupation: Cash grain farmer
Highest level of education: Associate degree in printing and publishing from Fox Valley Technical College
Relevant experience: Management of a grain farming operation. Eight years on County Board from 2012-2020. I did not seek reelection in the spring of 2020. While on the County Board, I served eight years on the Finance Committee and four years as Finance Committee chairman. Further service included East Central Regional Planning Commission, UW-Oshkosh/Fox Cities Campus Board of Trustees and the Outagamie County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. I also served as vicechairman of the Space and Security Needs Oversight Committee.
Campaign website and Facebook page:www.electkevinsturn.com, Elect Kevin Sturn
How do you view the role of the county executive?
Nelson: The county executive is like the county’s CEO. First, they ensure county operations are running well and budgets are adopted and well- executed. Just as important, they serve as ambassadors. They promote the county. They pick up best practices from other counties to address common problems: health care access, public safety and economic development. They advocate on the county’s behalf to ensure our fair share of state and federal funding like the $5 million we received from the opioid settlement or for projects like our airport infrastructure. Finally, county executives lead when no one else will – like spearheading the effort to save the Appleton Coated paper mill.
Sturn: One of my primary aims is to eliminate the politicization of this office, which is supposed to be nonpartisan. I believe the county executive’s role is to lead county employees in serving our residents, and to work with businesses and other organizations to improve the quality of life in Outagamie County. I pledge to be available to employees and the public both in the office and around the county and to listen to people’s concerns while working together to find solutions. I view the role of county executive as a leader, a communicator, a teacher and a coach.
Outagamie County is facing record levels of employee turnover. How do you suggest the county help attract and retain employees?
Nelson: Every community is facing “record levels of employee turnover.” While that is not good news, it shows that our challenges are not unique and therefore we can learn from others and apply those lessons or solutions here. For example, we have implemented a Total Rewards program to ensure all positions are properly compensated at market value. We have two full-time recruiters who seek out the best talent and ensure we keep them. Every other week, I welcome about 12 to 15 new employees to the county at their orientation. We’re making good progress and we have the results to prove it.
Sturn: I will reopen the lines of communication with employees at all levels. Employees want someone who will be present, listen to their concerns and help them better serve our residents. We must be dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion among employees and our community. The best recruitment and retention tool we have is to demonstrate what a great, welcoming and safe community we have for employees and their families. Our employees deserve fair compensation in a safe work environment. We must partner with our schools to make students aware of the wide variety of Outagamie County employment and career opportunities.
The region needs between 1,000 and 2,000 new housing units annually to keep up with growingdemand, according to an Outagamie County housing study. How should the county address its housing need?
Nelson: The county is ahead of the curve. We have allocated $3.5 million in ARPA funding to support housing starts. Currently, there are projects in the works that total over 300 new units. Housing problems take time to meet because of the lead time to permit, design, build and inspect. Second, there are three local housing authorities whom we partner with to ensure they fully leverage all available resources — private, non-profit, and government — to meet housing demands. We are making good progress and are on track to solve this problem.
Sturn: A document titled the Fox Cities and Greater Outagamie County Regional Housing Strategy was prepared by Outagamie County Development and Land Services and completed in June 2022. It was created by a volunteer task force. The task force was comprised of municipality representatives, housing service providers, funding agencies, and home builders from the region. Outagamie County needs this task force to reconvene and discuss ways to expedite the implementation of the strategies contained in this document. County government can’t solve the affordable housing problem on its own but it can, and should, be a key player in solving this dilemma.
The county determined mental health as one of its top issues among residents. What role should the county play in advancing mental health resources and access?
Nelson: Mental health has long since been a top issue. Good news, bad news. Bad: We have a hard time keeping up with meeting those health needs. Good: People are more aware and open about mental health issues and are seeking help.
We must make sure we are taking full advantage of federal and state funding to ensure our staff is well- compensated and we can fill positions. We have strong partnerships with local health care providers and nonprofits. The key is to view and address mental health as a community-wide issue and not just a county government issue.
Sturn: The county plays a central role in coordinating, assessing and providing mental health services. Community outreach and support are crucial for early intervention to help individuals. This can be done without significant resources, yet make a tremendous difference in the lives of our residents. Psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists are in short supply and patients cannot get adequate care without timely access to treatment. We must partner with treatment providers, mental health advocacy groups and other public agencies. We have good employees and providers. We need a county dxecutive who is engaged to ensure realizable goals, adequate resources, and benchmarked results.
How should the county address the area’s growing lack of child care access and affordability?
Nelson: Not surprisingly, the county identified child care along with mental health and housing as top challenges — because they are all connected. These are basic needs in raising a family but too many households can’t access these services or resources.
Last year we allocated $ 2.8 million for child care. The allocation is designed to incentivize new, innovative solutions in addition to meeting immediate needs. The solution to this problem and others is right under our noses. Our community is strong and we have the know- how and experience to fix this problem. We always rise to meet the challenge. This will be no exception.
Sturn: Quality child care is essential to support families and businesses in our community; however, although the County Board allocated $ 2.75 million of federal funds to this area, it remains unspent by county administration. I will re- engage parents, businesses and community groups to deploy these funds as quickly as possible to meet this critical community need. Solutions providing tuition assistance for students enrolled as child care workers must be explored. I played a key role in approving the renovation of a child care center on the UW Oshkosh- Fox Cities campus, which Outagamie and Winnebago own, to support students, staff and faculty.
Sophia Voight is a local government and political reporter for The Post- Crescent. She can be reached at svoight@ postcrescent.com. Follow her on Twitter @ sophia_voight.