West Bend to Choose a New Mayor

Since the blog was down on Tuesday, I forgot to post this. Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier in the week.

The citizens of West Bend will choose between two candidates for mayor on April 7. Rich Kasten and Chris Jenkins are both conservatives on West Bend’s Common Council. I supported both candidates when they ran for city office. Both candidates have committed to continuing the trajectory of conservative leadership in West Bend. Where they differ is on experience and priorities.

Chris Jenkins is a 2007 West Bend West graduate, husband and father of five children, and earned degrees in theology and political science. Jenkins has been active in the community and his church throughout his adult life. After working in the private sector for a few years, he accepted the job of the village administrator, clerk, and treasurer for the village of Elmwood Park in 2018. Jenkins also serves as the president of West Bend Early-Risers Kiwanis, president of Musical Masquers, public affairs specialist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the elected positions of District Four county supervisor for Washington County and District Four alderman for the city of West Bend. He is not running for re-election for county supervisor and he has another year left in his term as alderman.

If elected, Jenkins has said that his focus will be on launching a collaborative community-driven process to refresh the city’s strategic plan modeled after the Value Task Force used at the dawn of former Mayor Kraig Sadownikow. From there, Jenkins is committed to fiscal discipline and conservative leadership. Rich Kasten graduated from Marquette University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1991 and moved to West Bend with his wife 21 years ago to raise their three children. Kasten has worked in the private sector in technical and management roles having spent the last 11 years at a Wisconsin cheese company. He is finishing his third term as the District Five alderman for the city of West Bend (my current alderman) where he chaired the Finance, Public Works, and Long Range Transportation committees. As alderman, Kasten earned a reputation as a fiscal watchdog with a deep knowledge of the underlying data. He also worked on the team to negotiate union contracts on behalf of the city, volunteered for the West Bend Crime Prevention Patrol, and worked on a Citizen Financial Advisory Committee for the West Bend School District.

If elected mayor, Kasten wants to work with Washington County on a plan to share the county sales tax with municipalities and leverage his experience on transportation issues to develop creative ways to stretch the city’s transportation and infrastructure dollars. Like Jenkins, Kasten wants to get more members of the community involved in developing the city’s strategic direction.

Since there are only two candidates, there will not be a primary election for mayor. Each candidate will have until April 7 to make his case to the voters. As we look forward to the next chapter in West Bend’s history, there are challenges and opportunities that the next mayor will need to tackle.

West Bend has been a city in transition. Since the manufacturing heydays of the 1970s and 1980s, the city’s economy has blossomed in the financial services and technical industries. With the recent annexation of land for a new industrial park on the south side, the next mayor will need to be a passionate and effective ambassador to lure businesses. Part of that will be ensuring that the city’s core infrastructure remains satisfactory.

Another area of focus should be preventing crime and punishing criminals. The West Bend police do a phenomenal job, but their jobs are getting harder. West Bend is not a sleepy Mayberry. It is a vibrant community with people moving in and out of it to work and play. The highways that connect us to the rest of the state also serve as conduits for criminals, drugs, human trafficking, and other contagions to augment the local criminal element. West Bend needs to be proactive and energetic in ensuring the safety of the people and property of West Bend.

The city has done a good job in the last several years of putting the city’s fiscal house in order. The mayor and Common Council have dramatically lowered debt, improved the city’s bond rating, kept spending and taxes stable, and avoided the worst of the long-term unfunded liabilities. But that was after decades of increasing spending, increasing taxes, and running up debt. It only takes one vote to squander years of good fiscal management. The next mayor must never relent in protecting the taxpayers from the worst impulses of people who relish spending other people’s money.

Chris Jenkins or Rich Kasten will have the privilege of leading West Bend into what could be a transformational decade. It won’t be easy. Who is ready for it?