Sunday, September 20, 2020
Tomah mayoral candidates participated in a public forum. From left are Remy Gomez, Brett Larkin, Nellie Pater and Mike Murray. Herald photo Bob Kliebenstein

Tomah mayoral candidates express their views

As the Feb. 18 primary election nears, four candidates for Tomah mayor hoped to set themselves apart during a Feb. 7 forum at the Tomah Best Western.

Incumbent Mike Murray is seeking another two-year term, Nellie Pater hopes to regain the seat she lost to Murray two years ago. Remy Gomez is making another run for mayor. Brett Larkin is hoping to be Tomah's first teen mayor.

The forum was hosted by the Tomah Chamber and Visitor's Bureau. Approximately 35 people attended to hear the candidates answer several questions they had access to in advance and a few offered by the audience.

In fairness the Herald selected several (not all, space restrictions) and provided responses from each candidate.

What is the role of mayor in Tomah's government?

"Having everyone on the same page," said Gomez. "The mayor does not have to be the loudest voice, the first voice or the last voice."

Larkin views mayoral duties as being a city ambassador and work with state/federal agencies to tap into state/federal resources that would help benefit the city.

Pater feels experience plays a key role.

"I know what it takes to get things done (as mayor) and know the importance of having a partnership with the community."

Murray has learned mayoral duties of mayor are simplified by "strength in numbers (mayor and council)."

Murray also points to a good working relationship with city administrator Roger Gorius.

 What can be done to meet Tomah's transportation needs?

Larkin said transportation access was "not adequate." As mayor he would research options like Uber service.

Said Pater, "(transportation) does not meet the needs of the community." As a growing city Pater said she would work to improve transportation access.

"We are growing at a rate we are not prepared for," said Gomez. "To be honest, I don't have any good answer at this time, but we need to look at options."

Murray told the people municipalities are bound by state guidelines as to how much service companies like Tomah Transit can provide. Drivers can only work so many hours, he said. It's not as clear cut as bringing in another service, he added.

Thoughts on the proposal to incorporate fire and ambulance services in one building?

"It's long overdue," said Gomez. "We need to plan for future growth. The ability to train in one building has benefits."

Larkin has family has history in fire and ambulance service.

"I support the idea, but it needs to be well thought out. We can't look at shortcuts," Larkin said.

Said Pater, "(buildings we have) are small. As the city grows, service needs to grow. We have to look at something to be done right away."

Murray reminded he vetoed a plan to build a new TAAS building near the Tomah Health campus.

"By stepping back from earlier discussion we have a chance to look at a site to combine services," Murray said. "I realized it would be a bonus for the city."

Where does Tomah spend in excess and is deficient in spending?

Gomez stressed it is not spending in excess, but the investment in emergency services sets Tomah apart.

Gomez said the time is overdue for Tomah to be creative to fund a much-discussed recreation center.

Excessive spending. Without hesitation, Larkin pointed to the welcome center/public bathrooms across from Gillett Park. He feels the city needs to increase spending into emergency services.

Pater? She did not mention excess. But Pater said Tomah streets are in dire condition and included the need to fund for the fire/ambulance building.

Murray said excessive spending is a subjective question guided by individual perspective. He was candid where Tomah needs to increase its spending. Tomah school leaders needs to rethink its longstanding position of being a low-cost spending district and increase that investment, he added.

Closing statement

Murray said, "I feel I've been productive in my two years as mayor. But if I'm not re-elected I will still support city efforts. For me it's more than being mayor. It's about groups of people working together."

"The people I serve will be given the chance to move forward," Pater said. "If elected I would continue to work for change.'

Larkin sees all candidates sharing the same goal.

"We want to move Tomah forward," Larkin said.

"(This forum) is what it's all about, Gomez said. "Small towns getting together. I have lost three elections, but I've learned something each time. We are all up here for a common cause."

The primary election is Tuesday, Feb. 18. The top two in the primary will be on the April 7 ballot

Don't forget the Tomah school board

Murray's comment about school district spending will likely resonate with another key primary race in Tomah.

Eight candidates are running for three open seats to replace outgoing board members Nancy McCoy, John McMullen and Jerry Fushianes.

Candidates include Kirk Arity, Spencer Stephens, Rick Murray, Mike Gnewikow, Susan Bloom, Mitch Koel, Richard Taylor and Wayne Kling. The top six will move onto the April 7 election. While a time and date is to be determined, it is likely a candidate forum will be held for the school board race.

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