Meet the Candidates: April 2015

Bob Von Haden and Sandra McKinney are facing off for an Eau Claire City Council seat. Here’s who they are and what they think.

Tom Giffey

Bob Von Haden Sandra McKinney
Sandra McKinney and Bob Von Haden

Autumn elections – the ones we use to pick presidents and governors – tend to get a ton of attention, sometimes at the expense of lower-profile spring elections. But these races are critical, too, and on Tuesday, April 7, Eau Claire voters will elect City Council members in five districts. Only one of those districts features a competitive race: District 4, which encompasses most of the city west and north of the Chippewa River. In that district, incumbent Bob Von Haden faces challenger Sandra McKinney. The biographies and responses below will help you get to know the candidates both as people and as politicians. So get educated, then get to the polls!

Bob Von Haden

Age: 75
Years in Eau Claire: 49 years
Family: Wife, Penny; three adult children, four grandchildren
Occupation: Retired Certified Public Accountant; partner of 33 years with Wipfli Ullrich Bertelson
Education: B.A. in Business Administration, Luther College; Certified Public Accountant
Political Experience: "I have served on the City Council for 12 years and have willingly committed the time needed to serve on all the major commissions and committees"

Sandra McKinney

Age: 73
Years in Eau Claire: 23
Family: Three children (oldest son, David, passed in 2010), seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren
Occupation: Minister Unity Christ Center, Eau Claire
Education: A.S. Hospitality Management, CVTC, 1986; B.S. Business Management, Cardinal Stritch College, 2005; Min Div, Unity School of Christianity, 2009
Political experience: Community advocacy and volunteerism. I believe politics is involved in every aspect of our lives

What place in town considers you a “regular”?

Bob Von Haden: Friday night fish fry at Chick-A-Dee’s Family Restaurant. Their lite ’n’ crispy batter is known far and wide. If you enjoy carrot cake for dessert, get there early!

Sandra McKinney: The Eau Claire Ale House is a great centrally located restaurant in District 4, and I think enjoyed by citizens from all of Eau Claire. I wish I had ability to bring back Mike’s Smokehouse, another beloved place in District 4. The walking and bike paths also consider me “regular”– we’re pretty good friends. 

What is one of the best cultural experiences you’ve had in Eau Claire recently?

BVH: Penny and I enjoy bringing our grandchildren to the UWEC International Folk Fair, where students of different cultures and traditions from around the globe plus some local organizations come together sharing unusual food, history exhibits, live music, native dances, crafts, etc. Students willingly pose for a photo as you travel the world – to Scandinavia, China, France, Russia, India, and more – in an afternoon!   

SMK: The Eau Claire Children’s Theatre production of Mary Poppins. Incredible visuals and state-of-the-art stage sets combined with local talent offered a delightful evening.

What’s your favorite local festival?

BVH: 2015 is the 34th annual Festival in the Pines family event that benefits local non-profit organizations. You will enjoy shopping, food, live music, entertainment for all ages, plus rides and games for the children. In the past there has been a magician, youth gymnasts, even a mechanical bull ride!

SMK: Volume One’s ChalkFest, and I’m a proud grandma who already has her tickets for the Eaux Claires Music Festival. (One of my grandsons announced “Road trip to Grandma’s!” when he learned I had tickets).

What is your favorite piece of local trivia?

BVH: What is the UWEC Schofield Hall, the first building erected on campus, primarily used for today?

SMK: “Eau Claire” is the singular form of the original French “Eaux Claires,” meaning “Clear Waters,” for the Eau Claire River. According to local legend, the river was so named because early French explorers journeying down the rain-muddied Chippewa River came upon the Eau Claire River, excitedly exclaiming “Voici l’eau claire!” (“Here [is] clear water!”). This took on additional meaning for me when my church, Unity, partnered with the It Can Be Done Africa project to bring “clear water” to the residents in the village of Uru in Tanzania.

What book, TV show, or movie would you recommend to your fellow City Council members?

BVH: TV series: Madame Secretary depicts the world of politicians – each with unique expertise and viewpoints – and the significance of gathering together many ideas, then compromising to achieve necessary solutions that will benefit all.

SMK: Currently reading The Other Wes Moore, an inspiring true story that supports my beliefs in the possibility today’s youth demonstrate in shaping our world. 

If you could rename Eau Claire, what name would you choose?

BVH: I would not rename Eau Claire that means, “Here is clear water.” Our town is unique in having the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers, Half Moon Lake, Dells Pond, and many creeks. If mandated to rename Eau Claire, I would take the task to the citizens who currently reside and, perhaps, those who formerly lived here, to rename it through a Re-Name Eau Claire Contest. 

SMK: Oh I wouldn’t; the name Eau Claire, Clear Water, has so much meaning for me as I’ve now made two trips to Tanzania to work with the water project there.

Describe your leadership style. How will it impact your role on the City Council, especially as it approaches controversial issues?           

BVH: I listen, research, and make sound decisions involving the Monday public hearings and Tuesday legislative sessions plus budget and work sessions. I am fair, hardworking, and good-natured, and when issues become controversial I have the ability to compromise and determine a reasonable solution for all. Since council decisions affect the entire city, citizens throughout the community feel comfortable phoning and meeting with me regarding their concerns and issues. Together we work to resolve them. It is important to study the issues and ask questions of city staff to determine the best policy or procedures for our city.

SMK: My leadership style is collaborative, one of listening and critical thinking. I seek first to understand another’s viewpoint when there are differences. I have oftentimes been a bridge when differing factions find difficulty in coming to resolution. To learn more about my leadership, I invite you to my Facebook page: Sandra McKinney 4 District 4.

Who is a public servant, past or present, who inspires you, and why?

BVH: President Harry Truman. He brought compassion and strength to the people as he guided the country. He proved his capability in making the tough decisions to keep our country safe and strong.

SMK: A public servant who inspired many of us in the 1960s, John F. Kennedy, because of his question, “What will I do for my country?” Perhaps not as well know, Peace Pilgrim, who gave up everything, including her name, to walk for world peace. Walking from 1957 into the 1980s, she advocated a world free of war. Her story helped change my worldview from “How does this serve me?” to “How can I serve?”

As you campaign for (or, in your case, serve on) the City Council, what is the No. 1 complaint or concern you hear from voters? What will you do to address it?

BVH: Snowplowing. To address this complaint, we must develop a consistent policy on how and when to initiate the plowing during a snow event. I will work with our city administration to insure that we have sufficient staff and equipment to complete the task(s) in a safe and efficient manner.

SMK: Because I’m campaigning in District 4, the most frequent complaint has been the lack of amenities in this district; i.e., swimming pool, restaurants, parks, and gardens, to name a few. I have sent out email questionnaires to those I know living in District 4 gathering input for ideas, suggestions, questions, and concerns. If I’m elected to the City Council, I will advocate adding amenities to the upcoming Comprehensive Plan’s revision.

What role can or should the city play in creating good-paying jobs, particularly for recent graduates who might otherwise move away?

BVH: For a vibrant city, every effort should be made to keep our young people and attract others to our community. The basic promotions should concentrate on encouraging the existing businesses and attracting new businesses that pay a living wage; continuing development of our parks and trail systems; maintaining our strong institutions of learning; and continuing to support cultural events including music festivals.

The city should strengthen its marketing approach by maintaining/supporting:

• Great parks and recreational facilities
• Top-notch schools
• Advanced educational opportunities: UWEC, CVTC, Globe
• Medical institutions and training programs
• Efficient public transit system
• Pro-family; churches/multiple faith denominations
• Public-private partnerships
• Sustainability projects

City policies should:

• Maintain providing capital assistance (low- or no-interest loans), facade loans, and forgivable loans related to job creation
• Meet with existing or future businesses to learn of their expansion needs and how they may be assisted
• Require city staff to provide businesses with more assistance in locating additional property when expansion needs arise
• Increase our working relationships with all the federal, state, and area economic development groups and ensure our staff is fully knowledgeable of all available programs/grants that provide assistance to existing and new companies  

SMK: I’m witnessing the revitalization of the downtown as a great resource in keeping recent graduates. I will support economic strategies to keep undergraduate and graduate students in the community. Those who are building businesses and families in Eau Claire are assets to the city. Events and family-fun activities help to grow that population, who then become homeowners.

Does the Confluence Project deserve an investment from the city? Why or why not?

BVH: Yes, because of potential impact on creating new jobs and economic growth. To complete the proposed Arts Center the collaboration between private and public must be completed. Some of these items are:

• Completion of local fundraising
• Confirmation of state funding
• Funding for the endowment fund to help defer operating deficits
• An agreement with Visit Eau Claire to fund the $200,000 room tax subsidy from their funds so the funding of local charities is protected
• Reaffirming the city and county pledges

SMK: Yes.  The Confluence Project will continue to benefit the city in attracting and retaining students and young families to Eau Claire. The theater/arts community in this city is a staple, and when this project is complete it will impact the need for travel outside our area for cultural events. We know the impact of tourism and the revenues from room taxes, and we can add increased retail business to that formula. What is good for tourists is also good for locals. In its very name, Confluence, we define the energy of two things coming together. The spring 2014 referendum demonstrated that the city and District 4 came together for this project. The Confluence will benefit the entire community.

The use of Tax Incremental Financing to encourage community development – including the Confluence Project – has been a hot topic in Eau Claire. What do you think of TIF as a development method? What would you classify as appropriate and inappropriate uses of TIF?

BVH: TIFs are a method of providing funds for new development. If we invest in TIFs, they must provide additional jobs and economic growth. Our finest TIFs in Eau Claire have closed in less than 10 years so that our schools, county, and CVTC realized their tax benefits sooner. These TIFs, also, produced a significant number of jobs and great economic benefit for the area.

SMK: This financing method can be a strong tool for economic development. The state classifies appropriate use for TIFs. If elected, I will work with the City of Eau Claire Economic Policy Advisory Committee to create a local TIF policy that is a win-win for citizens and business owners.

If the Confluence Project doesn’t succeed, what can or should the city do to revitalize downtown Eau Claire?

BVH: Highlight the rivers. The city must make downtown Eau Claire more attractive for people to live and work there. This means providing amenities for a high quality of life that will attract people, provide work opportunities and places to live and to socialize. The areas along the rivers should be developed for all to enjoy: This would include trails, vistas looking over the rivers and, perhaps, restaurants designed with seasonal outdoor patios and year-round views of the river.

SMK: I choose to believe that the Confluence Project will succeed and choose to put my energy and vision towards that goal.

Imagine you find a pot of gold that can be spent only by the city. What should it be used for?

BVH: Eau Claire currently cannot attract major conventions. In order to attract major conventions, necessary facilities and amenities must be provided. The city could build a new LEED Certified arena and event center for Eau Claire to attract major conventions and concerts. Or the city could partner with UWEC on the proposed Menomonie Street event center in order to provide the needed facilities to attract major conventions and concerts.

SMK: I would first give the educational systems within the city the resources that have continued to be cut, so that we always have programs that attract excellent teachers, thus growing incredible youth. Creating a city with amenities that work for all citizens. Strong neighborhood organizations with parks, bike trails, and walking trails easily accessible to all ages. A neighborhood gathering place within walking distance; i.e., coffee house or the old-fashioned country store setting. In looking at what brings people together, increasing those amenities so there is more than one location with that resource; i.e., swimming pool, dog park, bike paths, walking trails and playgrounds. A continuation of creating green space that brings people together for events, food, music, and play.

Do property taxes in Eau Claire compare favorably or unfavorably with other communities? Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth in city services?

BVH: Yes.  In a comparison of peer communities the average property tax rate is $10.32; Eau Claire’s tax rate is $8.77. When compared to the peer group the Eau Claire property tax rate is favorable. When you analyze the services provided to the citizens, they are receiving all essential services at a fair price. Our safety records for police and fire are among the highest in Wisconsin. Our park system is one of the finest in the country and has won national awards. Currently, we are completing a $45 million renovation to the city wastewater treatment plant. With the new technology, operational efficiencies will increase and provide the needed services for the next 50 years.

SMK: I believe that taxes I pay are very favorable in comparison to other communities where I have lived. My city services are excellent and knowing those services are available when needed leads me to valuing what I receive. AARP rated Eau Claire as one of 10 best places to live on $100 a day.

If you were trying to encourage someone to move to Eau Claire, what are three things you would tell them?

BVH: I would share the following strengths:

1. Excellent schools: Eau Claire school district, UWEC, CVTC, Globe University
2. Great parks, waterways, and recreational facilities (second longest trail system in Wisconsin; waterways consisting of rivers/lakes/creeks; sport complexes; fine parks; arts and music venues). Opportunities for all.
3. Top-notch medical institutions, physicians and training programs

SMK: When I moved to Eau Claire, I felt welcomed and embraced by this city. I found the multitude of volunteer activities available gave me easy access to meeting folks who have a similar passion for community.

1. The woods and water within the city limits, with two rivers running through the middle of downtown gives everyone the sense of living in the wonders of nature, yet within easy access to the amenities a city provides.
2. Affordable housing, with access to multitude of activities that addresses all interests.

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