Citizen Wausau

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Tom Neal — Candidacy Statement: Alderman, Wausau District 4

by on March 12th, 2014

[Editor Note:  We solicited statements from all candidates for local office.  So far, Tom Neal is the only one to respond.  Thanks Tom.]

 

Fifteen years ago, my family moved to Wausau from Texas, and over the years, we have seen many changes that have helped make this a more dynamic and fun community — truly, a remarkable and impressive transformation since 1999. And there have been new challenges: a major downturn in the national and regional economy; local plants and mills have shut down or downsized; an influx of hard drugs and a rise in associated crime; historic neighborhoods transitioning from owner-occupied to multi-unit rental homes; city services and infrastructure facing tough financial challenges as we endeavor to maintain and improve our quality of life.

Recently, I heard a radio news feature in which an out-of-work miner, maybe in Virginia, drawled, “times is tough.” Words that might echo the Great Depression of the ‘30s — but today that sentiment is anything but rare. In tough times, it’s natural to pull back, hunker down, disinvest, and wait for things to improve. But hard times also represent a challenge to overcome, even an opportunity to forge ahead. In my profession (marketing and advertising), in the wake of the 2008 national recession I saw the stark difference between businesses that effectively hibernated, and others that took a more aggressive stance. Worried about bottom lines and believing customers weren’t in “buying mode,” many companies drastically cut marketing budgets. But, others used this time to build awareness and gain market share while others slept. They focused on longer-term ROI, and their strategy paid off. I see parallels to the operation and promotion of a city.

In the run-up to the spring election much attention will be directed toward downsizing or restructuring city government and reducing our tax burden. This sort of wish list is understandable, but to be considered seriously it should include a list of clear, attainable goals and actions. Where do we reduce spending and to what levels? What are we willing to live without? What are the expected consequences for our quality of life and attractiveness as a community, both for prospective new residents and new businesses?

Fiscal responsibility is essential for effective civic management; every ideal “vision” must face realities and limits. But a city without vision will languish. In the early 1900s when times were tough in Wausau, local entrepreneurs (“the Wausau Group”) combined resources to help the city transition to a more diversified economy and helped to build a more culturally rich community. We still benefit from private philanthropy; locally based foundations and businesses still help to preserve and enhance our quality of life. But, the efforts of the private sector alone cannot further a city’s vision.

When I drive, bike or walk through town, I often consider the old-style, decorative lampposts that line so many of our streets. They weren’t there when my family arrived in 1999. Those lampposts were likely the topic of significant debate at the time. I expect some thought them an unnecessary extravagance and existing fixtures got the job done well enough. But, a vision ruled the day and those lampposts do more than light our streets today; they create a historic aura, an evocative atmosphere for our hometown. Was it the best fiscal choice? From a bottom-line perspective, some may say no. But, in a broader sense, it was certainly a sound investment that helps to define Wausau.

The Council will continue to debate issues that place immediate fiscal considerations up against anticipated, longer-term benefits. One may look at it as a two-sided coin … one side reflects a no-nonsense, bottom-line choice and the other represents impractical extravagance. Instead of the either/or coin, I prefer a scales approach: striving for balance between viewpoints instead of strict adherence to either side of the issue.

Downtown’s 400 Block exemplifies smart compromise and cooperation. Some actively opposed it, deeming it a financial boondoggle. But, the private sector and the City worked together to build something unique — and, regardless of tax dollars we might have saved, we would be poorer indeed without that centerpiece in our town. In a recent planning meeting for a west-side downtown project, a newcomer to Wausau told the story of his and his wife’s first visit here to consider a job offer. As they exited the highway, they felt “underwhelmed” during the first few blocks of their drive. Then, they came upon the central business district and the 400 Block … and that sealed the deal for them.

We need to do what we can to make our property taxes competitive — I hope overdue, citywide property reassessment will go a long way in that regard. And, we need to find more ways to streamline and economize in the delivery of services without a loss in quality. We have to identify solid economic development opportunities and grasp them. At the same time, we must continue to make Wausau more attractive as a place to live, work and raise a family, investing responsibly in our cultural, recreational, aesthetic, educational and service infrastructure. It needn’t and shouldn’t be one or the other. Often, critics of City investment seem to know the cost of everything but rarely acknowledge the value of the investment. Where would we be without investment in the future!

I’ve never aspired to hold public office; I just care about Wausau. What are my qualifications and strengths? I have spent 30+ years in marketing and advertising, for consumer retail, business-to-business, recreation/entertainment and local government clients. I have helped numerous communities, regions and economic development organizations in their branding and marketing efforts. My value to the City will be greatly enhanced by the knowledge and input of the Council itself, other government staff, and our citizenry. As a member of the Council, I will be involved in detailed discussions of every issue, hearing from people representing every segment of the social, business and political spectrum. I have no vested personal or business interests to interfere with my decision-making. From an informed and objective perspective I will make my voting choice, responsibly, and in the best interests of the whole City.

As a marketing professional, I see immense value in improving our business climate and our way of life here, and in getting the word out to others. I know that although we may create attractive brand perceptions, we need to ensure that promises are deliverable to our audiences. By working with the City Council, not only will I be involved with managing our community’s ongoing affairs, but I will also take advantage of every opportunity to work to support and promote a vision that will continue to make Wausau unique among cities in our state.

 

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