Candidates for the McFarland Village Board of Directors shared their views, in a virtual forum, on the meaning of public service, the pace of growth of the village and the future opportunities and challenges facing the village.
The virtual forum was hosted by McFarland Cable Channel on March 12. It was hosted by local business owner Joe Shorette of the McFarland Chamber of Commerce and broadcast live on the cable channel.
To watch a replay of this forum, visit www.mcfarlandcablechannel.comcheck out McFarland Cable’s Youtube channel, tune into TDS cable channel 1009, or try Spectrum cable channel 982.
The cable channel also held a forum for candidates for the McFarland School Board. Check the Herald-Independent and McFarland Thistle website for coverage on this forum.
Four people are running for two seats on the village council. Candidates include incumbents Edward Wreh and Mike Flaherty, as well as challengers TJ Jerke and Clair Bud Utter.
Clair Bud Utter did not participate in the candidates’ forum on March 12 and did not respond to a request from the Herald-Independent and McFarland Thistle to share his views.
Wreh was appointed to McFarland Village Council in April 2021 and is now standing for his first election. Wreh was born in Liberia, grew up in the southern United States and attended college there. He moved to McFarland in 2019 and works as a health care consultant.
Flaherty is in his second term on village council, being re-elected to council in 2020 after serving for two years from 2010 to 2012. Flaherty has lived in McFarland since 1991 and has had a career in journalism and public relations.
Jerke moved to McFarland Village in 2020 and is seeking his first term on the board. He grew up in South Dakota, worked as a reporter out west, and now works for the Department of Workforce Development.
At the beginning and end of the forum, candidates were asked what interested them in running for local office and what public service meant to them.
Flaherty cited his background as a political journalist and said he felt it was his duty as a citizen to volunteer his time. With recent population growth in McFarland, ongoing projects, the value of the school district, Flaherty said the village currently has many exciting things going on.
“I’ve always been fascinated by government and how well it works,” he said.
He added that public service means “it means being part of a community” and giving of your time and talents.
Jerke replied that, like Flaherty, his background in journalism inspired him. As a political reporter, he was responsible for asking questions of elected officials and paying attention to detail. He added that these details have an impact on residents.
“Every small or big decision can have a resounding impact on a person or a community as a whole,” he said.
Jerke later added that he wanted to help make decisions in the community that he would ask other village leaders to make.
Wreh shared that he seeks to be a servant leader, giving of his time and standing up for all. Wreh said his service background has led him to be involved in the community, as a veteran and through his work mentoring local youth. “I want to leave this world better than I met it… This is my community, I love where I live, I want to be a voice for people.”
Public service, he added, is committing to a cause even if it does not benefit you.
When asked what excites him most about running for the board, Flaherty said he thinks the biggest challenge facing McFarland is the current population growth and development limits facing the village faced, being landlocked in all directions except the east. Ensuring elected officials have a vision for the future and don’t react to conditions is crucial, he said.
“We’re a different community than we were 30 years ago,” Flaherty said.
Jerke said he’s most excited about the village’s continued growth, which is also its biggest challenge. He cited the East Side Neighborhood’s upcoming growth plan, the future of affordable housing and the retooling of the Civic Center as the biggest opportunities to address this challenge.
Jerke said he wanted to make sure we “do it strategically and sustainably” and “bring people to the table.”
Wreh said he’s most excited about the “human side” of the Village’s work, especially the Village’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion. Wreh commended local leadership in this area.
Wreh said it’s “rare to see leaders speak out against racial injustice. It excites me to see everyone coming together.”
Priorities and changes
Jerke said, when asked what he would currently change in the village, there were opportunities to bring together village services, nonprofit leaders and fill the gaps. He would like to see greater priority given to economic development, he added.
And Jerke identified strategic and sustainable development, diversity, equity and inclusion, and community engagement as his three priorities. He added that the village should take advantage of the work of its DEI consultants, implement the changes they suggest and make sure to keep in touch with its inhabitants.
Wreh echoed that he would like to see more commercial development come to the village and see a more complete view of downtown McFarland.
“We know we’re limited by the land. As a board, how do we rethink that,” Wreh said. “How to bring more commercial development, how to make our city center more dynamic? »
Wreh identified diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainable growth and community partnership as his three priorities for a possible future term. Wreh added that diversity and equity span all areas of life, from race and disability to elder care and affordable housing.
Flaherty said he would like to see increased development, especially with a boundary agreement with the town of Dunn expiring south of the village.
“The challenge is that we’re actually three downtowns,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty identified community engagement, sustainability and growth as his priorities. He added that the village has recently made progress on sustainability, but that it should also consider the walkability and livability of its community.
When asked what he thinks of McFarland’s pace of growth, Flaherty said the current period of substantial growth is better than a period of limited growth. He said it was an opportunity for commercial and industrial developments, but echoed earlier concerns about being landlocked.
Jerke sees the current rate of growth in the village as an opportunity to expand services and amenities in the area. He also said affordable housing opportunities need to catch up with this growth, saying those working in the community may not be able to afford to live in McFarland, due to a shortage.
Wreh cited the importance of being proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to accommodating growth, and bringing in commercial resources to support that growth.
Flaherty cited the challenges of creating and reaching people with information, but said the village is making a big effort to achieve this goal.
Jerke said village officials need to assess the barriers that prevent residents from being involved and then try to remove those barriers.
Wreh said with the speed at which bad news and misinformation spreads, Wreh encouraged to hold village officials accountable and go the extra mile to reach out to residents.
“I want to be a person who represents all of McFarland. Even those whose political opinions are not mine… I want to represent you. I want to make sure your voice is heard,” Wreh said.
“I’m open, I love interacting with people, learning their stories, learning their challenges,” Flaherty said, adding that he’s open to collaboration and wants to be part of future discussions on the village’s vision. .
“I’m invested, we’re not going anywhere, and I want to help shape McFarland’s growth…I want to bring my experiences to the table and make sure we grow in a sustainable way.”