by CHRIS ROGERS
On December 4, Arcadia Mayor John Kimmel will step down and mayor-elect Rob Reichwein will take the oath of office. After years as mayor, Kimmel was ousted in a recall election last Tuesday. Reichwein, his sole challenger, won by a wide margin: 373 to 164. Reichwein's election may change the City Council majority on one of the city's most controversial issues: frac sand.
"My first thought when I got the result that Rob Reichwein had won is, 'Wow, the citizens of Arcadia have spoken,'" said alderwoman Marlys Kolstad. "I do feel that Rob Reichwein will listen to the citizens, and he brings in experience from being the supervisor on the Trempealeau County Board," Kolstad added.
One of the criticisms leveled against Kimmel is that he did not listen to citizens, particularly that he did not support a citizen petition for a referendum to ban frac sand. In a previous interview, Reichwein criticized Kimmel for being dismissive of a citizen survey that showed many Arcadians oppose the frac sand industry. "If the majority of people that voted in elections are telling you to do something different, I think the will of what people want to have done should [prevail]," Reichwein stated.
"During Mr. Kimmel's tenure, he got more done in six years than the past couple mayors did in 20," said alderman Joe Feltes. Feltes praised Kimmel for winning grants that helped fund city infrastructure projects. "He might not always have been politically correct, but he did a good job," Feltes said. "As far as Mr. Reichwein, I don't know if he has the time to put into it, but I hope he does and I wish him the best of luck and look forward to working with him."
Reichwein has served on city committees and currently serves as the area's county supervisor. When Reichwein announced his candidacy, opponents questioned whether he could legally serve in both elected offices, mayor of the city of Arcadia and Trempealeau county supervisor, and whether he would have time to do both. Under state law, Wisconsinites can simultaneously serve as alderpersons or mayors and county supervisors.
Last Tuesday's recall election happened because 226 Arcadians signed a petition demanding a recall election. Under state law, the city was bound to honor the petition, and petitioners were required to give reasons for the recall. They wrote that Kimmel was "(1) stifling public input at public meetings; (2) refusing to listen and work with city residents to resolve complaints including failure to allow city residents to vote on two referenda petitioned for by city residents; and (3) failing to be a reasonable steward of the city's finances."
"Whatever people tell you about this election, if they say it's not about sand mining, they're lying," said Mike Chitko, a Kimmel supporter and rural resident of the Town of Arcadia. Feltes agreed: the election was all about sand.
Kimmel's defeat changes the City Council majority on the issue of frac sand, Feltes said. The council has often been split on votes about silica sand and the mayor was the swing vote, he explained. When asked why people voted for Reichwein over Kimmel, Feltes responded, "Because the anti-sand people are very well organized and they didn't like the fact that when something came up it was a 3-3 vote; John is pro-business and broke the tie." Reichwein's election will likely reverse that majority, Feltes said. "If it's a 3-3 vote, I'm sure Rob will vote against it," he added.
Frac sand is a hot topic in Arcadia, where multiple companies have asked the city to annex rural land and permit mines and rail spurs. Sand companies have successfully sought annexation in several nearby cities in order to skirt possible denial by Trempealeau County authorities. Under Kimmel, Arcadia adopted an ordinance to regulate frac sand, which is more restrictive than the county's ordinance in several respects. But among sand supporters, the Trempealeau County Board is seen as being unwilling to approve frac sand projects, whereas Kimmel said he wanted to allow frac sand development with strong regulations.
Feltes said he was opposed to annexing the proposed AllEnergy mine and rail terminal because it was too distant from the city, but that he supported annexing contiguous land for the proposed Canadian Silica rail terminal because it could help bring new residential and commercial land into the city. "I can support that, because there's growth for the city there, and without growth you die," Feltes said.
Feltes is right that this election may change the City Council majority and frac sand has been an important factor in numerous elections across the area, but it was not the only reason people voted for Reichwein, said Arcadia Town Board member and Trempealeau County Supervisor Jon Schultz. "I think he'll be responsive on a wide range of issues beyond sand mining," Schultz said of Reichwein. "Rob is willing to be wrong. He's willing to adjust his opinion on things. He'll listen because more information guides better decision making, and he's got the courage to ask questions," Schultz added.
According to state records, there were 1,077 registered voters in Arcadia as of 2011. In the recall last week, 537 people voted. That is similar to the turnout for the 2014 gubernatorial election, when 566 Arcadians voted.
Kiimmel and Reichwein were unavailable for comment.