by CESAR SALAZAR
As Election Day draws near, the Winona League of Women Voters held a candidate forum for the Winona City Council candidates. The five candidates —Second Ward candidate Jeff Hyma, Fourth Ward candidates Amber Buysman and George Borzyskowski, and at-large candidates Jerome Christenson and Michelle Alexander — made their pitches and answered the public’s questions on topics regarding the city.
Priorities for the city
“My number one priority for the city of Winona in 2023 is to make it successfully to 2024,” Christenson said. “I think in terms of what's on the city’s agenda and what's on the horizon, the most important thing that we're looking at is completing and evaluating the comprehensive plan. That's going to give us a blueprint, a guidepost for the immediate future and for the future down the road.”
“If elected to represent the Fourth Ward in the next year, I want to invest in improving the Rec Center and all of its support staff and programming, as that is the number one thing I've heard in the Fourth Ward from its people,” Buysman said. “I just want to amplify the voices and focus on the issues that they're bringing forth.”
“I would say two things,” Hyma said. “One, I think from the city’s [stand]point as far as issues, the Law Enforcement Center and the fire station — it seems like we're coming back to square one with that, so I would assume in 2023, that's going to be coming to the forefront once again as we explore the different options and try to sort out a solution for that. In conjunction with that, I hope we will be able to continue to go forward with the rec-center-senior-center combination to make both of those things better and to go forward with some of the plans that have already been previously developed.”
“[My top priority] always has been and always will be to represent the people of the Fourth Ward, their needs, and their concerns,” Borzyskowski said. “When someone brings a concern to me, I take ownership of that concern until we get a resolution to it. Do we always get the resolution that we want? Not all the time, but most of the time we do — but simply to bring their voice to the table, represent them, and continue to support them with their neighborhood problems, whatever it may be.”
“I want to safeguard the investment the community makes by paying their taxes and that when we invest properly and maintain a healthy budget, we're able to accomplish any of the things our community desires,” Alexander said. She continued, “My main goal is to watch that budget, make sure that we're not depleting our reserve funds, and that we're appropriately allocating funds to the resources the community values the most.”
The candidates were asked about pedestrian safety on Broadway and how to address possible concerns.
“I don't think we're adequately addressing the safety on Broadway, and that's another issue I've heard and read about in the Fourth Ward,” Buysman said. She continued, “Unfortunately, we passed up the opportunity to do the road reduction a few years back. We need more of the pedestrian flashing signs; we need to look at reducing the traffic and adding those bike lanes. Those are some great starts. There's other infrastructure in that area that needs to be addressed with parking, trains, and truck traffic.”
“I think we have, unfortunately, a bad habit of looking in the rearview mirror for solutions,” Hyma said. “In other words, when something bad happens, then we look for a solution. I'd like to move forward with a proactive approach. I think I agree the ship has probably sailed on the previous project on Broadway, but I think, especially as we head into the season of darkness here, lights at crossings.”
“I think what we're doing right now is improving all of the access points along the route and unifying the crosswalks,” Alexander said. “Then, we're going to be in discussion about minimizing some parking along the heavy pedestrian areas to open up viewability of cars to pedestrians and the lights are being addressed by the city by asking for LED and brighter lights to be installed along the walkway pathways. I think part of it is reminding people and teaching people about pedestrian safety.”
“We've had numerous fatalities; there hasn't been anything physically done of any significance to reduce that,” Christenson said. “A couple of flashing lights, a few signs, they look nice, but essentially they're cosmetic. We passed up $2 million in federal aid funds when the council … turned down the plan that would reduce traffic dangers on that route to pedestrians. I think that that's something that we really have to address. It's not something that's going away. It's not something that we can get rid of with a few simple measures.”
“Yes, lighted crossings: Lighten them up, make them brighter,” Borzyskowski said. “First of all, as drivers, we need to know that Broadway is 30 miles an hour. It's not 40. It's not 45. It's 30 miles an hour. We do not drive 30 miles an hour.”
What could be done to benefit citizens?
Another question asked to candidates was, what is one thing that is not currently being done that the city could do to benefit the citizens?
“It would depend on the citizen. I mean, there is no single action that can be taken that's going to benefit or harm everyone,” Christenson said. “We're a community. I think that the role of the City Council in the city is to promote the common good and look at things that put people, their needs, and their quality of life first, and making that the priority.”
“I'm really into serving and advocating for unseen or underprivileged groups, and one of those things that many cities, not unique to Winona, doesn't serve is changing tables that are for individuals larger than infants,” Buysman said. “So adults or children who wear briefs cannot participate in the community, because there is nowhere for them to be toileted without lying on the floor. We could simply install adult-sized changing tables at the Bob Welch Pool or other facilities that we build or remodel.”
“I drive around town quite a bit, and I see people [who] were hanging in bus shelters and sleeping on the sidewalks,” Borzyskowksi said. He continued, acknowledging organizations in town that provide shelters, “I’d like to see us do a little bit more to help the homeless, and that would probably even include my own self doing a little more than what I do right now.”
“Within Ward Two, there has been some old playground equipment that, understandably, was dated … and was removed,” Hyma said. “That's understandable. It should have been done, but it hasn't been replaced. One of the things that I would like to see is more small playground equipment that is within walking distance of most families.”
“In all of our discussions with the ERC, the one that keeps coming up is mental health initiatives,” Alexander said. “Working with the community, and especially our youth who are vulnerable, finding resources other than jail or finding the resource for an individual that might have mental health needs, but they're finding themselves in the jail system.” She continued, “I really think that is something that the city doesn't have or maybe needs to partner with others that have the resources to try to address some of that in the community.”