La Crosse Mayoral Candidate: Mitch Reynolds

Name: Mitch Reynolds
Age: 51
Family (Include Pets): Married to Anna. Adult children Rowan and Olivia. Quigley and Lenny are our rescue dogs.
Political Experience: This is my first campaign for office.
Prior/Current Employment: I am currently Operations and Project manager for WholeTrees Structures, a Wisconsin-based, woman-owned B-corp focused on sustainable building practices. Prior to that, I was news director at Midwest Family Broadcasting in La Crosse and hosted a daily afternoon news program on WIZM for 15 years

Updated March 16

The prevalence of homelessness in our community continues to be a struggle. How do you propose we address it?

I favor a varied approach that focuses on the Housing First model for ending chronic homelessness. Housing First prioritizes finding permanent homes for our neighbors who face an unending cycle of seeking shelter nightly from the streets. This model accepts that housing is an essential need, without which we cannot hope to address any other challenge in our lives. Housing First is humane and just and values the dignity of those who are most marginalized and vulnerable in our society.

Even with a Housing First approach, we will still have need for temporary shelters and resources to help those who need help. Groups like the YWCA, CouleeCap, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Independent Living Resources and others do excellent work at providing the services they can. But we must remember that the issues of homelessness impact our entire community and we must support efforts to end homelessness as a community. I have proposed utilizing federal HUD funding to create a role in city hall to essentially be the project manager for our community’s efforts in this area. Through focused and directed action, we can utilize all of the resources at our disposal to drive towards the goal of ending homelessness.

How would you prioritize city services and city spending?

My focus will continue to be on serving people. I am less interested in the number of miles of roads we repair and more interested in increasing transportation access for everyone in our community. I am less interested in building new and shiny recreation facilities and more interested in making certain our restroom bathrooms are open in all of our parks, not just at those parks in higher income areas. I am less interested in maintaining a “lid on taxes” and more interested in maximizing our revenue to ensure that we meet the needs of those vulnerable and marginalized in our community.

There is a clear delineation in approach towards serving as mayor. I believe in providing services for people, while my opponent focuses on commercial development, business needs and maintaining arbitrary limits on collected revenue. It is because of a focus on putting the needs of our people first that I am supported by our Firefighter local 127, the La Crosse County Democratic Party, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Our Wisconsin Revolution, Livable Neighborhoods as well as by numerous past and present city council members, county board supervisors and school board representatives.

What are your thoughts on how the city of La Crosse is handling finding polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in its water supply and the spread of the contaminants into neighboring private wells in Campbell? Is there anything the city should be doing differently?

We will need more testing and analysis to understand the scope of this problem. We’re facing a serious environmental matter. That is true for those in the city of La Crosse who reside on French Island and our neighbors in the Town of Campbell and everyone downstream. We should all understand that the health of our environment is of extreme importance for our lives and the lives of many creatures who reside in and migrate through our waters.

Mandated use of these toxins by the FAA clearly indicates a level of liability at the federal government level. It is also clear manufacturers understand the environmental impacts these compounds have on our environment. It is important to hold these manufacturers and the FAA accountable so that any remediation efforts do not cripple our regional economies. At this point, Town of Campbell residents have expressed to me their frustration by the lack of communication with the city on this issue. I would improve that.

There is a lot of interest in the future of the former Kmart site. What’s your opinion on U-Haul’s proposal for a store there and how do you think the city should address neighborhood concerns?

Any development proposal for the city of La Crosse should involve considerations of how that development impacts quality of life for our neighbors. We should always consider people first in any conversation. That is how we improve quality of life for all who call La Crosse home. At this writing, the UHaul ship has sailed. The site can once again be considered for multi-use development. The owner of the site has communicated to me a willingness to work with the city on attracting a developer.

I believe we can reach an agreement that takes advantage of that spot as a prime location, helps make that area more attractive overall and creates much-needed quality and affordable housing. The city council has recently approved a process to build a revolving fund for incentivizing affordable housing development. This would seem to be a prime opportunity to utilize part of that $1.7 million fund. I will make certain we take advantage of any other opportunities like this that become available.

What can the city do to better support La Crosse’s small businesses?

Through experience helping to lead a sustainable company, I can attest that some level of certainty is key for any business owner. Budget projections, risk analysis and strategy development are all impacted by the environment within which a business owner operates. That environment becomes easier to adapt to when there exists some level of stability and certainty. When city government creates a plan for neighborhoods, transportation or anything else, every effort should be made to stick to that plan with periodic strategic adjustments. There are times when that adherence is not possible and, in those circumstances, we should seek to communicate policy intentions clearly and with as much engagement as necessary to ensure our small business owners can prepare for changes that may be disruptive.

As we go into spring, the topic on every La Crosse driver’s mind is potholes. What should the city be doing to keep its roads in better shape?

Not unlike other upper midwestern cities, La Crosse has a number of roads that produce a seasonal reveal of potholes. This is typical and involves the contraction and expansion of solid surfaces in freeze-thaw cycles. We will continually have these discussions and I will likely continue current practices of replacing streets at a rate of 5-8 miles per year, which is significantly higher than just a few years ago.

We have other infrastructure requirements in the city of La Crosse that also need to be addressed. My priorities for spending on streets or anything else will be determined on how we best serve the people of the city of La Crosse. How does infrastructure spending improve lives equitably? How can we make certain that we are not prioritizing roads to accommodate suburban commuters at the expense of creating recreational opportunities for those who live in our neighborhoods? How can we serve the people—all people—in the city of La Crosse through our budgeting choices? For example, while my opponent has vacillated between supporting and opposing building a new road through La Crosse neighborhoods, I can state unequivocally that I am in firm opposition to DOT plans for adding lanes of concrete through our city. That would only hurt our neighborhoods and diminish quality of life for the people I will serve. While my opponent wants to keep this road funding in place, I support the city council resolution to remove that promise of funding and the ongoing threat of another road to divide our neighborhoods or cross our marsh. The group that has fought the north-south corridor the longest, Livable Neighborhoods, has endorsed my campaign because I am willing to definitively stand up and fight against the DOT’s push for a new road through our city.

Previous questions

Why do you want to be mayor? Why should people vote for you?

I want to serve as mayor because I want to provide all who La Crosse home the same opportunities I have been afforded over the years I have lived here, building a family and a community and a home. I want to give hope to those who struggle while living on the streets of La Crosse. I want to build a strong foundation of sustainability and justice in this city. I want to empower a richer chorus of voices to be heard so that we can learn about the needs of all of our citizens and find ways to meet those needs.

There are a wide array of skills and attributes necessary to serve successfully as the Mayor in La Crosse. Among the most important is the need to connect with citizens on a very personal level and listen to their needs. For most of my professional career–16 years as a radio journalist–I listened and worked to understand the perspective of people from all walks. Those who were struggling after a fire. Those who were homeless. Those who were frustrated with the lack of action of local government to meet their needs. Those who thought government was doing way too much. The ability to listen and to have empathy with those who have taken paths that I have not; I count that as one of my most valuable tools.

Also, in my career on radio, I learned to moderate discussions and mediate differences. It is clear that La Crosse, like many other parts of the nation, is embroiled in deep divisions that impact not only how we see national politics but also how we value libraries as opposed to police services, to use that recent debate as just one example. My ability to understand perspective and find a level of compromise will help move the city forward on these and many other issues. Absolutely essential for the next person who fills the position of Mayor of La Crosse.

La Crosse struggles with poverty and that hasn’t changed since I moved to the city more than twenty-five years ago. I know that for certain because I was among those who lived in poverty. I understand having to make decisions about whether to pay for electricity and heat or to buy food for my family. I understand what it means to hope that the tires on the car make it through one more winter and that I can afford the next little bit of gas I need for the month. I understand the overwhelming fear of not being able to house and feed my children. I understand what it means to be judged for the food I buy with SNAP benefits. I have been there. As an adult in La Crosse and as a child growing up in Michigan and Louisiana. And that experience and understanding will help guide every decision I make as mayor.

What are the top three items on your agenda if you’re elected?

We have faced the biggest health and economic challenge of our time and some have suffered tragically. The most optimistic projections are that the fallout of the pandemic will linger in fiscal problems and service impacts through the next three years. My top priority as Mayor of La Crosse is to navigate a path forward through a recovery that addresses the most difficult obstacles faced by families, individuals and small businesses and identify ways to help our recovery move faster. While moving towards recovery, we have to remember to address the needs of all citizens.

Another priority for me is to reach for solutions to the social and economic inequalities that continually plague our city, whether those inequalities exist in housing, transportation, food access or police response. Facilitating lasting collaboration to address homelessness. Identifying and acting on plans to improve how we respond to emergencies. Improving housing stock.Even providing city help in mitigating the nagging food deserts that exist in some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods. We can achieve our best life when we improve lives for all.

Finally, I have made the goal of collaboration a cornerstone of my campaign. This also will be one of my top priorities. Finding a way to bridge the social, economic and ethnic gaps in our society will help us heal from the stark divisions that have dealt blows to our community and others. I pledge to work tirelessly to find means to solve some of our most pressing issues through collaboration.

Like the rest of the world, La Crosse is reeling from the effects of COVID-19. What role do you see for the city government in helping the city’s businesses and people recover from the global pandemic?

First, to help individuals and families, I would immediately find ways to provide logistical support for vaccine distribution. The county, state and our medical centers are moving ahead with vaccinations but the city should also play a role in protecting its citizens. City government can facilitate access to drive-through vaccination delivery clinics and identify police and fire personnel resources to assist in the distribution, among other support roles. Communication with the public in coordination and cooperation with the county and medical centers is also essential. Our police department tends to be pretty active on social media. The department should be utilizing that platform to assist the most vulnerable in our community identify best information and routes towards safety in relation to COVID-19 and how to secure a vaccine.  If you watch when La Crosse county hosts online information sessions on COVID and vaccines, invariably there are questions from citizens in our community who have very poor information. They’re concerned and confused and are looking for guidance. We should be able to provide that guidance. The city should endeavor to protect our citizens and families in these extraordinary times. Part of that role is to show leadership in communicating accurate information on protecting the health of children and families.

For businesses, we can provide pathways to help access information and potential funding sources needed to stay open or reopen as we work through a recovery. Small businesses are the cornerstone of economic health in our community. Our small business owners not only provide jobs and supply services in La Crosse, many of them–if not most of them–call La Crosse home. The profits they make in La Crosse also stay in La Crosse when they improve their homes and businesses and also consume the services that other small businesses provide. This is the dollar multiplier effect of small businesses in our communities. When we spend our dollars at small businesses, we experience the direct impact of that spending when businesses purchase supplies, inventory and pay local overhead costs. We see indirect impact when other businesses also recirculate those dollars and employees also spend locally. We must provide assistance when applicable so we can shore up the health of this essential part of our economy.

Over the past few years, national political issues such as climate change, fair mapping and marijuana legalization have come before the Common Council. Do you think that is something local government should be voting on? Why or why not?

I don’t have any problems with the city council taking a stand on issues of the day and those that may have a significant impact on our population in the city and on the larger global community. These are not just national political issues. They can be highly personal issues. For those who have been marginalized as criminals in our community because of their marijuana usage, legalization is very personal. For those who pay inordinate amounts toward flood insurance in this city, climate change can be very personal. For those who have had their voices silenced in state government due to gerrymandering, political mapping can be a very personal issue. How do we engage our communities if not on a personal level? How do we seek justice globally if we do not make a case to do so locally? Let us hear the debate. All of the debate. And then pay close attention to how our representatives vote.

A major part of the job of mayor is being an administrator, working with department heads and analyzing budgets. What makes you the best person to do this?

The Mayor of La Crosse definitely does far more than set policy and chair meetings and cut ribbons. The city is one of just a couple in Wisconsin of a similar size that lack a professional administrator. That means La Crosse’s mayor must be able to function as essentially the head of a $70 million service company and all that an executive position like that entails. There are broad policy directions that the mayor sets that must align with budgetary limitations. The mayor must be able to weigh the real impacts of cuts to one service and additions to others. The mayor must be able to resolve internal disputes among department heads in city hall in order to move the city forward. This same person has to be the face of the city during a crisis and answer questions about garbage service in the checkout at Festival while buying groceries. As a project and operations manager, I have experience in creating operations and capital budgets. I am highly skilled at understanding contractual obligations with vendors and unions and I have an ability to move a project forward despite obstacles. I have worked through barriers on projects around the nation and understand how to manage expectations and reconcile differences among diverse groups. Having earned an MBA also provides me with the education to grasp strategic concepts, recognize risks and evaluate finances, among many other things. Primarily, I can lean on the ability to listen, understand and empathize. That skill is essential for any good leader. But critical for the mayor of La Crosse. We must remember that, as essential as it is to operate a business-like city hall, our business is providing services for people. A mayor who truly listens to the people will best suited to provide services to all people.

The subject of regional collaboration has been a priority under the previous mayoral administration. Is that something you would continue? Do you think it’s beneficial to the city to share services with Holmen, Onalaska, Shelby, Campbell and other municipalities in La Crosse County? Why or why not?

I believe there is room for more collaboration in public services. There has already been some regional cooperation in public services among our communities. The process to expand that cooperation takes time and a leader who can build trust and convey a collaborative mindset intention. The Municipal Transit Union operates routes through neighboring communities of Onalaska, La Crescent as well as the towns of Campbell and Shelby. The question is not whether the MTU should operate as a regional public service but to what extent that service should operate and which regional partners should benefit from and help fund that service. Similarly, we have sewer and water agreements in place as well as various levels of mutual assistance agreements among our regional partner police and fire services. A recent study on fire and EMS service collaboration spearheaded by UW-L’s John Kovari gave very good direction for our communities to follow should we choose to work more closely together in those areas. All of these decisions should be made with significant input from the public and always weighted by the consideration of ethics, efficiency, and efficacy.

To end on a real tough note: What is your favorite city park?

It actually is tough to pick a favorite among all of the extraordinary parks and public spaces we have. I arrived in the city of La Crosse in the late summer of 1994 and was immediately taken by the trails of Hixon Forest. It’s hard to count the hours and hours I have spent hiking and running those trails by myself and with my family. It’s been thrilling to watch the work of ORA and the expansion of all of the trail systems in the area. That truly is an extraordinary resource. So that would be high on my list. I also have a soft place in my heart for Powell Park. When times were tough and the road out of poverty seemed unbearably long, I would walk with my children to Powell Park and we would play and sing and just be really silly. Hard to forget Poage Park and the joy of watching that park’s dedication and new identity come to life and knowing I had a small hand in making that happen. I would like to say all of those and many more. But, if I have to pick one, it would be Grandad Bluff Park. It was from there that I looked out over the city on a brutally cold day in January of 1994 and made my decision to move to La Crosse. It was the right decision.