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You asked, mayoral hopefuls answered

March 11, 2014

Readers submitted the following questions for mayoral candidates Mayor Steve Ponto and former mayor Jeff Speaker. Here's how they responded.

Q If city employees retire, will you take their retirements as an opportunity to reorganize and cut overhead?

A Speaker said during his time as mayor, the city eliminated about 35 positions by consolidating jobs, hiring out and finding efficiencies. He said any time a position became available, department heads had to justify to him why they should keep it.

If elected, Speaker said he would continue to scrutinize the need for any position that opens.

"I think it is a mayor's duty to evaluate every vacancy that comes up," Speaker said.

A Ponto said the city has already found such opportunities and saved money as a result.

When the Director of Administration retired in 2010, Ponto said he took on many of his roles and hired someone at a lower level to offset the vacancy, saving the city $100,000 per year. Another position in the Department of Community Development was also not replaced when the employee left.

"As opportunities present themselves, we take a close look at that," Ponto said.

Q The mayor's budget for meetings, conferences and travel has increased. What are Brookfield taxpayers getting out of this?

A The most recent budget marked an increase in the fund for the mayor's meetings, conferences and travel from $4,310 adopted in 2013 to $4,800 adopted in 2014. In his budget summary, Ponto noted the increase was a reflection of increased costs for attending events by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, League of Wisconsin Municipalities and Brookfield Chamber of Commerce. To offset the increase, Ponto said he adjusted the special activities budget, which went down $600 in 2014.

"I think it's very important to know what's going on at the federal level and throughout the country," Ponto said. "I have a lot of people I know I can call on throughout the country about various matters."

Ponto has also traveled to Madison to testify on several state bills that he thought would directly impact Brookfield, such as the recent state law that expanded the allowance of bowhunting in more urban areas.

A Speaker said he would try to be very conservative about his travel budget. When he was mayor, he was allocated $3,000 for meetings, conferences and travel in the 2010 budget.

"I will do everything I can to make sure only necessary trips are taken, that have a specific purpose and specific benefit to the city of Brookfield," Speaker said.

He said when he was mayor, he would go to meetings of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, but not every one. About four times a year, he would go to Madison to lobby with the league. He would also attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which he said was helpful in generating ideas for the city.

"We don't always have to reinvent the wheel, so sometimes it's an advantage to see what they have done and how it worked," Speaker said.

Q Every development project seems to include many zoning variances for size, parking, public financing, etc. Why are businesses so often exempt from these rules, while homeowners are often told we can't build anything?

A Speaker said it's not every business that gets an exemption, but sometimes it may be important to encourage investment.

"I don't think we're always making variations, but in some cases variations are needed to get people to reinvest in their property," Speaker said.

He recognized that many homeowners have been frustrated with the barriers they face in trying to develop their own properties.

"The residents don't feel like they can do anything in the city, which tells me the government has gotten too far-reaching," Speaker said. "I've always been open to look at everything on a case-by-case situation, and make a decision based on each case. In talking to people, that's how you get to know their problems and not just say 'no.'"

A Ponto said while developments are sometimes granted flexibility, the standards imposed on them are still rigorous.

"If you look at buildings that have gone up in Brookfield, I think the standards we impose usually are significantly higher than other communities, and we get more attractive buildings," Ponto said. "Businesses really want to locate in Brookfield because of our population and because we have set a high bar for all commercial development.

Ponto said the rules for homeowners are meant to foster a certain aesthetic. The limitation on fences he said "emphasizes the openness of the community." But he noted city officials have been willing in some cases to reexamine rules and grant exceptions, like they have for garages.

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