The Periscope Group is proud to present this preview of some of the local spring elections that tend to fly a bit under the radar. Another way of saying this is, some readers don’t know who is running and/or don’t know much about many or even most of the candidates. So, we are going to focus on the three contested City Council races in the City of Manitowoc, along with the contested School Board election for the Manitowoc Public School District.
Our custom is to stop short of outright endorsements, but still provide information through the lens of our political philosophy, which focuses on taxpayer-friendly common sense solutions, accountability, and results. We try to be fair to all candidates and give anyone who puts themselves in the public eye to run for office a ton of credit. That said, we will also point out things that we believe bring positives or negatives to a certain elected position. Also, I know some of the candidates first-hand, while I had to try to learn about others through websites, social media, and recordings of public statements that the candidates made during organized forums.
City of Manitowoc
In the City of Manitowoc, five aldermanic slots come up for reelection each spring, with a two year term at stake. This spring, in District 2, long-time Alderman Scott McMeans is not seeking reelection, and Chad Beeman is the only declared candidate to replace him. In District 10, Alderman Courtney Pelot is not seeking reelection, and Todd Reckelberg is the only declared candidate to replace her. District 1 pits incumbent Brett Vanderkin versus challenger Theresa Schmitt. In District 3, Mike Cummings is facing off against Theresa Collins and in District 7, Scott Pelot is opposed by Tim Boldt. So, we will have at least 4 new aldermen after this election. Turnover in local government is sorely needed, so the Scope is happy to see this. We will go into a bit of detail on the contested races.
District 1 (southeast part of city)—Incumbent Brett Vanderkin vs Theresa Schmitt
There is a big of intrigue in this race, as Theresa Schmitt announced that she was dropping out of the race in the face of some legal challenges. However—and please be careful here—Ms. Schmitt will still be on the ballot because she turned in her nomination papers before making the dropout announcement. So, it’s possible that Ms. Schmitt could still win, as you can still vote for her! Getting back to the race, Mr. Vanderkin has an impressive background in IT, economics, and political science, and he seems to have a good philosophy regarding taxation and economic development. He hasn’t overly visible during his first term, but it does take a while to get your sea legs. In fairness to Ms. Schmitt, she did make a statement at the candidate’s forum where she said that has made mistakes, but has learned from them, and is a cancer patient. She alluded to having been bullied since her legal issues came to light.
District 3 (downtown and residential areas north and south)—Mike Cummings vs. Theresa Collins
There’s even more intrigue in this race, as Theresa Collins announced that she was dropping out of the race in the face of sexism-motivated bullying. However—and please be careful here—Ms. Collins will still be on the ballot because she turned in her nomination papers before making the dropout announcement. So, it’s possible that Ms. Collins could still win, as you can still vote for her! Ms. Collins made what could be described as a bombshell announcement at the beginning of the candidate forum, and I strongly encourage you to watch it yourself so that I don’t get accused of twisting words. https://www.facebook.com/cityofmanitowoc/videos/760760331223618
[See the minute marks of 16:50 – 19:16]
I do have a few follow up comments though. First, I did try to follow up with Ms. Collins to find out specifics of the bullying—would she provide me with any specific threats that she received. She repeatedly refused to answer my questions and in fairness to her, she said that anything that she would show me would identify the person(s) that were bullying her, and she said that she didn’t want to put a target on anyone else.
Fair enough, and certainly her choice. But—She did level some very serious accusations against the current Council—She is calling them bullying sexists! If that is true, then this is clearly deplorable behavior. But, it is far different from anything that I witnessed during my ten years on Council (2008-2018).
There’s something else going on that needs to be pointed out. In my communication with Ms. Collins, she indicated that she would still take her seat should she be elected, to represent the voter’s will. (She will still be on the ballot—Did I mention that already?) Yet, in her announcement she stated that she didn’t want to have to handle the constant bullying if she was elected. So why is she now saying that she will take her seat if she’s elected? If bullying was enough to force her out of the race as a candidate, how will she handle it as an alderman? Remember—She’s still on the ballot and has stated that she will take her seat if she is elected. The Scope thinks there may be a bit more to this “dropout” than may first appear.
Mr. Cummings seems like he will be just fine on the Council. He has a public safety and business background and owns two businesses. Seems to look at different sides of issues and doesn’t seem overly ideological. I am a bit worried about how independent he would be, as cronyism is one of my biggest issues with the current Council. Most of my concern about Cummings’ independence comes from this particularly cringeworthy presentation to the City Council during public comment. (Comments are from 16:15 to 19:35)
District 7 (south central part of city)—Scott Pelot vs. Tim Boldt
Hmm, there are quite a few similarities between these two candidates. They are about the same age, and they both have been quite active in sports coaching (Pelot with wrestling, Boldt with football and baseball). They both think that we really, really, really need to focus on repairing our streets, and they both want to see more development, especially downtown. Where they are different: Pelot—who is the father of former Alderman Courtney Pelot–comes from a teaching background, while Boldt spend 20 years in the Air Force before returning to Manitowoc. Wish I had a bit more to say about this race!
Manitowoc School Board of Education
Here there are 8 candidates vying for 4 open seats. The School Board has 7 members and they serve a two year term. There are 3 incumbents—Lisa Johnston, Dick Nitsch, and Kerry Trask—and 5 challengers—Collin Braunel, Aaron Erdmann, Rhonda Neumann, Tim Reis, and Stacey Soeldner. (In full disclosure, Stacey is my wife.)
You can vote for up to four candidates, and The Periscope Group strongly recommends that you consider voting for 4 of the 5 challengers.
To start, our school district is simply broken. Whatever they are doing simply isn’t working, and people in charge seem to think not only that everything is fine, but even that we have a really great district! The district report card keeps showing lower and lower scores, and we are falling farther and farther behind other districts. (More detail and some actual comparisons, albeit a bit dated, can be found at https://theperiscopegroup.org/schoolreportcards.) The district completely butchered the COVID response, keeping schools closed far longer than many other districts, and only opening a few weeks ago, conveniently just before the election in which a school funding referendum is on the ballot. Consider me a tad cynical of the timing.
Every time the board considered reopening the schools, the vote was always 7-0 against doing so. That means, obviously, that all of the incumbents voted to keep schools closed. Now, I do believe that there’s a good chance that their hearts were in the right place, and I can’t believe that they were trying to harm students, or that there was anything overtly diabolical in their behavior. For example, for months they had firm allegiance to a set of gating requirement that dictated whether schools should reopen. The requirements were rigid, extremely difficult to understand, and were not updated to reflect what was being learned about COVID and its relationship to schools.
Whatever the case, the decision was disastrous, and it’s far from the only head-scratcher that the district has come up with over the recent years. As I said earlier, I don’t have anything personal against any of the incumbents, and I believe that they were trying to do their best. But it’s just not working, and there is very little risk to try a different approach and vote in as many of the challengers as we can. What’s the worst that could happen? Our district would get worse? It’s been in a downward spiral for years—Time to try something new.
I have to mention something else about the unanimous vote pattern. Some readers who follow closely might note that I am listing Kerry Trask as an incumbent, even though he has only been on the board for a few months. What happened there was a naughty trick that offers a glimpse into the groupthink mindset of the board. A position on the board opened due to a resignation. Normally, this spot would stay open until the next election, so that the voters could choose a replacement. Here, though, even with only a few months left before the election, the Board decided to choose their own replacement. A slate of 5 qualified candidates (Aaron Erdmann, Mike Gregurich, Rhonda Neumann, Tim Reis, Kerry Trask) were interviewed by the Board to fill the seat, and Trask was selected by a 5-0 vote! Do you have any doubt that he was picked because he’s going to rock the boat? Not a chance! That’s why we’re calling him an incumbent!
I understand that some voters like to keep some incumbents to preserve continuity, institutional memory, and so forth. So, you might be tempted to vote for 1 or 2 challengers to inject some new blood, but then a couple incumbents to preserve stability. If you are thinking of doing this, I exhort you to reconsider, simply for numerical reasons. Let’s say that 1 or 2 challengers get on the board. Then bad decisions are still passing, just by 6-1 or 5-2 votes rather than 7-0 votes. It may give reformers warm feelings to have a teammate on the Board, but the reformer(s) will be a lone cry of dissent in the wilderness rather than a policy maker.
Finally, looking again at numbers, the statistical “pigeonhole principle” is in play. What this means is that at least one challenger will gain a seat (because there are only 3 incumbents running and there are four seats open), and even if the challengers somehow sweep the election, one of them will not be on the board (because there are 5 challengers and 4 seats open). I would encourage any challenger who does not gain a seat this time to run again next year, when three more spots will be open. It will take a few years to get this board turned around, and we need good people.
As I said, the Periscope Group supports any of the five challengers. Here’s a very short reason why we think each of these candidates would be a welcome addition:
Collin Braunel—A principled conservative with two children. I served on the Council with Mr. Braunel for two years and he sticks to his beliefs. Has been active in the County GOP for several years.
Aaron Erdmann—An accountant and financial auditor. An accountant and financial auditor! Would bring financial know-how and data-based decision making to the board, and appears to be quite conservative.
Rhonda Neumann—A mom with several children who has an abundance of common sense, which is far from common among elected officials! Ms. Neumann has a background in government (County level) and has a plain spoken manner that will appeal to many voters.
Tim Reis—Works to help underperforming companies turn around. Works to help underperforming companies turn around! Has a problem solving approach and soundly believes that the school district can and should be doing much better. Really hard to see him getting pushed around by the status quo crowd.
Stacey Soeldner—A doctoral level psychologist who has done a lot of work with adolescents. Business owner. Not afraid to speak her mind.