Oconto County Council District 9 primarily features incumbents, newcomers

OCONTO — In the Feb. 15 primary election, two newcomers face off against two incumbents who, thanks to redistricting, have been placed in the new District 9, for the right to advance to the April 5 spring ballot.

In the running are:

  • Gordon Aprill of Oconto Falls, a semi-retired farmer,
  • Jolene Barkhaus of Abrams, who operates a restaurant in the town of Stiles,
  • Al Stranz of Abrams, who served on the board for 10 years, representing the current District 9.
  • Leonard Wahl of Oconto Falls, who for the past four years has served on the board of directors representing the current District 21.

Another incumbent, Fran Wranosky of Oconto Falls who currently represents District 7, was also included in the new District 9. However, he declined to seek re-election.

Candidates responded in writing to the following questions. They had up to 50 words for the first two questions and 200 words for the third question. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Why are you running for election?

April: The situation regarding solar panels has made it a bad situation in this community.

Barkhaus: I hear people’s concerns that our county does not address. I believe it is time for me to step up to help the residents of District 9 be heard and recognized. I have the leadership skills, drive and patience to make sure Oconto County is where we are happy to call home.

Stranz: It is a privilege to use my knowledge and experience to provide the best representation for the residents of the district and for Oconto County as a whole. I am always happy to answer questions, take recommendations and listen to constituents.

Wahl: My time on the board encouraged me to run. I’ve met a lot of people and saved them taxpayers’ money. For example, I saved $8,388 for a city by installing a culvert, because I sat on a subcommittee that got a grant, saving the taxpayers all the cost.

Why should voters elect you to this position?

April: Lifetime resident of this community.

Barkhaus: I am hardworking, compassionate and trustworthy. As County Supervisor of District 9, I will communicate transparently. I will provide an open mind and fresh perspective to all County Council committees and sub-committees. I know the amount of dedication it takes to succeed, and I refuse to fail.

Stranz: With new county council districts, a number of council member retirements and the reorganization of the entire committee structure, continuity is needed to ensure a smooth transition into the future. My combination of knowledge and experience will help me serve and represent constituents.

Wahl: In addition to my time on county council, city council and the fire department, I have been self-employed for 21 years. Budgeting and money management are benchmarks for success in this world, along with dedication, service and commitment.

What do you think are the top one or two issues facing the county and how would you like the city to address them?

April: The problem of solar panels and what it did to this community, and what it would do to land values.

Barkhaus: A major problem facing our county is the lack of transparency given to our residents. There are major developments happening in our county District 9, which I believe are being poorly communicated to our community. Better lines of communication can be created by involving more residents in the workings of our government. Today, board and committee meetings are held mid-morning on weekdays. This does not allow the average worker to sit and listen or volunteer to run for a next seat. With the current calendar he keeps most of the information in the small circle of elected officials. I will work to have the county reassess these times and add additional ways for the community to find the information presented to county council members. It is important that the younger generation is involved in the decision-making process. The issues put to the vote today are generally long-term growth plans for our county that impact everyone’s future. The key to better communication is to involve all residents.

Stranz: The main problem facing the County is the need to develop and manage a long-term budget. Oconto County has long been financially sound, but that doesn’t happen by accident. To maintain the current level of operations and services to citizens, the County must develop strategies and priorities to enable acceptable progress. We must be prepared for future challenges, so keeping our county financially healthy is my top priority. The county must also prioritize hiring, training and retaining quality employees. Staff retention is an issue in several major programs. The county needs to determine and address the reasons behind the retention problem and ensure that we can retain and develop the skilled staff our county needs.

Wahl: An important question is how well the county tracks staff turnover and job performance. Also, how does the county distribute money received from the state and cities to the public. In a nutshell, how is taxpayers’ money being spent to improve the economy and services provided to residents, such as police, ambulances and firefighters? The county is using federal COVID relief money to help pay for new radio towers and a radio system to improve emergency communications.

Do you have immediate family employed by the county? If so, who?

April: No

Barkhaus: No.

Stranz: A daughter, land vice-chancellor at the Department of Land Information Systems.

Wahl: No.

A Brief Overview of District 9 Candidates

Gordon Aprill

Age: 77

Occupation/employer: Semi-retired farmer.

Maximum Education Level: Several courses at NWTC

Family: wife Audrey; two girls

Relevant experience: Several years on the planning committee, including several years as president; member of the Wisconsin Forest Owners Association; US Army 1965-67 (Vietnam veteran in country, 1966)

Jolene Barkhaus

Jolene Barkhaus

Age: 36

Occupation/employer: Owner of SME; owner and operator of JoJo’s Diner in Stiles since 2009.

Maximum Education Level: Associate’s Degree in Marketing; NWTC

Family: Husband, Brian Barkhaus, three children.

Relevant experience: I grew up in the hotel industry, which allowed me to understand people’s needs. Service is in my DNA. I’m always happy to serve, whether it’s a great meal, a smile, or attending meetings to listen and make the right decisions that support the majority goal of the residents of Oconto County, I’m grateful to be at service.

Allan Stranz

Allan (Al) Stranz

Age: 70

Occupation: Retirement; former Supervisor of Environmental Analysis and Review, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (32); after his retirement, he worked for a civil engineering company as an environmental specialist.

Maximum Education Level: BS 1978, UW-Green Bay: Science and Environmental Change – Major in Biology

Family: Wife, Jan; two children

Relevant experience: Member of the Oconto County Board of Directors for the past 10 years, serving on the Roads Committee, Forests and Parks Committee, and Board of Adjustment. Former President of the City of Abrams. Extensive experience with state and local governments in a former job.

Leonard Wahl

Leonard Wahl

Age: 66

Occupation: Independent in excavation and construction.

Maximum Education Level: Graduate, Oconto High School

Family: Refused to answer

Relevant experience: County Board Member for four years, Morgan Town Supervisor for 15 years, and Chief/President of the Green Valley-Morgan Fire Company for 16 years.

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Contact Kent Tempus at (920) 354-6075 or [email protected].

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