Honesty, McManus Removal Overwhelming Topic of Mayoral Election Forum

Left to Right: Bob McManus, Lois TeStrake and Ken Bargender take to the stage to state their case for Mayor. Photo by Branden Bodendorfer | OnFocus

MARSHFIELD, WI (OnFocus) – A mayoral candidate forum was held at the 2nd Ave. Community Center on Wednesday night that had all three candidates, Bob McManus, Lois TeStrake and Ken Bargender, answer questions about hot topics within the Marshfield government.

Hosted by Mike Warren and live-streamed by Marshfield Broadcasting, the full recording of the forum can be viewed here.

Opening statements began the evening as the three candidates had two minutes to state who they are and why they are running.

The first question addressed the candidate’s reasons for running for the position of Mayor. TeStrake stated simply that she wants to bring a new direction to the Mayor’s office.

“I love this town,” TeStrake said. “I want to bring a fresh, honest perspective to the office of Mayor. I want to lead our city with positive outlooks in our community. Continued support and involvement are what I seek for all of you.”

McManus began to dig into the controversy that surrounded him last March as he was removed from office.

“With what I and my family were put through because I spoke up and I fought for the citizens of Marshfield,” McManus said. “As Mayor, you are not the boss, you are a servant. I fought for that in a lot of different areas and people saw that and they knew it was genuine.”

McManus said there were three main concerns that he wanted to address if he were to be elected. He said he wants to help citizens be listened to at the common council meetings and hear their complaints. He also wants to ensure Marshfield public safety organizations stay strong. Finally, he said he wants to ensure that roads are taken care of to help with commuting throughout the city.

Bargender said his reason for running was to help the City with transparency issues that had plagued it in the past.

“After former Mayor Bob McManus was removed from office by the city council for wrongdoing, I felt that the citizens of marshfield deserved to have a mayor that was 100 percent honest, 100 percent trustworthy, 100 percent transparent, 100 percent of the time,” Bargender said.

As the question turned to, “What will be your greatest challenge if elected,” TeStrake and Bargender went first echoing each other’s sentiments. They said trust and integrity needed to be restored to the Mayor’s office and it will be their task to gain that trust from citizens.

McManus refuted their comments during his comment period saying citizens never lost trust in him as he, “exposed what was right.”

“When I started to expose what was right… I had the courage to stand up to that,” McManus said. “I had the courage on the behalf of the citizens to stand up to one commission that felt that they were entitled to do whatever they want. There were people on the council that worked right along with them. That we just can’t have.”

McManus appeared to direct his response at Bargender when referencing the trust issues that Bargender had levied against him.

“The citizens are frustrated with what is taking place in the insider control,” McManus said. “That is what needs to be done. It’s easy to point to one thing. But too many citizens saw exactly what happened. They did their own research and they know right where those trust issues are. They are very, very clear.”

Public Questions

During the public comment section, a citizen came forward and asked the candidates about honesty and how they would be honest during their tenure as Mayor. McManus answered the question by holding up a letter that had been sent with an article about his removal from office last April.

“I don’t know what campaign it’s from. I have no idea. I hear a lot about you’re all about honesty and trustworthy but I don’t see it,” McManus said. “These letters are written out and there is no return address. That to me, is very dishonest. You will never see this kind of thing from me.”

Rita Blenker, realtor at Century 21 Gold Key Realty and coworker of Bob McManus’, posed a question to Bargender during the public comment section. Blenker asked why Bargender called Rita’s office, talked to one of her agents about McManus’s departure from Forward Bank.

Bargender echoed previous remarks about telling the truth and how important that is for people in the Marshfield community.

“The person I talked to, I’m very well acquainted with,” Bargender said. “The truth needs to be told in this community. It always needs the truth, I can’t say more about the truth. When people put fake ads in the paper to make them believe that they are the most honest person around, that they’ve done nothing wrong, it makes me so angry. Don’t keep making false statements to the public.

“He misled staff. He lied to staff. He destroyed over 1,100 City records. He violated state statutes. That’s the truth. He does not deserve to be back in the office of Mayor.”

A citizen noted the investigation into records that had been allegedly destroyed by McManus that ultimately led to McManus’s release from the council and asked how he can justify running for office after all of the evidence that was mounted against him.

McManus stated that the records that were allegedly destroyed were recovered and presented at the removal hearing. McManus said he asks a lot of questions and that is why he asked about disbanding the Fire and Police Commission.

“I ask a lot of questions… We were one of seven cities I think that has optional powers,” McManus said. “But I was kind of taking a look at the Police and Fire Commission and specifically the Police Department because I believed there were serious issues going on. I was listening to the people, I was listening to the city staff in that department. I could show you a list of all the concerns I had. They were going into emails, they were getting into our email system. I was bringing up all kinds of things to look at. We closed a business because they didn’t have a $25 permit. This all came down to one specific department.”

He also stated that he had a jury of eight members that were all Common Council members that had preset agendas in dealing with the removal of McManus. He claimed that if he had a “real jury” that he would not have been found guilty and ultimately removed.

McManus stated that he turned over boxes full of records during the investigation.

TeStrake and Bargender shared sentiments about the lack of record keeping by McManus. Bargender said the people can decide for themselves if what McManus did was right or wrong by watching the hearing.

“Watch the hearing and you make the decision,” Bargender said. “It should have been 10 [votes] to nothing. Not eight to two. It was eight to two because two aldermen are good friends with Bob and would never remove Bob from office. Watch the hearing and listen to the facts.”

A question arose from the crowd about McManus’s treatment of City staff and how he plans to repair those relationships.

McManus said he has many staffers at the City that back him and his candidacy. He then went on to tackle the trial that he thought was unfair.

“When the person that is the prosecutor who also happened to be one of the Police and Fire Commission [members], walks over and goes to a council member, and says before the hearing, ‘This is what you wanted. Don’t screw it up.’ I’ve never heard a prosecutor do this,” McManus said. “The other thing is at breaks, I’ve never seen the prosecutor, in this case, the person bringing the charges, back having dinner with the jury. this was baked in and there’s all kinds of evidence to that.”

OnFocus’s Branden Bodendorfer asked what the candidates would pitch to businesses outside of Marshfield that might be looking to move their operations, employees and families to Marshfield.

McManus responded by saying an ad campaign like ones you see of neighboring cities might be helpful.

“What we have to do is put together and communicate to the outside world all the things that we have here,” McManus said. “We do that through communication and coming up with some good ads that we could put all over. We see here that we’ve got ads for Stevens Point, we’ve got ads for Wausau. We need one so that people know there are resources here. We have tremendous businesses here. I work on a daily basis to bring businesses to Marshfield. I love this city, this is what I do.”

Bargender said Marshfield is a caring community and that’s what people should know when deciding to move here.

“I believe Marshfield is a wonderful place to live,” Bargender said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I’ll probably be buried here too. I’ve raised my family, had my businesses here. People are generally good here in the City of Marshfield. We help one another in times of need. I just think that Marshfield has a lot to offer people. We all know what it has to offer. I just think there’s no reason why someone would not want to move to Marshfield. My slogan says, ‘Together we can make Marshfield better.'”

TeStrake agreed with the first two while saying the City needs to market itself better through word-of-mouth.

“We need to sell ourselves,” TeStrake said. “We don’t need some fancy, shmancy ads and all these other things as long as we reach out to our friends who don’t live here. Let them know what we have. It just keeps going up and up and up even in the worst of times. When I first looked for a business on Central Avenue, there were over 40 locations downtown that had nobody in them. I had a pick of the litter. Now, we still have probably more than we need to but look what’s happened – local, local, local. We have the resources. We have the energy I feel.”

During their closing statements, each candidate expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to speak and reinforced the reasons Marshfield residents should vote for them.

Lois reiterated that the city does not belong to any one person, it belongs to the citizens. She said, “Remember, this is your city. Not mine. Not the City Administrator’s. Not the Common Council’s. But this is our city. I represent honesty, integrity and character.”

McManus thanked the other candidates for running as it helps with competition in the election process.

“‘Why are you running with what you were put through?’ The reason is because I love this city,” McManus said. “I spoke up. I spoke out. I did what was right. I did not just give words. I saw things going on. Ladies and gentlemen, you saw the big issue we’ve had in the Police Department at the highest levels over the last year. I stood up to that and I’ve fought for that and I’ve got the wounds for it. I did that because I wanted to take care of the citizens. I was exposing the insider control so why would I come back? That’s very easy. it’s because I love this City.”

Bargender said he stands for honesty and did not intend to get into arguments with and about McManus.

“I’ve served the City for 14 years,” Bargender said. “I’ve done it honestly. I’ve never lied to anybody, never deceived. I’ve never asked for any favors or never granted any favors. I didn’t come here to fight with Bob tonight, that was not my intention. but I had a feeling it was going to come to that. We have to be united to make Marshfield better. I only want what’s best for this city, I think all of us do.”

The primary election will take place on Feb. 15 with the Wisconsin Spring Election occurring on April 5.

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News Desk
Author: News Desk