Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Kristie Schilling Makes Ambitious Push In Write-In Campaign For Mayor Of Monona

The candidate sees a need — and potential — for economic development projects in the suburban city

If you live in the city of Monona, you may have noticed a postcard in your mailbox this week asking you to vote for a candidate named Kristie Schilling. But when you go to vote on Tuesday, April 2, you won't see her name on the ballot.

That's because Schilling, who is running for mayor of Monona, is doing so as a write-in candidate. Schilling is currently the CEO of the Monona East Side Business Alliance, and believes that new vision is needed for the city in the years ahead.

As a curious voter myself, I sent a series of questions to Schilling hoping that she'd respond so that I could place her answers here, for other Monona voters to read and consider her candidacy. Her responses to my questions are below:


According to the Herald Independent, you entered the race as a write-in candidate with only 10 days to go before election day. What drove you to make the decision to run? Why do you think change is needed in Monona?

Yes, this just might be the shortest political campaign in history!

I have been serving this city for the past four and a half years as CEO of the Monona East Side Business Alliance. I love this city, it is my home and my kids will graduate from the Monona Grove School District — so I’m here for the long haul.

In short, the system is not setup for someone like me to run for mayor. I’m a single mom, I own my home, I have a demanding job, and I do not come from a family of means. The role of mayor pays only $200/month and that’s the reason retirees or the independently wealthy run for positions like this. I’m neither of those things. I have to be able to provide for my family but I want to serve my community.

I made this decision so late because I realized that I would have to pledge to resign from my current job at MESBA and find a new job in order to launch this campaign. That is both terrifying and exciting. But I’m hoping that by stepping into the ring, I will inspire others to serve their communities and it will allow me to take my work in Monona to the next level.

When I drive around the Madison and surrounding suburbs, there are cranes going up everywhere. Currently, Monona has one at Yahara Commons, but, we are so well positioned geographically that I believe we should be seeing more developments to help us grow our tax base.

We’re a very small community — 3.3 square miles with a robust business community — approximately 450 businesses in that small footprint. They are a major part of our tax base. We have numerous infill development opportunities available. The majority of transportation infrastructure lies in our backyard — we’re minutes from the Interstate, Highway 51, and Dane County Regional Airport. The busiest Beltline Highway interchange is in Monona at Stoughton Road and the Beltline with 184,000 cars passing through every day.

We need to be more vocal in letting people know that Monona is open for business and that opportunities do indeed exist here.

You've served as CEO of the Monona East Side Business Alliance (MESBA) for over four years now. What accomplishments are you most proud of during your tenure, and how will your leadership within that organization translate to how you might run the city?

When I was hired, I was hired as the Executive Director of the Monona Chamber of Commerce. It was in a fiscal crisis and we’d had over 100 members drop that year.

I started by gathering feedback from current members, dropped members, stakeholders, and anyone that had an opinion to express to figure out what the major problems were. You can’t fix the problem unless you know, specifically, what the problem is right? I joke that I still have the scars on my back from those early conversations.

I allowed people to unload their frustrations on me and it was the start of gaining their trust and forging relationships with people I’d never met before. After a couple of months, I realized that the brand was so badly damaged that the best approach would be to wipe the slate clean and rebrand with a new name. I approached our Mayor at the time and told him my idea and he thought it was brilliant.

After receiving his blessing, I developed a plan for the rebrand and six months after I started, the Monona East Side Business Alliance (MESBA) was born on February 26, 2015. It’s one thing to have big ideas, but it’s another thing to successfully implement those ideas.

We had no money and were working off a $4,000 line of credit so I built the website myself, designed the logo and tagline, established a solid social media presence, and wrote the media releases. I also published the first “Guide to the Monona Area,” an annual magazine promoting our community locally and regionally. I did all of the photography, design, copywriting, and editing myself. It was a one woman shop at that time but it’s the thing I’m most proud of — building an economic engine for the east side with Monona serving as the hub. Three years later, we were 20 members short of tripling the size of the organization.

It’s been interesting seeing the conversations as of late about how businessmen do not necessarily make good leaders in government. That may or may not be true, I think it depends upon the individual. The organizational structure of a nonprofit is very similar to that of a city. With a city, you have the mayor and that equates to the board president or chair. Then you have the hired leader in a city administrator or an executive director. Then you have the staff and all of the committees that branch off underneath the staff.

I’d be very comfortable in the role of mayor because I know exactly what makes an excellent board chair — effective communication, supporting your staff when they’ve made a decision, backing up the staff if a situation arises, assisting staff so that their endeavors are successful, and bringing teams together. Of course, there are many other facets like budgeting, being the face of a city, taking some heat at times...but most of all, the role of a mayor is to stay out of the staff’s way so they can do the jobs they’ve been professionally trained to do. I think that’s where a lot of mayors go wrong — they get too involved in the staff’s work and micromanaging projects and tensions arise.

Another accomplishment I’m proud of is the Momentum Urban Arts project that is coming up on August 24, 2019. I’m working with a local street art business, Momentum Art Tech, to bring 60-70 street artists to do a live painting event all day on August 24. Street artists will be painting murals on the walls of businesses up and down Monona Drive. This event has incredible potential for the City of Monona! There’s a similar thing called Wynwood Walls in Florida and people travel from all over the country to see it. Search #MononaMurals if you want to learn more. I’m currently applying for arts and tourism grants to get the project off the ground. It will be the first year for the event.

What aspects of Monona are you proud of, and what are you hoping to change as mayor? What policy initiatives or plans do you see for the city's future?

Our retail community is proving to be amazing and I’m incredibly proud that they are rising to the challenge of competing with online shopping. They are facing challenges like never before but they have established themselves as destination retailers. Stores like Rutabaga Paddlesports, Reptile Rapture, The Cozy Home, Booth 121, Habitat Restore, Monona Shoe Repair, Rosy Cheeks Dancewear, Fraboni’s, Ken’s Meats & Deli, Karner Blue Candle & Supply, to name a few.

I’m also amazed at the residents’ willingness to volunteer to help our community with the Monona Farmers Market, Monona Community Festival, the Monona Memorial Day Parade, the Monona Fall Festival & Chili Cookoff. Monona residents have city pride that I’ve never seen anywhere else. We really rally together when needed especially when we know thousands of people will get a chance to experience our awesome little city.

One of the ways I often describe the people and vibe of Monona is through a story of the weekend I moved to Monona. I was driving down Nichols Road and it was the weekend of the City Wide Garage Sales. My kids and I were looking for some specific furniture pieces as well as a bike for my son. We saw some chairs sitting on the north side of Nichols Road. One of the pieces we were looking for was a desk chair and one looked ideal. I stopped and checked them out and saw a kitchen island with a “Free” sign on it. It was exactly the piece I needed for my kitchen! But, it was heavy, solid wood.

I managed to get it to the back of my car and was taking a few deep breaths psyching myself up to hoist it into the back of my Subaru wagon. Just as I was about to start the impossible lift, a woman ran out of her home on the south side of Nichols and yelled, “Wait! I can help you!” I was so happy to see her! We formulated our plan and were just bending down to begin the lift, when a man’s voice rang out, “Step aside ladies. I’ve got this.” And the man who was giving away the chairs and the kitchen island had been observing us and came out to help. Have you ever heard of such things?! I had not. And that was the day I fell in love with Monona.

Another great example of how people in Monona look out for each other is in my immediate neighborhood. My neighbors and I all pitch in to watch each others' kids and as a single mom, it’s incredibly helpful.

Currently, there is no vision for Monona. I see so much potential for this city given its excellent geographic position. We’re situated in a high profile area right off the Beltline Highway, and we’re directly across the street from Madison. We have two major developments flanking either side of the city — the Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison convention and cultural center, and the Alliant Energy Campus redevelopment. There are cranes up all over Madison and its suburbs but there’s only one in Monona.

We have some incredible redevelopment opportunities like the South Towne area. I’d really like to see some revisioning happen for that area. Shopko is closing on May 5 and I’ve been coming up with ideas for a new tenant. It’s highly unlikely that it would be a retailer given the current state of brick and mortar retail, so a family entertainment option may be a great option. I’m looking into an indoor soccer complex, roller skating rink, Dave & Buster’s type of place, or a teen center with cultural activities and employment preparation. But I’ll be collecting ideas from community members at my Community Conversations meet and greet on March 30 at Rosie’s Coffee Bar & Bakery from 11-2pm.

Another opportunity is to get Monona on the map in the tourism sector. Currently, $20 billion comes into Wisconsin each year from visitors. $6 billion of that is spent in Dane County. Monona has yet to tap into that market.

We have enormous potential with Lake Monona and Rutabaga Paddlesports, our bike trail, the Monona Lake Loop, our 30 eateries on Monona Drive, our parks and natural areas. I’m well experienced in tourism — I’ve setup a convention and visitors bureau in Fitchburg and I’ve created tourism maps for numerous chambers of commerce in Wisconsin with my first business.

The Monona Murals project is a perfect example of how Monona could easily grab a piece of that revenue. Our area is also very rich in Native American history — there are over 300 indian mounds in Monona and on the east side of Madison. MESBA wants to do Native History bus tours in partnership with the Ho-Chunk Nation as a way to drive guests to our hotels to build on room tax revenue. But in order to do that, MESBA needs to receive room tax dollars from the City.

I’ve also talked about changing our color palette for the city. We have a lot of buildings on Monona Drive that were built in the 60’s & 70’s. Many cities take the safe route in establishing their color palettes and go with tans, browns, grays. When you put those colors on an older building without a lot of architectural details, it does not improve the aesthetics. We are a waterfront community and adopting a color palette like Egg Harbor — bright blues, yellows, oranges — can really inject a fresh and energetic look into your city. I’ve been talking about that idea since my third interview for my current position.

Write-in candidates have a difficult time winning elections — one of the most obvious challenges is that your name doesn't appear on the ballot. What strategies have you implemented in order to get your name out there, to let people know that you're running and to write your name in?

I have a postcard being mailed out to every household in Monona on March 26-27. I have yard signs in the works. I’m hitting social media hard. My background is marketing so I’ve sent my media release to all of the news outlets around the Madison area. It’s been picked up by four outlets so far and I know a couple more are coming.

I know a lot of people in Monona and they’re helping me spread the word. People seem to be excited about embracing a new generation of leadership and vision and I’m certainly interested in continuing my work in making this community even better!

1 comment: