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Election Q&A: Marathon County Board of Supervisors, Dist. 11

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Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review will publish a series of Q&As in the days leading up to the April 3 spring election for contested seats in the Wausau metro area. For a sample ballot and general election information, visit the Marathon County election information page. Watch for more election coverage and be sure to bookmark our elections page here. Candidates, listed in alphabetical order, were given the opportunity to answer identical questions in the interest of fairness. Their unedited answers are listed below.

Letters to the editor are encouraged through Monday, April 2. Email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com.


Marathon County Board of Supervisors, District 11

Alyson Leahy, Challenger

Age 31, lives in Wausau. Associate Production Artist, Eastbay/Footlocker

Photo credit: Alex Eichten

Government Experience: First time running for elected political office (although I was heavily involved in student government/FFA offices). I also went through an educational training program called Emerge WI, in the Spring of 2017. This was an amazing opportunity to learn from former politicians, organizers and government workers as I pursued running for office. The program walked students through messaging, canvassing, campaign finance and much more.

Community Involvement: Co-Founder and Organizer of the Wausau Makers Market, Co. This organization was founded to provide an outlet for makers, artists and small business owners to sell their products while feeling connected and engaged within their own community. I am an entrepreneur at heart! While I appreciate online shopping as much as the next person, there is something special that happens when you purchase a handmade item directly from the maker – not to mention that that money remains with the business owner and in our community.

Political affiliation: I consider myself a progressive person, who leads with compassion and empathy for others, yet values evidenced-based research and critical thinking in the decision-making process. I truly believe that a Board of diverse individuals working together to achieve a common goal is necessary and possible, even in a divisive national political climate. This is a non-partisan position for a reason, and if elected I intend to listen to my fellow District 11 neighbors and make decisions based on what will do the most good for the greatest number of people.

Why are you running for office?

I’m running because local government is important; these are the bodies that make decisions that can have a real and immediate impact on community members. I want to see a more diverse County Board to ensure that all voices are being heard and represented. As a Millennial woman, and an artist by profession, I think I can bring a fresh perspective to the board, along with creative thinking and creative problem solving skills. I want to see a more inclusive and participatory government, and I believe that starts with elected officials who are willing (and excited!) to engage with the community to create an environment where everyone can live their best lives.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing county officials in the next two years? / What is your vision and strategy for addressing the opioid addiction crisis?

The ongoing opioid crisis is a troubling challenge with long-term social and economic consequences. I think it will be important to address this multifaceted problem with input from a variety of sources, like mental health/medical professionals, educators and law enforcement groups. Partnerships of experts will be key in developing realistic yet effective solutions. I am happy to see that more attention is being given to collecting data and information about how current initiatives are working. This is not an issue limited to Marathon County; we can look to other counties, cities and states to gain insight into preventative measures and long-term solutions. I don’t think we can afford to ignore new ideas. In my work, brainstorming is key, and I would hope to bring that inquisitive and creative mindset to the table.

If new resources were available, what one area of county services would you feel most needs additional resources?

If new resources were available, I would definitely like to see additional funding invested in addiction prevention initiatives, rehabilitation programs and social work/case management professionals. It is imperative that anyone seeking help has access to affordable care, and that the professionals in charge of that care have the resources they need.

If some magical alternate reality of infinite funding came to be, I’d love to look into ideas for increased communication methods between officials and constituents. As I’ve been talking with others in my district, something that’s come up is a lack of awareness about local issues, or a lack of understanding in how to go about researching said issues. Perhaps this would mean a more user-friendly county website, a more accessible way of distributing information or a public relations blitz. Again, magical alternate reality! But my underlying point is that communication is SO IMPORTANT. As demographics shift, we must reach constituents and potential voters in the ways in which they will respond and interact. Engagement is not one-size-fits-all.

Should any part of the county budget be shielded from cuts? And if so, which area?

Like most others, I’d like to shield those most essential services from cuts – emergency services, Sheriff’s Department, etc. Safety will always be a top priority when making the difficult budgeting decisions.

What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in the county?

The jail will be a major project, if the Board decides a new facility is the best option for the county. I think we’ll also see nursing home issues come to the forefront.

Where do the biggest threats to the county’s financial stability lie?

Short-term, the costs associated with jail overcrowding is a threat to financial stability – this is why it is imperative to find long-term solutions to those root causes, to ensure we’re not constantly applying band-aids. I think we should all remember, too, that WI counties continue to see less revenue from the state and national levels, which will put greater pressure on local governments to come up with creative solutions to ensure essential programs remain in place and remain effective.

What, specifically, will you do to improve the quality of life for the people of Marathon County?

I’ve talked with a couple of neighbors who have said something along the likes of “I raised three kids in Wausau. None of them live here now.” I am concerned with attracting and retaining a younger workforce within the county, to keep the area an economically viable place to live and work long-term. We need jobs with living wages and benefits and affordable (yet safe) housing options, and whenever possible I will advocate for these measures.

Anything else you’d like voters to know?

I would like voters to know that I’m eager to hear from them, and eager to learn. I have had a BLAST walking around the neighborhoods of District 11, meeting and talking with neighbors – this has already been such a rewarding experience, and I thank everyone for the time they’ve given as I’ve knocked on their doors. I hope everyone knows that they can reach out to me with any questions or concerns regarding the district and county issues. Lastly, I would encourage voters to have an election day plan and to take some friends along to the polls!


Todd Van Ryn, Incumbent

Age 57, lives in Wausau. Pastor of Merrill Bible Church, pastor of Hispanic group “Casa de Oraton,” Spanish teacher at Trinity Lutheran School.

Government Experience: Was appointed to represent District 11 on the Marathon County Board of Supervisors July 2017

Community Involvement: Help distribute food to shut-ins in Wausau via the Feeding America program at our church; have worked with the Hispanic community in the Wausau/Merrill areas

Political affiliation (if any): None

Why are you running for office?

I never was privileged to serve my country, and I feel this gives me an opportunity to serve my community. I have enjoyed the fact that the county board is a non-partisan board focused on making Marathon County the Healthiest, Safest, Most Profitable county in Wisconsin. It has been a family-friendly community and I would like to see that continue. Families our the foundation of our community, and as families go, so goes the community!!

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing county officials in the next two years?/What is your vision and strategy for addressing the opioid addiction crisis?

Obviously, the opioid crisis is not only a major concern in our county, but it is a major concern of our state and nation. While we have to provide care for the families affected by this crisis, we also have to be proactive in helping families avoid its grip! So, it is the opioid crisis. This affects the county in more ways than we imagine. It has increased the occurrence of domestic abuse, has tied up our courts creating too much time between arrest and trial, has crowded our jails, has created a shortage of workers, has put a strain on our foster care and child placement system, and the list goes on and on. As a result, there is not just one obvious course of action. I like what I am seeing in terms of response. We are getting a new judge, there is a program of mediation that has been introduced to help address other issues that fill the court dockets, there is an on-going partnership between Marathon County agencies and community and faith-based agencies to address those affected by the opioid crisis, doctors have been prescribing warm water therapy as an alternative to opioids in addressing pain issues, a new committee is being formed with buy-in from a variety of community leaders; mental health care providers; the District Attorney’s office; the Wausau Police and Marathon County Sheriff’s office; etc. to lead the charge in addressing the local opioid crisis–responsibly and proactively. With this in mind, there are decisions to be made about the extent of the services we provide at the North Central Health Center, as well as the validity of the need for a new jail.

If new resources were available, what one area of county services would you feel most needs additional resources?

It would be county services that address the opioid crisis and promote strong families. That obviously includes Child and Family Services, but I would like to see programs that proactively address the crisis. Most of our efforts in years past have been spent on trying to respond to the crisis that has overwhelmed us. And it will only be effective if Marathon County as a whole can unitedly acknowledge it as our problem, so that we can all fight it together under the county’s leadership!

Should any part of the county budget be shielded from cuts? And if so, which area?

Let me answer the question this way: Are the dollars being spent on the most effective way to  address each of the issues the budget addresses. We are hoping to focus on that through the new budgeting process we have adopted that helps us prioritize the issues each department of Marathon County is tasked to address within their area of responsibility. Will their be cuts; most likely. But rather than looking at it as a negative, I would like to think we have found more effective ways of using tax dollars to achieve even better outcomes.

What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in the county?

Unfortunately, from my limited time on the board, it looks like in an effort to avoid spending money, which makes all of us happy as tax payers, we have put ourselves in a position that we now have to spend money to avoid having to spend substantially more in our future. For example, we have known for awhile that the roof at the library leaks. But, we keep passing on addressing it. If we don’t address it now, we could have a disaster on our hands in the not too distant future, and instead of having planned spending, we will have emergency spending. We don’t like those type of scenarios in our own households, do we?

What is your assessment of the county’s overall financial position? Where do the biggest threats to the county’s financial stability lie?

Overall, Marathon County is in a great financial position at the moment; the challenge is to maintain this solid financial position while addressing the needs of our community over the next couple of years. As I have alluded to above, we have needs at North Central Health Center, a need for a new jail, etc. Those don’t come cheap, and yet, it’s not cheap, for example, to pay Lincoln County for use of their jail. That all adds up. Yes, ideally we get control of the opioid crisis, let’s say, and the jail population decreases as a result; but we aren’t there yet. As a county board, we are sensitive to maintaining a strong financial position, while properly addressing the needs of our county, which goes beyond the walls of the greater Wausau area.

What, specifically, will you do to improve the quality of life for the people of Marathon County?

Again, I go back to my belief that the family is the foundational unit of a community. I want to promote activities and events, our county parks system (Our daughter-in-law made a priority of visiting, and repeatedly visiting, every one of our county parks she was aware of with our 3 grandchildren, and used it for teachable moments. The reality was that it kept them away from the “electronic baby-sitters” that have been default of many parents today, and has contributed to a very healthy development for them.), ethnic festivals, and other “placemaking” type events that could lead Marathon County to be an even better place to raise a family. Obviously that assumes that our parents are willing and able to commit to that.

Anything else you’d like voters to know?

I am grateful for the time I have been part of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, and would love to continue representing the 11th District. It has truly been a learning experience, and is much different than I imagined. For example, like all other tax paying members of the county, I did not like the wheel tax. But sitting in the meetings, hearing all the facts, knowing that it costs $205,000 per mile, and that we try to do 30 miles of county roads annually (which is at a current cost of over $6M, way above the budgeted amount from the tax levy, and assumes a 20-year life cycle for county roads), the only other option was to not repair them. And, I didn’t want that. I feel like I have just begun to be comfortable with the process, and would like the opportunity to see some of the initiatives that are still in their infancy, through to their final implementation. Most importantly, I would just like to encourage our 11th District to get out and vote. And, yes, I would like to receive your vote. It serves as confirmation that we are moving in the right direction.

My wife, Sherry, and I have been married almost 36 years. We have 5 children, four of whom graduated from Wausau West, and four from universities here in Wisconsin. We also have four grandchildren.

I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.S. in Accounting, and a Minor in Spanish. I am a CPA, and also have an MBA in International Business from Concordia University in Mequon, WI. I spent two years with a public accounting firm in downtown Chicago, and then 17 1/2 years with a Fortune 500 Company, who had been my client. We moved 7 times during this tenure in the corporate world, including a 1 1/2 year stint in Puerto Rico, where I had been raised. After I left the corporate world, I became an entrepreneur with my wife, as we incorporated here in Wisconsin under the name 5 Loaves & 2 Fish, Inc. For the last 18 years, we have operated 5 Christian bookstores, including one in Wausau, from November 2000 to December 2014. So, I have experience with both big business and small, family-owned business, and challenges each have.

​Hence, my focus on family, and financial stewardship when balancing spending with effectively meeting the needs of our community.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve!

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