Spring Election 2022: Kenosha County executive candidates Q&A

Voters throughout Kenosha County will have the opportunity to vote in a non-partisan primary Feb 15 for county executive.

There will be three candidates on the ballot Tuesday: Jerry Gulley, Samantha Kerkman and Rebecca Matoska-Mentink.

Incumbent Jim Kreuser did not run for re-election.

Tuesday’s primary will narrow the filed to two for the April 5 ballot.

The same questionnaire was submitted by westofthei.com to each candidate by email. Here are the candidates’ biographical information followed by their question responses, presented in alphabetical order:

Jerry Gulley — Age: 53. Village, town, city where you reside: Pleasant Prairie. Education: East Tennessee State University, The Culinary Institute of America, Leadership Kenosha. Occupation: Business Owner, Health Technology. Previous elected or appointed public office: Kenosha County Supervisor, District 16, Pleasant Prairie.

Samantha Kerkman — Age: 47, mother of two boys. Village, town, city where you reside: Salem Lakes. Education: Graduate – 88’ Randall Grade School, Graduate – 92’ Wilmot High School, Graduate – 96’ UW Whitewater BA Political Science and Minor Criminal Justice. Occupation: State Representative, 61st Assembly District. Previous elected or appointed public office: Appointed Member Kenosha County Local Emergency Planning Committee, Kenosha County Farm Bureau, St. Alphonsus Catholic Church Wheatland, St. John Catholic Church Twin Lakes, Twin Lakes Twin Lakes Chamber and Business Association. Kenosha Area Business Alliance. American Legion Auxiliary, Twin Lakes Post 544.

Rebecca Matoska-Mentink — Age: 52. Village, town, city where you reside: Pleasant Prairie. Education: UW-Parkside, Bachelor’s Degree, History, Carthage College, Paralegal Certification, Cardinal Stritch University: Masters Degree, Management. Occupation: Kenosha County Clerk of Circuit Court. Previous elected or appointed public office: 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 Elected Clerk of Circuit Court.

1.) Why are you the best candidate for Kenosha County executive?

Gulley — The role of county executive calls for an executive, not a career politician. The county is essentially a complex business with close to 1,100 employees and an annual budget of close to a third of a billion dollars. I have over 25 years of experience launching and growing companies and hiring and managing large diverse teams. I am the candidate that brings the most real-world executive experience to the job. I am also the only candidate with direct experience in the Kenosha County legislative branch. I know what the executive should provide to the board to ensure effective and informed decisions. Having been a part of the County Board of Supervisors, I understand the interpersonal dynamics within that body and the inter-working of the committees structure.

Kerkman — As a State Representative, I bring over 20 years of experience collaborating with federal, state, and local leaders to solve problems and create opportunities for Wisconsin citizens. As Kenosha County Executive, I will bring these skills in collaboration to my management of the county.  I have a reputation of being eagle-eyed in saving money for Wisconsin taxpayers.  Over the years, I have helped thousands of constituents receive needed services.  My work on passing the 2008 Uline Jobs Creation Act and 2011 Pleasant Prairie 12% TIF Exemption created thousands of Kenosha County jobs. The Twin Lakes Equalized Value Error Correction Bill, which I sponsored, saved property taxpayers over $200 each. I brought millions of dollars to Kenosha County to enhance county parks and authored a bill allowing Kenosha County to continue providing services to residents, despite the step-down of utility aid payments. I am the only candidate that has a critical understanding of the relationship between county and state government as well as the ability, experience, and vision to guide Kenosha in the years ahead as County Executive.

Matoska-Mentink — I love Kenosha County. I was born here, raised here, educated here, raised my family here, work here, and am invested here. My dedication, both personally and professionally, run deep. I chose to advance my education to better serve our community. Roles of the County Executive include preparation of the annual budget  and appointment and supervision of county department heads as well as county boards and commissions. I have been involved in the budget process for over 18 years. I have a proven record as a fiscally conservative steward of tax payer dollars. I manage and supervise a staff of over 40 employees in my current role as Clerk of Court. I have worked with many county and local agencies to ensure services are provided to our community. In my executive leadership in community organizations, I have been and continue to be involved in hiring processes of executive directors and other personnel. I have a high level of institutional knowledge to build on where we’ve come from. My experience and education in these two areas are the primary reasons that I am the qualified candidate for this position, but coupled with my dedication, passion and commitment to ensuring that Kenosha continues to grow, prosper and move forward are what makes me the best candidate.

2.) What do you see as the chief issues controlled by the county government that affect Western Kenosha County residents and how would you address them if elected?

Gulley — The County is responsible for delivering servicer to ALL residents – it doesn’t matter which side of the “I” they live on. In too many cases, those services are centralized closer to downtown Kenosha. The Department of Human Services (which includes the Health Department, Workforce Development, Veterans Services, and so many other services) accounts for a full third of the over $300,000,000 budget. We could do a much better job of making it easier for folks living in the western side of our county to access those services. I’m proud of the “pop-ups” that Human Services has held that bring services directly to where folks are, and we need more of them. Every Kenosha County resident deserves a strong and modern Infrastructure – that incudes roads and highways, public safety and law enforcement, well-maintained parks and open spaces, AND technology access like broadband. Those will be prioritized under my management. You can learn more about my vision for the county at GulleyForCountyExec.com.

Kerkman  Keeping our Communities Safe: Over the past two years, public safety, including speeding, reckless driving, violence, and the recent increase of home invasions, has become the issue of greatest concern in Kenosha County. One of the roles of the County Executive is to work with law enforcement partners and community leaders to address these challenges. I regularly attend the Kenosha County Traffic Safety Committee and County Fire Chief and Captains meetings and I’m a member of the Kenosha County Local Emergency Planning Committee. Every meeting I attend gives me a greater understanding of the needs of our local first responders and our communities.  Investing in our Infrastructure:  Access to broadband internet service is another issue that comes up frequently and has a big impact on how we live, learn, and do business. During my time in the legislature, I have supported adding millions of dollars to help to expand access to the high-speed internet across the state and right here in Kenosha County. Just last year, I worked with State Senator Van Wanggarrd, Kenosha County Government, the Village of Bristol, and the towns of Paris and Brighton to help bring high-speed internet to the underserved parts of the county. In addition to broadband, I believe that maintaining our county roads is important to economic development and our quality of life. Over the past two years, County highway W and the bridge on county highway JB have been closed because of failing infrastructure. We need to do a better job of inspecting and planning ahead, instead of just being reactive. In the most recent state budget, I advocated for funding for the Southeastern Wisconsin Fox River Commission to help write grants to address imminent streambank erosion problems along County Highway W. Access to Quality Services: The largest part of our county budget is human services, which is close to $106 million. Most of those dollars come from the state and federal government; county government acts as an arm of the state government in providing services. Finding the time or resources to locate these services can be difficult for our community. Sometimes people are apprehensive or don’t know where to go to get the help they need. I want to continue to bring needed services to Western Kenosha County while increasing access in the city. Recently, the county began Health Care on the Go, which is a great way to bring services throughout the county and introduce people to services that were previously unknown to them. Finally, we have a gem in Brookside Care Center. I fully support Brookside and I want to ensure that Brookside is well-positioned financially to continue to provide outstanding care to the people across Kenosha County.

Matoska-Mentink — Two of the chief issues that I feel affect Western Kenosha County that are controlled by county government are safe roads and access to the internet. 1) Road maintenance and improvements are imperative to a strong infrastructure and also enhance community safety. Providing for sufficient funds for county road projects will be one of the primary goals when allocating budget resources. These road projects are often funded by state and federal grants or economic assistance programs, but can also be supplemented by private investment. Communication and coordination to ensure all funding sources are obtained and utilized are key for smaller burdens to our local taxpayers.  It is also my intent to work closely with municipalities to coordinate projects, especially those that run through towns. In the past, road projects would often include a widening to accommodate bicycles or pedestrians. I would continue with that precedent when the option is available. There are currently many county road projects in various stages of repair construction or design. Communication with boards and the affected communities and stakeholders will be a priority of my administration. 2) For years our rural communities have struggled with access to affordable and reliable access to the internet. Broadband access is a priority for business retention, expansion and creation. Additionally, many of our citizens rely on access to the internet for business purposes, educational needs, or as a general amenity that is often expected in all areas where we live and play. The County is actively engaged in broadband initiatives to address network deployment for access, transport and affordability to unserved and underserved areas. Collaborating with municipalities to enhance their grant submissions through the use of county mapping or other data collection activities, or assisting in identification of additional funding opportunities, both public and private, already occur. I will commit to the continuation of providing  available county resources for projects that will enhance digital equity. 

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