Monday, March 21, 2011

My Interview with Andrew Podleski - Candidate for Florissant Mayor

As I said on my last post, I am not coming out in favor of any one candidate. I do not think it is my place. With that said, I feel it is very important that all of the people voting for the Florissant mayor should know something about the candidates. That is why I have chosen to get involved with this mayoral race. I said it before and I will say it again, as Florissant goes, so goes North County.

As you already know, I reached out, via email, to the candidates for Florissant mayor requesting an interview. Three of them responded and said they were open to it. After reaching out to my readers, I drew up 15 questions to ask. All three candidates were sent the same questions. Below, you will find the response from Andrew Podleski exactly as he responded to me, unedited and just as he sent them to me. I hope you read what he has to say and think about it as you decide and choose which candidate will best represent you.

1. What makes you qualified to be Mayor of one of the largest suburbs in the St. Louis area?

I believe I have the necessary professional experience and education to effectively manage our City. My work history has given me opportunities to perform in many roles and our City needs someone who has a varied background, who understands and knows how to organize staff to accomplish the work that needs to be done. I believe I have these skills which will be a great advantage as Mayor. Having been a team leader and
team member allows me to understand both roles necessary to accomplish team tasks.

2. What advantage/skill set makes you more qualified than the other candidates?

A wide range of experiences, and an ability to resolve complex issues or problems is what sets me apart. I have worked in the Military, U.S Government service and in Private Industry in both large and small companies. I have a strong belief in my abilities but recognize a team needs members with varied skill-sets and strengths.

3. What is your stance on the strong Mayor system that Florissant has and why do you feel this way?

The “strong Mayor” system can work well given that the Mayor has good professional skills, experience and personnel management abilities. Using the alternative system with a Mayor and City manager and other staffing to support the City manager is usually more costly because you have multiple salaries to pay versus the one.

Our Charter form of government defines our current Mayor wearing both hats, not only as the head of our City government (i.e. signs legislation into law) but also the role of the chief City Administrator and is charged with running the City on a daily basis. Other cities have a part-time Mayor and a fulltime City Administrator (and in some cases an Assistant Administrator).

I believe the Citizens who framed the Charter wanted to combine these positions so there would be accountability to Citizens through the ballot box. A City Administrator is selected by the City Council, who hires and fires them and is beyond direct accountability to the voters.

Being Mayor is an enormous responsibility. But the Citizens through our Charter have the final say on the direction of the City by controlling the ballot box. I will never forget they are the ultimate boss through the power of their vote.

4. Younger families are flocking to St. Peters and O’Fallon. As Mayor, what are you going to do to attract and retain young families to Florissant.

One thing I believe we need to address is the common perception of many in the metropolitan area that our City and North County is in decline. Our City has housing stock of a wide variety and age range. A great many of our homes were built when materials and craftsmanship in home building was far superior to what you see in many homes today. These well-built homes in established neighborhoods are affordable and excellent values. Plus they have excellent commuter and travel access. The dedicated men and women of our Police Department keep our community safe and our parks system is enviable for a City of our size.

In my comprehensive plan to market Florissant, our housing office will aggressively sell these points to employers like Boeing, ExpressScripts, UMSL and other new facilities in North County (North Park). These companies will be hiring young professionals who will be looking to gain a credit history and equity in a home. It is my desire to help them make that home choice in Florissant. To pursue a plan for enticing younger residents, we will need to highlight the many services and variety of neighborhoods we have to offer. I plan to develop a professionally prepared, cohesive and aggressive marketing package to entice them. There are many possibilities and I will always be open to suggestions from our employees, current
Citizens and potential new Citizens.

5. Considering these tough economic times, do you see any cuts to the City’s Senior and youth programs?

I feel we have many great programs for our Citizens and we must try to maintain or improve them. While I do believe we need to look at every service our City offers to be sure it is run efficiently and provides value, I think any proposals to change current services needs to be viewed in the light of which programs serve the most people in Florissant. I will also look to the Senior Department and Parks Department as well as the Parks Board and Senior Committee to offer suggestions for enhancements and efficiencies in our programs.

6. The two school districts in Florissant do not have a great reputation. This is major reason people cite for not moving into Florissant. While the City does not control the schools, what are your thoughts on how the City can help change this perception?

Last week, I attended a candidate forum for the Ferguson-Florissant School Board. It became clear one topic which needs to be addressed is the engagement of the Cities (not just Florissant, but all the surrounding communities) with the School Boards and their Superintendents. I want to have regular meetings with them to discuss possible involvement by Florissant in their efforts to improve the schools. For instance Florissant may be able to provide access to our Civic Centers for after-school programs.

Dialogue is needed here. They may have ideas how we can help them, and I believe they will be receptive to ideas I will bring to them as we share a common desire to make our Community the best it can be.

7. What do you like about the City of Florissant?

As I indicated in my earlier answer about attracting and retaining younger families, there are many things I like. Our rich history is impressive and varied with interesting twists and turns in its development. Driving around the City, I see quiet neighborhoods that are obviously well maintained by their residents.

Florissant is conveniently located near several interstate highways and because of our many large arterial streets you can travel to just about anywhere you choose in the metropolitan area either by highway or by main arterial streets. We have an incredible variety of park space both large and small. I remember in my youth when these parks were always in use. I hope to see them again very busy with the new Citizens we aim to attract in the future. The best part of any neighborhood or City is the people. We have good people who are the backbone of any community. We need to keep these good neighbors here while we try to recruit new ones to join their ranks.

The large and diverse collection of businesses that includes many large well-known companies but also many small and unique enterprises makes shopping and dining easy and interesting. Small entrepreneurial operations like the City Diner or long-time successful family busineeses such as Handyman Hardware, in addition to the big outlets, provide us with an excellent retail market place and great entertainment opportunities.

8. There are a lot of vacant businesses in Florissant. What are you going to do to fill those vacant buildings and attract vibrant businesses to the city?

Empty storefronts are a problem here as in many communities during these tough economic times. I will work with the Economic Development Director create a new plan for recruiting more businesses for Florissant.

Besides the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce, there are regional groups that can be tapped for information and help to attract specific shops and/or restaurants. One of these is the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that has ties throughout the Metropolitan area. I will ask for Citizens to help by suggesting what they want to see in the way of new or expanded businesses.

Look at Florissant Meadows. We now have a sushi/seafood buffet(Hokkaido) that is drawing large crowds. This traffic creates synergy that can only help other businesses in this shopping center and the surrounding businesses of the Lindbergh corridor. I have already been in contact with several commercial Real Estate professionals who have given me an insight into how to bring new business into Florissant.

We need to let businesses know that we really want them here to serve our community. The first step is to develop a welcoming attitude for them, by becoming more business friendly. I want to establish a system in Public Works to help prospective businesses get through the City requirements of bringing their companies to Florissant. We will have a one-stop coordinator who will assist in outlining the steps to satisfy the requirements of Planning/Zoning and business licensing so the businessperson can negotiate them with reduced frustration.

9. Some residents complain that there are too many check cashing, payday loan, rent to own and used card lots in Florissant. They feel that this brings in a seedier element and detracts from the City. What are your thoughts on this?

As a Councilman, I have voted for moratoriums on car lots within our borders. While we cannot prevent businesses from coming to Florissant if they are an approved use in any particular zoning district, we can certainly try to recruit other more desirable businesses to fill these empty spaces. It will take a well thought out plan and a Mayor who will stick with this plan to make it successful.

10. It has been said that our current Mayor can be contentious if you do not agree with him. How do you plan on working with the City Council?

While there always will be areas of disagreement in government, I believe as Mayor I need to set the tone on civility. My role is to lead the discussion not overwhelm the discourse with strong opinions and a personal agenda.

A successful leader listens to all sides of the discussion before making a decision.
I want to actively involve and engage the Council on City matters. For example, creating the budget earlier and including them in the process. But as the Chief Executive of the City, I will make the decisions that need to be made. I will explain my position very clearly, and it will not be just because I do not like the opposing viewpoint. As a Councilman, some have called me a naysayer because I asked pointed questions about Bills coming before that body. I view my position on the Council as the representative of the people, who cannot ask those questions I ask those questions to help Citizens understand the processes and duties of the Council. Open dialogue is never bad, however, it must be civil and respect the other person’s viewpoint.

11. Politically speaking, who do you model yourself after?

I greatly admire Missouri’s own Harry Truman. When he was elected to the U.S. Senate, he immediately thrust himself into his work so he would be as prepared as possible. I will strive to be involved in all aspects of the City operations, but I will also try to ensure City employees are the best they can be and can move with autonomy when needed.

In the book A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, she describes how Abraham Lincoln convinced his rivals for the Presidency to join his cabinet. He was not afraid to have these strong-minded men as advisors. In fact he wanted them for that very reason. They would offer him frank advice and they would not be yes men. I hope I can also achieve success in that area by utilizing our City employees in the positions where they can perform their best.

12. Is there anything you want to accomplish in your first year?

To strive to develop a budget that is balanced without re-directing money from the Capital Improvement Fund, the Parks Improvement Fund and the Sewer Lateral Fund. The Citizens of Florissant voted for those funds to be used for very specific purposes and that should be respected. I want the budget to have input from the Council at an earlier stage.

The budget must be presented in a way that is clear to all of our residents and it will be posted on our Florissant website. This will be a difficult task, but I believe with hard work it can be done.

13. What do you think people should know about you?

Most of my life I have been a very private person and one who believes I should do my very best in whatever I pursued. I ran for Mayor in 2007 and I am running now because I feel I can make a positive difference in the City I long called home. I have accomplished much in my life, but I always remember it was not just my efforts that helped me to succeed. To manage the City effectively, I will need the assistance of every department employee and staff member, but I will be the first to give them the credit for their efforts. It is important to be approachable; Citizens and employees will be able to contact me with opinions and questions without feeling apprehensive.

14. The trash/recycling contact will expire during the next Mayor’s term. Do you want to continue with a City wide contract or have it go back to being resident’s choice?

I was somewhat skeptical about this working in Florissant, but I knew it worked in other Cities. I have been pleased with the results so far. I think we need to continue this program. Can it be improved? Yes. In negotiating a new contract with Meridian or whoever will compete for this work, there are things we can do. I would like to see curbside leaf pickup in the Fall. I will investigate the possibility of the “tag-a-bag” program for Seniors. All options are open, except going back to six or seven different haulers. Besides the huge increase in recycling in Florissant, the reduction of truck traffic on our streets reduces wear and tear on them and extends their useful life which is a great thing. Any solution implemented, would have never met all needs and expectations. Overall, I think the single hauler solution we developed was a reasonable answer.

15. WalMart in Florissant, where do you stand and what are your thoughts?

Some of WalMart's business practices in dealing with manufacturers and employees run counter to the ideals of a great many citizens, including myself. The entrance of WalMart into a community often brings a highly negative impact for smaller businesses. It has been documented how their presence can devastate smaller competitors by undercutting prices in what I see as unfair practices.

Last year, WalMart presented a proposal to build in Florissant, but only with the help of Tax Increment Financing. It is their prerogative to ask for TIF money, but we do not have to give it to them. The Council turned down the proposal.
They now have a new proposal that asks for some special considerations which requires the support of the City. I will not support any proposal which involves taxpayer money for WalMart. I believe one of the largest corporations in the world can afford to build on their own money not ours.

However, if they satisfy all of the Planning and Zoning requirements on property in our City approved under our codes for this use and build a store using their money to build it without special considerations from the City, it would be difficult to prevent them from opening in Florissant.

So, there you have it. Andrew Podleski ladies and gentlemen.

If you would like to hear from one of the other candidates, or you are a candidate and wish to have your voice heard, please email me and I will be more than happy to interview you too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Concise and clear. I like him!