Mayoral candidates discuss future of Onalaska at Tuesday forum

Onalaska residents are a little less than a month away from choosing their next mayor and on Tuesday business owners got to hear from the candidates directly.  

There are two people running for mayor of Onalaska, former Common Council member Jack Pogreba and incumbent Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen.

Pogreba’s name will be the only one to appear on the ballot because Chilsen is running as a write-in candidate.  However, both candidates got a chance to make their case Tuesday afternoon.

Phillip Wanke is all about promoting the Coulee Region.

“I try to bring groups in to explore Onalaska, La Crosse, Holmen, West Salem and our entire region,” said Wanke.

So it just made sense for him to attend the Onalaska Area Business Association’s luncheon featuring both Onalaska mayoral candidates.

“Since there is a collaborative effort between Onalaska and La Crosse and all of our communities, it’s more important now more than ever that we get together and share where we are at, what we are doing and what everyone is up to,” said Wanke.

Pogreba and Chilsen each had a chance to talk about their plans for the future of Onalaska and it didn’t take long for each of them to talk about growth and boundary agreements.

“I was involved in some of the negotiations in the start of the boundary agreements, you know, making those tough choices and working with our neighboring communities,” said Pogreba.

“We are also in talks with Medary and city of La Crosse, so as you can see all the way around we are trying to negotiate with our neighbors,” said Chilsen.

Both candidates also talked about government transparency after being asked about the increase in closed session meetings.

“There are very strict guidelines for closed sessions. When we are setting up negotiating strategies for purchasing properties or making other decisions like that, guess what happens if we do that in open session, the price of that property just tripled when someone hears the city is interested in it,” said Chilsen.

“We have had several major decisions in the last four years that needed that negotiation,” said Pogreba. “Bringing out more transparency in the items that shouldn’t and should not be closed session, we need to be more transparent in getting that information out to the public.”

Wanke said the La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau has had a good relationship with Onalaska’s mayor in the past and he is confident, no matter which candidate wins, that relationship will continue.

“It’s a great future for the city and I think both of them are well aware of that,” said Wanke.

Onalaska residents will head to the polls on April 5 to make their choice. As a reminder, Mayor Chilsen is running as a write-in candidate.

There will not be a debate between Pogreba and Chilsen. Pogreba said he declined a debate because he would like to spend the time getting to know his constituents.