Alder-elect Declines City Council's District 4 Seat, Prompts the Return of Jim Wexler

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MTT News's picture
Matt Geiger
Alderman Jim Wexler, seen here with a clock he received as a farewell gift from the City of Middleton.

Perhaps April Fools day was a particularly apt day for this year’s Spring Election…

Longtime city alderman Jim Wexler has turned his horse around while riding off into the sunset and returned to his seat despite filing non-candidacy papers last year. Wexler was appointed back to the council following his successor’s surprising and cryptic announcement that he would not accept the Middleton Common Council’s District 4 seat, which he won running unopposed in the April 1 election.

Wexler, who had represented the city’s fourth district since 1988, announced late last year that he would not seek an unprecedented 14th term. While announcing his departure, he said he was pleased to see Chad Gehin, a political newcomer, lifelong City of Middleton resident, and local apartment manager, step forward to run for the seat.

Wexler offered Gehin his guidance, and Gehin recently completed a lengthy, multi-part question and answer session with the Times-Tribune’s editorial staff regarding his views on city policy.

Wexler was honored by the city council and Mayor Kurt Sonnentag, receiving a commemorative plaque, a clock symbolizing his nearly three decades of public service, and a barrage of well-wishes.

During his time on the council, Wexler served for ten years as council president and for 21 years on the influential plan commission.  He also chaired various committees including finance, personnel, license and ordinance, transportation and the emergency medical services commission. 

As he bid farewell to the city council, Wexler said he was proud of the work he did during his time representing District 4.

Then, at 10:23 a.m. on Saturday, April 12, Wexler and other city leaders received a three-sentence message from Gehin.

“I have a conflict with serving on Middleton’s Common Council. I need to respectfully step down before I am sworn in as Middleton’s District 4 Alder,” stated the email. “I am choosing not to reveal details of the circumstances; however, you deserve to know that I looked forward to working with you and felt honored to have the chance.”

Gehin was scheduled to be sworn in three days later, at the conclusion of the council’s Tuesday, April 15 meeting.

His announcement mystified city leaders, and it also sent them scrambling to figure out how to handle the vacant District 4 seat.

The council is made up of eight members, along with the mayor, and a vacant seat would leave an entire district unrepresented in city government, as well as leading to the possibility of tie votes if the remaining eight people (including the mayor) ended up locked in a 4-4 tie.

So Mayor Kurt Sonnentag reached out to Wexler, asking the departing alderman to return for a year. The council unanimously approved Wexler’s re-appointment.

He is expected to serve half a term, until the Spring, 2015 election. At that time, the city will hold an early election for the District 4 seat.

“You couldn’t just leave the seat empty for a year,” said Wexler. “That wouldn’t be right.”

“They told me they were happy to have someone with experience they could call on to step in,” Wexler continued. “I put a lot of thought into my decision not to run for another term, but at the end of the day you are either committed to public service or you aren’t.”

The man who was three days away from taking Wexler’s old seat remains relatively silent regarding his reasons for declining to fill the seat he won unopposed on the April 1 ballot.

“I have decided to respectfully decline [the seat],” Gehin told the Times-Tribune. “I am going to maintain my privacy. I’m happy that Jim [Wexler] has stepped up. My privacy is valuable to me, and I had some circumstances pop up.”

Gehin, who did not have a clear platform during the months leading up to the election, is manager of Springtree Apartments, a housing unit where Wexler lives.

“I’ve been so honored by the process,” Gehind continued. “I’m totally supportive of the council and I hoped to join them, but things didn’t turn out that way.”

Before announcing his decision not to take the seat. Gehin said his “property management experience” clearly guided his path to the city council.    

“Jim Wexler, my neighbor, a Springtree resident, and the current District 4 Alderman honored me by encouraging me to take his city council seat this spring,” he said prior to the election. “He has suggested that I use my strengths, broaden my reach, and advocate for all of the Middleton’s 4th district residents.  Jim’s presentation and obvious care for Middleton’s residents excites me to step up. I am proud.”

He said his primary focus on the council would have been the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

“Recent presentation in the council chambers has made it clear to me that Middleton’s tax income growth is the foundation that will enable Middleton to grow in its vision,” Gehin said. “The proper management of the [city’s] Tax Increment Financing Districts is the key component in support of that effort.”

When he announced his candidacy last year, Gehin said he is  a Marine Corps veteran who served overseas, as well as a graduate of Middleton High School.

“The 4th District is unique in Middleton,” he said while running. “We have a very diverse mix of people in our apartment community and residential homeowners.  I will work tirelessly to represent both.”

“My unique experiences enable me to smartly represent Middleton’s interests,” Gehin continued. “It has been my theme to operate the Springtree Apartments with Middleton’s motto in mind providing a neighbor friendly environment that we all appreciate.”

Earlier this year, Wexler was presented with a 25 Years of Service lapel pin by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities for his role in local government in Wisconsin.

In a farewell letter to the editor that it turns out was a year premature, Wexler laid out his feelings about the city.

“In my almost 26 years on the Council, I have never forgotten that I was there to represent my constituents,” Wexler wrote. “In all that time, I missed only one Council meeting and never missed a single committee meeting.  It will indeed be strange having many evenings free, but I’m sure that there are new challenges ahead.  It has been a good run.”

 It turns out the run will last just a little bit longer.


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