Ixonia Chair Candidate: Thomas Carey
Why am I running for Town Chairman?
(The Short Version)
Ixonia is one of the most beautiful towns in Southern Wisconsin. It’s rural character has become a beacon for many families seeking an alternative to the hustle and bustle of city life and urban sprawl.
As a former Officer in the United States Armed Forces, and the son of a US Marine, I have lived in many towns across the country, and this is the first one that feels like a home. This place has it all: great neighbors, a strong community, and an unmatchable landscape. My wife and I are so grateful to have found this community to grow our family and family farm.
Unfortunately, our current Town Council sees the town differently. Instead of a rural paradise, they see tracts of land to be sold off to industrial companies for profit. For the past year and a half, they have been working with the WE Energies oil company behind closed doors to put a 16-story Category 1 Hazardous Material holding facility right in the middle of town, next to Ixonia Elementary school.
The Town Council has a right to pursue opportunities like this, but the way in which they are doing has been dishonest, and is in direct conflict with the will of its citizens and our county’s Comprehensive and Rural Preservation plans.
This is why I am running: to return honesty and integrity back to our governance.
What would this look like in our day-to-day lives?
Honesty & Transparency: This means no more closed door meetings with interests seeking to undermine the safety of the town. Big decisions about our taxes, our town budget, and utility prices should be part of the discussion of our community, and I will seek to make these vague processes more transparent.
This starts with simply being available to listen to our residents. Few from the Town Council ever read the emails sent to them and we have one of the only Town Councils in Jefferson County that regularly does not allow Public Comment at our meetings. As Chairman, I can change this, and from our first meeting will make it clear that Ixonia’s voices matter.
Integrity: This means doing the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient. It would be easy to just go along with the WE Energies industrialization of our town and say there is nothing we could do about it, but the right thing is to say “Ixonia doesn’t want this,” and fight it at every level we can.
There are dozens of other weekly decisions that will require that same approach to governance, especially when our town’s budget and taxes are concerned. I will review every line item that comes across my desk and ask: “How does this benefit Ixonia?” and strike the items that don’t.
During my day job as the Vice President of Compliance and Governance for the Healthcare company I work at, I have to make these kinds of decisions daily. I do this while managing a $12 million budget and telling my board of directors that we will work to save money anywhere we can except when it comes to doing what is right.
I will be new to municipal governance, but the principles are the same: listen to our stakeholders, be honest, do what is right, and get your hands dirty doing hard work.
This is my pledge to Ixonia, my family, and my neighbors.
Why am I running for Town Chairman? (The Long Version)
If you told me six months ago that I would be running for Town Chairman of Ixonia, I would have thought you were joking. My family and I haven’t grown up in Ixonia, and local politics and town administration have never interested me.
But six months ago is also when I found out that the Ixonia Town board had been working with the WE Energies oil company to transform our farmlands into an industrial zone by erecting a 16-story Class 1 Hazardous Material storage facility in the middle of town.
It didn’t hit me how this project would impact the town until several of my neighbors voiced their concerns about how their property values were going to plummet as the rural character of our town gave way to industry; a change that cannot be unmade.
Surely the town board will hear our concerns and make the right choice for us, I thought.
When my neighbors and I went to a Town Hall to hear why the council was supporting this project, I was shocked by the way they treated the folks raising concerns about the industrial project. We were told that the matter had already been decided and if we had questions to direct them to WE Energies’ marketing team, not them. What we said didn’t matter.
I found out later that they had already decided to vote for the project, regardless of how many townspeople came forward with real concerns and objections. And no matter the majority vote against the project from our town’s planning committee.
I couldn’t believe the brazen disregard for their role as our representatives. Not only were they not listening to us, they were actively working behind closed doors with the oil company to fasttrack the process.
This wasn’t right. I got the feeling that the Town Board wasn’t representing us; they were representing WE Energies, the billion-dollar oil company. And they were willing to sacrifice our town’s safety and reputation as a rural paradise to get what they wanted.
So I spent the past six months working with a team of my neighbors to convince them that this isn’t in Ixonia’s best interests. We hired an expert material witness on the dangers of LNG to educate our town on the explosive hazards, we hired a lawyer to represent Ixonia citizens at the county board, and have organized a strong community to Save Ixonia.
After 150 of my Ixonians friends and neighbors showed up to the Fireman’s Hall in September in objection to the project, I watched the board--all but for the only champion for Ixonian citizens, Jeff Taylor--vote in favor of the project.
“I’m voting for this project and I don’t care what you say,” one of the board members said as he voted yes.
He said that after listening to more than 30 of his neighbors stand up to speak passionately and logically against the project and how it would negatively impact their lives and the future of the town. He said that after reading the names of the 700 signatures (a majority of the households of Ixonia) on the petition against the project. He said that after running on a platform of protecting Ixonians and preserving the rural quality of the town.
Standing in front of the board’s smug determination to undermine the welfare of its citizens, I couldn’t help but think of the long nights my family, neighbors, and I spent researching the dangers, and highlighting every zoning regulation that shows this project should not be allowed.
This isn’t right, I thought. The town board was the one that was supposed to defend us; not me, and not my neighbors. They should have been doing the research to defend our town from this environmental danger. They should have been the ones paying for lawyers and looking for ways to make sure our zoning code loopholes aren’t exploited.
I realized then that nothing we could say would be listened to by our Town Council, and I cannot morally stand for that. The board must change and luckily we have an opportunity to do that.
In the Spring, the Town of Ixonia will have three Town Council positions up for reelection, enough to make a difference against the pro-industrialization efforts of the current board.
The current Town Chairman is the strongest proponent of the industrial project, and that is why I am running for that position.
Why vote for me?
When I was an Officer in the United States Armed Forces, I learned a lesson that stuck with me for life about integrity, honesty, and hard work.
During my first interagency counternarcotics mission, I served as my unit’s Damage Control Officer, responsible for our firefighting efforts. The unit I inherited was well-trained, but had let the ship’s equipment lapse into disrepair.
Just as in any job, it wasn’t cool to report deficiencies; it created more work for everyone to fit into their already busy schedules. But I was fresh out of firefighting school and thought it was important to maintain our systems up to code. So I made an honest report of everything that needed to be fixed.
I don’t know what I expected, but my team and the unit leader that preceded me were not happy! My report had made them look bad and it created many long days for us all.
I lost a few friends that summer, working in the ship’s engine room, replacing fire extinguishers and testing our suppression systems. I made some of them back by showing my commitment to the program by working with them after hours, one of the only officers to get my hands dirty.
Looking at some of the sweat-soaked and disappointed faces around me, I started second-guessing myself. It wasn’t until we were 500 miles off of the coast of Peru, in the middle of the ocean and far from American territory, that I put those thoughts to rest.
An oil fire had erupted in our incinerator room, right next to our engine room. One of the reasons why firefighting is so important in our naval services is because there are no backup firefighting services to call and nowhere to evacuate. You save the ship or you die.
And we saved the ship. After an hour of firefighting, our team put out the fire and saved the lives of 140 crew members. The success was due to our training and the skill of our team.
I never asked our lead firefighter if the new firefighting suits or the repaired equipment made them more effective, but their resentment was no longer there. Quiet nods and friendships that I reformed over the summer let me know they appreciated that I had done the right thing, even when it was inconvenient.
Twelve years later, I see myself repeating this story. It would be easy to ignore the concerns of my neighbors. It would be easy for me to build a berm and grow trees around my property to block the 16-story LNG facility. It would be easy for me to move to another town where the Town Council actually listens to their people.
But I just can’t. To ignore what is happening in our town is to become complicit. And since my family and I are committing to live in Ixonia, it means that I am committing to doing the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient.