By Brandi Makuski
Voters will eliminate one person in February from a three-way race for Portage County Executive.
Local businessman John Pavelski and Eric Olson, director at UW-Extension Lakes, have both announced their challenge to incumbent Chris Holman.
The county executive is a non-partisan position that serves a four-year term. While state statute requires a county executive when a county’s population reaches 500,000 people, Portage Co. opted to install the executive position in 2006.
Pavelski is a lifelong Portage Co. resident who previously served as president of Pavelski Farms, a large potato and vegetable farm in Portage and Waupaca counties. He also served as director of operations for Ortho Molecular, the first company to break ground in the Portage County Industrial Park.
Pavelski later started his own business, an organic poultry farm and processing, and packaging facility. That successful, but small, business produced organic, pastured, and humanely raised chickens and eggs for farmer’s markets, private customers, and high-end restaurants. He retired from that business in 2010.
He now part-time farms organic hay, works in real estate, and works as a corporate communications consultant. He has seven grown children and six grandchildren.
Pavelski said if elected, he plans to “create a culture of constant improvement, by training and empowering county employees to look for ways to improve county services and/or reduce costs, by understanding their and their coworkers’ gifts, talents and abilities to get that accomplished.”
Pavelski said he’ll work with department heads to position county employees that best suit them and their job for the betterment of all involved.
Pavelski also believes there’s a need to return fiscal responsibility to county government, maintain a balanced budget, and restore the county’s policy-making procedures back to the committees that represent every county resident.
“I will reach out for input from our local professionals in such areas as agriculture, communication, construction, education, energy, finance, food industries, healthcare, manufacturing, real estate, recreation, technology, transportation, and utilities,” he said in a press release.
Pavelski said he is not politically motivated and has no plans to run for a second term.
“I want to get in and get out,” he said. “Serve my community with the skill set I have developed and go back to private life with Portage County having a much better functioning government.”
Olson is a UW-Stevens Point employee who moved to the area to teach at the Center for Land Use Education. He is now director and lakes outreach specialist with Extension Lakes, a statewide program working with local governments and nonprofits to care for lakes, rivers, and streams.
Olson said in his campaign announcement that if he were elected, he would take a leave of absence from the university.
Olson’s campaign centers on “the need for an independent county executive who can provide a more holistic view on county issues.”
“Portage County deserves a leader who shows up and engages with communities throughout the entire county,” Olson said. “As Executive, I will hold listening sessions in every town, village, and the City of Stevens Point because your voice matters no matter where you live.”
Olson pointed to a number of “pressing” local issues that motivated him to run for office.
“I believe the county can and should be doing more to address the ongoing pandemic, tackle public safety space needs, head off threats to our county’s water resources, and rise to the challenge of sustainably growing our local and regional economy,” he said.
“My friends, colleagues, and people who are just learning about me are reaching out to tell me how happy they are that I’m running and asking me what they can do to help,” he said. “From the Town of Grant to the Town of New Hope, from Rosholt to Stevens Point, we are going to build a positive campaign that leverages the power of volunteers and stakeholders to win this election.”
In his campaign announcement, Holman said he remains “the best candidate” for the role due to his “depth and breadth of experience as an elected official, veteran, business owner, farmer, and educator.”
Holman calls himself “a political independent—a solid mix of both conservative and progressive ideas, much like the electorate of Portage County.”
He said he leads by example but works alongside 30 department heads—an approach to leadership that he learned while serving in U.S. Army Intelligence.
“I listen first, ask questions, create plans, and then put in the necessary time and effort to put those plans to work for you,” he said. I’m driven by the desire to empower those I work with—both inside and outside the county government–so that we can provide the services and programs that people like you need and value.”
Holman said during his first term in office, he learned the importance of building trust and understanding with Board Supervisors, county staff, and the public.
“There is a logic to that cooperation as well, since the county executive doesn’t get a vote on the County Board, and nobody elected to be county executive could get anything done without cooperating with the other leaders in our community,” he said.
Holman said running a successful small business has given him the knowledge to help keep the county in a good financial position “despite a levy limit, unfunded mandates, and unpredictable issues that are hard to plan for but must be addressed, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
During his first term, Holman has helped expand the county’s highway department facility, overhauled the county’s vacation policy, and kept health insurance costs flat while the industry was experiencing a lot of ups and downs.
If re-elected, he plans to complete work in the Portage Co. Business Park and finalize an upgrade to the county’s IT infrastructure. He also plans to continue work on local environmental and mental health issues.
The spring primary will be held on Feb. 15, followed by the general election on April 5. To register to vote go to myvote.wi.gov/en-us.