The Oshkosh Northwestern recently asked candidates for common council, school board, and mayor to provide a 300-word statement and answer some questions. All of the candidate responses can be found here
. In the body of this blog you can find my 300-word statement and responses to the questions. If you like what I have to say and would like to volunteer for the campaign or plant a yard sign, email me
or call me at 235-1116.The 300 word statement
City government is broken. In recent election cycles candidates have told us that if elected they would be taxpayer friendly and ask tough questions. Instead we have gotten garbage fees, buck passing, and blatant open meetings law violations.
We can and must do better. As a member of the Council I will fight for open and accountable government, quality services delivered efficiently, and strong neighborhoods.
I’m 45 years old, own a home near City Hall, and have been a resident of Oshkosh for 18 years. I’ve taught at UW Oshkosh for all of those years. In addition to teaching I have served as Chair of the Department of Communication, President of the Faculty Senate, and president of the Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals. I’m currently serving as President of the Wisconsin Communication Association, an organization that named me “Communication Educator of the Year” in 2004.
Many Oshkosh residents recognize me from the public affairs television show “Commentary” I co-hosted with former Mayor Jim Mather, or from “Eye on Oshkosh” which I co-host with Cheryl Hentz. On those programs I have developed a reputation as someone who does his homework, asks tough but fair questions, speaks truth to power, and helps educate the community on important issues. I will bring those same qualities to the Council.
Our community faces some difficult issues over the next few years, including how to attract and create family supporting jobs, how to deliver basic services in an era of tight budgets, how to redevelop downtown, and many others. The current Council and City Administration have not gotten the job done, and as a result citizens no longer trust or believe that local government is on their side.
If elected I will work hard to restore public trust in local government.The Responses to Questions
: Assess the performance of the city manager over the last year? Is it improving, declining or holding steady? How can it be improved?Palmeri:
Declining. In the part-time elected Council/full-time hired Manager form of government that we have in Oshkosh, the City Manager as a practical matter has to display visible leadership on all major quality of life and economic development issues. We’re not getting that kind of leadership today, mostly because the City Council has not insisted on it. City Manager Wollangk’s performance will improve when the City Council communicates to him in a clear, assertive manner that in the future he will be held accountable for Five Rivers and garbage fee style fiascos.Northwestern
: Is the amount of community leadership provided by the council not enough, too much or just about right? Why or why not? Please explain your answer.Palmeri:
Not enough. Community leadership requires working with citizens at the grassroots level to get their concerns addressed and needs met. Citizens in our community working on neighborhood improvement, poverty, housing, open government and other issues typically do not view our Common Council as part of the solution. Rather, the Council is seen as part of the problem because it is perceived as paying too much attention to favored special interests and not enough to the average citizen who pays the bills.Northwestern
: As the city finds more of its budget used to pay for basic services, what should be the role of public-private partnerships to fund quality of life projects, (such as the maintenance of Opera House Square, Pollock water park, Menominee Park Zoo?)Palmeri:
We need to continue to encourage the creation of public-private partnerships that result in developments that benefit the city at-large, such as the water park. The City Council needs to make sure that the “public” contribution to the partnership is reasonable and discussed fully in open session before any agreements are made with the “private” entity.Northwestern
: What should the city do with the convention center? Sell it, expand and renovate the facility or tear it down? How would you pay for improvements?Palmeri:
More visitors to Oshkosh means more customers for local businesses. Therefore, retaining the convention activity we have and attracting more should be a top goal for the city. Selling the convention center OR expanding and renovating it might accomplish that goal. I want to see the City Manager prepare a report identifying the pros, cons, and costs of each option.Northwestern
: Are you satisfied the city is doing enough to market, promote and execute development, from big projects such as the riverfront and big boxes such as Lowe’s to small business creation?Palmeri:
No, I am not satisfied that the city is doing enough, especially on small business creation. Oshkosh uses what I call a “faith based” approach to development in which the average citizen is reduced to hoping and praying that someone in City Hall or the Council knows what he or she is doing to facilitate progress in the community. I also find it distressing that urban development specialists at UW Oshkosh are rarely approached by City Hall for advice or consultation. That needs to change. And it will change if I am elected.Northwestern:
If the state continues some kind of local levy limit, what should be looked at in the city's budget if cuts need to be made? Is there so-called "fat" in the budget that can be cut or does the budget need to be looked at in a new way?Palmeri:
The Democrats now control the governor’s office and the state Senate. Every Democrat elected in November including the governor said that they are either against local levy limits or for allowing levies to grow by more than 2%. City Councils across the state, including ours in Oshkosh, need to hold them to their word. To handle budget cut and “fat trimming” issues, the Council needs to create a formal Budget Committee that would include citizens, members of the council, and members of the city administration. The Budget Committee would meet continuously throughout the year, and charged especially with looking at the budget in new ways.Northwestern:
If you were elected to the council, what specific impact could you point to after your two-year term?Palmeri:
If I am elected to the Council, the era of secrecy in Oshkosh government would be over. With me on the Council, the letter and spirit of the state statutes governing the way we do business will be enforced vigorously. In addition, citizens will know that there is at least one person on the Council demanding the highest standards of performance and accountability from all city officials.Northwestern:
What are the appropriate uses of TIF districts? Are there existing districts that you would have opposed and why?Palmeri:
TIF districts are fine as long as they are created in accordance with state law, which mandates TIF creation ONLY if development would not occur without it. I opposed the Five Rivers TIF mainly because it was created before the city even knew if the developer was credible and minimally capable of making good on his promises. Creating a TIF under those circumstances is the textbook definition of bad government.Northwestern
: Should the power of the mayor be expanded, why or why not? If you think it should, how should it be expanded?Palmeri:
If we keep the Council/Manager form of government that we currently have, I do not support expanding the power of the Mayor. If we want a strong mayor, we need to change our form of government to a Mayor/Aldermen system such as Appleton’s or Green Bay’s, in which a full-time mayor runs the day-to-day operation of the city. I do support changing our form of government so that we have a strong, full-time, accountable mayor.Northwestern:
Would you rate the condition of streets in the city as good, fair or poor? If fair or poor, how would you expedite the repair and upgrade of streets under challenging budget times?Palmeri:
Mostly fair to poor. We need to create a Citizen Street Repair Commission charged with making recommendations about how street repair should be done in the city. In our current system, too many taxpayers are confused about how or if the city prioritizes street repair, how repairs are paid for, what kind of repair options exist, and who should pay. A Citizens’ Commission could give the street issue the visibility it has deserved for too long in our city.