Friday, March 30, 2007

Public Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

My latest Media Rant, a review of Randall Davidson's excellent book on the history of educational radio in Wisconsin, can be found here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

City Manager Goals

Early verdicts on the Common Council's evaluation of the City Manager and 2007 goals are in. Miles Maguire says that the delay in getting the goals to the city's website is "one of those small things that is emblematic of something larger." Amen, brother.

In the euphemism of the year category, the Oshkosh Northwestern calls the targets set for Mr. Wollangk "less-than-inspiring." Sure makes you wonder what was going on in that series of closed, executive session meetings the council had on the topic.

We can and must do better. Please vote on April 3.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Excellent Choice For COLS Dean

UW Oshkosh Provost Lane Earns announced yesterday that Dr. John Koker has accepted an offer to become Dean of the College of Letters and Science. Dr. Koker has been serving as interim Dean this year.

A professor of mathematics, John Koker joined the UW Oshkosh faculty in 1991. He earned his B.A. from St. Nortbert College, M.S. from Purdue, and Ph.D from UW-Milwaukee. He has served as Chair of the Math Department and Director of the Math Tutor Lab.

What I like most about John Koker is his dedication to teaching excellence. In 2002 he received the UW Oshkosh Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest recognition for teaching on our campus. Then in 2006 he received the Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award, the highest recognition for teaching in the UW System.

Dr. Koker's scholarly and professional credentials are equally impressive. At UW Oshkosh (as with all comprehensive universities), there exists disagreement about how to define professional and scholarly development. Dr. Koker strikes me as a problem solver who can help work through disagreements in this area.

Finally, it is worth noting that John Koker has acted in several productions at the UW Oshkosh Fredric March Theater. That suggests that he is a mathematician who not only can count, but can be counted on to support all forms of campus creativity.

Many thanks to the COLS Dean Search and Screen Committee for the time and effort they put into the process.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My answers to the Progress Oshkosh questions

Here's a summary of what I said at the Progress Oshkosh forum last night. I spoke extemporaneously, so my summaries are not completely verbatim.

Opening Statement:

I'm Tony Palmeri and I'm asking for your support on April 3.

In my opening statement I want to focus on the word "progressive." Progressive cities have three things going for them: strong schools, strong neighborhoods, and a government that is open, forward looking, and responsive.

In Oshkosh we are lucky to have strong schools, including the great UW Oshkosh at which we are having the forum.

We have some strong neighborhoods, but this is an area that needs work. Deferred maintenance and neglect have created a situation in which we have too much inequality between neighborhoods.

And unfortunately, we do not have a government that is open, forward looking, and responsive. In fact, I am running for office this year because our government is closed, backward looking, and unresponsive.

As an 18 year resident of this city, and as someone with a reputation for asking tough questions designed to hold local leaders accountable, I'm running to open up our government, promote a forward looking agenda, and make City Hall responsive to citizens at the grassroots level--including organizations like Progress Oshkosh.

Please vote for Tony Palmeri on April 3.

Question 1: How do you feel the accoutability of the city manager should be evaluated? Has the council done an adequate job of assessing the performance of the city manager and providing substantive feedback to the community?

Palmeri statement: The Council/Manager form of government is based on a corporate model in which the City Manager is the Chief Executive Officer, the Common Council are the Board of Directors, and the people are the Shareholders.

As I've campaigned around town, the shareholders are telling me they have little confidence in the Board of Directors or the CEO. The shareholders want accountability.

At a minimum, we need to have an annual shareholder's meeting at which the people get to provide the Board of Directors with feedback on how things are going in City Hall. We also need to sponsor a survey, perhaps created by the Center For Community Partnerships right here at UW Oshkosh, that could be used to provide continuous feedback.

Those of you who support the Council/Manager form of government need to understand that if the Common Council does not address the problem of lack of leadership in the city, we are on the brink of a shareholder revolt. I'm hearing more talk of support for an executive style mayor with veto power. People are upset--I'm tired of hearing things are okay when they are obviously not.

(Note: In my one-minute rebuttal, I pointed out that the City Council will tonight vote to give the City Manager a two-percent raise in spite of a series of mishaps in the last year including Five Rivers, lack of information in the CRL/Ganther connection, and others. I said that in my classes at UW Oshkosh, my students have to meet a minimum standard to get a "C." I'm anxious to hear how the Council justifies the raise.).

Question 2: The city has already used tax incremental financing to facilitate much of the improvement in the Marion Road redevelopment area. How much of an additional role should TIF funds play in any future development proposal for the Fox riverfront in that location?

Palmeri statement: I will support any Tax Incremental Financing project as long as two criteria are met. First, the project must have community support. Second, the project must meet the "but, for" standard established in state law, which says that TIF should only be employed if development would not take place without it. I think these are two very reasonable criteria.

Here's the problem: Appleton has about 6 open TIF districts, Neenah has about 4. Oshkosh has about 17! That means that Oshkosh is perceived by developers as a TIF candy store in which the sweets are given out very freely.

I want to close the candy store. What we need to do is use TIF as a kind of leverage in negotiating with developers. We need to ask developers what they are willing to do for the TIF. Create living wage jobs? Use green building principles? Engage the community in some meaningful way? Contribute money toward lighting our bridges?

TIF was never meant to be a development sweetener. Let's close the candy store and use TIF as leverage to make sure we get developers on the riverfront or anywhere else in the city to give us something worthwhile in return.

Question 3: Do you support public funding for a bridge lighting beautification project in Oshkosh? If so, how would you propose paying for the city's share?

Palmeri statement: We've had several forums during the campaign season. I think every candidate up here has said that they would like to do something about poverty, about implementing the city's downtown action plan, and fixing the torn up streets. All of these will cost money.

Every candidate has also acknowledged that the state has placed us under strict levy limits and that we will be facing another difficult, tight budget this year.

Under those conditions, how could anyone possibly sit up here and tell you they will support public funding for a bridge beautification project? It's just not going to happen under our current budget constraints.

I do think it is time to start asking some of our local big box retailers to step up to the plate. These businesses make extraordinary profits in the city, and then take most of those profits out of the city.

Why not recruit Wal-Mart to pay for bridge beautification? They could even turn it into an advertising campaign: "Wal-Mart builds dreams and lights bridges."

In all seriousness, I encourage Progress Oshkosh and other organizations to urge major businesses in town--especially those who make huge profits while providing jobs that pay less than family supporting wages and benefits--to demonstrate their commitment to this city by supporting bridge beautification and other projects.

Closing Statement:

I want to thank Progress Oshkosh for sponsoring this forum tonight. I want you to know that I strongly support your organization's four main principles.

You believe in accountable government. I believe in that too, which is why I have called for greater openness in local government along with with rigorous evaluation of the city administration.

You believe in public, private, nonprofit partnerships. I do too, which is why I think we need to clean up City Hall. It's very difficult to get quality private sector entities to partner with the public sector when the latter is in disarray. Let's clean up our public mess and we will have a much easier time partnering with the private and nonprofit sectors.

You believe in quality of life. I believe that we need to ensure the highest quality of life for all of our citizens, which is why I've called for the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission, co-chaired by our former mayors, to study the issue of poverty in our community and make recommendations for dealing with it.

You believe in Economic Development. So do I, which is why I have called for the creation of an Economic Development Commission that would bring together the various economic development entities in the city and arrive at a sense of what kinds of developments the citizens want and will support. Our current "faith based" model of economic development is broken, mostly because it leaves citizens out of the process and creates long term cynicism about projects that are perceived as benefiting city hall insiders instead of the people at-large.

You will not always agree with me--that's clear. But with me you will have a straight shooter on the council, and you will always know where I stand.

I ask for your support on April 3.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Progress Oshkosh Forum Tonight

Progress Oshkosh’s candidate forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Reeve Memorial Union Theater. The forum is open to the public.

Common council and mayoral candidates will begin at 6 p.m., and will be followed by school board candidates at about 7:15 to 7:30 p.m. The university staff and public safety office will be clearing parking lots #15, 32 and 34 for use without a permit for the evening of the forum only.

Each candidate will be allowed two minutes for an introduction and opening statement. Then three separate questions will be asked, with each candidate allowed two minutes to respond. Following each round of candidate responses, everyone will receive an additional minute for rebuttal. The forum will end with each candidate afforded two minutes for a closing statement.

A random drawing will determine the order of response for the first question. The sequence will be reversed for the second question, and then scrambled for the third question.

Three questions for the Oshkosh Common Council and Mayoral candidates

1. How do you feel the accountability of the city manager should be evaluated? Has the council done an adequate job of assessing the performance of the city manager and providing substantive feedback to the community?

2. The city has already used tax incremental financing to facilitate much of the improvement in the Marion Road Redevelopment area. How much of an additional role should TIF funds play in any future development proposal for the Fox River front in that location?

3. Do you support public funding for a bridge lighting beautification project in Oshkosh? If so, how would you propose paying for the city’s share?

Three questions for the Oshkosh Area Board of Education candidates

1. How do you feel the accountability of the superintendent and administrative staff should be evaluated? Has the board done an adequate job of assessing the performance of district leadership and providing substantive feedback to the community?

2. What is the most critical issue the district's long-range facilities plan should accomplish, and how will you keep the long-range facilities planning process moving forward?

3. What do you feel the school board’s role should be in fostering public-private partnerships to address the capital improvement demands the district will face in coming years?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

An Adam Sandler Film Worth Seeing

Had a chance to see Reign Over Me recently, and was quite impressed with it. For years I had feared that "Love, Reign O'er Me"--my favorite Who song and arguably one of the top 10 rock songs of all time--would find its way into an awful movie (I've never seen "Quadrophenia," the 1979 film based on the Who's 1973 rock opera that includes the song.). Thankfully, "Reign Over Me" is an excellent film that matches the song's emotional intensity. (Pearl Jam does a decent cover of the song, but I was disappointed that the Pearl Jam version plays during the closing credits instead of the original Who version.).

"Reign Over Me" establishes Adam Sandler as a serious actor. Playing a 9/11 widower afflicted with a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder, Sandler as Charlie Fineman finds a way to transform his trademark goofiness into a mature portrayal of a troubled man. The on screen interaction of Fineman with his former dental school roommate Alan Johnson, played brilliantly by African-American actor Don Cheadle, has the humor of Gibson/Glover in the "Lethal Weapon" films but the poignancy of Steiger/Poitier in "In the Heat of the Night."

The film is far from perfect; the cluelessness of Fineman's in-laws doesn't make their forlorn stance very believable, and a Hollywoodish ending _almost_ runs the risk of robbing the film of its emotional depth. Perhaps I was too overcome by surprise at Sandler's performance to care very much about the film's shortcomings.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kudos To and Advice For Cory Mason

As noted in the 53 to 56 blog, freshman Democratic State Rep. Cory Mason is proposing that the closed partisan caucuses--which in my judgement are the key reason why we are getting miserable government in Madison--be abolished.

Now for the advice. Mason must know that a bill proposing to open the closed caucuses will not get a serious hearing from the entrenched politicians in Madison. If he's sincere about wanting to end the closed caucuses, he should do two things:

1. Refuse to participate in a closed partisan caucus.

2. When his peers go into closed caucus, hold a "Peoples' Caucus" on the steps of the State Capitol. As time goes on, more and more people will attend the Peoples' Caucus, and the politicians will have no choice but to open the closed legislature.

Let me be clear: NO ONE is suggesting that the legislature should not be able to go into closed sessions for those narrow exemptions to the Open Meetings Law identified in state law. But to go into closed session to "review bills" and "devise strategy" is an insult to the citizens and makes a mockery of Wisconsin's once proud tradition of clean government.

So kudos to Rep. Mason for making a stride in the right direction. Let's hope he takes the next logical step and refuses to participate in a system he has now correctly identified as a sham.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Chamber of Commerce Questions and Responses

The Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce has placed Common Council candidate responses to questions on its website. The questions and responses can be found here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Killed Kennedy!

Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration. A cartoon by Mr. Fish exposes the tabloid nature of the press coverage of Mohammed's "confessions."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More Accountability Woes

Today's Oshkosh Northwestern report on the failure of the city planning officials to fully inform members of the Common Council about the relationship of partners in a crucial development is just one more example of the complete breakdown in local government accountability. The situation fits the typical Faith Based Development pattern:

*The Council votes "Yes" on a development even though anyone watching and listening to the proceedings can feel the confusion in the Council chambers.
*New information is revealed showing that city planners did not provide the Council with all the data necessary to make a fully informed vote.
*The City Manager claims ignorance: "City Manager Richard Wollangk said Kinney did not tell him about Ganther and Anbar's past partnership. Wollangk said it did not come up in project discussions, but he would have made sure councilors received the information had he been aware of it."
*Community cynicism sets in.

Today's Northwestern editorial is right on target: "Something has got to be done to end City Hall's addiction to secrecy when it comes to development."

They are correct. We can and must do better.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

JFK On Secrecy

For Sunshine Week, a clip from President John F. Kennedy's speech before the American Newspaper Publishers Association:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Good Day Sunshine Laws

As part of Sunshine Week, today's Wisconsin State Journal includes a short but useful piece on "A Guide To Requesting Records." The piece points out that Wisconsin's sunshine law is found in state statutes 19.31-19.39. Statute 19.31 says:

19.31 Declaration of policy. In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Further, providing persons with such information is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information. To that end, ss. 19.32 to 19.37 shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.

On the campaign trail, I have said that if elected I plan to conduct workshops on how citizens can use the open records and open meetings laws. Citizen awareness of and ability to use these laws is a key component of ensuring government accountability.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Five Rivers Five Earn Openness in Government Award!

March 11-17 is National Sunshine Week. For the first time, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is "giving awards in recognition of people and events that shaped the fortunes of open government in Wisconsin in 2006 . . . "

I'm honored to report that the Five Rivers Five have earned a COPEE (Citizen Openness Advocate of the Year) Award! According to WFOIC President Bill Lueders:

Citizen Openness Advocates of the Year (the "Copee"): The Five Rivers Five. This ad hoc group tried to crash a February 2006 closed meeting between Oshkosh city officials and a developer, saying it violated the state's Open Meetings Law. The five - Tony Palmeri, Pat Gentile, Gary Jepson, Dan Rylance and Rachel Aiken - were turned away. But the Attorney General's Office later deemed that a portion of the meeting was improperly closed. Credit goes also to city Councilor Paul Esslinger, who objected to the meeting, and Cheryl Hentz, who helped draft a complaint to the AG's office.

Oshkosh Northwestern coverage of the awards can be found here.

Northwestern & American Idol Judges Cover LWV Forum

Here's some coverage of last night's Common Council forum [sponsored by the League of Women Voters] from the Oshkosh Northwestern and Randy, Paula and Simon. I was happy to see Jeff Bollier of the Northwestern pick up on the "Faith Based Development" theme, as this is something that the city needs to come to terms with if we are going to progress in a meaningful way.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wisconsin Flunks The Colonoscopy Coverage Test

According to Business Week:

There is only one cancer screening test that has been definitively proven to save lives—a colonoscopy for colon cancer. But a new survey finds that only 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws mandating that insurance providers cover the cost of colonoscopies. That could mean many lives lost, because the same study found that screening rates in those states that mandate coverage have risen 40% faster than in states without such mandates . . .

The Colorectal Cancer Legislation Report Card, first issued in 2004, gave 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, an "A" grade for laws mandating coverage of colonoscopies as well as future advances in screening technologies: Arkansas, Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. State laws requiring insurance coverage of colon cancer screening have significantly increased the number of potentially lifesaving screenings in those states, according to an analysis by the American Cancer Society . . .

States that received an "F," for having no legislation requiring coverage, included Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. The remaining states require or recommend only some level of coverage.

Isn't it sad how Wisconsin, which once had a reputation as a "progressive" state, increasingly gets bad marks on just about everything from quality of campaign finance laws to poverty and health indicators?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Les Paul Gives $50,000 to Wis. Hometown

Most people don't know that Les Paul, probably the single most important individual in the history of rock music (hard to rock out without the electric guitar), is a Wisconsin native. Recently the 91 year old icon announced he was donating $50,000 to his hometown of Waukesha.
" ...we must all own
up that without Les
Paul, generations
of flash little punks
like us would be in
jail or cleaning toilets."

- Keith Richards

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Submit Questions For LWV Forum + N/W Forum

The League of Women Voters Candidates Forum for those seeking Mayor, Common Council, and School Board seats will be held Wednesday, March 7th as reported by Oshkosh News.

The League encourages citizens to submit questions electronically by March 5th. Submit your queston(s) to Frankie Mengeling at

Also, traffic at the Oshkosh Northwestern's Community Forum has been relatively light. Check it out if you have not already done so--I had what I thought was an informative exchange on there with an anonymous poster known as Jacksonst. I expect the Northwestern forum to heat up as we get closer to the election and more people start thinking about local politics.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Media Rants: Thirteen and Counting

My March Media Rant for the Valley Scene is a tongue-in-cheek look at the 13 officially announced establishment party candidates for President. Since I wrote the piece, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack decided to drop out of the race. Not enough of a rock star, I guess. Also, John McCain had not yet announced, as he did the other night on Letterman. The rant can be found here.