I haven't been blogging that much lately due to time constraints. Full-time teaching and the fact that the Common Council is "part-time" in name only makes it difficult to maintain a regular blogging schedule. But here are my thoughts on a few issues facing the Council:*Nuisance Ordinance:
Last Tuesday we defeated, on a 4-3 vote (Palmeri, King, B. Tower and McHugh voting in the majority), revisions to the city's nuisance ordinance that would have changed the abatement process and included new language attempting to clarify what are appropriate "temporary weatherization" products that can be used on homes. That last part should have been called the "Todd Sohr" provision. Mr. Sohr is a Grand St. resident who has been in a running feud with Inspections and Community Development officials about the use of plastic on his windows.
I was not on the Common Council when the nuisance ordinance was first passed, but I voted against the proposed changes because I thought the new language was both vague and overbroad. I don't believe that realtors and apartment associations need to be consulted for feedback on every change made to the ordinance, but in this case it seemed to me like some dialogue would have been helpful. Justified or not, Inspections and Community Development in our city have developed a reputation in some circles as not being friendly or cooperative. I'd like to see some progress made toward developing a "kinder, gentler" reputation before providing what I perceive to be additional powers to each of these departments. *Advisory Referendum.
The Esslinger/McHugh proposal to place 4 options on an April ballot failed 3-4 (King, Bain, and both Towers voting against ballot placement.). I moved to amend the resolution to include only 2 choices (to address the charge that the 4 choices were "confusing"), but I could not even get a second on the amendment. King and B. Tower clearly do not want to see any council led referendum on the ballot, F. Tower wanted the referendum placed on a November ballot (which no one else supported), and Bryan Bain again said that there should be community discussions about what citizens want to see in government. It's still not clear if he is going to call for those discussions and lead them or how they are supposed to happen.
One of the great ironies of all this, I believe, is that form of government referendums in Oshkosh are most opposed by people who support the manager form of government. I don't understand why a supporter of that form of government would be against trying to find out what kind of public confidence the current system employs. The people who would most benefit from having that information are potential applicants for the city manager position. If a person is a potential manager applicant and he finds out that barely half of the population of Oshkosh support the current form of government, then that will have great consequences for the kind of working conditions and buy out provisions negotiated. (Just as an aside, can you even imagine the kind of buy-out provision the next manager will negotiate?).
There will be a referendum at some point. Babblemur is seeking Oshkosh Democracy Campaign recruits here
City Clerk Pam Ubrig today provided the council with information about a timeline for citizens to get a referendum on the April ballot. Citizens would have to obtain 3,682 signatures with the first and last signature obtained in a 60-day time frame. According to Pam, here's the timeline:
-January 17, 2008: Clerk receives petitions
-February 1, 2008: Clerk's review of the petitions are complete
-February 11, 2008: Corrections completed by citizen group (if necessary) & clerk certifies peitions and informs council on her report at Feb. 12, 2008 meeting.
-March 11, 2008: April ballots available for absentee voting.
-April 1, 2008: Spring election.*Acting City Manager:
Before the last meeting, Dick Wollangk recommended that we appoint Personnel Director John Fitzpatrick and Community Works Director David Patek as co-acting city managers. The Council did not seem too keen to that idea, so we appointed just Fitzpatrick. I don't know John very well, but in my brief time on the Council I have heard all positive things about him and he has struck me as reliable and trustworthy in my limited interaction with him. Because we have decided to continue our search for interim manager candidates, John will be in the acting position for at least a month and maybe longer. *Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement:
Mayor Tower signed the agreement on Wednesday, and afterwards Madison Mayor Dave Ciesliewicz talked about sustainability. Mayor Dave gave a great talk, and while listening to him I wondered about all the great things we could do in Oshkosh if we had executive level leadership that was actually accountable to the people. *Settlement with Ganther:
In closed session, the council decided to accept a mediated settlement with Ben Ganther regarding tax obligations connected to the 100 block development. We were told that failure to accept the settlement would mean bankruptcy for Ganther and the city could be in the position of recovering no money. I was against the settlement because I thought justice dictated going forward with the lawsuit. The bankruptcy threat just did not strike me as credible, but even if it was/is I don't think it matters. I felt that the council and administration seemed to be in too much of a hurry to settle, a stance that will only produce more public suspicion. *Retirement of city attorney Warren Kraft:
Though Mr. Kraft had been under increasing pressure from the council and the press over a variety of issues, I did not expect him to announce his retirement. Last week I had called for a special meeting to discuss allegations of staff secrecy regarding the 100 block, and after that call Mr. Kraft provided the council with a memo explaining his actions. I did not sense that the majority of the council supported a special meeting, so I said that I would instead place a notice to questions Mr. Kraft about the memo during the council member statements at the next meeting. Now that Mr. Kraft has retired, it is not clear to me how we will go about getting all of our questions answered. Curiously, the Oshkosh Northwestern today argued that it's time to "move on
" as regards the 100 block.
If I could place my media critic hat on for a moment here, I have to say that the Northwestern's performance on the 100 block would be funny were it not so much a part of the problem. Last week Mr. Rieckman berated attorney Kraft for an alleged secrecy scheme to protect Ganther, yet as late as April of 2006 Mr. Rieckman himself was referring to bloggers and pundits critical of Ganther as having the attention span of "gnats on crack" because we did not report that "poor old Ben" had made a tax payment. And as I noted back in August
, the Northwestern has yet to apologize for its role in creating the conditions under which such a bad deal could be signed for the 100 block.
When the history of the 100 block debacle is written, it will show that the mess was in large part the result of an old boy network gone wild--a network that INCLUDED the local press. That same press is now calling for some kind of "redevelopment bill of rights," yet somehow the new commitment to transparent finances and feasible developments did not apply to The Waterfront proposal for an office building and hotel. While it is true that the Waterfront developers are not receiving a development assistance grant as was the case with the 100 block, it's still not clear exactly what the "master developer" concept commits the city to, especially if the projects fail. In other words, just as with the 100 block, the time when it was vital to ask tough questions about the Waterfront has passed, and it would not be surprising if 5 or 6 years from now we get "after the fact outrage" from the same people who stayed silent when their voices were most needed.
Stay tuned, and keep reading alternative media!