I am a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I use this blog try to promote critical thinking about mainstream media, establishment politics, and popular culture.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Deer Culling Update
From City Manager Mark Rohloff's Weekly Newsletter:
"Chief Greuel and I discussed the process that resulted in the deer culling taking place. We believe that should an issue like this come up in the future, it may be beneficial for the city to organize a citizen-based group to provide some guidance and direction with respect to reaching community consensus on what can be done. The issue has certainly heightened the interest of various members of the public, and we may want to insure that we engage the public as much as possible (emphasis added) for their input on issues that can become emotional and divisive."
Three deer were disposed of last night amid protests. Several citizens have called me to say that they have been told by other city officials that the council wanted to tranquilize and move the deer, but the DNR won't allow it. What I have said in response is this: (1) That the DNR will not allow the deer to be moved may be true, but we only have second hand knowledge of that. No DNR official or wildlife biologist was ever asked to speak to the Common Council about this matter before any vote was taken; (2) If the Council did in fact want to move the deer, there was (and is) nothing preventing us from delaying the cull for at least another year to discover a way to do it; (3) other nonlethal options espoused by the Humane Society of the United States and others needed at least one (and probably two or three) more planting seasons before we could say with confidence that deer removal or culling is necessary.
The contract with the sharpshooters allows for up to 40 deer to be killed. Given the public reaction over the last month--culminating with last night's protest--does it really make sense to continue at this point?
You can find last night's Common Council Candidate Forum here. As an incumbent, I have to say that I was impressed by all of the challengers. Each struck me as thoughtful, independent thinkers who care deeply about the city. For all the faults of the current Common Council--and I think there are many--we seem to have at least succeeded in giving currency to the idea that rubber stamping is not an appropriate way to govern. None of the candidates last night struck me as rubber stamps for anything or anyone.
I have no idea if the voters intend on bringing me back, but if they do I can say with all sincerity that it would be a pleasure to work with any one of these folks.
The Council just received an email from the Chief of Police, with the subject title "Urban Deer Reduction Activity." It says this:
I wanted to make sure that I informed all of you that the deer culling or herd reduction will be taking place on Friday January 30, 2009 sometime starting around 5pm. We will be notifying businesses and residents in the area by personal contact, email and flyer distribution possibly later this afternoon, but most likely starting tomorrow morning. We will be making media notification at the same time that we notify businesses and residents. The success of the activity on Friday will determine whether any additional nights will be needed. Thank you
In his January 16th, 2009 newsletter, City Manager Rohloff says this: "Our agreement with Oshkosh River Development allows me to grant up to two, 30-day extensions."
At the January 19th meeting of the Redevelopment Authority, Mayor Tower and Community Development Director Jackson Kinney take the view that no resolution is needed to grant the extension(s).
The agreement the Common Council majority passed in October of last year says this: "If the developer is diligently pursuing its due diligence with respect to the project, then the developer would have the right to extend this due diligence period for two additional periods of thirty days each, but only with the City/RDA's consent."
I'm sorry, but I can't see where that language gives the City Manager the authority to grant extensions, unless he is somehow king of the City and RDA. I have asked for clarification and will let you know what I find out.
I was impressed with what President Obama had to say today about government accountability and transparency. A portion of his remarks appear below. He may be underestimating the power of the federal bureaucracy to maneuver around executive level directives, and no doubt he'll be pressured by cabinet officials to assume the broadest possible interpretation of "national security" in order to justify secrecy. But in taking such a strong public stand in favor of openness, he has invited the press and public at-large to judge any lapses harshly. Such an invitation is itself a kind of leadership we have not seen in Washington in a very long time.
But the way to make a government responsible is not simply to enlist the services of responsible men and women, or to sign laws that ensure that they never stray. The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being
But the way to make a government responsible is not simply to enlist the services of responsible men and women, or to sign laws that ensure that they never stray. The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served.
The directives I am giving my administration today on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just that. For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.
To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law.
I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness. Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.
Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.
Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And that's why, as of today, I'm directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans -- scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs -- because the way to solve the problem of our time is -- the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.
The executive orders and directives I'm issuing today will not by themselves make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be. And they do not go as far as we need to go towards restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in Washington. But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country. And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people in the days and weeks, months and years to come. That's a pretty good place to start.
A man in the coffee shop the other day told me that some on the right wing were complaining that the excesses of the Obama inauguration were starting to look like nazi rallies from the 1930s. I said, "after what we've just been through for the last 8 years, they can find fascism in Obama's inaugural?"
An intoxicated male failed to stop for the stop sign on 7th and S. Main. He struck a car driving on S Main. His alcohol level was .26. He said the other car drove into him and felt the accident was not his fault even though he failed to stop for the stop sign.
I'd say that fellow should be in the running for a local Darwin Award.
One of the most frustrating parts of last night's deer culling discussion was the inability to get reassuring information about what kinds of safety precautions will be in place when the sharpshooting begins. Essentially, we were told to trust that Urban Wildlife Specialists know what they're doing. (I didn't say it at the meeting, but as I sat there on the dais I thought, "Great, now we have faith based sharpshooting to go along with our faith based development.").
Unfortunately I was not forwarded this piece until after the meeting so could not read it during the deliberation. It says:
Hales Corners Village Trustee Dan Besson was walking through Whitnall Park one day when he heard a gunshot. He immediately fell to the ground, seeking cover
It turned out the gunfire was part of Milwaukee County's program to cull the deer herd in the park. But Besson, who lives near the park, had no idea that sharpshooters, hired on contract, were out.
Hales Corners Village President Bob Ruesch said today that as a result of that incident, the Village Board last night directed staff to work with the county to develop a better plan for notifying residents near the park when the sharpshooters will be at work.
Ruesch said there is a program in place for notifying residents, closing roads in the park and taking other precautions, but that the notification needs to be improved.
Ruesch said the sharpshooters, using bullets designed not to ricochet, typically work at the 625-acre park about one week per month in January, February and March, killing about 17 to 19 deer.
Staff is due to report back to the Village Board in two weeks, Ruesch said.
I don't mean to kick a dead deer, but it still strikes me as almost unbelievable that we could not delay this action until we could more rigorously promote and assess nonlethal means of deer management AND give the anti-culling majority more time to participate in the process.
Just a couple of years ago the city of Chippewa Falls engaged in a spirited, divisive struggle over whether to create a position of City Administrator. The forces of "professionalism" prevailed, and the position was created. Today the Eau Claire paper reported that administrator Ron Singel, who'd only been on the job since last March, was fired for "personnel" reasons. According to the paper:
The council voted 5-1 in February to hire Singel, who was most recently the city administrator in La Grande, Ore. The council selected Singel from four finalists who came to the city in January 2008.
Councilman Jack Covill abstained from voting on dismissal. He couldn't be reached for comment about why he abstained. However, Covill cast the lone vote against hiring Singel last year, saying he was concerned that Singel had left several jobs quickly in Maine, Alaska and Oregon.
Taxpayers now get to shell out $55,000 to $57,000 to Singel over the next six months. The price of professionalism, I guess.
DPI Candidate Todd Price to Attend Palmeri Kickoff
Todd Price, candidate for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent position, will attend my Common Council campaign kickoff on Thursday, January 15th at 6:30 p.m. The kickoff will be held at my house (212 W. Parkway Ave.). All are welcome.
You can see a Wispolitics.com interview with Todd Price here.
I've been a fan of the New York football Giants since the 1960s and didn't like to see them lose yesterday, but I have to give Donovan McNabb and the Eagles credit for what they've accomplished this year. At one point in the season the Eagles were 5-5-1, McNabb was benched and almost run out of Philly, yet the team found a way to get back on track and now only need to beat the Arizona Cardinals in order to get to the Super Bowl. (Which will be no easy task--the Kurt Warner led Cardinals are playing inspired football right now.).
McNabb has taken lots of criticism over the years, but he will now be playing in his fifth championship game in his ten year career. Other A-list QBs might hold more records, but to get into the championship game half the time is, in my view, a much more telling sign of effectiveness.
Prediction: In an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl, the Steelers beat the Eagles 23-20 on a field goal in overtime.
The other noteworthy change to the ordinance would be requiring that snow and ice be removed by noon on the day following the cessation of the snowfall. The current language requires that snow be removed "within 24 hours after it falls." I know that the city of Appleton has the "noon on the following day" language in their policy, so it's not as if something radically new is being proposed here. I have not had a chance to read the Department of Public Works' rationale for the amendments, so I don't yet know if I support them.
The agenda for Tuesday's meeting also includes, under "City Manager Announcements, Statements & Discussion," this item: "Review of Snow Plowing & Removal Processes." Do you have questions that should be raised during this part of the meeting? If so, you can post them on this blog, email then directly to City Manager Rohloff (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also call me at 235-1116.
It's hard to disagree with the Northwestern's position in today's editorial that it's time to move on from dogs and deer to more pressing city matters. Still, the editorial contains two very puzzling statements: "The city has had a robust and civil debate on how to best deal with the urban deer problem. All sides were heard."
When exactly did that "robust debate" take place? Here's the "debate" that has taken place so far: *On February 12, 2008, seven citizens spoke to the Common Council during "citizen statements" to talk about their concerns with deer in their yards. No debate took place. *On March 25, 2008 the City Council had a workshop on urban deer. You can see it here (it starts at around the 1 hour, 45 minute mark). I believe 16 citizens spoke at the workshop, with all but two in favor of lethal methods to handle the deer population. Perhaps there could have been a robust debate at the workshop had the Council and/or administration done a better job of actively seeking out other points of view on the matter. We didn't, and so there certainly was not a "robust debate" at the workshop. Minutes of meetings of the deer committee chaired by Police Chief Greuel and City Attorney Lorenson do not indicate the presence of opponents to deer culling--so no "robust debate" there either. *On April 22, 2008 the Council had before it the first reading of an ordinance to ban the feeding of deer. There was no debate. *On May 13th, 2008 the Council passed a resolution to adopt the "urban deer management program" and an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of deer. I don't believe any citizens showed up to speak on either item. No robust debate. *On December 23, 2008 the Council had before it the first reading of an ordinance that would amend the city's firearms laws so as to allow for a deer kill. Whereas the March 25th workshop was mostly one-sided in favor of culling, on December 23rd the citizen speakers were mostly opposed to culling. There was no "robust debate."
So contrary to the Northwestern's editorial, the problem with the urban deer issue is not there has already been robust debate; rather, up to this point there has been NO DEBATE. That's why the issue is now so contentious. Had the Council, the City Administration, and (yes) the Northwestern done more to ensure that all voices were heard in March, this issue would have played out much differently.
On the links section of this blog I'm now posting James Howard Kunstler's podcast. I don't always agree with Kunstler (or with anybody), but he's one of the few working American writers with anything valuable to say about the tragedy of urban planning in the US. ("I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work."). On his blog, Kunstler calls himself a Democrat and openly endorsed the election of Barack Obama. He's also been calling, for many years, for a national commitment to mass transit (especially rail). Not sure if the prez-elect shares that commitment, but his nomination of Republican Ray LaHood to run the Department of Transportation sure isn't a good sign. LaHood deserves kudos for supporting Amtrak, but beyond that his record on issues that a Transportation Secretary can impact is pretty dismal.