Friday, February 27, 2009

Was Process Discussed In Closed Session?

Here's two quotes that make you go "hmmm . . ."

Mayor Tower At Last Night's Mayor Debate: "We started the possibility of a process and Paul, he should’ve been in there."

City Attorney Lorenson At Last Tuesday's Meeting: "The generalized process discussion is not the reason you would go into closed session." (Lynn's comments come at about the 2 hour, 46 minute mark of the meeting.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Draft Goals Released

Just got an email from Assistant City Manager John Fitzpatrick releasing the 2009 Draft Goals for City Manager to the press. They were written by City Manager Rohloff. Here are the draft goals:

1. Complete City-wide Strategic Planning Process with Department Heads and Council
a. Initiate Council involvement in strategic plan process by June 1, 2009
b. Complete strategic plan for Council approval by September 1, 2009
c. Develop annual goals consistent with strategic plan
d. Develop performance measurements that are consistent with strategic plan and goals

2. Reformat budget process to produce a document that is easily understood by Council and the public.
a. Review 2008 financial audit in anticipation of preparing 2010 budget
b. Present budget preparation schedule to Council by July 15, 2009
c. Include performance measurement system in budget document
d. Work with Mayor to evaluate need for budget committee by April 1, 2009
e. Conduct statistically reliable citizen survey to assist Council in setting budget priorities; submit results to Council by June 1, 2009

3. Prepare and submit 2010-2014 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to Council by May 15, 2009

4. Economic Development
a. Work with Bankers Bank to successfully transfer ownership of Park Plaza to new group with long range plan, including plans to coordinate hotel and convention center operations
b. Solicit proposals for hotel development in Marion Road project area
c. Complete conceptual plan for development of Clark Farm in SW Industrial Park
d. Identify potential area(s) for new commercial business park once Universal Business Park is sold out
e. Work with building community to address perception that Oshkosh is not "business friendly"
f. Work with CHAMCO, OAEDC, and other entities to develop programs to educate public about success of TIF districts as a viable economic development tool
g. Cooperate with economic development partners to promote Oshkosh and encourage business expansion with existing businesses and new prospects
h. Complete Economic Development Element to Comprehensive Plan and submit to Council by September 1, 2009

5. Public Works
a. Select I & I Engineer by March 1, 2009; have initial recommendations from I & I plan to Council by September 1, 2009; initiate first phase (likely manhole rehabilitation) by December 1, 2009
b. Submit stormwater management options for Westhaven area to Council by April 1, 2009; work with Council to identify pond location and award contract for design by September 1, 2009
c. By October 1, 2009, present amended snow removal policy that will include new parking regulations to improve ability to remove snow
d. Implement Council decision on recycling collection by March 1, 2009

6. Community Involvement & Outreach
a. Work with community groups (Chamber, OACF, OCVB, United Way, UWO) in developing community visioning plan and branding initiative
b. Complete Leadership Oshkosh Program and encourage program graduates and alumni to more actively participate in the community
c. Continue to make myself available to community groups and media to communicate city initiatives and seek input on community-wide issues

7. Work with E & E Board to develop City-wide Sustainability Plan
a. Conduct greenhouse gas emissions inventory of city facilities
b. Support E & E Board as needed

8. Personnel
a. Initiate negotiating process for collective bargaining based on directions from Council
b. Develop plan to train existing employees to replace "baby boomers" as they begin retiring

9. Parks
a. Evaluate management of Leach Amphitheater by in house staff and make recommendation for 2010 management plan by October 1, 2009
b. Produce report on Sawdust Days 2009 that identifies city costs in supporting event and identifies neighborhood concerns for 2010 event

10. Submit draft Special Events policy to Council by July 1, 2009
11. Submit draft Donations policy to Council by October 1, 2009

Palmeri On WOSH Thursday Morning

I'll be Bob Burnell's guest at 7:50 a.m. Thursday morning to talk about the flap over Tuesday's closed common council meeting. If Bob asks me to give Mr. Rohloff a letter grade or some other form of evaluation I will refuse to comment. I mean, I don't want the city to get sued.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Northwestern: Setting goals for city manager should be public

Read it here. Left unsaid in the editorial is why the newspaper asked sitting councilors to provide public evaluations of Mr. Rohloff if they now believe that the closed door evaluative procedure is "good policy." Will they now no longer ask Councilors to evaluate the City Manager?

The paper also ran a short piece covering my objections to the closed meeting. That piece can be found here.

The fact that 4 sitting members of the Council have already engaged in significant public evaluation of the City Manager (actually 5 if you count Burk Tower's comments in the Northwestern's Sunday piece on Rohloff) does call into question the need to go into closed session, but I guess from a narrow, legalistic perspective it's okay. The goal setting part of the equation is much more problematic. I do hope a majority of the Council comes to the conclusion tonight that it's probably okay to do a performance evaluation in secret, but that the setting of goals does need to be done in public.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Closed Meeting Update

Now this is getting real interesting. Today the Northwestern, a paper that prides itself on being guardians of sunshine in government, ran a story on the "work in progress" that is the Rohloff Administration. The story reported uncritically that "Councilors are scheduled to meet in closed session following the city council meeting Tuesday to discuss Rohloff's performance thus far and set goals and priorities for the city manager for the rest of 2009."

Here's a question for Gannett and their foot soldier Stew R.: if evaluation of the city manager is properly done behind closed doors, then why did the paper ask Ms. King, Mayor Tower, Mr. Esslinger and I to engage in public evaluation of Mr. Rohloff in their campaign questionaire? The paper asked the council and mayoral candidates to answer this question: "Give City Manager Rohloff a preliminary grade (A-F). What are his strengths? Where does he need improvement?" I am a teacher, and in the teaching profession a letter grade is an evaluation. Mayor Tower, who is asking for the closed meeting on Tuesday, answered this way:

"Thus far I have been very impressed with Mark’s performance and would rate him with a B+. His immediate interaction in the community, with Council, and staff show he was the right choice for the position and Oshkosh. Two specific items yet to be completed are the 2010 revised budget/capital improvements document and process and strategic plan."

That sure sounds like a public evaluation to me, in fact it sounds like a ringing endorsement. Is it the Northwestern's opinion, and maybe the Mayor's, that positive evaluative comments are okay in public, but not negative ones? Was I then out of order in my answer to the question?:

"I would give Mr. Rohloff a C+ at this point. I've been impressed with his policy of signing his name on all staff memos before they are released to the Council and general public. I think that shows a willingness to hold staff and himself accountable for everything that comes out of city hall. His weekly newsletter is also clear, in-depth, and informative.

Where I'd like to see improvement are in the areas of economic development, budget, and management of staff. On economic development, I think the city manager should try to use the TIF tool not for business as usual, but to attract family supporting jobs. On budget, Mr. Rohloff should willingly provide the City Council with a draft budget that includes a zero tax increase if for no other reason than to show citizens where he would make major cuts should that need arise. On management of staff, in 2009 I would like to see Mr. Rohloff let the council and general public know how he plans to guarantee the effectiveness of individual departments."

Ms. King and Mr. Esslinger also answered the question. You can find their responses here and here.

I take it that the paper would have been okay with all four of us respoding this way: "Sorry, but you are asking us to evaluate the performance of the City Manager. That is something properly done behind closed doors."

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Frank, Jessica, Paul or I evaluate Mr. Rohloff differently in closed session than we did in response to the Northwestern's question. Would that not be newsworthy? Is the paper really okay with keeping that a secret? How then can they be taken seriously as advocates of open government?

Keep in mind that in my previous post on this topic I agreed that evaluation of the city manager can be done in closed session according to the open meetings law. But why would the Northwestern be okay with a closed session for that purpose when they have already asked for (and received) public evaluations of the city manager from 4 sitting members of the Council? And why on earth would they agree that setting goals is properly done in closed session? If I were to say, "I think one goal should be to come up with a method to evaluate TIF proposals," do I really need to be in closed session?

A few weeks ago, in an envelope marked "confidential," councilors were given a draft statement of 11 "2009 goals for the city manager." Does the Northwestern really believe that it's proper for those goals to remain under wraps until the Council is ready to release them? They must, because I am aware of no attempt to get them. Does the paper think I would be violating the open records law if I released them?

Mayor Tower apparently believes that the public should be allowed to comment on the goals only after the Council has had at them in secret. Here's what he said in his most recent letter to the Council: "Also, after the meeting, we have a Closed Session scheduled for review of Mark's performance to date, and discussion of goals moving forward. Please review the draft you received of possible goals and come with additions or changes. Pending Council input, I would expect we would place a resolution on the March 10th Agenda for formal adoption of the goals, thus allowing public comment and any final Council comment."

Meanwhile, here is how the agenda announces the closed session: "Discuss the Performance Evaluation Regarding the City Manager, an Employee over which the Common Council has Jurisdiction and Exercises Responsibility Pursuant to Section 19.85(1)(c) of the Wisconsin State Statutes." I don't see anything in there regarding a discussion of goals. It's still not clear why a discussion of goals needs to be done in closed session, especially since the Mayor is now saying that public comment on them will be allowed on March 10th.

While I do believe the performance evaluation of the City Manager can be done in closed session, there too it's not clear why we necessarily have to close the meeting since the Northwestern has already succeeded in getting 4 of us to engage in public evaluation of Mr. Rohloff. If any of the 4 make substantial revisions to their evaluation--or contradict what they told the paper--I repeat that that is certainly newsworthy.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Condoleeza Clinton?

Here's a stunner from Sec. of State Clinton in Beijing: "Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises."

I'm sure the approximately 500,000 people in detention without charges or trial will be happy to hear that. Not to mention the Tibetans and other repressed groups. Amnesty International's 2008 Annual Report for China can be found here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Goal Setting And Closed Meetings

In his January 30th, 2009 letter to the Oshkosh Common Council, Mayor Tower said this: "After speaking with Bryan, I've asked Lynn to schedule a Closed Meeting after the February 24th meeting for discussion of 2009 goals for Mark." [Note: Bryan is Deputy Mayor Bryan Bain, Lynn is City Attorney Lynn Lorenson, and Mark is City Manager Mark Rohloff.]

I just asked City Clerk Pam Ubrig to place this item on the Feb. 24th agenda under Council Member Statements, Announcements, Discussion: "Does setting City Manager goals in closed executive session fall within the letter and spirit of the Open Meetings Law?"

Many of you will recall that in 2007 (before Jess King and I were elected), the Council spent what seemed like an excessive amount of time in Executive session to come up with what were widely peceived as (to put it as charitably as possible) not very challenging goals for then City Manager Wollangk. Those can be found here.

I understand why an evaluation of the City Manager needs to be done in closed session. Such an evaluation is clearly a personnel matter. But to go into closed session to set goals? Why can't the Council do that in open session, preferably with public input into what the goals should be? If anyone--councilor or other citizen--chooses to use such a forum for public evaluation of the City Manager, the Mayor simply needs to rule him or her out of order and move on.

If a strong case is made for going into closed session on the 24th, I will certainly join my colleagues. But "strong case" has to be more than a narrow reading of the Open Meetings law. We need to be concerned not just with the letter, but also the spirit of that law.

If a strong case is not made, I will refuse to go into the session and will organize my own public forum at which citizens can advise me (and whatever other councilors attend) as to what they think should be the goals for 2009.

I am not saying that the City Manager's goals should be set by the general public instead of the Council. All I am saying is that, absent a compelling reason not to, the Council should deliberate about and set those goals in open session.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thank You

Many thanks to everyone who voted in yesterday's primary, and a special thanks to those who helped get the word out about my candidacy.

The April 7th general election is just around the corner. I'm looking forward to participating in forums with the other candidates.

Thanks again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Deer Cull Halted . . . in Michigan

Jo Egelhoff of forwarded this on. The city council of Rochester Hills, Michigan has called off a deer cull after dispatching sharpshooters in January. Instead, they are going to form a deer management advisory committee to investigate all options.

At least in Rochester Hills (unlike Oshkosh), officials were able to document a spike in deer/car accidents (23 percent increase between 2003 and 2007) before going ahead with sharpshooting. Still, the majority of citizens just did not buy the argument that nonlethal methods of deer management had been looked at seriously. On Monday night the Rochester Hills city council voted 4-3 to halt the cull. From the Detroit News story:

"In the more than 20 years I've been involved in Rochester Hills I have never seen anything as divisive as the council's approach to reducing the incident of car-deer crashes," said Councilman Jim Rosen, who voted in favor of the motion Monday night.

Halting the deer reduction activity in Oshkosh and creating a deer management committee would be a good idea. Such a committee could take a serious, in-depth look at management options. "Serious and in-depth" means more than "the DNR says we can't do it" or inviting in a Humane Society rep for sparsely attended workshops.

Congratulations to the Rochester Hills city council for being responsive to their citizens and showing some leadership. Be nice if that kind of thing caught on in government at all levels across the country.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Friday The 13th In Oshkosh

Just in from the Chief of Police:

"We plan to continue the deer herd reduction activity on the National Guard Armory property on Friday February 13, 2009 under the same basic operational plan as last time. Osborn Avenue will be closed and police personnel will be maintaining a safe perimeter during the activity."

Sharpshooting deer in Oshkosh on Friday the 13th. I don't think you could make something like that up. Perhaps the sharpshooters will be wearing Jason Voorhees masks. Or maybe the protestors will.

Of all the speeches given on Tuesday night regarding this issue, I thought the first speech by Nancy Binder (I think that's her name) was the best. She has supported killing the deer, but made a strong plea for people to listen to each other. She is actually willing to keep her mind open to the possibility of nonlethal solutions. To the possibility of giving those solutions more time to work. But I guess it's all academic at this point--it's rare to find examples of cities that can go lethal for just one year and not have to continue.

I taught until 8 p.m. on Wednesday after the council had met until after 1 a.m. on the same day. When I got home there were some interesting messages on my machine. One woman called to say that the deer need to be killed because "the people in that neighborhood are living miserable lives and you need to do something." Another called to say that she's having trouble explaining to her children, who have been enjoying the deer since they were small, that they need to be killed "because people think they will be able to keep growing their favorite plants."

Today I was buying hair shampoo at Family Dollar on Main St. (where you can get Family Dollar brand 2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner for 2 bucks), and a fifty-something guy came up to me to say this: "Hey Tony, the council okayed culling that most people don't want because it's 'only deer.' Then you okayed big garbage carts that most people don't want because the people getting fired are 'only garbage men.' Who gets to be the only at the next meeting?" He smiled, but I sensed a deep anger there.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Deer By Numbers

I think by the time the City Council approved hiring sharpshooters to thin the deer herd in the Osborn Ave. area, there was general agreement that garden damage by itself was not a sufficient reason to do so. Indeed, Chief of Police Greuel and Public Information Officer Sagmeister--in almost all of their public comments on this matter--emphasize public safety, especially deer/car accidents, as the major reason for needing to sharpshoot at this time.

That's why I found it odd, when the Council was finally presented with data on deer/car accidents, to find that over the last three years the number of accidents has actually gone down. Based on what we were hearing from the police and advocates of lethal methods to control the deer population, one would have reasonably thought that the car/deer accidents had been increasing to an unmanageable size. (Indeed, I have actually become paranoid driving down 9th Ave. and other parts of the city because of the continuous insistence that we have a major deer crossing problem.). But here are the data:

*In 2006 there were 21 total car/deer accidents reported, which included 6 in the Osborn Ave. area.
*In 2007 there were 21 total car/deer accidents reported, which included 4 in the Osborn Ave. area.
*In 2008 there were 16 car/deer accidents reported, which included 2 in the Osborn Ave. area.

I don't think any of the six who voted for lethal methods would have changed their vote had we had this data earlier in January, but it does once again beg the question, as a gentlemen put it to me bluntly on the phone the other day, "what the f_ _k are you guys thinking?"

I wish I knew.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Marley And Me

Today is the late Bob Marley's 64th birthday. Reggae music had been around for a long time, but most people in the USA weren't familiar with the genre until Marley's mid-1970's albums "Natty Dread" and "Rastaman Vibration."

I started listening to Bob Marley seriously in the 1978/79 period, right when I was ending high school and starting college. As with John Lennon, I found him to be more provocative than most of my teachers. The lyric "emancipate yourself from mental slavery" from "Redemption Song" remains an all-time favorite, and I wasn't surprised when Time Magazine named "Exodus" the best album of the 20th century.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

When I found out about deer concerns

Today's Oshkosh Northwestern editorial, which seems to bend over backwards to provide some defense of what is now widely recognized as a flawed process employed to get to point of bringing sharpshooters to the city, claims that the urban deer issue in Oshkosh has been discussed at least since the fall of 2006. The editorial says that "The fact is officials have been working on the issue since at least the fall of 2006, when the first estimates of the size of the deer herd were made." I just emailed editorial writer Alex Hummel and asked him to provide me with those fall of 2006 herd size estimates; I have never received such estimates, and if any other councilor did he or she never revealed them in any of our deliberations on this matter. (For the record, the only estimates of herd size received by the council are the following: 11 deer found in an aerial survey taken in early 2008; and a survey of neighborhood residents' opinions on herd size which revealed that 56% of the respondents thought that there were 20 or less; 17% thought that there were more than 20, and 27% didn’t know.)

I was elected to the city council in April of 2007. Never during the campaign, to my recollection, did anyone ask my views on urban deer. My introduction to the topic came in May of 2007, when DNR wildlife biologist Tim Lizotte sent the common council an email. Here's the first paragraph:

My name is Tim Lizotte, DNR Wildlife Biologist stationed here in Oshkosh. I have been contacted by seven landowners within the city regarding urban deer in the vicinity of the Vulcan Quarry and South Park. Five landowners have complained about the deer and damage to their property and two citizens expressed their enjoyment of the deer and had no complaints. In addition, I have been questioned by the Oshkosh Northwestern on the issue.

The Northwestern editorial says that the process included " . . . plenty of opportunities for residents to express their views on urban deer." I think this is where the frustration on the part of residents is coming in. They are NOT saying that there were not opportunities to express views. Rather, they are upset that the majority views expressed in the only survey the city took on the matter (i.e. 50% reported not being concerned about the deer in the yard, and 24% actually enjoy them. 25% said they were concerned. 69% said that damage caused by deer is not serious enough for the city to act.) were minimized or ignored.

The City Manager told me yesterday that the sharpshooters have either already begun baiting the deer for another round of hunting, or will soon begin to do so. I think given the reaction to the first round, this is not a wise move. Will any of the six councilors who voted for this call for a delay so that we can take at least one more year to look for alternatives and give the nonlethal options advocated by the Humane Society the proper time needed to work?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Censored in 2008, Part 2

Censored in 2008, Part 2

Media Rants


Tony Palmeri

From the February, 2009 edition The Scene

Last month I identified half of the top ten stories that were underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored by northeast Wisconsin corporate media in 2008. They were: (10) Journal Communications Laps for Lazich, (9) Isn’t Anyone Against TIF? (8) Keeping the Key Hidden, (7) ALEC’s Wisconsin Pull, and (6) Silencing the Winter Soldiers. To escape the censoring tendencies of the corporate press, regularly check these sites:,,,, and Lyle Lahey’s cartoons at

And now the top 5 censored stories of 2008.

No. 5: Historic McKinney/Clemente Ticket Ignored. In July the Green Party made history when it nominated the first all-women-of-color presidential ticket in US history. Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and her hip-hop generation journalist running mate Rosa Clemente campaigned on a platform of social justice, peace, ecology, and grassroots democracy. The ticket mobilized some spirited volunteers, but absent any mainstream media coverage the majority of Fox Valley residents never knew the campaign existed. Shameful.

No. 4: The True Cost of the Bush Years. The January 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine includes a jaw dropping report by former Commerce Department official Linda Bilmes and Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz called “The $10 Trillion Hangover: Paying the price for eight years of Bush.” Though President Bush in 2001 inherited a budget surplus of $128 million, he leaves office with estimates of a 2009 deficit of at least $750 billion. Government spending increased 59% during the Bush years, but the middle-class and poor saw few gains. The writers argue that “most Americans are worse off than they were in 2001. This is because money was squandered in Iraq and given as a tax windfall to America’s richest individuals and corporations, rather than spent on such projects as education, infrastructure, and energy independence, which would have made all of us much better off in the long term.”

Even on those occasions when mainstream media reported the gloomy statistics, they failed to link the gloom to the economic mistakes of the Bush Administration. And those mistakes, according to Bilmes and Stiglitz, “will cast a long shadow over the next generation of Americans.”

No. 3: Our Subprime Financial System. NYU Economist Nouriel Roubini, chair of the respected financial think tank RGE Monitor (, is called “Dr. Doom” because of his pessimistic outlook on the economy. As early as 2005 he predicted the current economic mess. Now heralded by the New York Times and other corporate media as “the seer who saw it coming,” it must be noted that Roubini’s insights and predictions were marginalized and/or ignored by the press at the very moments that we should have been listening most. In fact, his articulation of the extent of our financial woes still hasn’t sunk in. What he told the New York Times in 2008 was already known years earlier and should have been part of responsible press coverage of the economy: “Reckless people have deluded themselves that this was a subprime crisis . . . But we have problems with credit-card debt, student-loan debt, auto loans, commercial real estate loans, home-equity loans, corporate debt and loans that financed leveraged buyouts . . . We have a subprime financial system, not a subprime mortgage market.”

No. 2: The Roots of Mainstream Media’s Financial Crisis. When a corporate media giant like Gannett announced layoffs and forced, unpaid furloughs for all employees, we assume that big media must be going broke. Not so. According to corporate media watchdogs, the problem is greed: “It is true that profit margins have shrunk for some media companies, and the larger financial crisis undoubtedly impacts advertising. The Internet has changed the public’s media habits. But most media companies remain extremely profitable, just not profitable enough to please Wall Street. (Some papers in the now-gutted Gannett chain enjoy profit margins above 40 percent.).”

Freepress argues that our media system is the result of “policies and politics” that since the 1990s have favored consolidation and profit motive over diversity and public service reporting. They say that, “Just like the weak-kneed watchdogs at the SEC and Treasury stood by as subprime lending and ‘credit default swaps’ sank our economy, the public servants entrusted with the airwaves cheered deregulation as local voices and viewpoints were crushed by the now-tottering media behemoths.” If big media cannot report honestly and openly about their own failed economic ideology, how can we expect them to expose others?

No. 1: The Local Cost of the Iraq War. The top censored story for the fourth year in a row. Establishment media continue to lament the shortage of monies for basic services in local communities, yet rarely make the link to the waste of life and financial resources in Iraq. As I write this in late January, congressional appropriations toward Iraq are approaching $600 billion. Local media have done a miserable job of identifying the local cost. The National Priorities Project estimates that the war has cost cities of Oshkosh, Appleton, and Green Bay a combined total of almost $400 million. Last year’s flood victims in Oshkosh and other northeast Wisconsin cities with decaying infrastructures deserve to know why there’s not enough money in local budgets for repairs and maintenance. Maybe mainstream media will tell them in 2009.

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