Monday, April 30, 2007

Threats Quiet Female Bloggers

Anyone who has blogged for any period of time knows what it is like to receive nasty, hostile, harassing, and threatening email comments. According to this piece in today's Washington Post, the problem appears to be worse for female bloggers:

A 2006 University of Maryland study on chat rooms found that female participants received 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages as males. A 2005 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the proportion of Internet users who took part in chats and discussion groups plunged from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2005, entirely because of the exodus of women. The study attributed the trend to "sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms."

Joan Walsh, editor in chief of the online magazine Salon, said that since the letters section of her site was automated a year and a half ago, "it's been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men."

I don't think anyone ever expected blogs to be saviors of democracy, but on the other hand it's depressing to have to come to grips with the possibility that blogs may actually succeed in decreasing public participation as a result of trollism and harassment.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Two Editorials Worth Reading

Two good editorial have appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern over the last two days. The first, "Amphitheater needs more civic exposure," makes a plea for the city to take some long overdue action to ensure greater community use of the Leach facility. I urge citizens interested in this issue to contact me and/or other Councilors. The more people come forward to express dissatisfaction with what is happening (or not happening) with the Leach, the more likely a majority of the Council and city administration will act.

The second editorial, "Caution needed before teeing up TIFs on fairways for development," may represent the first time in the history of the paper that an editorial raises some healthy skepticism about a Tax Incremental Financing proposal. I don't know what kind of case the developers will make, and of course we need to keep our minds open to all possibilities, but on the surface it would seem almost absurd to even suggest that TIF could be used to redevelop golf course land. I'm looking forward to hearing the arguments in open session.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Maybe she'll get the key to Oshkosh?

The Associated Press is reporting today that Marilee Jones, "a prominent crusader against the pressure on students to build their resumes for elite colleges, resigned Thursday as Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after acknowledging that she had misrepresented her own academic credentials."

I'm not sure if Jones flies planes, but if she does there's a strong chance she could end up as a key to the city of Oshkosh recipient.

Racism and the National Anthem

Earlier this month I read a piece by musician Thomas Dolby about racism and the national anthem and am just now getting around to blogging about it. In the piece, Dolby recounts a rehearsal session with Stevie Wonder in preparation for the 1985 Grammy Awards. If what Stevie Wonder told Dolby is correct, Marvin Gaye was banned from television after his performance of the national anthem at the 1983 NBA All Star game. Here's the way Dolby tells it:

I eventually tracked Stevie down. He was all alone, in an attic-like room on the top floor of the building filled with old files and papers. He was on his knees, playing a beaten-up upright piano.

I announced my presence, and reminded him we had an anthem to record. He asked if I had any ideas for it. I said, what about a really slow sexy groove on a drum machine, and really spread it out? Stevie thought for a moment, then said 'uh-uh. Marvin tried that one time man. He sang it that way at an NBA all-star game, and you know what? he never got on TV again until the day he died. Because all the network executives couldn't handle a black man singing a sexy soul version of the National Anthem.'

Looking at the video of Marvin Gaye's performance (see below), it's hard to imagine a better version of the national anthem.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Akcess Group VP Speaks

Yesterday Jeff Bollier of the Oshkosh Northwestern facilitated this online chat with Akcess Acquisition Group VP Tim Rikkers. The paper summarized the chat here.

Last night Doug Pearson of CHAMCO told the Common Council that it must have not only the courage to say yes to developments that will help Oshkosh, but also the courage to say no to projects that will not--even if we run the risk of being labeled "anti-development."

It's much too early to tell whether the Akcess proposal will warrant a yes or no.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

CHAMCO and OAEDC at Tuesday Council Meeting

After this coming Tuesday's Oshkosh Common Council meeting, the Council will meet in open workshop with representatives of CHAMCO and the Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corporation (OAEDC). Are there questions that you think the Council should pose to either or both organizations? You can post them here, email me at, or call me at 235-1116. (I welcome email, but remember that under state law all email correspondence with an elected official is potentially open to public inspection.).

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Lost Art of Great Speechmaking

Writing in today's London Guardian, Simon Schama laments the loss of great political speechmaking in the digital age. His focus is mostly on British oratory, but applies the critique also to the US:

Tony Blair's epideictic performance at the Labour Party conference last year won admiration even from his foes, but by and large the digital age is cool to rhetoric and, as the enthronement of the blogger suggests, prizes incoherent impulse over the Ciceronian arts of the exordium and the peroration.

State of the Nation addresses to the US Congress - that theatre of sob-sisters and ra-ra patriotism - most usually confuse passion with sentimentality, and since they are worked up by industrial teams of speechwriters, lack one of the elements thought indispensable to great oratory: integrity of personal conviction, the sound of what Cicero, following the Greeks, called ethos.

The robotically choreographed antics in which Democrats and Republicans alternate standing o's every five minutes is the opposite of the free-spirited audiences Cicero had in mind submitting themselves to the persuader's art.

True public eloquence presupposes a citizen-audience gathered into a republic of listening. But our oral age is i-Podded for our customised egos, an audience of one. Headphone listening seals us off, cuts connections.

The good news is that the great art of speechmaking is still taught. Case in point: this semester I am teaching a course called "Foundations of Speech Communication." In the course, students learn about the theories of rhetoric espoused by Aristotle, Cicero, and others. The course assignments include composing manuscript speeches that make use of the traditional "arts of rhetoric" including the development of appeals based on personal character (ethos), emotion (pathos), reasoning (logos), urgency (kairos), and more. Much time in the course is spent on using creative language (schemes and tropes).

Foundations of Speech Communication is a junior level course required for all Communication majors. Who knows, the next Churchill might be enrolled right now.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Marathon Organizational Meeting + Manager Goals

Today was the organizational meeting of the new Oshkosh Common Council. After Mayor Frank Tower, Bryan Bain, Jess King and I were sworn in, the new council elected Burk Tower to serve another term as deputy mayor, fixed our seating arrangements, discussed meeting rules, discussed the agenda format, discussed current procedures affecting citizen participation on boards and commissions, and discussed ideas for creating new task forces, boards and/or commissions. The entire meeting lasted almost 4 hours, and was cut off only because the access cable television technology was needed for the 4 p.m. Plan Commission meeting and Mayor Tower did not want any part of our discussion to go untelevised. On the agenda was a review of the city manager's goals for 2007-2008, but due to time constraints we did not have a lengthy discussion of them.

[Note on seating arrangements: Esslinger, Bain, McHugh, and B. Tower will all be sitting in the same seats as last council session. Frank Tower sits in the Mayor's chair vacated by Bill Castle. I sit in the chair filled last year by Meredith Scheuermann, and Jess King sits in the seat formerly held by Shirley Mattox.].

Some of my specific contributions to the meeting:

*I nominated Paul Esslinger to serve as deputy mayor. Bryan Bain nominated Burk Tower. Mr. Tower received 4 votes (in alphabetical order Bain, King, Frank Tower, Burk Tower). Esslinger received three votes (Esslinger, McHugh, Palmeri).
*I requested that the city administration place the cost of each item on the Consent Agenda next to its line on the actual agenda. Mr. Esslinger suggested that cost figures be placed next to each item on the agenda--not just the consent part--and the Council agreed. This will give citizens a much better idea of where tax dollars go, and (I hope) will develop more public trust in our budgeting. The cost figures should start appearing on the next agenda.
*Frank Tower and I advocated moving the Citizen Statements to the beginning of the meeting for the next 4 council meetings, but this was not supported by the council. Citizen statements will stay where they are.

As for the city manager's goals, there seemed to be great resistance offered from the returning members of the council (Bain, Esslinger, McHugh, B. Tower) to any discussion of the goals that might even imply a public performance evaluation of the manager.

I think there has to be a way to discuss the manager's goals without having to engage in a performance evaluation. Citizens who look at the goals immediately come to the conclusion that they are not acceptable, so if I have anything to say about it this topic is not going to go away. For those who have not seen them, here are the goals:

  1. By July 1, 2007, and again by the end of February of 2008, prepare and give a "State of the City" address in which you outline the major accomplishments of the City during the past year, the major things you would like to see accomplished during the next year and your view of where you see the City headed (key concerns in need of attention and major things to get done) over the next 5 years.

  2. Have each major department develop an "efficiency" team to meet periodically to identify and discuss ways for the department to become more efficient and effective in its delivery of services. Approaches to helping the City achieve a higher level of ecological sustainability should also be discussed. Please have a written summary of these efforts to date submitted to the Council each July.

  3. Soon after submitting to the Council the 2008 preliminary budget, hold at least one community meeting to discuss the budget with the public prior to the Council budget workshops.

  4. By May 1, establish a highly visible public comment and suggestion station that will encourage citizen feedback. Also work with the IT staff to develop a Web-base public comment and suggestion system within that time frame.

  5. Have an annual report summarizing that year's progress in each of the City's TIF districts. The report should be submitted to the Council along with the preliminary budget for the following year.

  6. By May 1, have developed and implemented a more citizen-friendly way for citizens to sign up and serve on City boards and commissions.

  7. Continue to create standards to gauge each department's annual performance. Implement these standards in each City department such that all departments are completed by the end of the current City Manager contact (through 2008). Provide a memorandum detailing the implementation to the Council at the end of the current year. At least three additional departments should be completed by the end of 2007.

  8. Prepare and distribute a mid-year memorandum to the Council reporting on the progress made on the thirteen high priority action items listed in the 2005 City of Oshkosh Comprehensive Plan. This could be an update of last year's July 19th memo on the same topic. Additionally, the memorandum is to identify two items from the list and a timeline for their completion. Completion of action items is a continuous goal through the completion of the Comprehensive Plan.

  9. Have a copy of this list of goals put up on the City web site as soon as possible. Provide periodic updating of progress toward the accomplishment of each goal.

Monday, April 16, 2007

So Much For National Acts At Leach

Back in 2005, when the city of Oshkosh signed on PMI of Green Bay to manage the Leach Amphitheater, a main argument in support of the move was PMI's alleged power to bring national touring acts to Oshkosh. I remember members of the Common Council at the time articulating grand scenarios in which performers like Cher would come to Oshkosh, our hotels and motels would be filled, restaurants and other small businesses would prosper, and all would live happily ever after.

Last week PMI sent the city a statement of its plans for 2007. In it they claim that the following acts are "too expensive" to bring to the Leach:

*Crosby, Stills and Nash
*Steve Winwood
*Lindsey Buckingham
*Kenny Loggins

PMI says that "For clarification purposes acts we consider too expensive would need to sell a $40 + ticket and would need to generate over 4000 in paid admissions. These numbers are for a break even scenario not necessarily a profit for PMI."

Back in 2005 a management selection steering committee and then the Common Council rejected an offer by the local Supple Group to manage the facility. Supple may not have been the best choice to manage the facility, but it's looking like they understood the Leach facility much better than PMI. Back in 2005 Jay Supple wrote an op-ed for the Oshkosh Northwestern in which he said that in selecting PMI because of its reputation for attracting top touring acts, the steering committee betrayed a "fundamental misconception of the purpose behind this facility: a venue created by the community, serviced by the community, and with access for the community."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Palmeri On Friday Week In Review

On Friday the 13th, I will be the "liberal" guest on Joy Cardin's "Week in Review" on Wisconsin Public Radio. The program will air from 8 - 9 a.m.

The "conservative" guest will be UW Madison law professor Ann Althouse.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

University Conflict of Interest?

At Tuesday's Common Council meeting, Burk Tower and Bryan Bain voted "present" on two issues because they claimed that their employment at UW Oshkosh presented a potential conflict. One issue dealt with approving university run parking meters, the other was the hotel-motel room tax increase. Apparently the hotel-motel tax presented a potential conflict because monies raised from the tax might be used someday for assisting in the remodeling of Titan Stadium.

I can appreciate Tower's and Bain's desire to avoid even a suspicion of conflict, but I think their non-votes on these two matters represents a serious misreading of state law. As of April 17 there will be three university employees on the council, so it is vital that we get some clarity on what the law actually states. I'll take a preliminary stab at the matter here, but I suspect that ultimately we will need to request formal legal advice.

The key state statutes relating to conflicts of interest for elected officials can be found in chapter 19. As summarized by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, chapter 19 prohibits the following conduct:

1. Use of Office for Private Gain. Public officials are prohibited from using their offices to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value for the private benefit of themselves, their immediate families, or organizations with which they are associated.

2. Offering or Receiving Anything of Value. No person may give and no public official may receive "anything of value" if it could reasonably be expected to influence the local public official's vote, official action or judgment, or could reasonably be considered as a reward for any official action or inaction.

3. Taking Action Affecting a Matter in Which Official Has Financial Interest. Local officials may not take official action substantially affecting a matter in which the official, an immediate family member, or an organization with which the official is associated has a substantial financial interest. Nor may an official use his or her office in a way that produces or assists in the production of a substantial benefit for the official, immediate family member or organization with which the official is associated.

Where the confusion comes in is in the line "organization with which the official is associated." Clearly Tower and Bain have been urged or decided on their own to interpret that as meaning that merely being employed by an organization affected by a resolution or ordinance is enough to warrant abstention from voting. But statute 19.42(2) says that "'Associated', when used with reference to an organization, includes any organization in which an individual or a member of his or her immediate family is a director, officer or trustee, or owns or controls, directly or indirectly, and severally or in the aggregate, at least 10% of the outstanding equity or of which an individual or a member of his or her immediate family is an authorized representative or agent." Curt Wytinski, legal counsel for The League of Wisconsin Municipalities, says that "An individual is not associated with an organization merely because the individual is a member or employe of an organization or business."

No Councilor should vote on anything that makes them uncomfortable. On the other hand, I am concerned that a misreading of state law can have the effect of disenfranchising an elected official for no good reason while at the same time denying citizens the representation to which they are entitled.

With the university now potentially involved in the redevelopment of the riverfront, it is critical that the conflict issues be resolved. I did mention this matter to city attorney Warren Kraft last week, and he said that he will be looking into it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

From Eyes on the Prize to Eyes on the Text

I've had a few people ask me to comment on the recent controversy over the UW Oshkosh Advance-Titan's April Fool's satire issue. The facts of the matter along with editorial comment and discussion can be found on Lake Winneblogo here and here, along with Miles Maguire here. The Oshkosh Northwestern has a thread on the matter at their community forum.

My academic research area is known as "rhetorical criticism," so I can certaintly understand and appreciate the desire to interpret and evaluate media texts. Provoking people to think about the social, political, etc. implications of something like the AT April Fool's issue is a good thing.

The problem I have is that, when it comes to the movement for social justice in America, textual criticism seems to have replaced old fashioned organizing as a method for making change. People who 40 years ago might have been knocking on their neighbor's door to coax them to come to a rally, or distributing leaflets in a public space, or pursuing any number of grassroots organizing activities, might today be found spending unlimited time and energy deconstructing a text. A waste of time? No. Helpful in building a broad based human rights movement in America? Marginally.

For what it's worth, current AT editor Stephanie Barnard is the most liberal/progressive individual I have seen in that position in my 18 years on the campus. Perhaps because we are living in the era of keeping our eyes on the text instead of the prize, it's difficult for individuals sincerely interested in making ours a more just campus to recognize who our allies are.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

What To Do With Citizen Statements?

The new Oshkosh Common Council will be sworn in on April 17th at noon. After the swearing in, we will have our organizational meeting. One item that I know will be discussed is citizen statements. The current policy is this:

Individuals speaking to the Council under the heading "Citizen Statements" are limited to five (5) minutes; must address items that are not listed on the Council meeting agenda, are limited to issues that have an impact on the city of Oshkosh and that the Common Council may address at a future meeting, and must not include endorsements of any candidates or other electioneering. (NOTE: Exception to the five (5) minutes may be made at the discretion of the Council.).

Do you like the current policy? If not, what changes do you suggest?

Currently, the Citizen statements are heard at the end of the meeting. Sometimes citizens have to wait as long as 2-3 hours (or longer) make their statement. Should the citizen statements be moved to the beginning of the meeting, as was the case many years ago?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Living, Learning Community Back In Play?

Back around 2002, when UW Oshkosh Chancellor Rick Wells first floated the idea of a "Living, Learning and Serving Community" (LLSC) as a possibility for riverfront development, the conventional wisdom was that the idea was dead on arrival. City leaders did not appear to take the idea seriously, choosing instead to take us on a prolonged and painful excursion into the depths of the Five Rivers Resort proposal.

Now the learning community idea has resurfaced, according to a university press release reprinted on the Oshblog. The campus also released a memorandum of understanding between UWO and private developers along with this announcement.

During the recent campaign, I expressed support for the idea of a living, learning community in Eye on Oshkosh and Oshkosh Northwestern interviews and other places. My support is based on my understanding of the LLSC as a mixed-use development that could integrate residential units, retail and other businesses, entertainment and educational options in a unique manner that could have positive consequences for the local economy.

Of course, it is much too early to say if I will support the LLSC envisioned in the press releases linked above. The developers will have to make a strong case as to why their LLSC project can succeed in Oshkosh, while requests for public support must be scrutinized closely.

And needless to say, any attempts to shroud negotiations with the developer(s) under a veil of unnecessary secrecy will doom the project.

Finally, take a look at Dr. Michael Burayidi's op-ed, "Waterfront proposal on right track but city must not give away too much."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Thank You!

I want to thank all of the citizens of Oshkosh for their support. I look forward to working with the new Common Council and city administration. If we work together and stay focused, I'm confident we can provide the people with a government that is open, forward looking, and responsive.

A special thanks to all of my campaign volunteers for their hard work and encouragement. When more than a dozen people went out in sub-zero temperatures and placed yard signs in the ground with cordless drills, I knew I had a chance to win.

Thanks again, Oshkosh. Please never hesitate to email ( or call me at 235-1116.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Surprising Endorsements?

Close to a dozen people today have called, emailed or stopped me on the street to express surprise at the Oshkosh Northwestern's editorial endorsing my candidacy for Oshkosh Common Council. Miles Maguire wonders if the endorsement is "either a big April Fool's joke or (more likely) a sign of how ready this community is for a change in elected leadership." I guess we'll know on Tuesday night if it's the latter.

Who knows, maybe the Northwestern editorial board simply thought I was a strong candidate based on my answers to their 10 questions, editorial board interview, and participation in their community forum. The newspaper has been clear in the last few months that the City Hall establishment needs to be sent a message on election day; Stew Rieckman's column today indicates that the establishmentarians have now taken to an eleventh hour cheap-shot-red -herring effort to derail my chances.

I've also been formally endorsed by:
*The Lake Winnebago Green Party
*The Winnebago County Democratic Party
*Oshkosh Firefighters Local 316
*The Winnebago County Labor Council

None of these endorsements should be surprising given what I have stood for in the past and during this campaign.

I have received no financial support from any organization that has endorsed me. My main request of all of them was simply to get the word out to their membership and provide volunteers to help with grassroots campaign activities like literature drops.

Two other organizations I interviewed with but did not receive endorsements from were the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Winnebago County Realtors Association.

It sounds like a cliche', but ultimately the only endorsement that matters is the endorsement of the voters on election day.

Please vote on April 3!