Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dumkes Interested In Green Development

Yesterday developer Andy Dumke sent this encouraging email to Paul Esslinger and me:

Hey guys –

I think you both had some valid concerns that I am in the process of addressing.

1. I have asked Shopko this morning for a sworn affidavit that there are no kick-outs or early termination rights in their Koeller Street lease.

2 I am working with the architect to see what it would take to make this a Lead certified building as well as researching what Energy Star Compliant all entails. I would love to build the office buildings, apartments/condos in a Lead program as well. I may have more control over those building than the Shopko project but I will try. As I find out more details I will keep you informed.

3. If there are other concerns that come up on either project along the way feel free to let me know as they are things I may not be thinking of myself. I still have some control until the lease is actually signed with Shopko so please come forward sooner than later on Shopko issues.

If any T2T readers have any advice as to the request for concerns in item #3, please let me know ASAP (235-1116 or or this blog space)

In response to #2, I did provide Andy with information about the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance and how to reach its Executive Director Susan Loomans. I hope the Dumkes do make a sincere and rigorous effort to build green. Heck, it would save them money in the long run.

I'm thankful that the Dumkes are receptive to feedback, but what's very discouraging and extremely frustrating is the fact that the majority of our council and our development staff does not seem to understand and/or appreciate that green building and other items (e.g., length of assistance, amount of tax deferral, etc.) can and should be negotiated before a council says yes to a TIF. The city of Madison actually has a TIF Coordinator (Joe Gromacki) whose major job is to negotiate TIF terms. Take a look at his presentation in Milwaukee on TIF case studies to get a glimpse at how Madison approaches TIF--notice especially the active negotiation that goes on to get a better deal for the taxpayers. Quite the contrast with the way we handle TIF negotiations here; which is to say there really aren't any meaningful negotiations that take place.

So it's great that the Dumkes are open to suggestions and I hope we get a better development as a result. But it is too bad that we are reduced to hope (the faith based development model again) that the developers do these things rather than mandate them as an element of negotiation. We CAN do the latter. Yes, we can.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wisconsin Ave. Bridge Opening Nov. 6

From the Wisconsin DOT

For more information, contact:

Kim Rudat, Regional Communications Manager, (920) 492-5743

Wisconsin Avenue bridge opening November 6

(Green Bay) (Green Bay) The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) NE Region office at Green Bay is announcing the Wisconsin Street bridge in Oshkosh Is tentatively scheduled to be open by the end of the day on Thursday, November 6.

Additionally, the new center lanes of Ohio Street are also scheduled to be open in mid- November. The outside lanes will then open following the completion of finishing work on the adjacent sidewalk and landscaping. All the work is weather dependant.

The $23 million project, begun in September 2006, replaces the current Wisconsin Street span with a four-lane lift bridge with pedestrian and bicycle access.

Larry the Cable Guy Development

To no one's surprise, the City Council last night approved the "transfer" of the Waterfront project from Akcess to Oshkosh River Development. At the one "public forum" held after Akcess backed out, lots of sharp questions were raised about the development. No serious alternatives to office buildings were presented or even allowed to be discussed in a meaningful way, and the response to all dissent has been that we simply need to "get something done." Apparently we need to get something done because prior councils and administrations managed to get us in a $6 million hole that will start to come due in 2010 or thereabouts. The hole could reach $10 million.

When I ran for office I said that a problem around here is our "faith based" model of economic development. That is, for example, we can get into a $6 million hole on the assumption (i.e. faith) that developers not only will gleefully propose projects to help us fill that hole, but that the public will also like and/or have use for what they propose. Even when the public makes it clear that they don't want river office space, have no use for river office space, would prefer to see a strategy for filling the swath of empty office space we already have, and want more citizen supported development on the river--we (i.e. the Council and administration) continue to insist that office space is what they DO want.

Mr. Rohloff has been quite clear in explaining this phenomenon. Even though the public might not clearly want or have a need for a project, we need to "get something done." Apparently that is what people are telling him. This is in huge contrast to what I hear in town; people want to know how we got $6 million--potentially $10 million-- in the hole and yet no one has been held accountable.

All I've asked for is a genuine, honest attempt to find out what the public will support and get excited about as regards waterfront development. Even the LDR consultants from earlier this decade argued that redevelopment projects can only succeed if the public is engaged and brought on board at the beginning of projects.

So what we're left with is the Larry the Cable Guy model of development. It doesn't really matter if projects are supported, and we have no responsibity to investigate alternatives. Rather, we just need to "Git er done!!!" We CAN do better than this, and it DOESN'T have to be this way.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Joint Meeting Of Sustainability Focused Groups

The Energy Coalition For A Sustainable Fox Valley (ECOS-FV) "is a coalition of non-profit organizations, businesses, governments and citizens that plans with and advocates for the Fox Valley region, for a future that is locally self-reliant and that sustains the regional and global environment." From the Coalition's latest blog post, announcing a Nov. 6 joint meeting of sustainability focused groups in the Valley:

Invitations have been extended to 14 sustainability groups and their membership located from Green Bay to Fond Du Lac, including Formal City Boards, as well as Professional and Citizen Centered Groups.

This Meeting is free and open to the public

Co-hosts: UW-Fox Valley and ECOS-FV
Where: UW-Fox Valley, room 1346
When: November 6th, 2008
Time: 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Purpose of Meeting

As organizations focused on sustainability here in the Valley, this joint gathering is being held to help us to better understand the goals of each organization and determine where we can work together in mutual benefit! For the public at large, this meeting is an opportunity to learn more about the activities of the broad movement that exists here in the Fox Valley.

Each organization will provide a 5 minute introduction of their group's sustainability mission, membership, meeting location, as well as their current and projected activities.

The rest of the meeting will be used for a guided general discussion about opportunities and questions that the assembled group may develop from what they hear and see.

This meeting is being held in lieu of our normal November ECOS meeting at the Menasha Public Library!

We hope to see you there! Please feel free to contact either Joy Perry (UW- Fox Valley @ and 920-832-2653), or Roger Kanitz (ECOS- FV @ and 920-722-6438)

Sustainably Yours... Joy Perry (UW-Fox Valley) and Roger Kanitz (ECOS-FV)
Oshkosh City Councilors won't be able to attend that meeting due to a city budget workshop being held at the same time, but I do hope some of the Energy & Advisory Board members can attend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ron H. on sustainability and the new north side school

Ron Hardy, member of the Environment and Energy Board, has an excellent blog today on the Northwestern site concerning plans for a new north side school. The piece can also be found at the Main St. Oshkosh site.

The piece identifies the four sustainability planks of the "Natural Step" program:
1. Use less fossil fuels
2. Use less chemicals
3. Preserve existing green space and eco-systems
4. People should be able to meet their needs

Applied to the proposal to build a new school on Ryf Road, Ron concludes:

"Although a new elementary school could be built at this location with the latest in environmental building technology, passive solar power, geothermal heating, LEED certification and more, the location of the school fails every sustainability test. "

I think Ron would make an excellent school board candidate.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"You feel violated and attacked. You take it personally"

By far the highlight of Tuesday's City Council meeting was Near East Neighborhood resident Linda Harvot's citizen statement. Scroll to the 51 minute mark of the meeting to see it. Ms. Harvot is a life long resident of Oshkosh who, with her husband, purchased the east side home from her parents 14 years ago. The parents had lived there for more than 40 years.

Ms. Harvot describes how her original excitement for the near east plan was removed as she experienced what is described in the speech as a very citizen unfriendly method of implementation. She asked us to imagine what it would feel like if we got a letter and pictures of our home, with warnings of possible daily fines if suggested repairs aren't made. She said "you feel violated and attacked. You take it personally."

Here's a quote from the speech that I plan to share with my students:

"When you're in fear and when you're frustrated, you have two choices: you can either be paralyzed, or you can be propelled to make a difference. And I feel propelled to make a difference so that other people hearing me tonight might be inspired to come forward and speak out."

Neighborhood revitalization is too important to be undermined by perceived acts of disrespect and bullying from municipal officials. At the September 11 meeting of the Council, Mayor Tower said that he would be working with staff on a revamped citizen task force or steering committee idea to determine what has and has not worked with the near east plan. Let's hope that the end result is,at the least, to make the implementation more citizen friendly.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Seeking Opinions On Three Items

Well, it looks like the Plan Commission is okay with a Shopko TIF and they don't want Near East Neighborhood citizens to have the ability to appeal to the Common Council on a building plan denial. Tonight there will be a forum at the Senior Center on riverfront development. I'm seeking citizen input on three items:

1. Do you support the idea of a TIF for Shopko?

2. Do you believe Near East neighborhood citizens should have the right to appeal to the Common Council in the event of a building plan denial at the Plan Commission?

3. Should the Common Council accept the Dumke proposal for the waterfront?

You can post opinions here, email me at or or call me at 920-235-1116. Note: Anonymous, hostile comments really are not helpful to anyone.

Obama, McCain and Role Reversal

First, it's now become crystal clear that absent any third party participation in the presidential debates, what we're left with is a snooze fest that does little more than repeat back stump speech platitudes. The one exception last night was McCain's proposal to have the feds purchase mortgages, something that would be blaring across the front pages of the corporate media today if Obama had called for it.

Having said all of that, the dominant feeling I get when watching McCain v. Obama is one of role reversal. Given McCain's age and life experience, you'd think that he would be the calm, measured, "wise" candidate. You'd think Obama, youthful and insecure about lack of experience, would be intimidated by his older, wiser opponent and overcompensate with a tense, rapid delivery filled with excess schmoozing and deference.

Instead we are seeing just the opposite. Obama the 47 year old is coming off as the calm, wise, nuanced candidate while McCain often appears as if he is trying to impress the prom judges with energy bursts. Maybe that's been Palin's influence on him. Or maybe he's sensitive to critiques about his age and is trying to overcompensate with excess walking around the stage. Who knows. It's kind of fascinating to watch. If I were advising McCain I'd tell him to "chill out" in the last debate.

If the election this year does turn on the issue of who has the best temperament to lead us through these troubled times, I don't see how Obama can lose. But we are still in the Rove era, and so by November 4th it is conceivable that the election will have nothing to do with temperament.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Right On Andrew

This Andrew Sullivan blog post should be published verbatim in the editorial pages of every American newspaper tomorrow morning:

Until governor Sarah Palin gives a full press conference, it seems to me that the cable news outlets should stop running her stump speeches in full on television. The deal is: candidates get to broadcast their message if the press get to question them thoroughly. That's how real democracy works - give and take. What the Palin-McCain campaign wants is all give and no take: an indirect propaganda filter and the outrageous precedent of no press conferences in presidential campaigns. This is an assault on democracy. It is closer to Russian or Georgian democracy than American. If cable news continues to enable this chilling process, they will become complicit.


Blue v. White Collar Compensation

Today I learned in the paper that John Fitzpatrick will get a 6.3% salary increase (from $101,116.34 to $107,527.94) as he becomes assistant city manager. Nothing against John, who is a good guy and valuable member of city staff, but it's interesting to place these kinds of white collar raises in the context of how we handle represented city workers' compensation.

Last year a majority of the common council voted to go to arbitration with the city's unions (except for the police, who had already settled with the city) even though there was a minor difference between what the city was offering and what the unions were asking for. I believe the city was offering the unions 2.75% wage increases for 2008 and 2009 in return for higher health insurance premiums. If I recall correctly, the unions were willing to settle for lower raises in return for keeping the insurance premiums low. The city's offer, if I recall correctly, would have meant lower take-home pay.

The city lost all arbitration hearings except for the one involving the firefighters union. Instead of using city staff to negotiate contracts, the city contracted out for a negotiator. The city ended up spending over $190,000 for this service.

Mr. Fitzpatrick certainly deserves higher compensation for taking on additional work. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. On the other hand, 6.3% administrative raises make it very difficult for the city to credibly ask represented workers to settle for miniscule or no increases in salary or benefits even in these tough economic times. Indeed, I found it ironic, watching Eye on Oshkosh last night, to hear Mr. Rohloff lament that arbitrators don't consider a city's ability to pay as they decide whether to side with the city administration or the unions. Does the city have the ability to pay administrative raises? I guess so.

I think during this year's budget hearings we are going to have to take a serious look at the practice of contracting out for negotiators. I haven't had the time to research how negotiations are conducted in other city's across the valley,but I'd find it hard to believe that spending over $190,000 is common practice.

Oh, and for what it's worth: Green Bay's Mayor makes $76,535 and his chief of staff clocks in at $63,251. By way of comparison, Oshkosh now has a $130,000 CEO and $107,000 assistant.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

John Fitzpatrick Named Assistant City Manager

City Manager Mark Rohloff has just informed the Mayor and City Council (see the letter below) that he is designating Director of Administrative Services John Fitzpatrick as Assistant City Manager. As most of you will recall, John served as acting City Manager after the retirement of Dick Wollangk and was widely praised for his performance.

From the tone of the letter, it appears as if Mr. Rohloff plans to ask Mr. Fitzpatrick to perform duties that a Deputy Mayor might perform in a strong mayor form of government. The team of Rohloff/Fitzpatrick will never have to face the voters, but I guess they will have to keep at least four city councilors happy. That's democracy in Oshkosh.

Here's Mr. Rohloff's letter:

I am pleased to announce that I am designating Director of Administrative Services John Fitzpatrick as Assistant City Manager. As a result of this appointment, Mr. Fitzpatrick's title will be "Assistant City Manager/Director of Administrative Services". As you may be aware, Section 2-22 of the city's Municipal Code, provides that the City Manager may designate a person to perform the duties of City Manager during a temporary absence or disability of the City Manager. I believe that for an organization the size of Oshkosh, the designation of an Assistant City Manager goes beyond simply designating somone for purposes of absence or disability. My goal is to utilize Mr. Fitzpatrick's skills to assist me in both community and organizational outreach. With the many initiatives that I am proposing on the horizon, including customer service, communications, sustainability, economic development and financial issues, I believe that an Assistant City Manager will enable me to reach out and address all of these areas in a more timely fashion.

I will be updating the organizational chart to reflect this new title for Mr. Fitzpatrick. However, the organizational chart will not change in that all department heads will continue to report directly to me. Mr. Fitzpatrick will serve as my official representative when I am unable to attend meetings or otherwise provide input. I spoke with department heads at this week's staff meeting and they understand the purpose of this position.

I wanted to make the City Council aware of this appointment so that you can anticipate that this will be included in the formal organizational structure in the 2009 budget. I believe that Mr. Fitzpatrick's nearly ten years of service as Personnel Director and Director of Administrative Services, along with his service as Acting City Manager, makes him an appropriate choice to be my Assistant City Manager. I hope you will join me in congratulating John on his additional duties and responsibilities. If you have any questions regarding this appointment, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Need Financial Assistance? Change Your Name To Chrysler

Today President Bush signed a massive spending bill into law, part of which "sets aside $7.5 billion in taxpayer funds needed to guarantee $25 billion in low-interest loans to help General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler LLC produce more fuel-efficient cars and trucks." Wall Street's woes managed to keep this off the radar screen for most Americans.

The big three auto makers made two arguments in support of the loans. First, that the loans are necessary to prevent job cuts. Our experience in Wisconsin demonstrates that auto makers are more than willing to take the money and cut jobs anyway. In 2004 the Doyle Administration handed over $10 million dollars in incentives to keep GM in Janesville. The grants required GM to keep over 3,000 workers at the Janesville plant until 2010, but as of last month less than half of that number were employed there. In mid-September Governor Doyle and other politicians traveled to Detroit and Washington to beg GM to keep the plant open.

The more fascinating argument is that the loans are needed to help the industry meet federal directives to produce more fuel efficient cars. In essence, Detroit accused Washington of creating an "unfunded mandate" to produce cars that get good gas mileage. When's the last time local governments--or small businesses--received a massive, low-interest federal loan to meet a mandate? Doesn't happen.

After the feds bailed out Lee Iacocca's Chrysler in 1980, Tom Paxton wrote a great song called "I am changing my name to Chrysler." Arlo Guthrie recorded a cover of it in the 80s. Enjoy.