A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!
Some of you may be surprised that I spent Thursday evening at
the Wauwatosa Budget and Finance Committee meeting, when I could have been
watching the season premiere of Gray’s Anatomy. I suspect I got the better entertainment value.
I went because I was curious about the Mayor’s move to pull
the funding rug out from under the Wauwatosa Economic Development Corporation
(WEDC) with no committee or public discussion, just budget
line item adjustment fiat. There seems to be a lot of that going around in government circles these days. (In the interest of fairness, Mayor Didier says that she does not intend to eliminate the WEDC, just its funding. Its members say that will bring it to an end.)
I had no dog in the race, no opinions about whether the $95,000 in question would better serve Tosa in the WEDC, a public-private partnership to promote the city’s economic vitality, or in the city Community Development department. This inquiring mind wanted to know why the Republican mayor is making government bigger and putting her faith there rather than in private enterprise.
And the guys at the dog park wanted to know “what do the business guys think?” What the business community wants would be the way to go, they suggested.
Fourteen audience members rose to speak. The business guys were the majority of the 13 articulate, thoughtful people on both sides of the political spectrum who spoke in favor of maintaining funding for the WEDC. They ranged from former mayor Maricolette Walsh to Mayfair manager Steve Smith.
Their message was pretty clear. Any decision to cripple or
unravel an organization that was created to do what the city couldn’t do—go out
and get businesses rather than “waiting for them to come in and ask for a permit”
should be undertaken with thought, discussion, and a plan for replacing what
has been 19 years in the building. There’s room for improvement and better
cooperative effort, based on best development practices and finding out how the
community wants to do development.
Then the fun began, hours of it.
6th district Alderman Brian Ewerdt wins the It’s My Committee, I Can Blame Who I Want To award for rather goofily criticizing WEDC for not following up on the multi-million dollar then-we-saw-it-now-we-don't Icon Development deal, which was cut mainly by the city with little communication to anyone outside the deal—including Ewerdt (the development is, or would be, in his district) or the WEDC.
The Lack of Accountability award goes to 2nd District Alder Jim Krol and Mayor Jill Didier, both of whom criticized the WEDC for not being accountable while apparently forgetting that they both sit on its board, in which position the Mayor has been able to wield her favorite vote of “present.”
District 3’s Jacqueline Jay wins the Why Can’t We Have a Sonics Here But Hey, No Spending Money award.
The Cities Don’t Do Economic Development Well But I’ll Vote to Have the City Do It Anyway award goes to 5th District Alder Michael Walsh.
The I’m in The Drivers Seat and You Aren’t award goes to Mayor Jill Didier, who said that the goal of this budget shift is to “change the dynamics and get everyone going in the same course.” That course has yet to be determined, but it involves hiring a consultant or business to “provide consistency.” WEDC might get there first, wherever there is, though, on account of they will be so much more nimble without funding. If you are having trouble following this course of reasoning you are not alone.
The I’m Jill Too award goes to 4th District Alder Jill Ogan, just because.
Tom (sorry: it was late) Peter Donegan, District 1, gets the At Least I Ask Good Questions Even If Where I Go From There Is
Totally Bewildering award.
The next three awards aren’t tongue-in-cheek.
The Thank God for A Voice of Reason award goes to District 7 Alder Atis Purins, who pointed out that this discussion should have been started long ago; that the city’s “plan,” aka “the memo,” is not a plan; that the city should fund a study in cooperation with the WEDC to determine community development objectives and how to go about them; and that this should be about how to do economic development, not which side wins a power struggle.
Committee Chair and 8th district alder Craig Maher gets The Elephant in the Room Is That We Need More FTEs, Not Consultants, in City Development to Get the Work Done award. Maher, who noted that accountability and the lack of accountability cut both ways, moved to keep the budget line for funding City Development as the Mayor requested and also add $75,000 of funding for WEDC. This excellent proposal was shot down, as was Purins’ to fund a joint study to base the plan on evidence. With all the talk of collaboration, they were the only ones who actually proposed ways to do it.
Finally, the These Are Really Smart People, Maybe They’d Do Better With More Support, Too award goes to the past and present WEDC members in the room.
I’m thinking if you put Lisa Mauer, WEDC board secretary and president of Tool Service Corp., Community Development Director Nancy Welch; Maher; and Purins in the back seat to hash out details while Didier drove the van, you’d have your plan by the time they hit LaCrosse.