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Both Sides of the Fence

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!

"A deplorable mess:" Economic development in Wauwatosa

Wauwatosa, Common Council, Community Development

Hard times or not, economic development's going on in Menomonee Falls, West Allis, West Milwaukee, even Milwaukee. But here in Wauwatosa. . . not so much. Not so at all.

"It's a deplorable mess," said alder Linda Nikcevich at the July 14 Community Development Committee meeting.

"When will we see a recommendation of what we're going to implement?" someone, I think alder McBride, asked. "It's the responsibility of the executive branch to come forward with one."

"We don't have a conviction to move forward," said alder Peter Donegan, head of the Economic Development Transition Team.

And no one seems to  want to step to the head of the parade.

To try to establish some kind of movement, Donegan's team proposed forming an Economic Development Advisory Committee of experts in real estate to advise the city's currently non-existent planning efforts.

In case you are wondering "transition from what, to what," alder Jerry Stepaniak had the most concise account. "We had a (development) body, defunded them, got a report suggesting a series of actions. But the executive branch has recommended no action but to form an advisory body."

Or as Nikcevich said,

"We had an underfunded department (of community development) but a functional Economic Development Corporation. . . now, with no additional funding and no outside organization, we're going to get a new group of people with no experience to advise us.

"I'm outraged. We're in this position because of a vendetta against the WEDC."

The Wauwatosa Economic Development Corporation was a public-private partnership of business leaders who raised funds and administered grants. Or still is, at least until the 17th. But some thought they weren't raising enough money and the city could do better taking over their functions. The money spent on the WEDC could be pulled and spent internally.

I will note that  Didier's opponent in the last election, Stepaniak, and former mayor Theresa Estness, not exactly Didier's Best Friend Forever, were influential in WEDC. You will have to decide whether those things are related.

"Where'd the $95,000 go?" Nikcevich asked, referring to the money budgeted for an economic development position, part of it from the WEDC funding.

The money is sitting in a pot somewhere, awaiting direction from. . . someone. "There are policy issues here," said city administrator James Archambo. "We should be bringing in people in economic development in the community to identify strategic priorities."

If that sounds exactly like the old WEDC to you, you're in good company. Only the new group will be appointed by the mayor. And they'll have to start from the ground floor to develop relationships and targets.

Meanwhile, several council members appeared to agree with alder Eric Meaux. "We're putting a lot of faith in this (nonexistent) advisory committee," he said. "But even if they are the best, they need staff and resources to keep momentum going. We don't even have timelines. This puts the onus on the committee."

Where the onus should be is on the council and the mayor. But no one seems to have "the vision thing."

The one cheerful voice came from alder Robert Dennik, who is happy to appoint a committee to develop the plan for the council and the mayor. "We're in a good position right now because there's a down turn in the economy. Nancy (Welch) is going in circle after circle: she's doing a great job." I'm not sure what that means, but it was nice to have someone take a stab at the positive side.

The council voted 6-2 in favor of establishing the committee. I can't tell you exactly what they agreed to: they don't share the language of complex motions with the audience. Nikcevich had another motion to make, but alder Tom Herzog neatly maneuvered around her. "Plenty of time to make new motions later," he said.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

My read on tonight's meeting: even those who don't  agree with mayor Didier are begging her to come up with a plan to move forward. Something is better than nothing when it comes to goalsetting.

If not the mayor and her staff, then the council needs to step up. And if they do, they ought not to be punished for taking initiative.

Another point that seems fairly clear: the community development office needs to add  the staff for which they were budgeted, because the current staff are already overworked and someone's got to do the work. If you agree that it's important for Tosa to expand its tax base, that is.

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