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Wisconsin State Legislature Needs To Focus On AIDS Network And Use Of Public Funds

June 16, 2009

When I worked in state government I made every effort to insure that our constituents were made aware of the mechanics of both the political process, and the way agencies promulgated rules and made decisions.  The more the citizenry knows about their government that they pay for, and expect services from, the better off we all are.  With the needed information taxpayers will feel that they are funding well-thought out ideas, recipients of services down the line will know they are being understood and respected, and the state workers who are the bridge between the two will benefit from knowing their work in justified.  

Over the past weeks many questions have surfaced about the internal management style of the AIDS Network, and the lack of oversight in a meaningful way from their Board of Directors.  That is a sad thing to understand given the role they should play throughout the 13 counties they purport to work in both to educate the public about HIV/AIDS, and also where they serve clients.  But when we hear about the lack of state directives and reporting requirements that have not been successfully followed through on by the agency, or the lack of services that the clients should receive, or the abysmal percentage of clients that have annual assessments and service plans one has to wonder what is happening at the AIDS Network.

But we also need to ask ourselves what is happening with the State of Wisconsin, and those responsible for the oversight of the money that has been provided to the AIDS Network.  The ones who set the rules and regulations at the Department of Health Services need to address the public’s questions and concerns about an agency that receives public funding, and especially since it should serve a very real public need.  The Wisconsin State Legislature also has to demand accountability from the executive branch as represented through the state agency which is to provide oversight of the AIDS Network, and thereby fulfill their role as steward of the taxes paid by the citizenry.

In addition Dane County, and the City Of Madison should also be mindful of the need for their oversight as they too have given public funds to this agency. 

It is disquieting to hear the response from Karen Dotson, the new Executive Director of the AIDS Network, as stated in the Isthmus about the list of troubling concerns.  She flippantly referred to those who had concerns about the issues as a “handful of embittered dissidents”.  Those who honestly ask questions of this nature should be respected, and not ridiculed or subjected to public humiliation.  Denigrating thoughtful citizens hoping to improve a troubled situation (agency) should rather be encouraged to form a citizens advisory board to help not only better the public image of the agency, but also address very real concerns.

If members of the State Legislature, and perhaps an intrepid reporter (who will step up?) started asking pertinent questions with a notepad and a barrel of ink in tow, I strongly suspect Dotson might change her tune, and  become more willing to address the issues.  Having worked in/and with the media as a broadcaster, and also as a legislative committee clerk I can assure Dotson that her tone-deaf statement made her no friends.

At a time when the taxpayers are feeling the economic pinch it is vital that every state dollar be wisely spent.  When there are as many legitimate questions and concerns about public funds, and their use as has been raised about the AIDS Network it is time for the State Legislature to step in and start asking questions.  They need to get answers.

I am hoping that Karen Dotson will not also view them as “embittered dissidents”.

9 Comments
  1. Christina permalink
    June 17, 2009 1:19 PM

    Thank you for such an insightful and straight-forward post. I too am disappointed by the need for people to immediately resort to name calling when legitimate questions are posed and only honest responses are sought. It’s a sorry state of affairs in Wisconsin (and American in general) that people don’t question the political process and services provided by tax-payer money. Too long have we walked around like sheep, blindly being led by our “leaders” without a care for deeper inspection when it is justified. Questioning does not equal attacking. Unfortunately, people in positions of leadership have been believed without question for so long they don’t know how to handle a little probing of their actions.

    I appreciate the other comments as well and would like to remind those who read this that there are so many more issues to address than who did or did not call ACT UP a group of embittered dissidents. People who focus on such a tiny and insignificant issue really need to delve deeper into what is truly at stake here: the well-being of all people living with HIV/AIDS in the state. At the end of the day, the clients and disparity of services matter; not the exact names flung around in desperation and the people who said them.

  2. June 17, 2009 11:59 AM

    Thanks for your reply.

    I also had, as you know, the link to the Isthmus article in my post. The fact is that many did read the Isthmus article, and that is why so many are now asking questions. It was not until the article was printed that I started to write about the AIDS Network on this site.

    The paragraph reads…..

    Karen Dotson, executive director of AIDS Network, pegs the ACT UP chapter as a handful of embittered dissidents. “We do a really good job for our clients,” she insists. “We have been providing great services here.”

    Now let me be clear about something here. Bill Lueders is a well respected journalist in this city, and any attempt to undermine him in order to defend poor management at the AIDS Network is the same type of rot that too often happens from here to Washington when someone gets a tit caught in the wringer.

    There is no attempt here to give anything other than the facts of the situation, as they appeared in the Isthmus. I have done that. Painful for the AIDS Network, but that is too bad.

    I can assure you “Tammy”, (see I use that “..” thing again) and my fellow readers, that any attempt to portray me as anything than above board on this matter will result in a firm and full-out display of the facts. If you think this was a tough read…….try me. Take that message back to those who sent you.

    There are many who have seen behind the green curtain. And we are not about to be smeared in order for the bad management of the AIDS Network to remain.

  3. tammy permalink
    June 17, 2009 11:06 AM

    I challenge everyone to read the Isthmus article.

    http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=25940

    Nowhere in that article did Karen Dotson label anyone an “Embittered Dissident”, as is asserted in this posting. Those were Bill Lueder’s words, though it appears that creative punctionation was used on other sites to make it look like Karen said them. This is a blatant misrepresentation of the Isthmus article in an attempt to support an agenda and try to portray AIDS Network as the “bad guys”. This is dishonest and shameful. Why should anyone trust that you are being honest and not misrepresenting everything else on your site?

  4. Ray permalink
    June 17, 2009 9:13 AM

    It was great to see your article on the true lack of oversight on an agency that continues to waste precious aids resources. The lack of managment and leadership has put the clients of AIDS NEtwork at a severe disadvantage to receive services. As if someone living with AIDS needs more hurdles to cross in their daily lives. The state incompetence and the networks board of directors should be held accountable. It is my hope the legislators take a long hard look at the 300,000 taxpayer dollars allocated to a failed agency.

  5. Mark permalink
    June 16, 2009 8:16 PM

    I am glad to see that the AIDS Network is finally getting some pressure to start fulfilling its stated mission–helping those with HIV/AIDS and trying to prevent it from spreading through education efforts.

    I have for years been advocating that this agency, which always claims financial woes, be building coalitions with other groups to do its work. DPI could give them a contact in every school in their service area; a good volunteer could be speaking at every school to make young people aware of the danger. They should have some room in a church basement or at the United Way or some other like organization in each of the thirteen counties that they supposedly serve. Staffing an office twice a month in each county would at least give rural people access to services they need. How can they continue to claim that they serve thirteen counties if their name doesn’t even appear in the yellow pages for most of its service area!?

    On the local level, their prevention efforts should likely include a wider range of efforts than handing out condoms at gay bars… especially since most of the condoms end up on the floor ruined before they can do any good. They could also look to hire people at the agency who have a bit more on their resume than frequent vistitations to the bars! How about a real social worker or two?!

    I for one am proud of those who are looking out for those who often don’t have a voice. This organization needs major reform and I hope it comes sooner rather than later.

  6. Greg Milward permalink
    June 16, 2009 7:11 PM

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. It is encouraging to see the community coming together on this important issue–an issue that has jeopardized the health and welfare of the HIV/AIDS community in southern Wisconsin for far too long…

    Greg

  7. Sandy permalink
    June 16, 2009 6:25 PM

    Thank you for writing what needs to be said. I found this on WisPolitics and know first hand the antics that goes on at the Network. I work for the State and hear too much at times. But the Network has been short of good mangagement for a long time, and finally is realizing that they can not fool all the people any longer. A more secure AIDS service will come to this region, and all who fight now can be proud that they stood up for what was right for the clients involved.

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