Willy Street Project Is Why I Owe Madison Mayor Cieslewicz An Apology


Over the past months Madison has been trying to determine the best way to move forward with some big ideas and projects.  For those who have been following the debate compelling arguments have been made from all sides about a host of issues that should concern everyone.  What is good growth?  How does the process of granting projects help or hinder the city?

From how the Overture should come under Madison ownership, what a  new library will mean for downtown, and how to proceed with the Edgewater project have left almost everyone thinking about the opposing sides versus the general overall progress for the city.  There is no end to the debate.

It was not until the last few days, however, that something happened which made me aware while I was looking at the forest I had missed the trees.    While I had become highly interested in following various projects in  the city (and weighing in at times with my opinion) I had missed the complexity that faces those who make the decisions about where we go as a city.

It is for that reason I think I owe Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz an apology.  Let me explain why.

This weekend the head of the Marquette Neighborhood Association sent a message on a list serve that a vote of the MNA Board would take place  concerning pushing the reconstruction of Williamson Street to 2012.  The project was slated to start in April 2011.  Everyone should be mindful that the neighborhood had already delayed the project from going forward last year. 

By Monday the vote was completed.  The MNA board voted unanimously in favor of the resolution to delay construction to 2012.

The purpose of the delay, according to the proposed resolution, is to allow more time for a “Green Streets – Complete Streets” planning process.  The obvious question one has to ask those who feel inclined to slow the project down now is where have they been since the last delay was given?  Or better yet, long before the last delay was given?

That Madison neighborhoods have the right to weigh in on city issues and insure the places we call home run as we want them to is something we can all applaud.  That is a sign that this city understands good citizenship.  But there comes a time when continually stopping projects, or choking off forward movement, becomes a real pain in the keister.  I think the MNA has reached that point regarding this project for Willy Street.

No one wants to see any street near them ripped up for months, and all want to see just the right combination of amenities such as street lights, etc. added that will enhance the finished project.  But I find it ridiculous that the flurry of meetings and head scratching that is taking place now among some in the Willy Street area did not take place well over a year ago.  Or two years ago.  It strikes me that some just love a good meeting, and continuous dialogue.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that this street construction project is sorely needed to spruce and clean up the look of  Willy Street, not to mention the underground utility work that is required.  By now all the back-n-forth from all those who feel they need to have a say should have been resolved.   By now there should have been ample time to debate even the type of grass that might be planted along the street!  Do not snicker…..nothing like having the ‘values committee’ weigh in on an issue.

Look……there comes a time when any project must move forward in one way or another.   Those who are not elected leaders of the city, but think they are, need to be pushed back.  There are times when neighborhood associations need to be reminded the pecking order of local government.  In other words the Williamson Street road construction project should move forward as planned come April 2011.  There has been more than enough time for those who have issues to have had them aired and considered.

In state government on almost every bill one public hearing is held, and at some point an executive session is scheduled to vote the bill up or down.  It seems in Madison neighborhoods, however, there are to be years of endless meetings with nothing to show for it other than a stick in the spokes of the bigger wheel we call a city.

With all that in mind I thought of my sometimes blunt talk towards Mayor Cieslewicz and the big city projects that he works on–some about which I have been at times snarky.  If I am frustrated over obstructionists in my neighborhood, what must it be like for the Mayor to deal with a whole city of them?  YIKES!

It is for that reason I therefore really do apologize to Mayor Cieslewicz.  The job he holds can not be easy.   I hope that I can remain mindful of the lesson learned from these past few days as we move forward on the big issues facing the city.

2 thoughts on “Willy Street Project Is Why I Owe Madison Mayor Cieslewicz An Apology

  1. Mike

    I enjoy very much how the city of Madison tries to engage more of its citizens in the politcal and decision-making processes of the city, but at times I have wondered if people here ever studied government. At best, the local neighborhood associations are in an advise and consent role. The city should be looking to these groups for their opinions and insights and even recommendations for action.

    In the end, however, we do have a structure of government that has an executive side (the mayor’s office) and a legislative side (the common council). Based on how things often go here (the endless debate at the neighborhood level,) the city government should focus on its role. They are the ones who ultimately have the power to make decisions on behalf of the city. Have the neighborhood associations consider an issue. Give them a time line for completion. Take their recommendations and study them. Then make a decision.

    What the city’s government can’t do is relinquish that authority to make decisions to the associations. Those well-intentioned people are not elected officials. You get their opinion and then make a decision at the council and the mayor works to implement it.

    In this Willy St. case, the system has run amok. I think the mayor’s office needs to take the recent MNA letter, respond to it kindly and yet let them know that they needed to get on the stick with things a lot earlier.

  2. madcityrunner

    I live near the river and have wondered why there are so many timid people when it comes to calling out this area on the way things are handled. You stepped up and called it the way I see it. The way I hear my neighbors talk. But the ones in charge who take the votes and write the letters to the city all want things to move slower than my kid on the average school morning. I think you are right and the matter should start on Willy Street in 2011.

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