Madison To Cement Away Median Flowers, Shrubs

If we listen to Madison Mayor Conway-Rhodes there is a continual theme of working on projects which increase tourism, conventions, and special events so to add dollars to the city coffers.  That, in and of itself, is always a thrust of any leader in the city. With such intentions, however, it would then be assumed efforts would be made to continually enhance the aesthetics of the city—not degrade them. 

Right?

Well, actually, wrong.

KAYLA WOLF, STATE JOURNAL

It was really troubling to read on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal today the following news story.

Due to budget constraints, Madison intends to soon convert nearly half of the planting beds with perennials that enliven medians of major streets to turf or colored, stamped concrete.

The city’s operating budget cuts funding for maintenance of 208 planting beds in medians from $165,000 in 2021 to $86,422 this year. To lower costs, the city is moving to take 110 beds out of contracted maintenance and covert 89 of those beds to turf or concrete.

The city intends to convert 62 planting beds to grass, mostly in locations where they’re now surrounded by turf that requires some mowing, such as around Northport Drive and Packers Avenue on the North Side. It will convert 27 beds, mostly in high-traffic areas or narrow medians, like those on East Washington Avenue and John Nolen Drive near the Monona Terrace underpass, to colored, stamped concrete. (‘Look daddy..look..there is colored cement!!’ I assume this is the mayor claiming to be working on equity issues.) Another 21 beds will require new maintenance from the Parks Division and funding in the 2023 operating budget.

Shrubs will be removed but not trees.

Seriously, what is happening to logic in our city government?

Madison is known for its love of trees and flowers, concern about runoff water, and care for the environment. So to have the city government convert medians to drab harsh cement while pretending there are no options in the operating budget that might be adjusted so as not to anger the entire city is rather remarkable.

Yet, here we are.

I suspect many a call and email will land on the desks of city alders as this topic will make for many a disgruntled resident. The mayor, too, must be mindful that her term in office is coming up for renewal.

Or not.

And so it goes.

Madison Citizens Weigh In On New Curbside Recycling Fee

Above the fold on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal readers were alerted to a newly proposed fee for their curbside recycling pickup. Over the past two weeks, I have been pressing against this issue, not because of the estimated cost of $50.00 per year for homeowners, but because basic city services should already be paid for by property taxes.

This morning the newspaper explained what has been chatted about over neighborhood fences and listserves around the city. Some of those voices are found in this post.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and three council members proposed the ordinance adding the charge, recommended in the 2022 budget approved by the council in November.

The Finance Committee voted 4-1 with one member absent to endorse the fee, estimated at about $4.10 per month, or about $50 annually per household. The charge would generate about $1.5 million in its first half year for the city’s $360.3 million operating budget. In its first full year, in 2023, it is estimated to generate $3 million.

Some have labeled the idea as regressive taxation but one city resident I heard from simply nailed it best by calling the “Resource Recovery Special Charge” as being Orwellian-named.

The mayor and alders should not need to be told that the basics of city government, be it trash, fire, police, and street maintenance, are considered to be covered by our tax payments. No add-on fees for the basics!  Before we build public markets and do things that are perhaps nice to have, we need to make sure that the basics of city living are financed and ready to operate.

So, what’s next?  Charging for trash pick-up?  After all, not everyone gets trash pick-up (e.g., commercial properties, apartment buildings).  Once upon a time, these charges for the public good were paid for by tax dollars.

I have received a number of comments in emails about this matter, especially after I posted twice on Next Door. There is a lively crowd of residents on that website who seemed genuinely interested in more information about this new fee. Such fees, it should be noted, are politically useful so those in local government can then claim they have kept property taxes lower.

But the emails which landed in my box–most of which also were sent by the writers to the Finance Committee or elected officials, and are now available to the public, did not mince any words with how they felt. I offer three of them to underscore the energy this fee has generated.

From Rick Soletski , who made a point to city alders in his letter that was echoed by the front page of the newspaper story today.

If the recycling program is not a basic service, but a nicety, let us know.  Release the mandatory requirement and let those willing to pay another tax keep their green bins and participate and be billed

If it is a basic service and a requirement to recycle, then it should be covered by our already high property taxes. By the way, my household recycles religiously. 

Finally, you know very well that this is a shell game.  When you raise this tax, you won’t lower our other taxes.  It will backfill other city spending.   Much like you did with the wheel tax when the council and mayor did not want to do the hard work to make revenues balance spending.  Instead, raise a new tax dedicated to transportation, and take that money to spend on something else. 

Please note the line beneath the headline about budget gap filling.

Dan Young wrote numerous letters, but this one was sent to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway who is the lead sponsor of the fee, and pressed the issue of basic services.

Your argument for the tax, as stated in the proposal is that, “Over time, the City’s costs to operate its recycling program, including the costs of collecting, sorting and recycling waste, have increased.  It is reasonable that all or a portion of the costs incurred to provide this service be recovered from those using the service, rather than all taxpayers in the City.”   Yes, no doubt the costs have increased.   As we know, the cost of everything has been increasing, including OUR PROPERTY TAXES.   And, property tax payers expect and should get basic services for those increasing property taxes and not be charged an additional tax.   Basic services serve the common good, as do our schools, when they are not otherwise failing.   

Tracy Doreen Dietzel wrote the Finance Committee about her reasons for opposing the new fee, but strongly argued for the need to have a recycling program that is structured with more community input.

I have lived in Madison long enough to pay property taxes in total over the years an amount more than double the cost of what I paid for my house. I have told people for many years that while we have some of the highest taxes in the country, at least our leaders have had the wisdom to include basic services without added fees. Perhaps you are needing some counsel from citizens to not lose that wisdom.

Please consider that in adding fees without taking the opportunity to engage in rigorous discussion with community, you may well miss more effective alternatives to this proposal.

People on fixed incomes struggling to remain in their beloved community, people who reuse, upcycle and do not buy single use plastics or who do not create waste. Will they pay the same as someone who clogs up recycling with wishcycling?

The placement of the news story about the new fee on the front page will allow for a greater conversation in our city about this matter. It will now make it far harder for alders to not issue a statement about the issue or send glib comments to their constituents. I suspect all of a sudden the city is now paying attention.

And so it goes.

Madison Mayor’s Mendacity

Since 2015, when Donald Trump rode down an escalator to begin the first of his tens of thousands of lies which journalists have reported over the years, this blog has been constantly reminding readers that character matters in the Oval Office. If one can not have faith an elected official is telling the truth on a daily basis, what happens when a crisis occurs and the public needs to be informed and believe their leader is credible?

This year we have seen the pitfalls that occur when a president lies to the nation continuously and now has no believability when it comes to dealing with a pandemic. In years past I argued that President George W. Bush did a grave disservice to the nation when his administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When the bond of trust is lost between citizen and leader there are damaging long-term consequences.

So it is with local leaders, too.

I was most dismayed and troubled to learn that Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway stepped on facts and truth concerning events surrounding a driver in a hit-and-run last summer. The fact she was alerted the man had been attacked prior to the incident and might have feared for his safety did not stop her from issuing a false and very misleading statement the next day which suggested the driver committed a hate crime.

The summer was a tense one in Madison as racial inequities made headlines and citizens rose up and made their voices heard about needed changes. But for the Mayor to steer the hit-and-run incident away from the facts and add it needlessly to the heat and passion underway was reckless and only added to the workload of law enforcement in the city.

Acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl told Rhodes-Conway that the driver reacted after people jumped into the bed of his truck and began “dancing on it.” The report adds that “The driver was punched in the face and that is when he drove into the crowd.”

That information did not stop the Mayor, however, from commenting in a way that ran counter to the facts.

“I fully support hate crime charges when they are warranted. My thoughts are with the victim and their family, as well as my wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Rhodes-Conway has lost the trust of the taxpayers in the city who are mindful that over-time this year for law-enforcement has been costly. So when a Mayor plays on existing anger and stokes false claims so to score some cheap points among a segment of her ever-shrinking base it does need to be called out and condemned.

Wherever this type of manipulation of the facts occurs it must be called out and highlighted. Be it Trump or the Madison Mayor the citizens deserve better.

Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway Fails At Leadership: Madison Police Vote 95% “No Confidence”

The Madison Professional Police Officers Association did not need to alert us to the facts regarding Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway.  They approved a vote of no confidence in her stewardship of the city, but all one needs to do is walk down any street and strike up a conversation to best understand the deep concerns residents have about the mayor.

Her “unhealthy portrayal” of police creates an “us versus them” dichotomy, the union said in a statement, that “is particularly dangerous at a time when city agencies and entities should be working collaboratively to address an increase in burglaries, car thefts, weapons offenses (including shots being fired daily all over the city) and, sadly, attempted and completed homicides too often claiming the lives of young Madisonians.

Her tenure has been a colossal failure of leadership.   A professional, who often interacts with the powers of the city government, told me last week no matter who is in the room with the mayor, she believes she is still the smartest one.  That blunder in self-judgment accounts for much of the mess that has unfolded since she took office.

Rhodes-Conway is not well-suited for the office she holds, having amply demonstrated her profound lapses in judgment as State Street was looted and our police officers not supported.  That is, in part, why there is now an attempt to recall her from office.

The recall effort has now been offered a very credible foundation with the announcement of the police union vote.  I was hoping and waiting for a seasoned and responsible segment of the city to stand up and offer a reason that people should engage with the recall effort. 

I was not at all pleased with the partisan nature of those who first assembled the recall.  I have withheld any mention of the recall from this blog for that very reason.  Having a former Republican assembly candidate as the lead messenger was a dreadful start to what should have been a more inclusive and broad-based approach to meet the needs of the city.

And Madison is in need of real leadership now.  To get there we need more voices like that of the police union heard,  and far fewer missives from Jon Rygiewicz, who filed a petition with the city clerk to begin circulating petitions to force Rhodes-Conway into a recall election.

No one can be pleased with the lack of leadership from this mayor over the past months.  Our city can not afford to think about three more years of having ‘the smartest one in the room’.

And so it goes.

 

Another Perspective Of Madison’s Chaos

From Letters to the Editor at The Capital Times comes another perspective on recent events in Madison, which I suspect has far more support than what progressives care to consider.

Dear Editor: I’m against the agenda item for $500,000 for the State Street area to repair damage done by the mob. The mayor danced with protesters who closed John Nolen Drive at rush hour and then commented that people shouldn’t be so concerned about a little property damage when compared to a man’s life. The same alders who are further disarming and hamstringing the police want us to spend more money downtown when they won’t protect it? That’s called a rathole. I understand that part of the proposal is for incentives for more people of color to open businesses. I think it’s racist to encourage people to invest their life savings in a business and have no will or plan to protect them. I am also against replacing the statues of Heg and Forward to the Capitol Square. The Heg statue should be placed as it is, headless in the state Veterans Museum with a sign: “This is your reward for committing your life for the freedom of others.” Forward can be on display in the Historical Society. The platforms where they once stood should remain, empty. On them, in black marker, as they are already defaced, should be written, “This is why we can’t have nice things!” The platform would then be available for the mayor to dance with the protesters. I do find it ironic that the mob left that citadel to white privilege, Overture, relatively unscathed. Must have run out of rocks and spray paint by then.

Richard Soletski

 

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway Needs To Resign Following Rampage At Wisconsin State Capitol

It is nearing 4:30 A.M. Wednesday morning as I write and post this blog entry.  This painful time in our city demands leadership.  The first step forward is for Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway to do the only honorable thing left to her.  She must resign her office.  She is in a job that is over her head and has proven not able to protect our city.

I never took for granted the feelings while walking to work at the Wisconsin State Capitol.  The grandeur of the building while approaching it, the history within its walls, the rotation of plants and blooms, and the hope the structure holds for citizens of each political party.  Late Tuesday night this blogger had tears in his eyes when just hearing the first news of what had happened.

The pictures punched so deep I reached out to a friend who had also worked in the building, in fact had been my predecessor in the office. (All the photos used on this post are from various news outlets in the state.)

Those images are simply painful to see.  Statutes were ripped down, large flower pots wrecked, wonderfully old-type lights busted, and graffiti all about.

The statues of Wisconsin’s motto “Forward” and of Col. Hans Christian Heg were chained and dragged away.  Heg was an anti-slavery activist who fought and died for the Union during the Civil War.  His nearly 100-year-old sculpture was decapitated and thrown into Lake Monona.

How many times over the 30 years, while living in this city, have I taken visitors on a guided tour of the Capitol and stopped at the base of the Heg statue?  Tonight this is what was left before pushing it into the chilly lake.

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I worked in a ground floor office, and when looking out my window towards State Street “Forward’ stood proud and tall.  Jesse Jackson had used our office for his coat, and those of his campaign staff, prior to speaking to a large Madison crowd the night before  Primary Day in 1988.  He would have looked down the iconic view towards State Street and seen the statue in the late afternoon sun.

That statue was ripped down and dragged through the streets.

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The original Forward statue was first placed in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in 1895. Tuesday night a replica commissioned in the 1990s was destroyed. Forward is “an allegory of devotion and progress,” according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

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Police were no where to be seen during this period of rampaging.  The city demands answers and quite frankly there is only one thing Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway can do at this point.  That is to resign her office by sundown on Wednesday.  The damage she has allowed to take place on too many nights in this city can not in any shape, manner, or form be allowed to continue.  Taxpayers can not afford to continue to foot her bill for repairs.  

But more importantly the damage she has done to the spirit of our populace by not demonstrating an ounce of leadership or resolve to protect our city can not continue.  A board of directors would not even wait to brew the coffee for the crowded conference room attendees.  They would simply dismiss someone outright for a such a colossal and unmitigated disaster as which took place in Madison.  

We can endure a lot as a city.  We can put up with bureaucratic sloppiness over a raft of issues and pay the tax increases for projects not totally thought out.  But we can no longer accept or pretend there is a shred of competency in this mayor, or any regard for the best interests of Madison.  

Tuesday night Mayor Rhodes-Conway crossed her rubicon. She must now resign her office for the best interests of Madison.

Moderates Taking Note Of Black Protests, And Staying Quiet

I had a most interesting conversation with another driver during a street shutdown in Madison during a protest movement that blocked traffic.  After determining what was the reason for the stoppage we talked about the focal point of conversations in the nation.  What I heard was only the latest in my growing awareness of the undercurrents of how people are thinking about the protests and rioting.

He was in his 30’s, well-groomed, professional with a master’s degree in international relations, and politically liberal.  He stated how the basic arguments about Black Lives Matter resonated, and how he much agreed that chokeholds should be illegal as a form of restraint.   But then we motioned with his hand to the reason for the blocked traffic and added, “but this makes no sense and is turning people off to the message they hope to promote.”

When I asked about how his friends view the issue he responded that many of them are moderates, but like him are being driven away from support due to antics from blocking streets to tearing down anything one does not agree with.  But what most caught my attention was when he stated that he and most others he knows have said nothing publically as they do not want to face any backlash.  

When he made that statement I thought again to Nixonland by Rick Perlstein which is a  masterful and nugget-filled tome–and it is a tome–about the social and cultural currents which allowed for conservatives to prevail with Richard Nixon’s 1968 election, and beyond.  With that book in mind, and I do highly recommend it, one does have to ask what impact the national convulsion over the past weeks will have on Middle America, where elections are won–or lost.

I sense from my listening to others following the protests, and in some places rioting, that once again, as we know happened in 1968, there is a quiet outrage.  What we do not know is if, or how, those feelings will manifest themselves on election day.  Given everything we have witnessed since 2015 I make no predictions, but when I am able to strike up conversations with random folks in liberal Madison who give voice to how they really feel, and it runs counter to so many prevailing themes, I do have to ask what must the Ohio voters be thinking?

Weeks ago on a walk I spoke with a Madison businessperson who had a livelihood demolished in rioting.  With kids in tow, there was still time taken for that person to make sure I fully understood the impact of what had happened.  That determination to answer my questions was not lost on me.  There was no anger at police, but rather deep concern about Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway not protecting small businesses.

I am reminded of a line in Perlstein’s book—and I had to look it up so to quote exactly, but it resonates with where Democrats are this summer as we head to November.

“These,” said President Lyndon Johnson when lighting the national Christmas tree in December 1964, “are the most hopeful times since Christ was born in Bethlehem.” 

For Democrats who wish to, and for the sake of the nation need to, vote Donald Trump from the Oval Office, the mood in the nation along with many issues aligns for a triumphal election.  Many in the party feel like an election victory is a certainty.  That hopeful time, as LBJ thought, abounds.

But if Democrats do not strike a more determined tone for law and order, and push the fact one does not just tear down public displays without due process, it may forecast political doom long before balloting begins.

Based on what I am hearing the Democratic Party is in need of a modern Sister Souljah moment.

And so it goes.

Mass Gathering Vs. Rally In Madison: Black Health Should Matter, Too

Black Lives Matter banners and headlines have been present all over Madison for weeks, and for good reason.   But with the news of an upcoming rally in Madison for Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with word that the Civil War had ended and all formerly enslaved people were now free, comes concern about the health of attendees at the rally.

Given the pandemic we are experiencing, there is reason to ask if the allowance for this celebration is not undermining efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19?  Since the African-Ameican community is experiencing high rates of infection and illness from the virus there is a question as to why this rally makes sense?  The Facebook page for the event has 4,000 interested people thinking they will attend.

The historic nature of Juneteenth is without question.  The desire to observe and honor the day and what it represents is fully understood.  As with so many other posts about COVID-19 over the past months on CP, however, I have to question the logic of allowing such a large group to gather, and what it might do for the health of so many more across our city and county.

After Brisco contacted Madison Parks to request a permit to hold the event at a city park, she received an email from Public Health Madison & Dane County informing her that the event would be in violation of the agency’s ban on “mass gatherings,” which it defines as “a planned event with a large number of individuals in attendance, such as a concert, festival, meetings, training, conference, or sporting event.” The current phase of Dane County’s coronavirus reopening plan prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. 

Brisco then wrote to the office of Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, asserting that the event would be a free speech event in line with the ongoing protests. The next day, she said, she received an email from the mayor’s office greenlighting the event.

“There was a misunderstanding in the nature of the event,” Deputy Mayor Katie Crawley told the Cap Times in an email. “It was initially thought to be a festival, not a rally … Once that was clarified, there was not an issue. It did not need Mayoral involvement.”

Sarah Mattes of Public Health Madison & Dane County told the Cap Times in an email that, after clarifying the details of the event, the agency “did not believe what they described was a mass gathering under our definition.” Voter registration, she wrote, is “a government function and allowed under the Order.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has failed the test of leadership on several matters far before the protests of the past weeks.  Now she is putting her feelings of white liberal guilt above the health and well-being of black citizens.  There must be, and should be, a way to celebrate and honor Juneteenth in a responsible way during a time of the pandemic.  Apparently, the mayor can not fathom how that can be done.

Time for the city to start thinking of who will campaign against her in two years. Rhodes-Conway’s lack of reasoning leads me to question if she is even conscious most working days.

And so it goes.