Monday, April 24, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 24

This week the Appleton Common Council will hold the first round of committee meetings for a new aldermanic year. This year I'm happy to report I'll be representing the 13th District on the following committees and commissions:

  • Safety & Licensing Committee (where I'll be serving as chair for the third year)
  • Finance Committee
  • Fox Cities Transit Commission
I've also previously served as chair of the Central Equipment Agency Review Board, and I'm hoping to be reappointed to that body this week.

A new council year also means our first opportunity to revisit actions taken by previous councils: Our council rules state that a new council can, by resolution, reintroduce any item approved or rejected by the old council. As such, our first notable item this week will probably seem familiar:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

Last week I re-submitted a resolution calling for the City of Appleton to lift its outdated ban on dogs in parks. You may recall that council last discussed this item in July of 2016, and it failed on an 8-6 vote. Two seats on the council have since turned over, making this issue worth exploring again.

This year I've written the resolution to specifically highlight one of the cruxes of the argument in favor of allowing dogs in parks: The city already allows dogs in virtually every other public space (sidewalks, trails, dog-friendly businesses) and already has ordinances in place to govern their and their owners' conduct. We already require dogs to be leashed, we require their owners to pick up after them on public and private spaces, we require the Police Department to be informed in the event of a bite or attack, and we require them to be kept out of spaces where food is being prepared for sale.

Those existing ordinances have been deemed sufficient to allow people and dogs to operate and interact in virtually every public space in the community, and we see very minimal issues from those interactions. As such, I've asked the Parks and Recreation Committee and Common Council to consider lifting the ban on dogs in parks and treating parks as we treat any other public space in this regard.

Allowing dogs in parks also creates a series of positive benefits for the community, including but not limited to:
  • Opportunities for pet owners to further socialize their animals as part of their training process and reduce the risk of future adverse reactions to meeting new people or other animals.
  • Increasing usage of many of the city's less-trafficked parks, reducing the risk of illegal activity in low-traffic spaces.
  • Making the parks a less attractive space for undesired and/or messy wild animals (most notably geese along the Fox River) to congregate.
I recognize this issue will likely be controversial again, and I anticipate this will likely be the first of several times we discuss it again. It has been my experience, however, that the city's ban on dogs in parks makes our community a less attractive place to live for many pet owners who would otherwise happily and responsibly reside here. I'm looking forward to the day when we change that.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As you may know, the city and Canadian National Railroad have been involved in discussions for many years about the possibility of the city acquiring unused railroad trestles over the Fox River for use in expanding our waterfront trails. The discussions regarding the possible transition of the trestles have been long and challenging, but this week the Finance Committee will be asked to approve an agreement that would transfer ownership of three such trestles and some surrounding property to the city.

The donation agreement before the Finance Committee this week is 35 pages long (you can see it for yourself at the attachment here, if you like), and reflects years of work to take the next step in making our riverfront a more attractive place for pedestrians and bicyclists. I'm looking forward to seeing it completed.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 17

A new year begins for the Appleton Common Council this week, as our two new members will be sworn into office on Tuesday and will have their first full council meeting on Wednesday. On Wednesday night at 6 pm we'll hold our annual council organizational meeting to establish the rules for the new council. At 7 pm or as soon as possible following the conclusion of our first meeting, the council will also meet in our regularly-scheduled session to take up items including the following:

North side subdivision expansion

A few weeks ago I wrote about another proposed addition to the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is north of Highway JJ and west of French Road. The City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the expansion, which would add eleven new single-family lots.

Expanding this subdivision is the right thing to do for the city as we expand our tax base. I supported this request at Plan Commission and intend to do so again this week, but will again do so with a reminder that continued north side expansion does come with some hidden costs related to city infrastructure. We're already aware of the fact that we're likely soon going to need to purchase an additional fire engine and hire additional firefighters to fully staff Station #6, which covers this area.

Additionally, adding more homes to the northeast corner of the district will likely once again increase the student population, albeit slightly, at Huntley Elementary. While decisions regarding schools are not within my jurisdiction, last week I met with Appleton Area School District officials to relay many of the concerns I've heard about development on the north side as it relates to schools. What I learned is that the district is currently working on a study to analyze their space needs. I will continue to monitor this issue as it progresses.

Diversity Coordinator Position

At our last meeting council approved a request to move our currently vacant Diversity Coordinator position from the Community and Economic Development Department to the Mayor's Office. This week that process continues as council will be asked to act on the Finance Committee's recommendation to move funding from CED to the Mayor's budget to cover the position's salary and benefits.

In the meantime, the position has been re-posted with the updated job description and I'm hopeful we'll have a great candidate filling this role soon.

Urban chickens

A resolution calling for residents of the City of Appleton to be able to keep up to four hens was introduced in October and has now been discussed on eight occasions at the Board of Health and previous Common Council meetings. This week, however, I feel confident that we could finally take a final action on it.

Two weeks ago council voted to reconsider our March 15 vote to approve the resolution. At that time I asked and was granted a request for council to hold the item until this week's meeting and the seating of a new council. Our council rules allow a new council to re-open any decisions made by previous councils, so any vote at our April 5 meeting could have been immediately overturned and put back on the table by a new council. To avoid the risk of making a decision that would only be undone two weeks later, I asked for council to wait to take action until a truly final action was possible.

In the meantime, the Board of Health has voted to recommend approval of a specific set of rules and regulations regarding chickens and that item will also appear on our agenda this week. The specific rules that could come up for discussion and/or amendment include:

  • A limit of four hens, and no roosters.
  • An appeal process to the Board of Health.
The proposed inspection fees ($145 for an initial inspection and a $59 re-permitting fee) have also come up numerous times in debate but are not part of the approved policy, so I'm not sure where they stand as a proposed policy or as a topic for debate this week.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 3

Before I get to this week's council update, please allow me to remind you one final time that Wisconsin's 2017 spring elections are on Tuesday, so please make plans to get out and vote. If you live in Appleton's 13th district, your voting location is at Faith Lutheran Church at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. While you're there, I'd be honored if you'd consider voting for me.

Even if you don't live in the 13th district, there is a statewide race on the ballot for Superintendent of Schools and other local races. Visit myvote.wi.gov for more information or to find your polling location.

Meanwhile, the Appleton Common Council will return from our week off to hold our regularly-scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday, and the notable items on the agenda are largely items we've discussed before:

Urban chickens

As I mentioned in my last update, our close vote on a resolution to allow the keeping of up to four hens on residential property in the city left the door open for an absent alderperson to request the item be reconsidered, and it's back on our agendas this week. Follow that last link for a recap of the events leading us to this point.

I remain supportive of allowing hens in the city, having witnessed first hand the successes and low impact experienced by other municipalities that have taken this step. Whether we pass it this week, two weeks from now or sometime further down the road, I'm hopeful we'll take steps to allow this and see the non-issue that it is for ourselves.

Diversity Coordinator position

Two weeks ago the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee voted 3-0 (with two members absent) to recommend approval of a staff request calling for our vacant Diversity Coordinator position to be moved from the Community & Economic Development Department to the direct supervision of the Mayor. This move better reflects the wide array of responsibilities for this position and I'm hopeful we'll approve the move so we can get back to searching for a candidate to fill this important role.

Reid Golf Course

Two weeks ago the Finance Committee voted 3-1 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for the city to forgive over $150,000 in general fund advances to Reid Golf Course and take on $575,000 of the course's outstanding debt.

If you watch video of the discussion you'll see some analysis of the course and associated enterprise fund's economic situation: It is currently making money but likely will not be able to finance some of the necessary improvements needed to improve or maintain the facility in years to come. While I'm not indifferent to this issue, I will not support measures calling for taxpayers to subsidize this facility.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 20

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead but, before I get to that, here's an update the item that's capturing everyone's attention recently:

Urban chickens

In my four years on the Appleton Common Council, it's possible there's never been more confusion about the meaning of an outcome of a vote than there has been over the last few days. Here's a quick rundown of the last few months as they pertain to a resolution calling for Appleton to allow the keeping of up to four chickens on residential property:

  • Last fall Alderperson Meltzer submitted the resolution and it was referred to the City's Board of Health, who discussed it at several meetings before finally taking a vote on it at their March meeting. Their vote was split 3-3. Because a majority is required for the board to take any affirmative action, the item was sent along to council as a recommendation for denial.
  • Last week the council met with 14 members present and one absent and the vote on the resolution was also split, 7-7 this time. At council when a vote is tied the mayor is asked to break ties. Mayor Hanna voted in favor and the resolution passed.
  • However, any alderperson on the prevailing side of a vote or any alderperson who was absent for a vote has the ability to ask council to reconsider the vote at their next meeting. In this case the absent alderperson was Council President Kathleen Plank, whose vote would have decided the outcome. Our next council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 5 and it seems likely that we'll be voting on this resolution again at that meeting.
So, to sum up: The resolution calling for chickens to be allowed in the city passed, but could be reopened. It's not legal to run out and get chickens or apply for a permit to have chickens just yet, and no official action will be taken on this item this week or next.

Now, with that update out of the way, here are some items that are on committee agendas this week:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

The latest proposed expansion of development north of County Highway JJ will likely take another step forward this week as the City Plan Commission will be asked to recommend approval of a rezoning request that would make eleven new single-family lots in the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is largely between Providence Avenue and French Road and north of JJ. This is the third addition to the subdivision, which was originally platted in 2005.

This addition to the subdivision is relatively small and unlikely to be controversial but it serves as another reminder that this area, which was almost completely unpopulated about a decade ago, continues to grow and our city services and infrastructure need to be continually updated to meet expanding demand. This will probably not be the last or largest addition to this subdivision, as the developers still own significantly more undeveloped land to the west of this area.

Human Resources Committee, Monday, 5 pm

The city is now closing in on a year without a Diversity Coordinator, as the previous holder of the position resigned last summer. The search for someone to fill this important and difficult to define role has hit a few challenges along the way but could take a step forward this week when the Human Resources and Information Technology position will again be asked to make a recommendation on a request to move the position from its current home in the Community and Economic Development Department to the mayor's office. This item was held at the committee level two weeks ago.

The suggested move comes with an amended job description (which you can see as an attachment here) and a likely but not finalized shift in pay scale to compensate for an increased scope of responsibilities. If this passes the search for candidates would be reopened.

Diversity, you may realize, is a remarkably broad topic to attempt to address with one position. Attempting to define the role of this position is a challenge but I think what we have here is a positive step in the effort to do so. I'm hopeful this item will move along this week and we can resume the process of trying to get a great applicant to fill this role.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As I've discussed previously, Reid Golf Course is an enterprise fund operated by the City of Appleton that is, in concept, supposed to be revenue-neutral and run without support from general fund (property tax) dollars. In 2002 the course was struggling financially and the Common Council voted to give the fund an advance from general fund dollars. Council later also voted to make that advance interest-free. As a result, Reid Golf Course still owes the city $155,000 in general fund dollars and all but $15,000 of that amount isn't expected to be repaid until 2025 at the earliest. In addition, the course owes $575,000 in principal on a bond issuance from 2012.

Three weeks ago Alderman Jeff Jirschele proposed a resolution calling for the city to forgive that loan to the enterprise fund and take on Reid's debt as its own. Two weeks ago the Finance Committee elected to hold that resolution, and it will appear on their agenda this week.

I'm curious to hear debate on this issue, but I'm strongly opposed to any effort that would call for tax dollars to subsidize a golf course, either via a direct contribution or by shifting the burden of the fund's debt to the taxpayers. We have many priorities as a city that should far and away outrank this one.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Finally, a quick programming note: The month of March has five Wednesdays, and the council typically does not schedule meetings for the week of a fifth Wednesday of the month. As such, there are no scheduled committee or council meetings next week and so I will likely not post an update next week. Look for my next post on the week of Monday, April 3.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 13

The Appleton Common Council is likely to have a very busy regularly scheduled-meeting on Wednesday night, in addition to a rescheduled committee meeting:

Municipal Services Committee, Wednesday, 6 pm

The agenda for this week's rescheduled Municipal Services Committee meeting contains an information item that will be of local interest for many residents of the 13th district: The tentative schedule for this summer's reconstruction of County Highway JJ between French Road and Ballard Road.

This is a county project, so the city does not have approval over the schedule. They have, however, provided us with the following estimates:
  • From now through early April there are likely to be daytime restrictions on Highway JJ as utilities are relocated to make way for the project.
  • From early April through early May the focus will be on "Stage 1" of the project, which is a stormwater pond at the northeast corner of JJ and Lightning Drive. Daytime restrictions on JJ are listed as "possible" during this window.
  • In early May, the county will close the intersection of JJ and Lightning to reconstruct it and its approaches. JJ traffic will be detoured back out to Highway 41 via Ballard Road and County Highway N. The north entrance/exit to North High School will remain open.
  • On June 8 the remaining portion of JJ (from the school driveway to Ballard Road) will be closed, and no access to any abutting properties off of Highway JJ will be available.
  • All roadways are expected to be reopened for the Labor Day weekend and first day of school in September.
As always, all of these timelines are tentative and depend on a variety of factors.

Speaking of estimated timelines, at 7 pm or as soon as is feasible following the conclusion of the aforementioned committee meeting the common council will hold our regularly-scheduled meeting to discuss topics including the following:

Urban chickens

After several months of discussion, last week the Board of Health finally voted on a resolution calling for Appleton to allow residents to have up to four hens on their property, and they split a 3-3 vote. The item comes to council this week as a recommendation for denial, but council will have the final word on this issue.

I've heard from folks on both sides of this issue, but for me there are two notable points here: precedent and policy.
  • On the precedent side, I would point to the variety of cities (93 of the top 100 US cities and six of the eight largest cities in Wisconsin) that currently allow the keeping of hens. There are countless examples of cities that have taken this step and have not experienced issues with it. Green Bay and Oshkosh both allow chickens. The two cities have issued a combined 82 licenses and have never had to revoke one.
  • On the policy side, staff has made a very clear effort to create a proposed policy that would be in place to address any concerns that may come up, including noise, smell, rodents, predators, disease, escape and manure disposal. Every effort has been made to ensure that staff will have an opportunity to step in if someone's chickens become a problem.
Given these two facts, I see no reason to unfairly limit anyone who wishes to keep chickens and is willing to submit to the limitations of our proposed policy.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman.
Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 27

While this week technically starts in February, Wednesday is the first Wednesday in March. As such, it's a full council meeting week for the Appleton Common Council, but we have some business to take care of in committee first:

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 6:15 pm

Last week's Finance Committee meeting had to be rescheduled due to last Tuesday's primary election, so the committee will meet Wednesday night before council to take up their action items. They'll be asked to approve seven contracts for projects this week including bridge maintenance, street, sewer and water reconstructions and two roof replacements.

The biggest ticket action item on the agenda for Wednesday, however, is the latest package of bids for the ongoing Exhibition Center project. This package includes 15 components of the project, easily our largest package to date. The good news out of all of this is that the combined components are under budget (this group is $10.4 million) and the project continues to proceed on time and on budget.

Additionally, on Wednesday the Committee will be asked to approve a settlement with CVS Pharmacy related to an ongoing lawsuit over their property assessment. Last week the Post Crescent had a great overview of a property tax loophole allowing "big box" retailers to claim their property should be assessed at the value it would hold if it were an empty store, instead of at the facility's market rate. The difference between the two is significant and could have a major impact on property taxes if the loophole is left in place. Last week the Community and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved a resolution calling for the State Legislature to close the loophole. Until or unless they do so, however, we have no choice but to settle suits like this.

Common Council, Wednesday, 7 pm

The remaining items of note on the council agenda are things we discussed last week. Here's an update on where we stand:

  • The Human Resources Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of reorganization requests from the Police Department (modifications in the Administrative Services Division), Fire Department (merging Battalion Chief positions, creating a new training position and shifting the balance of Captains/Lieutenants) and Valley Transit (creating flexibility in the number of part-time drivers hired).
  • The Municipal Services Committee also voted unanimously to approve a change to the city's snow removal policy that would remove driveway aprons from the list of spaces required to be cleared by property owners. At the meeting it was discussed that this portion of the ordinance rarely comes up in practice, and it's rare for a community to require aprons to be cleared.
You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 20

Before I get to this week's (relatively light) list of council updates, please allow me to remind you that the spring primary election is tomorrow (Tuesday, February 21). The State of Wisconsin has a primary for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In addition, voters in Appleton's ninth district will have three candidates on the ballot for their aldermanic seat.

If you live in Appleton's 13th district you can vote at Faith Lutheran Church at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. If you don't know your district or your polling location, you can find it at this link.

Our schedule is moved around a bit this week to accommodate the election, but it is still a committee week for the Appleton Common Council. Here are some of the items I'll be watching:

Human Resources and Information Technology Committee, Monday, 5 pm

This week the Human Resources Department is bringing forward three requests to alter the Tables of Organization of city departments:

  • The Police Department has a multiple-part request involving oversight of their Administrative Services division. The change would eliminate some redundancies and overlap in responsibilities, and consolidate related activities under one supervisor.
  • The Fire Department is currently reevaluating their management structure following the recent retirement of their longtime Deputy Chief, and has a request calling for two Battalion Chief positions to be merged, a new Civilian Training and Resource Development position to be created and a shift in the balance of Captain/Lieutenant positions from 8/13 to 6/15.
  • Valley Transit is requesting permission to shift their part-time driver positions from four established positions to a variable amount of positions depending on need.
None of these moves have major budget ramifications or will result in major changes in service, but I applaud all three departments for working to find opportunities to perform their work more efficiently and effectively with the resources they have. Taking advantage of opportunities like this to streamline and find efficiencies isn't always noticed but it pays off in the long run.

Municipal Services Committee, Thursday, 5:30 pm 

Given our recent trend of warm temperatures, most of us probably aren't thinking about snow. This week, however, the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to consider a change to the city's stance regarding snow removal. 

Currently, the city's snow removal ordinance requires snow to be removed from sidewalks, handicap ramps and driveway aprons within 36 hours following a snow event. Staff is proposing a change to the ordinance to remove driveway aprons from that requirement.

I'll be curious to hear the discussion on this item: Driveway aprons are typically part of the street right-of-way (city property), so a city decision to allow them to remain uncleared could create some risk of liability in the event that someone slips and suffers an injury.

In addition, this week the committee is expected to discuss new sidewalks that could be installed along Northland Avenue as part of this summer's project to reconstruct the Northland/Richmond Street intersection. I don't have a lot of details on the proposal at this time but I'm looking forward to learning more. 

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.