Sunday, April 28, 2013

What you may not know: Week of 4/29

The full Common Council will meet on Wednesday at 7 pm for what's certain to be a pretty busy meeting, so let's get right to the issues:

Municipal Services

If you've heard anything at all about this week's meeting then you've probably heard about the bike lanes on Mason Street. Following several hours of debate on Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee voted 3-2 to recommend approval of installation of two, six-foot wide bike lanes on either side of Mason Street from Prospect Avenue to the north city limits, removing street parking on all but a couple of blocks of the street.

This is easily the most debated issue that's come forward in my short time around the council, as Tuesday's 4 1/2 hour committee meeting wasn't even the only time it's been discussed. I understand that there's really no popular decision available here, as either the bike community or many of the residents on this street will be upset with any choice made.

With that said, I'm planning on voting for this for the following reasons:

  • After listening to debate Tuesday night I'm increasingly convinced that there's not a better location that isn't simply an attempt to remove this issue from one street and put it on another street or collection of streets.
  • The compromises I've heard proposed (one-way bike lanes on different streets and/or a "hybrid" system like on Capitol) don't really resonate with me. The one-way bike lanes create a compliance issue if bikers decide to go the wrong way and the format currently used on Capitol created both a bike and parking lane that are too narrow to be useful.
Also under the Muni Services heading, Wednesday night will be the first time the full council hears Alderman Croatt's resolution calling for the city to look at other options regarding the city's new recycling bins. This will likely draw some conversation but is unlikely to be too controversial, as all the resolution is asking for is a study of alternatives and no changes are likely to be made until the 2014 budget.

City Plan Commission

The Commission met last Monday and again voted to approve a special use permit for the proposed Kwik Trip on Highway JJ. There doesn't appear to be any new developments in this issue over the last two weeks, so I'd expect it to pass council without major issue.


The big issue for me this week comes from the Finance Committee, where members voted 3-2 on Wednesday to recommend approval of a plan that would establish an ongoing system to set interest rates for property owners who opt to finance their special assessment payments.

The proposed plan is going to be controversial because the proposed system is likely to raise the rate from 6% to 9% for 2014. Council just voted last fall to lower the rate from 9% to 6%. 

I've written about this at length in the past, but I'm strongly opposed to this plan as written. I spoke against this plan at the Finance Committee meeting last week and plan on speaking against it again on Wednesday. Simply put, we all have constituents that have no choice but to finance their special assessments with the city. They may be ineligible for loans, unemployed or underemployed, retired and on a fixed income or in some other kind of financial bind that limits their options. We need to be exceptionally careful as a council that we don't set a rate that's arbitrarily high and punitive to those among us who can least afford it.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

RIP, Bob Edgar

My weekly look at Appleton City Council activity will be posted later tonight, but first I wanted to share this. - KL

I was saddened to learn this afternoon that Bob Edgar, former Pennsylvania congressman and president of Common Cause, passed away this week. He was 69 years old.

In his early years Edgar was a prime example of how much one can accomplish when they set aside partisanship and really work for something. He came virtually out of nowhere to be elected to Congress in 1974 in a district that traditionally voted heavily in the other direction. He was a brilliant reformer in the fight for government transparency, equality and veterans' rights.

Edgar ran for one of Pennsylvania's seats in the Senate in 1986, suffered a double-digit loss to Arlen Specter  and moved onto the next stage of his life. He spent ten years as president of the Claremont School of Theology, then served for some time as the general secretary of the National Council of Churches before being hired as president of Common Cause. That's where we met, when I worked for the organization in 2007 and 2008.

Bob and I were both good fits for Common Cause because we're both passionate about making government more responsive to the people. While with the organization I spent better than a year working primarily on getting big money out of politics, an issue I still strongly believe in. In the end, though, when CC and I parted ways it was at least partially in response to a difference of opinion with the philosophy Bill Moyers outlined in his eulogy for Edgar:
One day, over coffee, we talked about how, if the predators of democracy are going to use brass knuckles to pulverize us, we have to fight back with sharp elbows.
There's more to it than this, of course, but a big part of fighting fire with fire as stated above means things like gathering large donations for a campaign seeking to limit the power of large donations to candidates. I worked hard during my time with CC and accomplished some things I'm pretty proud of, but struggled at times to convince large campaign donors to write me big checks to use to attempt to reduce the power of their greatest weapon. I'm eternally grateful to the handful of people who do see the problem and were willing to help fight it, but you can probably imagine how frequently that actually happened. 

On the grander scale, the ongoing financial arms race across the board in politics has made politicians more reliant on large donations than ever before. The ability to raise ridiculously large sums of money is basically a prerequisite to running for many higher offices and fundraising is a year-round practice for anyone who hopes to run again. It's no surprise, then, that many/most of our elected officials are sympathetic to issues tied to large donors. This issue, thankfully, has not spread to our local offices. I was able to successfully run for alderman with slightly more than $1000 and a lot of my own time. It may not always be that way, though.

Furthermore, fighting dirty in response to a dirty fighter frequently leads to all of us getting dragged into the mud. One of the biggest issues facing American politics is the belief that both sides are full of stupid, corrupt, hypocritical liars...a perception that both sides have spent decades cultivating. 

What we desperately need from our elected officials and organizations isn't a new weapon to use against the other side. It's a generation of leaders who are more interested in making the world a better place than holding down the opposition. We need a generation of leaders that will respond to dirty tactics not by retaliating, but by rising above it. 

I'm sure Bob wasn't the first person to do this, but on multiple occasions I saw him ask a room full of potential activists to repeat after him in the following refrain:

We are...(WE ARE)
The leaders...(THE LEADERS)
We've been waiting for. (WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have much more work to do.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What you may not know: Week of April 22

Starting Monday, the city council will have their first full week of committee meetings since installing new alderpersons. For the next year I'm proud to serve on the following committees:
  • Utilities
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Transit Commission
In addition to those committees, here's what I'll be following this week:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

The City Plan Commission has three action items on their agenda this week, but the one relevant to District 13 is another planned discussion of the proposed Kwik Trip on Highway JJ near the intersection with Ballard.

If you've been following this issue, you may recall that it raised some eyebrows when developers submitted a plan to build a Kwik Trip on property immediately adjacent to the Citgo that currently operates on this intersection. The Commission recommended the plan be approved by a 5-2 margin when they met last on March 25, but the matter was referred back for further consideration.

If the Commission's job were simply to approve construction of a gas station, this matter would likely sail through without much debate. When the city approves construction of a gas station right next to another station, though, it creates the risk that one station will drive the other out of business and create a vacant, potentially unusable space in the area.

Since the last meeting I've also been notified of some issues with the construction plan that are holding up the city's efforts to approve a site plan. Most of the issues seem minor, though, so that shouldn't be a lasting problem.

I expect this to pass again on Monday, and if it does it will appear before the full council on May 1.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

This week's top story will likely be this committee, as a couple of hot-button issues take center stage.

First, one of the committee's proposed action items is the plan to install bike lanes along Mason Street. This installation is part of the Appleton Master Bike Plan which was approved in 2010, but has been met with significant opposition from residents along the street who would lose the right to park on the street in front of their homes.

This is a tough issue because the people who will benefit from this proposal (bike riders) are a largely separate group from the people who are losing something (residents of homes on Mason St). So, while the bicycle community has rallied to support this, the opposition against it has also been quite vocal. This Post Crescent article noted that over 500 residents signed a petition against adding the bike lanes.

In the end I think the consensus opinion is that this bike lane is needed somewhere, but the current plan on Mason Street has a pretty united front against it. I'm hoping we'll hear talk of some kind of compromise that makes this plan something closer to amenable for everyone.

As if that wasn't enough, the longstanding recycling bin issue will also come up on Tuesday. Alderman Croatt's resolution calling for a review of the city's recycling policies regarding the new bins will be debated for the first time. Many members of council have heard many, many complaints about the size of the new bins, so certainly we need to look at alternatives to encourage recycling but also make it easier for people to do so.

Where the rubber hits the road on this issue, though, is going to be cost. The city went with the "one size fits all" approach the first time in an effort to keep costs (and the resulting fees) as low as possible. Once we've figured out what the prospective alternatives will cost, the next step will be determining whether or not the people demanding a change are willing to pay for it.

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 5 pm

A new (although largely unchanged) committee will pick up a longstanding issue on Wednesday night as they once again consider the city's interest rate charged to residents who opt to finance their special assessment payments.

This issue was held two weeks ago primarily because a new council was about to be installed and it was deemed to be better to allow a new committee to take this issue up with a fresh start. As it turns out, four of the five alderpersons on the committee last year are on it again this year.

I think the majority of the common council remains committed to tying this interest rate to some measurable rate to allow it to adjust itself over time based on the market, but there remains some debate about what rate it should be tied to, and how much higher than that rate the city's figure should be.

I remain concerned that, in an effort to avoid competing with banks, we're going to end up setting this rate unnecessarily high and as a result gouging our constituents with limited financial options. None of us were elected to protect banks at the expense of our constituents, but if we set this figure too high that's exactly what we'll be doing.

More on all of these issues can be found in this week's Alderpersons Weekly Packet.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What You May Not Know: Week of April 15

After months of leadup and work to reach this point, the moment is almost here: On Tuesday evening I'll be sworn in as Alderman for District 13. Thank you again to so many of you who voted for me to have this opportunity: I'll be thinking of you as I get my first chance to represent you.

My first full council meeting will be Wednesday, April 17, but first we have an Organizational Meeting scheduled for 6 pm. This meeting is largely inside politics, but there is one thing on the table that I'm keenly interested in that may also be of interest to you.

Longtime readers of this site may recall that on January 16 Alderman Christoph Wahl proposed a resolution banning committee reports from being taken up by the council until they've been posted for 48 hours, barring an emergency. I wrote much more about it in this post.

This proposed rule would force the rescheduling of several committees that frequently meet immediately before council meetings and that will cause some inconvenience, but it's the right thing to do. Having items show up on the council agenda on short notice makes it nearly impossible for alderpersons who aren't on the committee to do their due diligence, and also have a significant negative impact on the public's ability to participate in the process.

Once we wrap up the organizational meeting, the full council is scheduled to meet at 7. This will likely be a brief meeting as most of the committees did not meet during the period between Election Day and the installment of new alderpersons, but one committee is a significant exception:


The Finance Committee did meet last Wednesday to consider $634,804 dollars in "special considerations" in the 2013 budget. That figure covers several projects across departments, but the one that drew scrutiny on Wednesday was $44,000 ticketed for the Fox Cities Regional Partnership, an economic development organization working to market the area to potentially relocating or expanding businesses.

The Fox Cities Regional Partnership is a new name for an organization that's already had a few: They were formerly known as "Ignite Fox Cities" and, more recently, the Appleton Regional Partnership. The name change is the source for some of the concern here. Several alderpersons are very concerned about the decision to drop Appleton from the name.

From an outside perspective this may seem like the city being provincial: A bunch of Appleton politicians don't like not having Appleton's name on the project anymore. The name change is a significant concern, though, for a couple of reasons:

  • First, the "Appleton Regional Partnership" name was put in place following a consultant study that said it was important the group have an actual city on the map in its name to make it easier for prospective businesses to find the city. If you Google Appleton, you find Appleton. If you Google "Fox Cities," you may not. The decision to drop Appleton from the name goes clearly against the very study that was the basis of this project.
  • Second, Appleton's memorandum of understanding with this organization is supposed to give the city a seat at the table when strategic matters like this are discussed. The organization opted to change their name as a "management decision," meaning we more or less found out about it after the fact. That leads to some questions about the value of our "seat at the table."
The name change also comes on the heels of the County's decision not to give money to this project, which raises another red flag.

However, at the end of the day the Partnership has a clear collection of goals for the year and, despite all the question marks, they're on pace to meet them. They're also serving a very important purpose in the effort to bring more jobs to the area. At the moment I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt in the short term, although I'm certain we'll discuss them again at budget time in the fall.

The Finance Committee also briefly discussed potential changes to the special assessment interest rate on Wednesday, but elected to hold that discussion until a new committee is appointed this week. I had more about that issue in last week's update.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What You May Not Know: Week of April 8

First and foremost, I apologize for being belated in doing so but thank you so much to the 351 residents of District 13 who came out to vote for me in last Tuesday's election. I'm honored to have this opportunity to serve on the council, and I hope you'll be proud to have me represent you.

I'd also like to thank the people who have come out of the woodwork to congratulate me and to offer advice going forward. Part of the reason this week's weekly post is late is because I've been scrambling for several days to respond and reach out to lots of people who have helped me reach this point and will be involved going forward.

I'll be officially installed as an alderman next week, so I'm spending most of this week working on getting ready for the transition. I'm meeting with department heads and others every day this week to help get myself ready to hit the ground running after Tuesday.

In the meantime, the council does have one last week of committee meetings scheduled before the changeover, although many of the committees have cancelled their gatherings. There is, however, one meeting I'll be attending and watching closely:


The Finance Committee will meet Wednesday at 5 pm, and one of their action items again deals with the interest rate charges to residents who finance their special assessment charges with the city.

For years the city had charged a flat 9% interest rate on these assessments, until changing it to 6% last year to reflect a general change in interest rates across the board. This year the Finance Committee is looking at establishing a plan for tying this rate to a clear metric to allow it to adjust itself over time.

While I strongly agree with the notion of tying the rate to an existing metric, the current proposal would have established this year's interest rate right around 9%, right back where we started.

The current proposal calls for the city to use a home equity loan rate published on, then tack on an extra 2% as part of an effort to avoid competing with local banking institutions. I have concerns with this proposal for a couple of reasons:
  • As Alderman Stueck noted in the last Finance Committee meeting, the rate being used is multiple percentage points higher than what shows as the average interest rate for a home equity line of credit, which could also be considered an applicable comparison here.
  • I think 2% may represent too high of a bump up from the rates in question. I think the council needs to be careful not to gouge our taxpayers here by creating too large of a buffer.
 Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What You May Not Know: Week of April 1 - GO VOTE!

Before we get into this week's council activity, here's one more reminder that Tuesday, April 2 is Election Day, so get out and vote and make your voice heard. If you live in the 13th district your polling place is Faith Lutheran Church on Evergreen, and the polls are open from 7 am-8 pm. I've very much enjoyed providing you these updates on the Council over the last few months, and if you've enjoyed reading them I'd ask that you consider voting for me on Tuesday.

Once we get past the election, the full council is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, and here are the highlights from their agenda:

Municipal Services:

The Municipal Services committee will actually meet in a special session Tuesday at 4 pm to address three items, all of which are of interest:
  • First, the proposal to install bike lanes and eliminate parking on Mason Street was referred back to this committee to discuss the possibility of adding indented street-side parking in some high-demand areas, like next to churches or schools.
  • Second, the committee will take up Alderman Croatt's resolution asking the city to look for opportunities to offer alternatives to the new 96-gallon recycling bins.
  • Finally, the committee will consider a proposal to change the yield signs at 16 different intersections along Pershing Street to stop signs. I've already heard concerns from at least one neighbor that these intersections are not currently safe.
Any actions taken at this meeting will move along to the full council meeting on Wednesday.

City Plan Commission:

Last week the commission voted in a split 5-2 decision to recommend approval of a special use permit for a gas station and car wash for a Kwik Trip on Highway JJ. Since I mentioned this last week I've learned that the plan calls for the new gas station to be built immediately adjacent to the Citgo that currently sits at Ballard and JJ.

There will probably be an interesting conversation about this station on Wednesday night, because building one station right next to another creates a strong possibility that one of them will fail. The city wants to be "open for business" and doesn't want to stand in the way of development, but I think there is some question about what the best course of action is here. 


Last Wednesday the Finance Committee voted in a split decision (3-1, with Alderman Stueck as the opposition) on a recommendation for a new plan to establish the interest rates charged to home owners who pay for their special assessments in installments. This proposed plan, as it turns out, would push the interest rate from the current 6% back up to around 9% if applied today.

While I do agree with the need to tie this interest rate to some measurable rate that will allow it to change over time based on market factors, I think the current proposal calls for rates to be set too high.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as a candidate for and a potential member of Appleton's City Council. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.