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.

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