Sunday, May 26, 2013

Week Off Edition: Week of May 27

The Appleton City Council is off this week because May has five Wednesdays. If you haven't yet figured out our schedule, this is how it usually works:

  • We have full council meetings on the first and third Wednesdays of the months.
  • The weeks immediately following council meetings, we have committee meetings (mostly).
A few times a year, though, we have a month with five Wednesdays. Since there's no council meeting on these weeks and our committee work is already done, we don't have any meetings scheduled. These weeks come along roughly four times each year. I'm planning on using this one to go to a couple of baseball games.

Before I go, though, here's a quick glance at some of the things I worked on last week.


On Thursday Alderman Martin and I joined several members of the city's Library Board of Trustees, the League of Women Voters and library staff on a bus trip to Illinois to tour relatively recently updated facilities in Elgin and Skokie.

This was a long day (we left before 6 am and didn't get back until after 9:30 pm), but it was a great trip and I think I gained a lot by seeing these facilities firsthand. Both of these libraries are over 130,000 square feet compared to around 80,000 for our current facility, so it was interesting to see what can be done with a similar collection but much more space. 

In the coming years (probably sooner rather than later) Appleton is going to have to make a really tough decision regarding our library. The current building is somewhat dated and small for its current purpose and use, meaning we may need to consider a pretty significant project to renovate, move or expand to better serve users of the city's most-visited facility.

I'm a strong supporter of our library and I think the staff is doing a great job of doing everything they can with the tools and space they have available to them. But the day is coming where we'll have to talk about our options, and I'm glad I'll have this trip to think back to when we start to have that conversation.

Recreation and Youth Sports injuries

Two weeks ago at council we recognized a youth sports team that had recently won a championship. I won't name the coach, team or sport because I'm not here to publicly shame anyone, but a single sentence from the ceremony caught my attention. While mentioning the hardships his team had overcome, the coach said this sentence:
"We had concussions, broken arms...all the things that come with (sport)."
For me this was a startling reminder that sports in general and especially youth sports are a major part of our culture, but they also carry a not-insignificant health risk with potential long term implications. Without looking up the numbers, I'd guess they're easily the #1 source of brain injuries for young people.

On Friday I sat down with Appleton Recreation Manager Niki Wendt to talk about the city's youth sports programs and the training that takes place to both help prevent and handle injuries. Here are some of the things I learned:
  • All youth sports coaches undergo mandatory training at least once every three years, including instruction on how to deal with injuries. It's recommended coaches have CPR training.
  • Athletic trainers are on site on all game days to respond to any injuries, large or small.
  • A new concussion law requires that all coaches, parents and players receive information on diagnosing concussions, and players must remain off the field until receiving clearance from a doctor if they believe a concussion may have occurred.
What I was looking for from this meeting was assurance that everything we can do is being done to ensure our youth sports are as safe as possible, and that's what I found. I'm not that old (I just turned 30 recently), but our understanding and handling of injuries has come a long way since I was old enough to play youth sports.

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, May 20, 2013

What you may not know: Week of May 20

Before I get started with this week's notes, here's a quick update on something that generated a lot of conversation last week:

Cherryvale Avenue

The Board of Public Works elected to hold their pair of action items regarding the potential extension of Cherryvale Avenue from Evergreen to JJ. Before that happened, though, I was able to clarfiy some things about the project:
  • The map shows at least a slight curve in the proposed new road, which hopefully will slow traffic down a bit and keep the road from becoming a "straight shot" through from Evergreen to JJ. I don't think there are any plans to raise the speed limit on Cherryvale (currently 25), so hopefully with enforcement we'll be able to keep the speed down.
  • The trail crossing on Cherryvale is likely to be similar to the crossings on Providence and Ashbury, with the bump-out in the curb to serve as a traffic calming measure. The city is open to considering other methods to slow cars down through that stretch, once the street is open and we see what we're dealing with. 
  • The intersection of Cherryvale and Ashbury will likely be left as-is, because it's the city's opinion that adding stop signs to a road doesn't actually have a significant impact on driving habits (at least in terms of speed) on a road. Issues that get resolved by cars periodically stopping tend to pop back up when cars accelerate out of intersections to "make up for it."
  • This road is being built as a joint effort with Little Chute because its primary purpose is to connect to some development that's happening in Little Chute (which is why Little Chute is compensating Appleton for the project). As such, the city isn't going to connect utilities to the north end of the Cherryvale addition immediately, and it's likely to be a while before any of that property is developed.
  • Finally, the chunk on the map labeled "parkland" is still owned by a developer at this point. It's potential parkland, but at this point it's still owned by a developer. It's a narrow strip of land, so it would be a challenge to build houses on.
This item was held at the Board of Public Works last Wednesday, meaning no action was taken and it will appear on their next agenda. The reason for the delay is some discrepancies between the city and developer on the terms of the proposed agreement. Assuming it's still moving forward, this item will come before the BPW and the full council at their first meeting in June.

Now, moving on to this week's committee highlights:

Human Resources, Monday, 6 pm

The HR committee meets tonight and the lone action item on their agenda (following a closed session) is approval of a tentative agreement on a contract with union employees at Valley Transit. This is one of the final steps in extended negotiations and is a welcome development. 

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

This week's top story will once again come from Municipal Services, where Mason Street bike lanes are once again the hot topic. I honestly thought this issue was going to be resolved in front of the full council last week, but instead it's been sent back to committee for further consideration. Here's what happened since the last time we talked about it:
  • An oversight was spotted that will allow bike lanes AND a parking lane to be installed at the far north end of Mason, from Northland to Lindbergh St.
  • An amendment was proposed that would modify the plan and split the bike lane in two between Lindbergh and just north of Wisconsin, with the northbound lane moving over a block to the east and going up Summit St. That amendment passed 8-7.
  • With that amendment added, the entire project was sent back to committee for further study. That was necessary so citizens on Summit (and Brewster and Lindbergh) could be informed of the possibility.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm one of the eight that voted for the amendment. I voted for it because I think citizens have made it loud and clear that they won't accept losing parking on Mason Street unless we can be absolutely certain there's no other option. On Tuesday night the committee will get an opportunity to hear the advantages and disadvantages of this option from city staff and neighbors, and they'll have the option to accept this plan, amend the plan back to what it was a week ago or make more amendments.

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, May 12, 2013

What you may not know, Week of May 13

Before we get to this week's council happenings, I have a couple of quick announcements:

First of all, we're starting to get into garage sale season, and I know the Apple Creek Estates neighborhood is hosting many sales this coming weekend. If you're hosting a sale and putting up signs to direct traffic to them, the Appleton Police Department has asked me to remind you that signs cannot be posted on the street right-of-way/terraces, or taped to traffic signs/trees/poles/signals that are in the right of way. If you'd like to post signs, you're encouraged to ask for permission from property owners before doing so.

Second, M.A.T.C.H. (Making Appleton Tennis Courts Happen) is hosting a wine tasting at the Appleton Yacht Club on Thursday night at 7 pm to help raise money for their efforts to save and refurbish courts in Appleton parks. Tickets are $60 at the door for this event, and 100% of the donations go directly to the MATCH fund.

Now, back to business. the Common Council meets on Wednesday to discuss the following:

Public Works

Before Wednesday's full council meeting, the Board of Public Works meets at 6 pm in the Council chambers and they have no less than 12 action items on their agenda. Two of those items will be of specific interest to residents of the 13th district, as they pertain to the proposed extension of Cherryvale Avenue. You can see the proposed plan on page 37 of Friday's Alderperson Weekly Packet.

The proposed addition to Cherryvale will cut through both Appleton and Little Chute to form a path from Highway JJ to Evergreen Drive, so the council has to approve an agreement between the two municipalities to work together on the project and an agreement for developers to give the land that will eventually hold the street, water main and sewer lines to the city.

This and all of the Board's other actions will be reported out to the full council at their 7 pm meeting. Once we get there, here are some of the other things I'll be watching:

Municipal Services

It's likely the top story from Wednesday's meeting will have to do with the proposed Mason Street bike lanes, as it seems likely the full council will finally vote up or down on the proposal and put this issue to bed.

Two weeks ago the proposal was sent back to committee and last Tuesday that committee spent over three hours in session considering possible amendments to the plan, but after much deliberation elected not to change the proposal, so it returns to council re-affirmed.

Despite the fact that nothing changed on Tuesday, I think that meeting was important because it really highlights the fact that all options have been considered here. I recognize that not everyone will be happy with me for doing so, but barring a last minute compromise that represents more than an effort to make this issue someone else's problem, I'm planning on voting for the bike lanes.


Finally, we could also be approaching a final decision on the special assessment interest rate resolution that's been in play for months now. On Wednesday at the Finance Committee meeting Aldermen Stueck and Croatt (one of the authors of the original resolution) co-presented an amendment that would pretty significantly alter the proposal, changing the five-year rate to three percent over prime. That would raise the rate for work done in 2014 from 6% to 6.25%, assuming the prime rate doesn't change. The previous proposal called for a formula that could move it to 8.99%.

The new figure isn't exactly what I would've chosen given the opportunity but it is better than the current proposal. The amendment failed on a split vote in committee (2-2 with one member absent), but will be proposed again on Wednesday. The committee also voted to deny the existing proposal which would raise the rate back up to 9%.

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, May 6, 2013

What you may not know: Week of May 6

My apologies for the late nature of this post: I got hung up with car trouble on the road Sunday night and lost some scheduled work time.

With that said, the Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week scheduled that will have a largely familiar feel to it, as many of the major agenda items were referred back to committee by one of the members of the council last week. Now seems like as good a time as any to briefly explain how the refer back process works:

  • Any member of council can, at a common council meeting, request that a committee recommendation be sent back to that committee for further discussion or or to address a concern.
  • If a member of council refers an item back, they're expected to appear at the committee meeting it's been referred to and explain their rationale for doing so.
  • The committee then holds a second discussion on the topic and votes to either reaffirm or change their previous decision.
Items may be referred back by any single alderman when they reach the council for the first time. After that they're only allowed an automatic referral if the item has been significantly changed.

Among the five items referred back to committee last week are a few we've discussed before:
  • Bike lanes on Mason Street were referred back to Tuesday's 5:30 pm Municipal Services Committee meeting.
  • The special assessment interest rate change we've discussed at great length in this space has been referred back to Wednesday's 4:30 pm Finance Committee meeting.
In addition to those items, we'll also be discussing the following:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

While bike lanes will almost certainly dominate the conversation on Tuesday, there's another matter of significance to District 13 on the agenda. Staff is proposing changes to the traffic signs on Pershing St that would see all of the yield signs along the street replaced with stop signs.

At previous meetings Alderman Croatt has raised the concern that replacing yield signs with stop signs at all intersections on the street could make the speed problem on Pershing worse, as motorists would be confident that all cars will stop for them and may increase their pace. He proposed a plan that would only replace yield signs with stop signs at Pershing's four-way intersections with Viola Street, McDonald Street and Alexander Street.

To be honest, I'm not sure where I stand on this. If you feel strongly about the issue one way or the other, I'd encourage you to post a comment here or email me at to let me know.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, 6 pm

Following Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting will be a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Committee, where the lone action item on the agenda is a request by Mark Behnke, owner of Bazil's and Old Town Tavern to lease 1200 square feet in the newly renovated Houdini Plaza for a patio.

If you've been to Bazil's before you may recall that they previously had a smaller patio in the plaza, which they've had an agreement with the city to rent for quite some time now. When the new Houdini Plaza opens they'd like to add some space back there, and you can see the basic concept of their plan on pages 192-94 of this week's Alderperson Weekly Packet.

At present all members of the committee appear to be in agreement that renting the space to Behnke is something we're open to doing provided we can reach an agreement on the right price. That's roughly where we hit the issue: We have an agreement in principle for a lease but are pretty far apart on compensation. The city would like $4,000 annually (about $333/month for the space), while Behnke has said he'd like to pay $1500 annually, or $125/month.

I do think renting out this space is the best outcome for all involved. I think the location we're talking about makes more sense as a patio for Bazil's and OTT than it would for most other purposes. I don't support giving up public space at a discount, though, and I worry that's what we'll be doing if we rent this space out for $125/month.

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.