Monday, August 26, 2013

What you may not know: Week of August 26

The Appleton Common Council has a full slate of committee meetings planned for this week, with some pretty important items on the agenda.

Human Resources, Monday, 6 pm

Longtime readers of this blog will remember that back in March the full council opted to reject a new non-union compensation plan proposed by Carlson Consulting and go back to the drawing board for an in-house solution. A new proposal will take center stage tonight as the HR Committee is expected to debate the new plan.

This process has been dragged out for months, but I'm ok with it taking as long as it needs to if the result is a fair compensation plan for our employees. I will be unable to attend tonight's meeting, but I've sent in several questions about the proposal and look forward to reviewing the discussion once the video is posted.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Muni Services has no less than nine action items on their agenda this week, including a proposed street reconstruction plan for Glendale Avenue east of Ballard Road that calls for, among other things, the construction of new sidewalks and bike lanes and the elimination of parking on one side of the street. I've written about this issue previously, including laying out my concerns two weeks ago.

This committee held this action item at my request two weeks ago, giving me time to meet with staff and discuss some of my concerns with the plan. Together we discussed an alternate proposal which will be available for the committee to consider on Tuesday, which would move the on-street parking from the north to the south side of the street to better serve some of the small businesses most impacted by this reconstruction.

We also discussed the concerns I wrote about two weeks ago regarding the relative safety of encouraging bicyclists to travel down a street that's also heavily used by large vehicles. I proposed an alternate plan which would have removed the bike lanes from the street and the sidewalk from one side and replaced it it with a ten foot bike/pedestrian trail on one side of the street, but that idea was met with concern that there might actually be more bicycle accidents this way as vehicles exit driveways across a trail with bikes potentially coming from both directions. Given these assurances, I'm feeling better about the premise of on-street bike lanes in this case.

I'm still hoping to be able to convince the committee to accept a change to move the parking across the street. I'm also personally not sold on the need to further inconvenience businesses by putting sidewalks on both sides of the street when one side may be enough.

Parks and Rec, Wednesday, 6 pm

One of this week's Parks and Rec action items is a resolution proposed by Aldermen Croatt and Oswald calling for the city to install recycling bins in city parks and facilities with public access where trash receptacles are present. If you've ever walked by a trash can in a city park you probably understand the logic behind this movement: Recyclable items are ending up in our landfills because it's more convenient to dump them in our park trash cans than to haul them somewhere else.

The primary argument against installing recycling bins is cost, and on Wednesday we'll likely learn what that dollar figure is going to be. This is something we need to find a way to do, it's just a matter of determining the scope of the budgetary impact and finding a way to make it work.

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, August 18, 2013

What you may not know: Week of August 19


The election to select a new alderperson to represent District 1 is this Tuesday, August 20. If you live in District 1 (here's a map), your polling place is First United Methodist Church on Franklin Street. Take a moment to learn about the candidates (Tim Trauger and Tanya Rabec), then head out and vote.

After that, the Appleton Common Council meets on Wednesday night, and there are three issues on the table that have captured my attention:

Community Development Block Grants

If you read Saturday's Post-Crescent, you know that I received a "thumbs up" for recent work regarding block grants, which are federal dollars given to the city for projects targeted to improve the lives of low- to moderate income persons. Two weeks ago at council I sponsored an amendment that struck a parking lot project at Einstein Park (with a price tag of $37,133) from this year's list of recipients.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. Last Monday the Community and Economic Development Committee voted to put the Einstein project back on the list. On Wednesday the issue will come before the full council again.

I've written about this on multiple occasions now so I won't belabor the point, but I will say this: We need to find a better opportunity to help people with this money. I'm not convinced that parking lot restructuring meets any of the stated goals of CDBG program, so I plan to continue to demand an alternative.

Exhibition Center

The proposed exhibition center downtown will continue to be a top story this week as council debates a proposal to hire a consultant to help manage the city's interests in the project. Alderman Jeff Jirschele's resolution calls for the city to spend around $25,000 to bring in someone with experience in the industry to evaluate the situation and potentially work out a final deal.

The Exhibition Center has been a controversial topic with the council and the city, and for good reason. We need only look at the Performing Arts Center to see how much of an impact a great downtown attraction can have on the surrounding area. However, the city's role in this project is significant and comes with an expense that is more than many people will be comfortable with.

I still need to hear more from both sides on this issue at this point. I'm an Exhibition Center skeptic, but I can see the point in bringing in a consultant to make sure we've got all our bases covered if we're still going to pursue it at all.

Bike Lanes

Last week I wrote about a proposal to install bike lanes on the east end of Glendale Avenue, through the industrial park. By my request, that item was held at the Municipal Services Committee and will come up at their next scheduled meeting on August 27.

That committee did recommend two road reconstruction plans for approval, though, and both will come before the full council on Wednesday. The impacted streets are:

  • Badger Avenue between Wisconsin and Prospect, where the new reconstruction would include 12.5 foot travel lanes, two bike lanes and the removal of parking along the south and west side of the street.
  • Meade Street in the blocks on both sides of Northland Avenue, where a bike lane would also be installed.
Both of these projects make sense but have a notable drawback. On Badger, a fair number of residents will lose parking in front of their homes and one of the areas impacted will be around West High School, where parking can already be an issue at times. On Meade, we're talking about a relatively small stretch of bike lane between two areas that currently don't have one and aren't slated to get one in the short term.

The problem with developing a bike lane network slowly over time is that there are times where lanes are constructed that don't make complete sense by themselves, but will look better in the long run. I think both of these projects fit that criteria.

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, August 12, 2013

What You May Not Know: Week of August 12

The Appleton Common Council has an abbreviated committee schedule this week, with two of my assignments (the Fox Cities Transit Commission and Parks and Rec committee) taking a cycle off. There's still a lot to talk about, though, so let's get right to it:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm

It's likely some of this week's biggest news will happen tomorrow, when the CEDC committee meets to discuss four items I think are pretty significant.

First on the agenda is Alderperson Jirschele's resolution calling for the city to hire a consultant to help move along the proposed Exhibition Center project. News broke last week that the project has cleared a key hurdle by reaching an agreement between the initiative's leaders and the Paper Valley Hotel, which led to this resolution being referred back to committee for more discussion about where we stand.

Another important item on the agenda is related to that one: The committee will, at some point, go into closed session to discuss real estate negotiations regarding the project.

Third, the city will take up potential changes to the Fair Housing Ordinance, which I discussed in this space two weeks ago. That issue was held in the interest of time at the last CEDC meeting.

Finally, another conversation about Community Development Block Grants is on tap. Last week I mentioned that I wasn't happy with a proposal to use $37,133 in federal grant money earmarked for low and middle-income persons to pay for parking lot work at Einstein Park/School. Last Wednesday at council I submitted an amendment to strike that project from the grant recipients, and it passed by a 7-6 vote. You may already know that if you've read Sunday's Post Crescent.

Now that council has voted to remove that project, the question of what to do with this money remains. I'm hoping to hear some alternatives at this meeting and I'll be grateful for the opportunity to put this revenue towards a project that better fits the stated goals of the CDBG initiative.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

An issue with a very specific impact on the 13th district will be up for action when the Municipal Services Committee meets on Tuesday night. As part of road work scheduled to be completed in 2015 city staff is proposing installing bike lanes and sidewalks along Glendale Avenue east of Ballard, through the industrial park.

Frequent readers of this site know that I've been a proponent of bike lanes during my tenure on council, but I have some concerns in this case:

  • First and foremost, I'm very worried about he potential safety implications of encouraging more people to bike on a street that's frequently trafficked by semis and other heavy equipment. Even if adding a bike lane back here reduces the risk of bike-on-vehicle accidents, we're going to be encouraging people to bike in an area that's inherently risky.
  • Second, because of the way this industrial park is laid out, installing sidewalks and/or bike lanes on this street is going to have a pretty clear and immediate negative impact on some of the businesses in this space. Losing space in front of their business to road expansion and/or sidewalks and losing parking to bike lanes are very real concerns for some longtime tenants of this space that have already been harmed by construction on Ballard and now will face construction on Glendale.
As I've said before, I'm not against bike lanes. Before I can support any proposal to install them on Glendale, though, I'll need to be convinced that they're actually going to be safe and that they're not creating an undue hardship on our industrial property owners. 

I'm hoping to meet with city staff before Tuesday's meeting to talk about the situation and see if there might be any places where we can compromise. I'm hopeful we can reach an agreement that will be both a safety improvement and can be constructed without damaging existing businesses.

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, August 5, 2013

What you may not know: Week of August 5

The Appleton Common Council is back on its normal schedule for August, so the full council will meet on Wednesday night to discuss issues including the following:

Community and Economic Development

As I mentioned last week, the city is an interesting position with their 2013 Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), as HUD has given us an extra $93,133 to work with. One of the items on this week's agenda is a proposal to divide that money among five recipients: The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley, Habitat for Humanity, Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, city administration and the Parks and Rec department.

Last Monday at the CEDC committee meeting we were told the Parks and Recreation portion of this spending ($37,133, to be exact) would go towards a project at Einstein Park to "add ball diamonds and fields." (see 11:25 in the meeting video)  We've since been given more details on the project: It involves tearing up some old tennis courts at the middle school, repaving the former tennis courts into the Einstein parking lot and removing a parking lot that currently straddles the line between city and school property.

I'm sure we'll have plenty of discussion on this, but it's my opinion that what amounts to a parking lot project is not an appropriate use of CDBG money. The HUD CBDG website says the following about limitations on this money (emphasis mine):
"Entitlement communities develop their own programs and funding priorities. However, grantees must give maximum feasible priority to activities which benefit low- and moderate-income persons. A grantee may also carry out activities which aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight. Additionally, grantees may fund activities when the grantee certifies that the activities meet other community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community where other financial resources are not available to meet such needs. CDBG funds may not be used for activities which do not meet these broad national objectives."
I don't see parking lot restructuring as giving the "maximum feasible priority to activities which benefit low- and moderate-income persons." In fact, I'm not sure how this project will benefit them at all. 

With that in mind, on Wednesday I plan to ask for this proposed allocation of grants to be reconsidered and appropriate priority be given to potential recipients that could have a more direct impact on the life of low and moderate income residents of our city.


For the third consecutive week the special assessment policy will be a major item of focus for me, as the council once again takes up possible changes to the policy for 2014.

One of the more notable changes to the proposed policy is raising the price for the installation of storm and sanitary sewers by $1/foot. I referred this item back to the Finance Committee two weeks ago because I wasn't comfortable with some unanswered questions regarding why we're considering raising the price. 

Unfortunately, after two weeks to research and a very brief discussion at the Finance Committee meeting last week, I remain uncomfortable with the change. As such, I plan to submit an amendment Wednesday night that would remove the fee increases from the proposal. I think it's important that any cost increase be thoroughly scrutinized before approval, and I'm doing my best to make sure that happens.

You can see all of this week's committee agendas and attachments 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. 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.