Monday, December 22, 2014

What you may not know: Week of December 22

As you might imagine, the holiday week is a quiet time for the Appleton Common Council and its committees. All of our regularly scheduled committees are taking the week off, although three have rescheduled their meetings and still have business to conduct before the full council meets again on January 7:

  • The Safety & Licensing Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday will instead be held at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, December 30. The full agenda has not been released but will include a review of the decision to temporarily remove one local company from the city's towing list.
  • The City Plan Commission meeting scheduled for Monday will instead take place at 4 p.m. on Monday, January 5. Action items will again include a request to re-zone the former site of the Woolen Mills for a planned residential development.
  • Finally, the Community & Economic Development Committee will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 7, immediately before our regularly-scheduled full council meeting. Their agenda includes a request to approve the purchase of two lots in the Northeast Industrial Park.
And with that, this blog is off for a couple of weeks for the holidays. I'll be back on Monday, January 5 with a preview of that week's council activity. Until then, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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. 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, December 8, 2014

What you may not know: Week of December 8

After a few quiet weeks, the Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week scheduled in what's likely to be our final full slate of 2014. Here's a preview of the agendas on tap:

Community and Economic Development Committee, Monday, 5 pm

It's time once again for council to look at requests for funding via the federally-backed Community Development Block Grant program, and the CEDC committee will take a big step in that process when they meet on Monday.

Our anticipated federal funding for the CDBG program for 2015 is $500,000, and of that $317,000 is divided among the city's Homeowner Rehabilitation Loan Program, Neighborhood Services Program, Fair Housing Services, the Appleton Housing Authority and administrative costs. That leaves $183,000 to be divided among non-governmental organizations that apply for funds as community partners.

A six-member panel recently met to review grant applications and produce a recommendation for the allocation of the remaining funds. Each member was asked to review the requests and produce their own recommendation, then the group came together to compare notes and combine their findings into one final allocation. Here are their results:
  • Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity would receive $70,000 of the $96,000 they requested (73%) for rehabilitation of four properties.
  • Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities would receive $31,000 of their requested $31,200 (99%) to rehab and repair three units and the parking area at the Wire Works Apartments.
  • Harbor House would receive $23,000 of their requested $25,000 (92%) to help fund support counseling and advocacy staff positions.
  • STEP Industries would receive $20,000 of their requested $30,000 (67%) to help fund staff positions, support program participants and support other programs.
  • Fox Valley Warming Shelter would receive the $15,000 they requested (100%) to help fund staff positions.
  • Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley would receive $14,000 of the $15,000 (93%) they requested to support a House Supervisor position and pay for utility costs.
  • Rebuilding Together Fox Valley would receive $10,000 of the $25,000 (40%) they requested for modifications to 12 households to increase accessibility, repair roofs or replace windows.
All told the panel was tasked with allocating $183,000 in funds over $237,200 in requests, and HUD regulations prohibit more than $75,000 from being spent on "public service activities." 

The committee will have the opportunity to amend or approve these recommendations before passing them along to council for final approval next week.

In addition, there is an information item on this agenda regarding the proposed Exhibition Center. Council elected to hold its action item regarding a land purchase for the project last Wednesday, and will take that item up again when we meet in our regularly scheduled session on Wednesday, December 17.

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Wednesday will be a busy day for the Finance Committee, which has a public appearance, seven action items and ten information items on a packed agenda. The action item I suspect many readers will find most interesting is also the first one on the agenda: A request to approve a contract with Vision Internet to redesign and rebuild the website.

The city's current website was built in 2009 and 2010 and is obselete in many ways. The current website is unable to offer many of the features users have come to expect from municipal websites, has been a challenge to upgrade over the years and needs to be built on a platform that allows us to do more with it internally. The staff recommendation in this case is to contract with Vision Internet, a company that has previously produced more than 600 municipal sites for other communities. The contract calls for $54,465 to be spent on the rebuild and budgets $5,535 for contingencies that may arise during the project.

It's very disappointing to have to spend money to replace a website just a few years after completing the previous one, but in the digital age our city website is one of the primary public faces of our community. This rebuild is necessary, but it also needs to come with a better plan to keep the site fresh moving forward so we're not doing this every five years in perpetuity.

Safety & Licensing Committee, Thursday, 5 pm

The Safety & Licensing Committee also has a busy agenda for Thursday, with 20 action items and several information items that could merit extended discussion.

One of those action items is a request to approve a stipulation negotiated to be added to the liquor license of La Michoacana Bar & Grill on College Avenue. This facility currently houses both the aforementioned restaurant in addition to Antro Nightclub, which made headlines recently due to a massive brawl in the establishment that led to a stabbing. This and multiple other incidents and concerns led to the city negotiating a deal with the business and property owners to allow the restaurant to continue to operate, if the nightclub operations immediately cease. The owners agreed to this arrangement to avoid a possible revocation of their liquor license for both businesses.

Another item on Thursday's agenda as an information item is a review of the Police Department's use of social media. This issue has been percolating now for quite some time: Here's a Post Crescent story where I was quoted on the matter back in early October.

There's absolutely no doubt that social media, when used correctly, can be a great tool to disseminate information and make our community safer. There's also a tremendous risk, however, that allowing and engaging in public debates in comments on Facebook leads to inappropriate content on the site and impacts suspects' right to a fair trial. The department's page is monitored for inappropriate activity, but performing that monitoring also occupies a fair amount of officers' valuable time.

We need to find a way to do better here. Social media is a tremendous resource that isn't going away anytime soon, but we need to be certain we're using it in an efficient way and not allowing others to abuse it.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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. 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, December 1, 2014

What you may not know: Week of December 1

Most of the Appleton Common Council's committee meetings were canceled last week due to Thanksgiving, but what would otherwise have been a pretty quiet scheduled council meeting on Wednesday night could now have one big headline:

Exhibition Center land purchase

Negotiations and discussions continue regarding a proposal to build an Exhibition Center adjacent to the Radisson Paper Valley hotel downtown, and those plans could take a big step forward on Wednesday night as council will be asked to approve an agreement to purchase the site of the proposed facility from Outagamie County.

This item is one step in the process and, even if approved, a lot of hurdles remain for the project. No work could begin until or unless the city reaches an agreement with the hotel's new owners (it's scheduled to go up for auction on Wednesday) on a lease for the space.

I've been away for several days on a family matter and haven't had a chance to review all of the memos and paperwork we've received on Wednesday's action item, so I'm not ready to make any definitive statement on whether or not I support moving forward this way. I will say, however, that I continue to have grave concerns about the risk the city is taking if we end up owning this building.

Organizational meeting

Before Wednesday's regularly scheduled meeting the council will come together for an organizational meeting to discuss our council rules and make any needed changes to our operations going forward. Any alderperson can propose a rule change on the floor at this meeting, but several of my colleagues and I have pre-submitted two proposals for consideration.

The first deals with our procedure regarding action items that are referred back to their committee of jurisdiction for further review. Frequently when we consider controversial or high profile items an alderperson elects to send the item back to committee for a second look before council takes an official action. Any single alderperson can request an item be referred back at council.

This creates a situation, however, where we sometimes waste a significant amount of our constituents' time. It's not unusual for high profile items to draw a significant number of public speakers who take time out of their schedules to come address us and are disappointed when no official action is taken and they're asked to come back later. Four of us have co-submitted a resolution calling for this process to change in the following ways:
  1. If an alderperson wishes to use their automatic refer-back to send an item back to its committee of jurisdiction, they must announce that intention by the end of the day on the Monday preceding a council meeting.
  2. If an alderperson wishes to refer an item back on the council floor, they must make a motion to do so and council must vote to approve that motion.
The first clause above will hopefully allow alderpersons to reach out to potentially interested constituents to alert them of the change and save them the time of coming to a meeting for a vote that won't happen. The second clause will still allow for refer backs to be used if needed, but raises the bar for doing so. I think this resolution gives us an opportunity to be more respectful of the time of everyone involved.

Our second resolution, co-submitted by five of us, is in regard to voting procedure. State statute requires that any action item must receive votes from a majority of the council to pass, which in our case is eight votes from our 15 members. We're still required to have eight votes to pass an item, however, even if all 15 members are not present.

This creates a couple of fairness challenges, including one that has come up a couple of times during my tenure on the council. We had a vote earlier this year where the action item failed to pass largely because a couple of council members were absent. Seven alderpersons voted to approve the item and six voted to deny, so the item failed despite a majority of the council neither approving nor denying the item.

Our proposed rule change allows council to delay action in cases like this to allow the body to act more definitively at a later date. Any item that does not receive a majority vote to either approve or deny would be held until our next meeting, with the hope that a larger attendance will allow council to make a clear decision to approve or deny.

Update on an item from last week:

In my post a week ago I mentioned a resolution I had proposed calling for the city to review its zoning code regarding lights on gas station canopies. That item passed unanimously at the City Plan Commission last Monday and will appear before the council on Wednesday.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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. 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.