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.

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