Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What you may not know: Week of July 13

I hope everyone is doing all right following Sunday and Monday's bouts with severe weather, and my thoughts go out this morning to those with damage remaining to repair and clean up. In the meantime, however, the Appleton Common Council will meet for its regularly-scheduled session on Wednesday, and here are some of the items I'll be watching:

City government structure

Last week the Human Resources Committee voted 2-2 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for city staff to research alternatives to Appleton's longstanding Mayoral structure, including the possible hiring of a City Manager or Administrator. This week that debate will move on to council.

I do appreciate one amendment made at committee, calling for a City Manager position to be considered in addition to a City Administrator if this resolution passes. If we're going to look at options, I think we'll be best served by considering all of our options.

However, I'm still not intending to support this resolution. As I wrote last week, any change to our existing structure will come at a significant annual cost and I'd prefer to see that money used elsewhere.

Parking ramp changes

We're continuing to look at changes suggested in the city's recent downtown parking study, and have already voted to eliminate meter restrictions after 6 pm. Now we'll shift our attention to parking ramps, where the first step in a significant change could occur on Wednesday.

This week the council will be asked to vote to approve a contract with Walker Parking Consultants for "professional services" related to transitioning the Green, Yellow and Red parking ramps (the ramps near the PAC, Library and Paper Valley Hotel) from a flat-fee, "pay as you enter" model to a "pay on exit" model that will charge users based on the time used.

The contract is for $46,500 and does not include the actual transition: This is the data collection and bidding preparation portion of the project, in addition to some oversight of the final contractor should we choose to proceed. No final decision on a transition to a new rate structure or the form of that rate structure will happen here.

Cell phone tower reconsideration

Two weeks ago the Common Council voted to deny a request for a Special Use Permit for a proposed new cell phone tower along West Wisconsin Avenue, citing aesthetic concerns with the large structure. This week one council member who was absent from that meeting will ask for the item to be reconsidered.

Voting down a cell phone tower request creates a pretty significant legal challenge for the city. As part of the 2013 budget the State Legislature passed significant changes to the process of cell tower siting, greatly limiting municipalities' local control over new towers. Details about the changes are available here, and the fifth and sixth pages of that document include a list of actions municipalities cannot take regarding towers. The first item on the sixth page reads "Disapprove an application based solely on aesthetic concerns."

Given that information, this debate changes a bit. State statute overrules any decisions we may make locally, and as such we have two choices:

  1. Vote to approve the Special Use Permit and allow the tower to be constructed, or
  2. Vote to deny the Special Use Permit, likely face a lawsuit we have very little chance of winning, incur legal fees, and still end up allowing the tower to be constructed.
I certainly understand the concerns about the impact of this tower, but denying this request is a clear violation of state statute and won't prevent the new structure from eventually going up. As such, I hope we'll take the responsible step and reconsider this vote.

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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