Monday, December 21, 2015

Happy holidays from District 13!

Good morning everyone,

I wanted to take a moment today to give everyone a heads up that things are going to be quiet for the next couple of weeks around here: All of this week's scheduled committee meetings have been cancelled or postponed and, as December is a five-Wednesday month, next week is a scheduled off week for the Appleton Common Council.

Our next scheduled meetings are on Wednesday, January 6, and I'll be back that week with my usual update.

Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season and I'll see you in the new year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

What you may not know: Week of December 14

I hope everyone is staying safe and dry out there as rain continues into its third consecutive day here in Appleton. If the weather was about 20 degrees colder, I shudder to think about how much snow we'd have.

Meanwhile, the Appleton Common Council will have its regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday at 7 pm or whenever our 6 pm organizational meeting wraps up. Here are some of the items I'll be watching:

District 8 vacancy

The council has gone a few weeks now without a representative from the city's eighth district after Polly Dalton resigned her seat at the end of November. Alderperson Dalton would have been up for re-election in April, and this week we'll consider three options for what to do regarding the remainder of her term:

  • First, we could elect to hold a special election. This is an unrealistic option, however: Minimum public notices would prevent us from holding said election until the first week in February, at which point a new alderperson would hold the job less than two full months before coming up for reelection.
  • We have the option of appointing a new representative for District 8 to fill the remainder of the term. We have done this on multiple occasions before, with Alderpersons Dalton, Coenen and former Alderperson Stueck all getting their seats for the first time this way. 
  • Finally, we could opt to simply leave the seat vacant until residents of the eighth district get to elect their own representative in April.
If you heard my Fox Cities Viewpoint from two weeks ago, you already know that I'm planning on pursuing the third option. As I mentioned above, the special election option is unrealistic due to the short amount of time remaining on the term. That leaves appointment as a possible option, but I don't support it for two reasons:
  1. I'm a firm believer that the residents of a district are the only ones qualified to select their representative. I don't think we should select one for them, and I don't think the challenges created by going one alderperson short for a few months are significant enough to merit taking that right for ourselves.
  2. Last Wednesday we learned that at least three candidates have taken out paperwork to run for this seat in April. Selecting one of them to be appointed to the seat early would be an implied endorsement of the candidate and could give them an unfair advantage in the upcoming election.
Beyond that issue, I introduced most of this week's most pressing topics in last week's update. Here are the items that could be acted upon on Wednesday:
  • Last week the Finance Committee voted to remove a previously-approved amendment that would have addressed an issue related to special assessments for properties transitioning from rural to urban status. That item goes before council this week, and I'm hoping to change it back.
Actually, I guess that's all. Here are updates on the items that will not be voted on this week:
  • The special use permit for a second expanded Community Living Arrangement (CLA) near the corner of Ballard Rd and Milestone Dr was approved by the City Plan Commission. A nearby rezoning request transitioning properties south of Glenhurst Dr to single-family zoning was recommended for approval and will go to council on January 20.
  • The Finance Committee opted to delay action on a resolution calling for alderpersons to be able to participate remotely when absent from meetings until after the first of the year. More technical research needs to happen before this item can proceed.
  • A proposed redesign of County Highway JJ north of North High School was sent back to staff to consider more options. I expect we'll likely discuss it again in late January.
  • A resolution calling for the city to change the ordinances related to secondhand dealers and holding periods for purchased items was held until January to allow time for potentially impacted parties to weigh in on any changes.
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. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What you may not know: Week of December 7

The Appleton Common Council has a very busy committee week ahead, likely to be our only full-schedule committee week between budget adoption in early November and the end of the year. As such, there's a lot going on:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

One of the challenges Appleton (along with a great many similar cities) faces as our population grows older is a significant shortfall in available capacity in our senior living facilities. In my nearly three years serving the city we've seen a fair amount of work done to help address that shortfall here in the 13th district.

When I took office in April of 2013 we had three senior living facilities in the district, all located at the north end of Cherryvale Avenue. A fourth has since been constructed near the corner of Ballard Road and Milestone Drive, and a fifth is in process near the corner of French Road and County Highway JJ.

On Monday the City Plan Commission will be asked to approve a Special Use Permit to allow a sixth such facility to be constructed near the aforementioned new facility at Ballard and Milestone. This facility would add an additional 80 beds of capacity for senior living to the district, bringing us up to 272 within the district. Across the city the total licensed Community Living Arrangement (CLA) capacity would go up to 516, which is less than 1% of Appleton's total population.The Appleton Redevelopment Authority also recently authorized city staff to negotiate with a developer on a possible CLA development on the former Foremost site along the Fox River.

I don't intend to oppose this development as it's serving a very clear community need. It's worth noting, however, that concentrating senior living facilities in one area of the city does create some infrastructural needs. The north end of the 13th district, which now will host more than half of the city's CLA beds, is served by the city's smallest fire station. That station is tasked with responding to all ambulance calls, and may need to add an additional truck and/or staffing in upcoming years to meet the resulting increased demand.

Finance, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

With the 2016 budget process complete the Finance Committee is back on its usual schedule and will be asked to consider a pair of longstanding pending items this week.

First, we will again be asked to consider approval of a draft ordinance allowing absent alderpersons to participate in meetings electronically. I know I've written about this before (most recently in September, I guess), and I support the concept of this ordinance but struggle with some of the challenges regarding how it will work in practice. Some of the ongoing challenges include:

  • Technical issues that make it unclear how much of a meeting an electronic participant will actually be able to see or hear, and whether or not their participation will be able to be effectively recorded along with video of our meetings. I'm hopeful we'll be able to test that this week.
  • Issues involving who can and cannot participate this way. The current ordinance tasks the council president with determining whether or not an absent alderperson has "good cause" for missing a meeting and should be allowed to participate. That's open to a wide variety of interpretation and could cause some real issues. I'd prefer to allow alderpersons a set number of annual absences (two is my preferred number), and leave it up to the individuals to determine how they use them.
Second, we'll also resume discussion on the 2015 Special Assessment policy, which still includes some challenging language regarding streets undergoing "rural to urban conversion." Under current policy the city assesses property owners for the expansion and improvement of their "rural" road when it is annexed into the city or when city expansion requires it to become urbanized. This creates a very specific issue on places like French Road, which was recently repaved (and assessed) and will likely face a second wave of construction when the road is urbanized in future years. Under the current policy property owners with frontage on that street would be assessed both times.

At council several weeks ago I attempted to amend the policy to allow for that second assessment but to give property owners a credit in the amount of the first assessment. This ensures they're still participating in the improvement of their street but eliminates the "double hit" they'd otherwise be feeling after already paying for their street to be resurfaced recently. That amendment passed but was referred back to committee for further discussion.

I remain hopeful that we'll find a way to handle these relatively isolated situations without creating undue hardship on the property owners involved.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Later on Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee will meet to discuss, among other things, another item of some significance to many District 13 residents: The design of the proposed reconstruction of County Highway JJ between Lightning Drive and Ballard Road. 

The proposed redesign aims to address some safety issues related to the north entrance/exit of the North High School parking lot, where the combination of inexperienced drivers attempting to turn left with pressure from traffic backing up behind them and the relatively high rate of speed for traffic on Highway JJ has created some significant accidents and near-misses. That issue existed before but has been exacerbated a bit by recent development on the north side of JJ which adds some additional traffic and some pedestrian concerns to the mix.

The Department of Public Works has proposed a design including the following:
  • Construct a raised concrete median east of Ballard Road, from the existing median to 550’ east of Lightning Drive and gapped at Lightning Drive intersection (width varies from 3.3’ to 18’, 5.5’ at most locations). 
  • Provide an enhanced pedestrian crosswalk of Edgewood Drive at the west side of the Appleton North High School (ANHS) entrance. 
  • Construct a single-lane roundabout with east, west, north, and south approaches at the Lightning Drive intersection, with right-of-way sufficient for future roundabout expansion to two lanes, if needed. Construct one 12-foot eastbound and one 12-foot westbound through lane (plus 2.5-foot curb and gutter) 
  • Construct one 4-foot eastbound and one 4-foot westbound bike lane (plus 2.5-foot curb and gutter) 
  • Construct one 5-foot concrete sidewalk along north right-of-way line and one 10-foot asphalt multi-use trail along south right-of-way line. 
  • Construct a dedicated eastbound right-turn lane at the ANHS entrance. 
  • Construct a dedicated westbound left-turn lane at Ballard Road. 
  • Construct a second through lane for westbound traffic at the approach to Ballard Road. 
  • Construct a second through lane for eastbound traffic from Ballard Road to the ANHS right turn lane. 
  • Construct approximately 600’ of Lightning Drive north of Edgewood Drive with one northbound through lane, one southbound through lane, and a two-way-left-turn lane. 
  • Construct a stormwater pond meeting state and local stormwater management requirements northeast of the Edgewood/Lightning intersection. 
The primary objection to this proposal has come from business owners and developers on the north side of the Highway, who would see access to their property restricted by the new design. They've proposed a secondary option which would meet many of the stated goals above but include an opportunity to turn left into their developments. This option carries significant additional construction costs and would require the city to purchase additional property for street right-of-way.

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, this week the Safety & Licensing Committee agenda includes my resolution calling for the city to consider changes to its ordinances regarding secondhand dealers and holding periods. This item was held when the committee met in special session last week. In the interest of shortening an update that's already well over 1300 words, I'll refer any interested parties to my comments on the matter from my previous update.

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. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What you may not know: Week of November 30

The Appleton Common Council kicks off December with a bit of an unusual week. We have a regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday but the agenda is very light as most of our committees cancelled their scheduled meetings during Thanksgiving week.

Most of the items going to this week's council agenda will come from another meeting on Wednesday, a special Safety & Licensing Committee meeting that was rescheduled from last week. I have a pair of resolutions on that agenda:

School bus lights

I won't speak for everyone, but I think most drivers have a common expectation that they're required to stop when a school bus stops to unload passengers. As such I was surprised to discover that that's not always the case: State statute allows municipalities the right to allow bus drivers to use red flashing lights to stop traffic in certain situations, but it's otherwise banned unless said municipalities take action to allow it.

I've since learned that several major municipalities in the Fox Valley and around the state (Green Bay, Oshkosh, Neenah and Madison are some notable examples) have enacted ordinances allowing school buses to stop traffic, but some have not. As such, I've submitted a resolution calling for Appleton to allow this practice in an effort to keep our bus passengers safe.

Secondhand holding periods

I've also recently learned a great deal about state statutes and ordinances related to secondhand dealers. One thing that has been brought to my attention is some irregularity regarding the period of time secondhand dealers are required to hold merchandise after purchasing but before reselling it. The quick version:

  • State statute requires secondhand dealers hold items in their existing condition for a minimum of seven days before they are eligible for resale.
  • The shortest, seven-day holding periods are only available to municipalities that have electronic reporting of secondhand purchases.
  • In the absence of electronic reporting, a waiting period of at least 21 days is required.
  • Municipalities are allowed to determine which waiting period they choose to enforce.
The final point creates an issue as some Fox Valley municipalities (including Grand Chute) have elected to move to the seven-day waiting period, while Appleton has not. The requirement to hold items for an additional two weeks creates the opportunity for the recovery of more potentially stolen items but also puts secondhand dealers in Appleton at a potentially significant competitive disadvantage against dealers in other communities. I've heard of at least one business looking to locate in the Valley that chose to open outside the city to avoid our restrictions. 

As such, I've submitted a resolution calling for the city to consider a seven-day waiting period. I'm looking forward to an interesting discussion on this topic.

If the committee takes action on either of these items, the recommendations will be immediately taken up by the full council at their 7 pm meeting.

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. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.