Monday, March 20, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 20

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead but, before I get to that, here's an update the item that's capturing everyone's attention recently:

Urban chickens

In my four years on the Appleton Common Council, it's possible there's never been more confusion about the meaning of an outcome of a vote than there has been over the last few days. Here's a quick rundown of the last few months as they pertain to a resolution calling for Appleton to allow the keeping of up to four chickens on residential property:

  • Last fall Alderperson Meltzer submitted the resolution and it was referred to the City's Board of Health, who discussed it at several meetings before finally taking a vote on it at their March meeting. Their vote was split 3-3. Because a majority is required for the board to take any affirmative action, the item was sent along to council as a recommendation for denial.
  • Last week the council met with 14 members present and one absent and the vote on the resolution was also split, 7-7 this time. At council when a vote is tied the mayor is asked to break ties. Mayor Hanna voted in favor and the resolution passed.
  • However, any alderperson on the prevailing side of a vote or any alderperson who was absent for a vote has the ability to ask council to reconsider the vote at their next meeting. In this case the absent alderperson was Council President Kathleen Plank, whose vote would have decided the outcome. Our next council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 5 and it seems likely that we'll be voting on this resolution again at that meeting.
So, to sum up: The resolution calling for chickens to be allowed in the city passed, but could be reopened. It's not legal to run out and get chickens or apply for a permit to have chickens just yet, and no official action will be taken on this item this week or next.

Now, with that update out of the way, here are some items that are on committee agendas this week:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

The latest proposed expansion of development north of County Highway JJ will likely take another step forward this week as the City Plan Commission will be asked to recommend approval of a rezoning request that would make eleven new single-family lots in the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is largely between Providence Avenue and French Road and north of JJ. This is the third addition to the subdivision, which was originally platted in 2005.

This addition to the subdivision is relatively small and unlikely to be controversial but it serves as another reminder that this area, which was almost completely unpopulated about a decade ago, continues to grow and our city services and infrastructure need to be continually updated to meet expanding demand. This will probably not be the last or largest addition to this subdivision, as the developers still own significantly more undeveloped land to the west of this area.

Human Resources Committee, Monday, 5 pm

The city is now closing in on a year without a Diversity Coordinator, as the previous holder of the position resigned last summer. The search for someone to fill this important and difficult to define role has hit a few challenges along the way but could take a step forward this week when the Human Resources and Information Technology position will again be asked to make a recommendation on a request to move the position from its current home in the Community and Economic Development Department to the mayor's office. This item was held at the committee level two weeks ago.

The suggested move comes with an amended job description (which you can see as an attachment here) and a likely but not finalized shift in pay scale to compensate for an increased scope of responsibilities. If this passes the search for candidates would be reopened.

Diversity, you may realize, is a remarkably broad topic to attempt to address with one position. Attempting to define the role of this position is a challenge but I think what we have here is a positive step in the effort to do so. I'm hopeful this item will move along this week and we can resume the process of trying to get a great applicant to fill this role.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As I've discussed previously, Reid Golf Course is an enterprise fund operated by the City of Appleton that is, in concept, supposed to be revenue-neutral and run without support from general fund (property tax) dollars. In 2002 the course was struggling financially and the Common Council voted to give the fund an advance from general fund dollars. Council later also voted to make that advance interest-free. As a result, Reid Golf Course still owes the city $155,000 in general fund dollars and all but $15,000 of that amount isn't expected to be repaid until 2025 at the earliest. In addition, the course owes $575,000 in principal on a bond issuance from 2012.

Three weeks ago Alderman Jeff Jirschele proposed a resolution calling for the city to forgive that loan to the enterprise fund and take on Reid's debt as its own. Two weeks ago the Finance Committee elected to hold that resolution, and it will appear on their agenda this week.

I'm curious to hear debate on this issue, but I'm strongly opposed to any effort that would call for tax dollars to subsidize a golf course, either via a direct contribution or by shifting the burden of the fund's debt to the taxpayers. We have many priorities as a city that should far and away outrank this one.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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.

Finally, a quick programming note: The month of March has five Wednesdays, and the council typically does not schedule meetings for the week of a fifth Wednesday of the month. As such, there are no scheduled committee or council meetings next week and so I will likely not post an update next week. Look for my next post on the week of Monday, April 3.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 13

The Appleton Common Council is likely to have a very busy regularly scheduled-meeting on Wednesday night, in addition to a rescheduled committee meeting:

Municipal Services Committee, Wednesday, 6 pm

The agenda for this week's rescheduled Municipal Services Committee meeting contains an information item that will be of local interest for many residents of the 13th district: The tentative schedule for this summer's reconstruction of County Highway JJ between French Road and Ballard Road.

This is a county project, so the city does not have approval over the schedule. They have, however, provided us with the following estimates:
  • From now through early April there are likely to be daytime restrictions on Highway JJ as utilities are relocated to make way for the project.
  • From early April through early May the focus will be on "Stage 1" of the project, which is a stormwater pond at the northeast corner of JJ and Lightning Drive. Daytime restrictions on JJ are listed as "possible" during this window.
  • In early May, the county will close the intersection of JJ and Lightning to reconstruct it and its approaches. JJ traffic will be detoured back out to Highway 41 via Ballard Road and County Highway N. The north entrance/exit to North High School will remain open.
  • On June 8 the remaining portion of JJ (from the school driveway to Ballard Road) will be closed, and no access to any abutting properties off of Highway JJ will be available.
  • All roadways are expected to be reopened for the Labor Day weekend and first day of school in September.
As always, all of these timelines are tentative and depend on a variety of factors.

Speaking of estimated timelines, at 7 pm or as soon as is feasible following the conclusion of the aforementioned committee meeting the common council will hold our regularly-scheduled meeting to discuss topics including the following:

Urban chickens

After several months of discussion, last week the Board of Health finally voted on a resolution calling for Appleton to allow residents to have up to four hens on their property, and they split a 3-3 vote. The item comes to council this week as a recommendation for denial, but council will have the final word on this issue.

I've heard from folks on both sides of this issue, but for me there are two notable points here: precedent and policy.
  • On the precedent side, I would point to the variety of cities (93 of the top 100 US cities and six of the eight largest cities in Wisconsin) that currently allow the keeping of hens. There are countless examples of cities that have taken this step and have not experienced issues with it. Green Bay and Oshkosh both allow chickens. The two cities have issued a combined 82 licenses and have never had to revoke one.
  • On the policy side, staff has made a very clear effort to create a proposed policy that would be in place to address any concerns that may come up, including noise, smell, rodents, predators, disease, escape and manure disposal. Every effort has been made to ensure that staff will have an opportunity to step in if someone's chickens become a problem.
Given these two facts, I see no reason to unfairly limit anyone who wishes to keep chickens and is willing to submit to the limitations of our proposed policy.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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.