Monday, April 24, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 24

This week the Appleton Common Council will hold the first round of committee meetings for a new aldermanic year. This year I'm happy to report I'll be representing the 13th District on the following committees and commissions:

  • Safety & Licensing Committee (where I'll be serving as chair for the third year)
  • Finance Committee
  • Fox Cities Transit Commission
I've also previously served as chair of the Central Equipment Agency Review Board, and I'm hoping to be reappointed to that body this week.

A new council year also means our first opportunity to revisit actions taken by previous councils: Our council rules state that a new council can, by resolution, reintroduce any item approved or rejected by the old council. As such, our first notable item this week will probably seem familiar:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

Last week I re-submitted a resolution calling for the City of Appleton to lift its outdated ban on dogs in parks. You may recall that council last discussed this item in July of 2016, and it failed on an 8-6 vote. Two seats on the council have since turned over, making this issue worth exploring again.

This year I've written the resolution to specifically highlight one of the cruxes of the argument in favor of allowing dogs in parks: The city already allows dogs in virtually every other public space (sidewalks, trails, dog-friendly businesses) and already has ordinances in place to govern their and their owners' conduct. We already require dogs to be leashed, we require their owners to pick up after them on public and private spaces, we require the Police Department to be informed in the event of a bite or attack, and we require them to be kept out of spaces where food is being prepared for sale.

Those existing ordinances have been deemed sufficient to allow people and dogs to operate and interact in virtually every public space in the community, and we see very minimal issues from those interactions. As such, I've asked the Parks and Recreation Committee and Common Council to consider lifting the ban on dogs in parks and treating parks as we treat any other public space in this regard.

Allowing dogs in parks also creates a series of positive benefits for the community, including but not limited to:
  • Opportunities for pet owners to further socialize their animals as part of their training process and reduce the risk of future adverse reactions to meeting new people or other animals.
  • Increasing usage of many of the city's less-trafficked parks, reducing the risk of illegal activity in low-traffic spaces.
  • Making the parks a less attractive space for undesired and/or messy wild animals (most notably geese along the Fox River) to congregate.
I recognize this issue will likely be controversial again, and I anticipate this will likely be the first of several times we discuss it again. It has been my experience, however, that the city's ban on dogs in parks makes our community a less attractive place to live for many pet owners who would otherwise happily and responsibly reside here. I'm looking forward to the day when we change that.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As you may know, the city and Canadian National Railroad have been involved in discussions for many years about the possibility of the city acquiring unused railroad trestles over the Fox River for use in expanding our waterfront trails. The discussions regarding the possible transition of the trestles have been long and challenging, but this week the Finance Committee will be asked to approve an agreement that would transfer ownership of three such trestles and some surrounding property to the city.

The donation agreement before the Finance Committee this week is 35 pages long (you can see it for yourself at the attachment here, if you like), and reflects years of work to take the next step in making our riverfront a more attractive place for pedestrians and bicyclists. I'm looking forward to seeing it completed.

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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 17

A new year begins for the Appleton Common Council this week, as our two new members will be sworn into office on Tuesday and will have their first full council meeting on Wednesday. On Wednesday night at 6 pm we'll hold our annual council organizational meeting to establish the rules for the new council. At 7 pm or as soon as possible following the conclusion of our first meeting, the council will also meet in our regularly-scheduled session to take up items including the following:

North side subdivision expansion

A few weeks ago I wrote about another proposed addition to the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is north of Highway JJ and west of French Road. The City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the expansion, which would add eleven new single-family lots.

Expanding this subdivision is the right thing to do for the city as we expand our tax base. I supported this request at Plan Commission and intend to do so again this week, but will again do so with a reminder that continued north side expansion does come with some hidden costs related to city infrastructure. We're already aware of the fact that we're likely soon going to need to purchase an additional fire engine and hire additional firefighters to fully staff Station #6, which covers this area.

Additionally, adding more homes to the northeast corner of the district will likely once again increase the student population, albeit slightly, at Huntley Elementary. While decisions regarding schools are not within my jurisdiction, last week I met with Appleton Area School District officials to relay many of the concerns I've heard about development on the north side as it relates to schools. What I learned is that the district is currently working on a study to analyze their space needs. I will continue to monitor this issue as it progresses.

Diversity Coordinator Position

At our last meeting council approved a request to move our currently vacant Diversity Coordinator position from the Community and Economic Development Department to the Mayor's Office. This week that process continues as council will be asked to act on the Finance Committee's recommendation to move funding from CED to the Mayor's budget to cover the position's salary and benefits.

In the meantime, the position has been re-posted with the updated job description and I'm hopeful we'll have a great candidate filling this role soon.

Urban chickens

A resolution calling for residents of the City of Appleton to be able to keep up to four hens was introduced in October and has now been discussed on eight occasions at the Board of Health and previous Common Council meetings. This week, however, I feel confident that we could finally take a final action on it.

Two weeks ago council voted to reconsider our March 15 vote to approve the resolution. At that time I asked and was granted a request for council to hold the item until this week's meeting and the seating of a new council. Our council rules allow a new council to re-open any decisions made by previous councils, so any vote at our April 5 meeting could have been immediately overturned and put back on the table by a new council. To avoid the risk of making a decision that would only be undone two weeks later, I asked for council to wait to take action until a truly final action was possible.

In the meantime, the Board of Health has voted to recommend approval of a specific set of rules and regulations regarding chickens and that item will also appear on our agenda this week. The specific rules that could come up for discussion and/or amendment include:

  • A limit of four hens, and no roosters.
  • An appeal process to the Board of Health.
The proposed inspection fees ($145 for an initial inspection and a $59 re-permitting fee) have also come up numerous times in debate but are not part of the approved policy, so I'm not sure where they stand as a proposed policy or as a topic for debate this week.

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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 3

Before I get to this week's council update, please allow me to remind you one final time that Wisconsin's 2017 spring elections are on Tuesday, so please make plans to get out and vote. If you live in Appleton's 13th district, your voting location is at Faith Lutheran Church at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. While you're there, I'd be honored if you'd consider voting for me.

Even if you don't live in the 13th district, there is a statewide race on the ballot for Superintendent of Schools and other local races. Visit for more information or to find your polling location.

Meanwhile, the Appleton Common Council will return from our week off to hold our regularly-scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday, and the notable items on the agenda are largely items we've discussed before:

Urban chickens

As I mentioned in my last update, our close vote on a resolution to allow the keeping of up to four hens on residential property in the city left the door open for an absent alderperson to request the item be reconsidered, and it's back on our agendas this week. Follow that last link for a recap of the events leading us to this point.

I remain supportive of allowing hens in the city, having witnessed first hand the successes and low impact experienced by other municipalities that have taken this step. Whether we pass it this week, two weeks from now or sometime further down the road, I'm hopeful we'll take steps to allow this and see the non-issue that it is for ourselves.

Diversity Coordinator position

Two weeks ago the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee voted 3-0 (with two members absent) to recommend approval of a staff request calling for our vacant Diversity Coordinator position to be moved from the Community & Economic Development Department to the direct supervision of the Mayor. This move better reflects the wide array of responsibilities for this position and I'm hopeful we'll approve the move so we can get back to searching for a candidate to fill this important role.

Reid Golf Course

Two weeks ago the Finance Committee voted 3-1 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for the city to forgive over $150,000 in general fund advances to Reid Golf Course and take on $575,000 of the course's outstanding debt.

If you watch video of the discussion you'll see some analysis of the course and associated enterprise fund's economic situation: It is currently making money but likely will not be able to finance some of the necessary improvements needed to improve or maintain the facility in years to come. While I'm not indifferent to this issue, I will not support measures calling for taxpayers to subsidize this facility.

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.