Monday, October 23, 2017

What you may not know: Week of October 23

It's easily the busiest time of the year for the Appleton Common Council as our annual budget review is underway. Our regularly scheduled committee meetings are also taking place this week, including one meeting that will likely draw a fair amount of attention:

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 5:30 pm

A month ago this committee was asked to consider a resolution submitted by Alderpersons Vered Meltzer, Bob Baker and Patti Coenen discussing the role of the Appleton Police Department as it relates to the enforcement of federal immigration laws. At that time the item was referred to the City Attorney's office for further review of the legal ramifications of passing this resolution, which calls for the city to continue to not use local, discretionary resources to pursue undocumented immigrants except as necessary for public safety.

I've received a fair amount of feedback and questions on this resolution over the last six weeks or so. One of the pieces of information that I think is most important to know here, and which I've now discussed with a fair number of contacts, is that the actions called for in this resolution are no different from what the APD is already doing.

The APD's primary function is to promote and provide public safety. As such, any action they may take that causes potential witnesses or victims of a crime to be fearful of coming forward is detrimental to their ability to prevent and/or solve said crimes. The resolution before us was titled "Resolution Reaffirming the Public Safety Function of Local Law Enforcement," and that's effectively what we're being asked to do here: To ensure that discretionary actions we could take as related to immigration law don't impinge upon our ability to protect public safety.

Finance Committee, Saturday, 8 am

As I mentioned above, the process of setting the city's 2018 annual budget has moved on to the Common Council. One of our biggest annual meetings is this Saturday as the Finance Committee will come together to spend the full day reviewing the 660-page document and the $170 million in spending outlined therein.

This year it took me 15 days to read through the budget in its entirety and on Friday afternoon I pre-submitted 53 questions to the mayor and department heads. This weekend's session is our first opportunity to discuss the budget in its entirety (although many committees have already discussed their portions of it) and for the Finance Committee to propose amendments.

From here the budget moves on to a public hearing in front of the full council on November 1 and any final amendments and the final budget adoption are scheduled for November 8.

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, October 16, 2017

What you may not know: Week of October 16

The Appleton Common Council will hold our regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night, but before we get there another notable meeting will have happened:

Library Board, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

Efforts to determine the future of the Appleton Public Library will take another step forward this week as the Library Board will be asked to review and approve a request for proposals (RFP) related to potential mixed-use facilities on the current library site or nearby within the downtown area. This item is also expected to come before council before being approved.

The RFP (which can be seen via the attachment at this link) lays out specific expectations for the library's required space (120,000 square feet), its expected role as the anchor of any development and its requirements for access. It also includes a map that clearly delineates the area to be considered and a requirement that any developer submitting a proposal be willing to take on the task of acquiring the properties they suggest if they intend to utilize non-city owned parcels. Additionally, any proposal involving the current library site is required to include plans for a temporary library during construction.

Assuming this RFP is approved on schedule, proposals would be due in by December 8 at noon and discussion on any proposals recommended for consideration would likely happen early in 2018.

Moving on to items on Wednesday's Common Council agenda:

Aldermanic salaries

As elected officials, members of the Common Council are prohibited from voting on our own salaries. As such, once each year we take up the task of setting a salary for our positions two years in advance, after all of our current terms have expired. Last week the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee was asked to consider aldermanic salaries starting in April of 2019, and voted 4-1 to give them a zero increase and remain at $6129.50 with an optional parking pass for the city's soon-to-be-demolished Blue Ramp.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index suggests that the rate of inflation from August of 2016 to August of 2017 was 1.93%, so a zero increase is effectively a pay cut when considered against inflation. The August-to-August CPI inflation calculation was used to help determine 2016's 2% increase and 2017's 1.1% increase. I'm hopeful that, at a bare minimum, council will consider adjusting the position's salary slightly to avoid falling behind inflation.

However, even a simple inflation adjustment would ignore a larger issue: Demand for seats on the Appleton Common Council is remarkably low. In 2017 eight seats (including mine) were up for re-election and we had just one contested race. In one case we had an uncontested race for an open seat. In 2016 just two of our seven seats had contested races. In the five years since I first ran for council in 2013 63% of the aldermanic races have gone uncontested, including 80% in the last two years.

As I noted in my budget preview a couple of weeks ago alderpersons are tasked with, among other things, oversight, review and adoption of the city's $170 million annual budget. The city's ability to function going forward depends on our ability to continue to find qualified and engaged people to serve on our council. More and more often, we're finding that people aren't interested. Given that the position pays less than $6000/year (the $6129.50 figure cited above doesn't take effect until next April), it isn't hard to imagine why we aren't seeing many candidates.

In virtually any other business, opening jobs for applications and routinely hearing from one or zero applicants would be a cause for alarm and reevaluation. As a council, we've been there for years. I'm hopeful we'll do something to attempt to address this.

Finally, an update on an item that will appear on our agendas in the future:

Trick or Treating hours

In Appleton the official trick or treating hours are from 4-8 pm on Halloween night, which is a Tuesday this year. These hours have been in place since before my election to the council but every year I receive a few complaints and requests to alter the plan to better match our neighboring municipalities, who largely have shorter windows for this event. As such, two weeks ago I submitted a request for the city to re-evaluate our trick or treating procedures going forward.

Last week the Safety & Licensing Committee discussed this item for the first time and opted to delay action until December. No action will be taken on this item this week, and the trick or treating hours for 2017 will remain at 4-8 pm. However, the committee will take this item up again at our December meeting and may consider proposing changes for 2018 at that time.

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.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

2018 Budget books have arrived

Apologies for a light couple of weeks of posting: Things have been relatively quiet on our council agendas and I've been occupied elsewhere.

That will change over the next few weeks as the 2018 Budget arrived on our council desks this evening. This year's book is 660 pages long and contains slightly more than $170 million in spending, including our enterprise funds, capital projects and debt service.

The budget schedule for the next six weeks or so is as follows:

October 28: Budget Saturday - The Finance Committee's all-day budget review session.
November 1: Budget Public Hearing - The public's opportunity to come weigh in on the 2018 budget.
November 8: Budget Adoption - The final opportunity to make amendments to the budget before it is approved.

So, if you're looking for me anytime between now and November 8, look for the guy carrying around the giant blue binder full of Post-It tabs.