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From the Gallery of the City Council Meeting

by on August 12th, 2009

On my blog, I gave some personal commentary on the Wausau City Council meeting of August 11th, and I had been asked to turn my commentary more into something “Front Page”… so here it goes:

For me, there are three reasons to attend government meetings.  Reason #1 is because you want something: a zoning change, a conditional use, etc.  Reason #2 is because you want to be more familiar (and maybe involved) in what is going on in local government.  You want to meet the people behind the names and understand how the process works.  Reason #3 is because sometimes… sometimes… the inner-workings of local government is actually just good, honest, entertainment.  My attendance last night involved all three of these reasons.

A project that I have been working on for over 10 years, over a quarter my life, is finally nearing completion and three different issues on the agenda were addressing this project.  Although I figured my items would be a no-brainer and would pass unanimously with no discussion, it still qualifies as Reason #1.

Based on how many people came up to me after the meeting to ask for my thoughts on a number of things that happened during the meeting, it is fair to say Reason #2 was covered as well.

However, the primary reason for spending over four hours of my life in a second row seat in Council Chambers was Reason #3.  I went to the Council meeting to be entertained, and I was not let down.  *NOTE:  A suggestion for future marathon meetings with standing room attendance that almost went outside… CONCESSIONS!  Think of the money that could have been made with the sale of popcorn, candy and soda out in the hallway.

So, for those that didn’t attend, what did you miss?

The meeting started with three citizens being awarded certificates by the Wausau police dept. for going out of their way to assist the police in making some arrests… Kudos to those three!!

Next was public comment for items on the agenda. There were two items that generated TONS of public comment, the 400 block and the 25th Street apartments. All of the comments on the 400 Block were in favor.  There have been comments that no one against either the plan or public funding were there, however as more of the discussion centered around a private funding requirement, I heard the applause of at least 10-15 people.  In the people speaking under public comments, NONE of that discussion even came close to hinting at exclusive private funding.  As a matter of fact, many of them mentioned the public/private partnership which, translated, means generate what funds you can but have taxpayers pick up the rest. I found the comments from Mark Craig of Compass properties interesting — calling the 400 Block not only the City’s front yard, but also his “front yard.” (When I do work to my front yard, I don’t ask the taxpayers of the Town of Wausau to pick up the tab, but then… that’s just me.)

After the council meeting, a few people (including a few council members) asked why I didn’t say anything during the public comment section. Simple… first… everyone in the council knows my thoughts on the matter, how would verbalizing them change anything. Second, I truly believe that each member of the council, at 7:00 PM, knew how they were going to vote once it finally got there, and whatever public comment there was had very little chance of changing a vote.  And finally, because verbalizing my thoughts wasn’t going to change anything, and because everyone’s mind was made up long before the hour of public comment, why should I subject myself to the boos and harassment that would have come from speaking against public funding from the 400 Block?  (Because based on the reaction of the crowd last night, to be against public funding is no different than being against the plan.)

Between the public comments on the 400 block and the public comments on the 25th Street apartments, the Mayor changed the agenda.  An item on the agenda was a settlement offer in a lawsuit the City is involved in with the owners of the M&I Bank building downtown.  I assume (but do not claim to know) that this item was moved up because an attorney the city had hired was there to brief the council on this settlement, and I assume she was “on the clock.” So, just after 8 PM, the council considered settling a lawsuit that was filed against the City because of a “discrepancy” in what the assessed value of their property was.  If I remember right, this was the assessment for the 2007 tax year. The settlement offer was finally accepted by the City, but not after some discussion. The two major objectors to the settlement were Hadley because she didn’t feel she had enough information to determine if the settlement was the proper course of action, and Kaiser because based on some information he received from the assessor’s office, he felt that the M&I Building was under-assessed.

Personally, I feel that if you hire an attorney, pay them what I assume is already into 5-figures, and they tell you they have a settlement offer and you should take it… well… I guess that’s why I hired the attorney. After all, I listen when an attorney I hired tells me to settle because it is actually in the attorney’s best interest NOT to settle and instead litigate this because by her own statement, litigation would result in over $30,000 more in legal fees with no assurance that the result will be better than the settlement.

Then came the public comments on the 25th Street apartments.  I had written a blog entry about this proposed 96-Unit Apartment complex on the East Side after the public hearing because of how that hearing was handled by the developer.  It was a TEXTBOOK example of how to present your case.  I consider myself pretty good, but I was no where near their league when it came to background work and “selling” the plan.  The neighbors of this currently agricultural area are against this type of development, and they showed up in force to object.  Of course the developer was there to speak in favor.  What I did not learn until after the meeting is that the developer had hired a PR firm to do some of the work. I suppose, if you have to “sell” a plan to the city council, might has well hire a PR firm to do the selling.

The 400 Block was then up for council discussion, which went on another hour or so.  It became a Roberts Rules nightmare where even I was confused for a little bit (and I consider myself pretty good with parliamentary procedure).  We started with a motion to pass the resolution approving the plan.  We then had the Kaiser amendment.  Finance Director Groat asked how the amendment would address interest on money already set aside, and the motion for the amendment was modified to take into account that interest.  Then after much discussion, there was a motion to amend the amendment.  I believe this was done by Gale who re-worded his amendment to the amendment a couple of times to make sure the intent was clear and agreeable to Kaiser.  After more discussion, there was suggestion that the amendment to the amendment needed to be amended.

By this time, Rosenburg threw out the motion to send all amendments to the finance committee.  That motion then “trumped” all of the other motions relating to amendments, but created a new question.  If you have a resolution on the floor, and there is a motion to amend that resolution, and then that amendment to the resolution gets referred to committee, does the original motion also then get held up while the amendment gets polished in committee?  The answer is no; because the original motion had not yet been officially amended, it could still be addressed even though the amendments were now sent to committee.

There was also discussion of just adding a line to the resolution clarifying that this is for the plan only and does not address funding.  Brezenski seemed dead set against that and pointed out at least three times that the resolution only covers the plan and says nothing about funding.  He claimed adding that last statement is redundant.  Okay, fine, I agree.  It would have been redundant.  But, if being a little redundant helps some people sleep better at night, is a little redundancy a bad thing?  If the last statement is unneeded and won’t change anything, then why such opposition to it?  That part of the meeting greatly puzzled me.

Once the vote on the 400 block was done, there was a “recess” of a few minutes while over half of those stuffing the council chambers who only attended for Reason #1 left.  Once the meeting started back up, the Mayor then, out of respect for the 30 or so people there for the 25th Street apartment issue, moved it up on the agenda. After much discussion on everything from Wausau’s comprehensive plan to apartment vacancy rates to legislative procedure, the approval came to a 6-6 vote, and was approved when the Mayor broke the tie. I am actually somewhat surprised that I wasn’t called to the podium to answer questions because shortly after the meeting, two members of city staff as well as three different council members had questions of me concerning this issue.

NOTE – CITIZEN WAUSAU NEWS EXCLUSIVE!!!

Something that just occurred to me and I hope someone reviews the minutes and/or tape of the meeting.  This item had two agenda items.  There was the proposal to amend the general development plan to allow for the apartments, which is what was approved with the Mayor’s tie-breaking vote.  However, there was also the following item on the agenda where if the general development plan change was approved, the Council must now also approve the “Precise Implementation Plan” for this development in order for it to proceed.  In all the excitement of that tie vote, I don’t honestly remember that the Precise Plan was ever voted on or approved?

Other interesting parts of the council meeting included the decision by the City to walk away from Veolia after this year ends and go with a different, smaller, more “local” garbage hauler. The biggest concerns that a couple of council members had was that the new hauler (Northern Waste) wouldn’t be able to “ramp up” in time.  I assume people somehow associated with Veolia were in the audience because as the question was asked by Gale if they (Northern Waste) would be able to get the trucks they need by January 1st because there is often a lead time, I heard at least three people voice behind me that it can’t be done.  I was actually surprised to learn that to service Wausau, only 6 garbage trucks are needed.  For personal reasons, I was VERY pleased with the Council’s decision.

Also on the agenda was a new ordinance to limit rummage/garage sales within city limits.  Such sales would be restricted to no more than 4 days in row, no more than 4 times each year, and at least a month between sales.  When this first came up, there was significant public outcry so a public hearing was held to get input.  At that hearing, literally no one showed up to testify, for or against.  During the council meeting there was a proposed amendment to change part of it, and a different council member had stated they were thinking about amending it but in a different way.  Because the urgency of this ordinance is really not a huge deal, Hadley asked that it just be sent back to committee so they would work out the concerns.

So… I went to the council meeting for the primary purpose of to be entertained, and I was. By the way, yes.  My three items on the agenda were passed with a unanimous vote with no discussion.

 

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