About Storm Drains and Attitude
by John H. Fischer on September 18th, 2013
On Monday evening, I found myself at the City of Wausau’s Public Health and Safety committee meeting. One of their agenda items was an update from the inspections department on some new strategies to look at the blight issue. However, before my agenda item, I got to sit through an exchange between the committee members and the owners of the Yo Chubby Gringo food cart business.
I was asked to right my thoughts on what happened at that meeting. So before I get accused of having an agenda, I just want to say that is not the case. Personally, I am a fan of the free market and open competition. I am not one of those so called down-town elitists; I actually don’t spend much time in downtown at all to be honest. (Whether this sub-class of downtown elitists really exists is a completely different discussion.)
As most of the leadership of the City of Wausau can verify, I spend a lot of time in Wausau City Hall. I attend a lot of meetings of a lot of different committees. Outside of the meetings of the full council, Public Health & Safety gets to see me probably more than any other committee. This is primarily because of the role I play in various housing issues, and this is the committee that addresses those types of things. Needless to say this is not the first time I have sat through an interesting discussion waiting for my item. So, as a “regular” in the peanut gallery, here is the peanut gallery perspective of what transpired at Monday’s meeting.
All of this information is from that meeting. I am not stating any of this from firsthand knowledge. Apparently, someone from the parks department saw one of the owners of Yo Chubby Gringo dumping “commercial waste” down one of the storm drains in the 400 Block. What was dumped is in dispute as the food cart owners stated that ice water was poured down that drain. During the discourse between the park department employee and the Yo Chubby Gringo owner, the discussion became, let’s call it “less than cordial.” A smarta** comment was made from the business owner toward the city employee. (There is disagreement as to the nature of the comment made, but there was no dispute that the exchange became less than professional.) Yo Chubby Gringo claims that they were going to get a warning citation. In reality, they got a real citation for nearly $200. (They do plan to fight this citation in Wausau Municipal Court).
So, that was the situation as I understand it from ONLY what was said at Monday’s meeting.
As I started, I have my own assigned seat in the peanut gallery of the PH&S Committee meetings so I have a pretty good idea what happens at one. There are various types of businesses and people who require city licenses. Bars have liquor licenses (and many have entertainment licenses). Bartenders have licenses. Even taxi drivers have licenses.
The food cart business was something very new in Wausau. Wausau formed a task force with a group of stake holders to come up with a system that would allow that type of business to compete in Wausau, but to do so in a manner that was fair to other types of businesses. Because I don’t own a food cart, I don’t know a lot about the ordinance and license. But, I know that food cart vendors didn’t like parts of the final product, and traditional brick and mortar restaurants were not that pleased either. And, in government, when you find a solution that no one likes, you are close.
Anyway, when a license holder (or sometimes just an applicant for a license) does something in violation of that license, the PH&S will invite the license holder in for an informal discussion, a chat, something Mrs. Rent likes to call a “do better talk.” A bartender license applicant who has recent OWI convictions is an example. A quite common example is a liquor license holder who has accumulated 100 demerit points. The license holder is invited in for a chat.
Over the years I have seen these discussions go two ways. #1) The license holder will listen to the committee’s concern, will calmly and professionally respond with the situation as they see it, will explain their plan to rectify the situation, and life will go on. The second thing I see happen is #2) The license holder comes in the room with a chip on their shoulder, they don’t care what the committee has to say, they are defiant, loud, rude, irrational, and refuse to address any concerns because they feel the concerns are unfounded. Come license renewal time, more often than not, those that decide to take approach #2 find getting that renewal very difficult.
So, we have a new type of business in town, with a new type of license. And one of the charter license holder is accused of a pretty severe health code.
Monday’s meeting could have gone down like this: Committee expresses its concern to Yo Chubby Gringo, Yo Chubby Gringo (in a professional tone and language) explains that they were not guilty of what they were cited for as it was water and not food waste and plan to contest the citation. But then they follow up with a brief statement that now that they know that ice water should not be poured down a park system storm drain because someone could mistake it for commercial waste, they will refrain from doing even that in the future. Problem solved. Committee concerns addressed. Life goes on.
However, they chose path #2. The discourse was not professional. It was loud, it was with attitude, it was at some points impolite, it was at some points accusatory. Alderperson Winters was trying to help them. He was telling them that all the committee wanted was assurance it wouldn’t happen again. Instead, terms like “witch hunt” get thrown around.
Did Yo Chubby Gringo do anything wrong? As far as the drain incident, I have no idea. As far as how to address the principle when called to the principle’s office – what I saw on Monday was textbook of how NOT to do it.