Sunday, June 27, 2004

City council “politics,” change of government hot topics in Oshkosh

Folks, the city of Oshkosh is heading for big financial trouble if we stay our present course. A majority of our city council continues to spend, spend, spend as if there is an unlimited amount of funds in our city coffers – something we all know is simply not the case.

They continue to add fees for things that, in many cases, fall under the heading of essential services or are other services that a city would normally provide. They forgo getting competitive bids on certain projects, simply because the parks director has a company he is familiar with and enjoys doing business with. They defer work or ignore problems on many city streets that are in poor shape, and they continue to put off building a new municipal garage. They close our municipal pool – something that has been enjoyed by generations of children in the city. And despite all these things being done (or not done) because of a lack of money, this same city council – or a majority of it – continues to indebt this city’s residents - not just up to our own eyeballs, but those of our children, as well.

The most recent expense came at the May 26, 2004 council meeting when these so-called “good stewards” of our money, approved spending over $1 million for the redevelopment of Riverside Park, and there will have to be a minimum of an additional $3 million to $4 million spent before the project is completed. In addition, the previous workshop and private meetings that spoke of additional private donations and fundraising efforts being made to help offset the project were somewhat misleading.

It was stated at the May 25 Common Council meeting that any additional funds that come in will NOT be going to offset the public’s portion of this project, as was somewhat alluded to previously. Once the city borrows the money, we, the taxpayers, are on the hook PERMANENTLY! Unless we own a business in the downtown area we will not reap the financial benefits of this project. No business or organization that does directly benefit from this project will contribute any monies to help offset John and Jane Doe’s tax dollars. And while this project may ultimately increase the tax base, rarely if ever, do citizens’ tax dollars go down simply because the tax base increased. Our taxes will always continue to climb; and one of the most shameful parts of this is that huge chunks of the public’s money are being spent, yet the public was completely shut out of and circumvented by this very one-sided process.

In addition to being pressured by the Elmer Leach Foundation to do this extravagant and silly park project, the city council also got “squeezed” and pressured by certain business people in the community – some who don’t live here and won’t have to pay for any of this stuff and yet they’re the same people who are always pulling strings and pushing the council from behind the scenes to spend taxpayers’ money.

And finally, we have our newest city council member, B. Tower, who apparently doesn’t understand the proper reasons to vote or not vote for certain things, but then becomes somewhat testy when criticized for such wayward voting.

After you’ve read these opinion pieces – though, as always, they're based on factual accounts and events – feel free to share your views with us.

We are also anxious to hear from you about the kind of government you want and how you feel about the recent activities by our current city council. Send us an email; give us a call; or send us a surface mail. If we decide to do another online poll about it, you may certainly share your views with us there. Either way, we look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Local group launches petition drive

OSHKOSH, WI. -- (June 25, 2004) -- A local Political Action Committee today announced the start of a referendum petition drive to change the form of government in Oshkosh.

Picking up where Oshkosh Common Councilor Brian Poeschl's recent proposed charter ordinance change left off, Citizens for Responsible Government seeks to extend the changes even further, and seeks to place the proposed charter ordinance on the November ballot as a referendum question.

Among the highlights of the proposed charter ordinance…
• A part-time mayor - elected by the citizens - who has veto power, but who shall not serve as a voting member of the Oshkosh Common Council, except to break a tie or veto a council decision. In the event of a veto, it would take a 5/6 super-majority vote of the Common Council in order to override such a mayoral veto;

• The size of the Common Council would be reduced to six (6) members, all elected at large by the citizens. While not going to aldermanic districts, council seats would be numbered and people seeking a council seat would have to designate which seat number they intend to run for. Three council seats would be up for election one year and the other three would be up the following year;

• The mayor would be able to recommend to the rest of the council that a department head be terminated, as could any council member, if they believed such action was necessary. Such termination by the council could only occur with a 5/6 super-majority vote of the council. The City Manager could still terminate department heads as he or she sees fit without council input. All hiring decisions would be left to the City Manager, in his or her sole discretion;

• Council members would elect a council president and, while the mayor would preside at all meetings of the Common Council, the council president would assume the role of Acting Mayor in the event the mayor was absent for any reason;

• The mayor would also serve as chair and a voting member of the Plan Commission. He or she would also make recommendations, subject to council approval, to the various city boards and commissions.

"We have listened to the many citizens who have expressed displeasure with the present form, and performance, of our local government. We have also listened to the various concerns some people had with the recently proposed charter ordinance changes. All things considered, we are offering what we feel are reasonable and fair compromises," said spokesperson Cheryl Hentz. "We believe that this proposed charter ordinance will give the people in this community some responsible leadership at the council level and will make them feel that council members and staff alike are more accountable to the people they serve. And it will give the community a mayor with some real strength and meaning for a change, instead of just being a ceremonial position."

Citizens for Responsible Government will begin circulating petitions during the last week in June. After the required 2,822 signatures have been validated, the Common Council can decide to automatically pass it, but that is not something Hentz said the group is expecting.

“The majority of our current council clearly is not interested in doing anything to give the people of this community more strength or a louder voice. If they truly wanted to do that, they could have offered some amendments to Mr. Poeschl’s proposal and passed it with the same 5-2 vote they do with so many other things,” Hentz said. “But they offered nothing, and subsequently did nothing. We fully expect to have to take this to referendum in November and we’re perfectly content with that. The people of this community deserve a chance to speak on what they want in local government. That’s the very premise of our entire government change effort.”

Citizens for Responsible Government is a registered Political Action Committee. Anyone who wishes to help circulate petitions or who just wants to sign a petition should contact the group in care of Cheryl Hentz at (920) 426-4123. And for more information as the campaign unfolds, people can check out this web site or tune in to upcoming shows where this topic will be discussed.