Saturday, July 31, 2004

TRO on smoking ban sound legal decision

A decision this past week by Winnebago County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Key to halt the city's three-month old smoking ban with a temporary restraining order was a sound legal decision, despite the ban proponents' complaints afterward.

To exemplify the level of disdain and disrespect the Breathe Free Oshkosh group seems to have for any opinion other than their own, consider the comments made by group spokesperson Margy Davey, after the ruling was handed down.

Davey said she was disappointed because Judge Key put a legal technicality ahead of the wishes and health of the public. Excuse me, Mrs. Davey, but in case you hadn't heard, a judge's job is to see that the law is followed and upheld, not to follow the whims and wishes of the public, even when they violate the law.

Davey also blamed the city's legal department for not catching the differences in wording between the ordinance itself and the referendum question. While there may be some merit in this particular argument, Breathe Free Oshkosh needs to assume some of the responsibility, too. In fact, they should probably assume the lion's share of it. After all, this group has been working with statewide smoking ban proponents in developing and passing an ordinance that was stronger than any other in the state. Surely there was a legal eagle among this group who could have or should have caught the error.

But then again, these are the same kind of ridiculous arguments and tactics Davey and her group have stooped to all along. When people play by the same rules as Breathe Free Oshkosh, suddenly those rules do not apply and the other party's actions should somehow be invalidated. Breathe Free seems to have one set of standards that they operate by and another that they expect everyone else to operate by. In reality, they have blown more smoke with their rhetoric and double-speak than all the smokers in Oshkosh combined.

Davey was quoted by the Oshkosh Northwestern as saying the judge's decision was a blow to public health and a blow to democracy. Thankfully, however, it was not a blow to the judicial process and the legal system. That would have been the worst travesty.

Let's hope the temporary injunction becomes a permanent one. Perhaps then, the Breathe Free Oshkosh people will exercise more of a spirit of compromise rather than the pig-headed arrogance we've seen thus far. The smoking bans in Neenah and Fond du Lac did not get challenged in court. That should send a loud message and give one of the best reasons yet for Breathe Free to consider the restaurant owners' position and begin working on a compromise. And with citizen opinion split nearly 50/50 on this issue, one cannot afford to continue being pig-headed in their approach.

Government change petition drive suspended, at least for now

Saturday, July 31 2004 @ 01:14 PM MDT
Contributed by: admin Citizens for Responsible Government has decided to suspend its petition drive – at least for the moment. This action should NOT however, be construed as an inability to get the required number of signatures necessary for placement on the November ballot. In fact, considering the progress we’d made since the launching of our campaign a month ago, it is clear we would have gotten more than the required number of signatures. So why a change in plans?

Simply put, unlike most of the city council members to this date, we are actually listening to the people of this community. When we first brought forward our proposed charter ordinance change, it was based on what many people in the community told us they wanted in their city government.

However, over the course of a few weeks and one or two city council meetings where other citizens spoke, it appeared that one rather contentious part of the proposal was a provision where an elected mayor and/or city council member could recommend the termination of a department head. We still believe that this is an important provision in order to make everyone – department heads and the city manager alike – more accountable. However, with so much contention seemingly surrounding this particular provision, it seemed possible that even with the necessary number of signatures to get our direct legislation on the November ballot, the measure might still fail. We would rather stop the petition gathering process, get input from a larger cross-section of people and then move for a change that has a better chance of passage, than put an otherwise good piece of legislation on the ballot and run the risk of having the whole thing fail because of one main sticking point. So, in keeping true to our group’s name, we did the responsible thing and decided to go back to the drawing board.

In addition to that, the city council members kept saying how they wanted more public input and a workshop. Since citizens cannot speak at a workshop, Councilman Paul Esslinger decided to host a town hall meeting where the entire public has an opportunity to speak on the issue. Also, in a spirit of compromise, he set up a workshop for the city council, too. So the city council members are now going to be given every single thing they said they wanted. If after all of this, they still refuse to put something of significance on the ballot, they will show everyone that they simply do not want to give the public what it wants. Bottom line they will have run out of excuses, and time. We will then analyze the situation, consider the options and plan our next moves.

A couple other points need to be made about comments made by current mayor Mark Harris and city councilman Bill Castle. Though Mr. Castle is the only council member who refused to support a workshop on city government, he said it was a good idea. Huh?? If it’s a good idea, why did he not support it? This makes no sense whatsoever. Then he made a ridiculous comment about how the fact that such a workshop was approved is proof that the current form of government works and there is no need to change it. In an effort to bolster his comment he said that if we had an elected mayor, such a workshop would never have been approved. Mr. Castle’s statement tilts the B.S.-o-meter. He is either blind to what an elected mayor is or he is hell-bent on misleading the public. But for the record, and depending on what kind of an elected mayor a city has, the mayor either still takes many marching orders from a city council, even though he or she is an elected official in their own right, or the mayor has no ability to stonewall something the city council wants to do. Even in a situation where a mayor can veto a city council decision, the council can still override that veto. But why would a mayor not want to give the people something they want, Mr. Castle, especially when he or she could be elected out of office just as easily as they were elected in? Again, this argument of Councilman Castle's was completely illogical, but it was entertaining to hear his spin, anyway.

As for Mr. Harris’ comment in the Oshkosh Northwestern the day after the council meeting, in which he said Councilman Esslinger is asking the council for an awful lot, exactly what is he asking for, and why is it too much? Let’s examine this a little more closely, shall we?
• Council members said they wanted a workshop. Councilman Esslinger has given them that opportunity.
• Council members said they wanted more public input. Councilman Esslinger has given them that opportunity.
• Mr. Harris himself – along with others on the council – said that more than one change of government referendum question on the ballot might confuse people and not give any of them a fair chance. Therefore, they believed only one referendum question should be placed on the ballot. Councilman Esslinger said that he will bring forward a proposal based on the public’s comments at the town hall meeting and he asked that no other councilor bring forward anything else; rather, that any revisions up or down be made to his proposal, not creating a second or third one. Again, Councilman Esslinger is giving the other council members and Mr. Harris himself exactly what they wanted in this regard.

This comparison would again show that Mark Harris speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He and the other council members have been given everything they said they wanted, but suddenly it’s too much, according to Mark Harris. Well, maybe he should not have been one of the councilors asking for all these things then. You know the old saying: “Be careful what you wish for.” And he sure as hell should not have voted in favor of them if he thought they were out of line or too excessive.

It sounds to me more like Mr. Harris is upset because once again, Mr. Esslinger has stepped up to the plate on behalf of the people, rather than any of the "Fab 5" coming forward to act on our behalf.

Everything aside, it seems more likely than ever that a government change in one form or another is coming. And city council members can either work with we, the people, or against us. But if they work against us, it will likely be political suicide. Let’s see if they have the political courage and fortitude to, for once, do the will of the people.

- Cheryl Hentz

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Lack of Leadership Continues in Underheim’s Support of TABOR

Contributed by: Gohintz
OSHKOSH – In a disappointing, but not surprising move, Representative Gregg Underheim (R-Oshkosh) joined Assembly Leader John Gard in signing a letter of support to the Senate in an effort to hastily pass the proposed Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR). This comes just days after he stated, “It’s not the right time to take this up. Not only would this look extremely political, it would be extremely political.” It has become increasing difficult to understand where Representative Underheim stands, how he makes his decisions, and whether he considers his constituents’ interests.

The proposed TABOR is a state effort to control the revenues and expenditures in a one-size fits all formula for over 2,000 units of government in Wisconsin. It runs roughshod over the constitutional principle and long-standing practice of local control. When challenged this spring by the Governor to keep property taxes flat, the City of Oshkosh responded by not increasing the tax rate while still maintaining core services, despite a $1.4 million (10 percent) state shared revenue cut. The real spending problem appears to be at the State level, where they are working to eliminate a $3.2 billion deficit. Underheim, in signing on to TABOR is basically saying “Save me from myself because I can’t make tough decisions.”

A key component of Wisconsin’s ability to compete in the future economy will be based on its’ quality of life. It is unclear how a measure that would decimate primary education, higher education, and significantly hinder the state’s ability to assist its most vulnerable citizens would add to that quality of life.

“I think amending the constitution on this issue is a terrible idea, and reeks of election year tactics and removes the decision making that legislators were elected to do. As the Appleton Post Crescent said in a recent editorial TABOR is “an admission of legislative incompetence. By asking the voters to trivialize the state constitution with a cap on government spending, lawmaking proponents are telling Wisconsinites, “We’re not responsible enough to control our spending. You’ll have to do it for us.” If Gregg Underheim really wanted to address government spending and the increasing individual tax burden, he would use his position as chair of the Assembly Health Committee to propose measures to lower the cost of health care. Recent state and local government spending increases are driven primarily by the increased cost of benefits for their employees. Another consideration would be to look at tax fairness and review why the corporate tax burden has dropped while the individual tax burden has gone up in recent years.”

“TABOR is a gimmick pure and simple. The state has tough spending decisions to make and we need someone with guts not gimmicks in the legislature. We need some leadership for a change in the 54th Assembly District.

Lack of Leadership Continues in Underheim’s Support of TABOR
Authored by: blbain on Wednesday, July 28 2004 @ 08:36 PM MDT
Well put Gordon! I can't wait for November when the people of the 54th Assembly District elect you our new representative!

Unfortunately, Representative Underheim has once again proven his disconnect with the citizens of Oshkosh. I'm beginning to think there are two sides of Representative Oshkosh side and a Madison side.

The Oshkosh side speaks out against what happened in Madison this week. The Oshkosh side goes door to door and comfortably sits with the editoral board of the Oshkosh Northwestern touting how he's working for us. Unfortunately, that side rarely ends up representing us in Madison.

Clearly Representative Underheim cannot stand up to Speaker Gard and the conservative GOP. Clearly Representative Underheim doesn't trust the elected officials in Oshkosh and Winnebago County to do their jobs. Why else would he have signed his name in support of the so-called TABOR?

It's clear to me that we need leadership for a change! And, our choices are also very clear. We can either re-elect someone more concerned with representing Speaker Gard, or we can elect someone who says he's going to Madison to “offend” everyone, or we can elect a candidate who understands and is committed to representing the true needs of our city. That's why I'm supporting Gordon Hintz for the 54th Assembly seat!

Bryan L. Bain

Lack of Leadership Continues in Underheim's Support of TABOR
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, July 28 2004 @ 10:37 PM MDT
I'm not going to Madison to offend _everyone_, just to offend Jim Doyle, John Gard, and Mary Panzer. Each one represents policies that are very bad for this community. I like Gordon and think he's a very nice guy. But to go to Madison already believing that Doyle must not be offended is to simply replace the Underheim/Gard relationship with a Democrat/Doyle pair. Oshkosh gains nothing from that, as Doyle's policies are anti-university, anti-environment, pro-corporate tax break and loopholes, and pro-status quo as regards out corrupt Madison political system.

I encourage you and all other readers of this site to take a closer look at my campaign.
-Tony Palmeri

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Councilman F. Tower’s arguments against proposal lack foundation, reason

After two years of silence on our city council, Frank Tower is emerging as a leader-wannabe. He is speaking more at council meetings and he has now – in an effort to confuse the electorate in November – offered his own proposal for a referendum to be placed on the presidential ballot, which could be passed by the city council this evening. Unfortunately his own proposal is meaningless and his arguments against anything stronger both defy logic and lack any foundation or merit.

His proposal is simply to allow the citizens in this community to elect a mayor, who would then serve for a term of three years, instead of the current two years. He stated in a radio interview this morning that his conversations with people have told him people want to elect a mayor.

They certainly do – but a mayor whose title actually means something; a mayor who can do the bidding of the citizens; a mayor who has some authority; and a mayor whose position carries some weight.

Perhaps in talking to citizens, Mr. F. Tower should have asked the full question: “Do you want an elected ceremonial only mayor, in other words a figurehead mayor, or an elected mayor who actually has some power to do the will of the citizens?” But to ask that question, F. Tower would get an answer he does not want to hear.

F. Tower has said his proposal offers the citizens a compromise to what fellow councilman Paul Esslinger and the group Citizens for Responsible Government are proposing. Nothing could be further from the truth!

F. Tower’s proposal does not allow this community to have better government than what it currently has, nor does it give us anything other than our choice for head ribbon-cutter and grand marshal at parades.

Mr. F. Tower also made ridiculous statements during his radio interview about how having numbered council seats is getting too close to an aldermanic form of government. He then took his ridiculousness even further by suggesting that in aldermanic districts, favors get traded (like this kind of thing doesn’t go on now under our current form of government!!) and how certain sections of the city would possibly get no funding and fall into disrepair because of in-fighting among council members.

To buy into that B.S., one would have to believe that the majority of communities throughout Wisconsin have sections of their cities that are in grave disrepair because of an aldermanic government. Hogwash with a capital H.

I am sure that our northern neighbors in Neenah, Menasha and Appleton will be astounded to hear that their cities are suffering at the hands of an aldermanic form of government. I guess that’s why they have so much more development; their TIF districts are highly successful; and they have thriving downtowns; to name just a few.

F. Tower also said with a numbered seat or aldermanic form of government, we might have less people running for city council seats than we have now. All he needs to do is look at city council races in other communities that have either numbered seats or aldermanic districts and he will see that, once again, his arguments are extremely flawed. Numbered seats and aldermanic districts not only have a history of producing more candidates, they tend to spur higher voter turn-outs, as well. It’s apparent that Councilman F. Tower does not get out of Oshkosh very much.

But the simple fact of the matter is that the proposal F. Tower is against – that of Councilman Paul Esslinger and Citizens for Responsible Government – does not create aldermanic districts. It provides for numbered seats, which means candidates must run against specific candidates – period! And the reason F. Tower doesn’t like that option is very simply that he doesn’t want to have a target on his back come time for him to run for re-election.

With respect to a mayoral veto, F. Tower said he opposed such ability because it would cause a fractionated council. Again, the spin he has put on this has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. In order to override a veto, the council would need a super-majority vote, much like it needs for several issues now; therefore consensus among the council members would have to be built. That is quite different from his suggestion that the council would be at odds with each other. The council is often at odds now, or hasn’t F. Tower been paying attention?

He made a comment at the end of the interview that he does not know what the people actually want so his proposal should go on the ballot and the people should decide. I couldn’t agree more, but that very same logic should then be used for him to support the placement of Paul Esslinger’s proposal on the ballot. What gives F. Tower the right to circumvent the people’s right to choose what kind of government they want by using his position as a councilman to put his proposal on the ballot, but then usurp the power of another councilman to have that same ability. That is precisely what is wrong with this city council and the way the majority of its members historically do business.

There is much that could be said about this, but the bottom line is this: What are these council members so fearful of? If they believe that they are doing what their constituents want, they should not fear being voted out of office, no matter what form of government we have. And if everything is so perfect with our current form of government and the citizens like what we have, then the council should not fear the Esslinger/Citizens proposal at all.

If the Common Council believes in freedom of choice, they will vote to put both proposals on the ballot - though it will likely cause much confusion at the ballot box. But if they’re not going to put the Esslinger proposal on, they shouldn’t put the Tower one on either. To do nothing with either one, however - including failing to offer any amendments - is to abdicate their responsibility as councilors and so-called leaders, especially when these councilors have the ability to tweak what is before them this evening. But if they are going to amend either proposal, it should be noted that to create anything short of a referendum with some meaning and strength behind it for the people to vote on would be committing political suicide the next time those council members run. Because in the end, the public will have its say and, numbered seats or not, certain council members numbers may be up.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Flags beautify Oshkosh city streets

The American flag: it represents our freedom, but it also represents who we are and what we stand for as a nation.

Over the years certain Supreme Court rulings have allowed the flag to be burned or desecrated on as a form of expression and speech. While that may be a legally correct interpretation of one’s First Amendment rights, I seriously doubt it is what our forefathers intended or envisioned some 200-plus years ago. So it is always nice, and a refreshing change from some of what we see these days, to actually see people respecting the flag. I only wish there were more of it.

But some people, even with the best of intentions, tend to forget that when the flag goes by people should stand and either salute the flag, if they were in the military, or place their hand across their heart.

One group of people who have not forgotten the true meaning of the American flag or the pride it gives us are those mysterious "flag elves" – the ones who quietly sneak through our city every third of July evening, placing small American flags in all the terraces along many of our city streets. What a beautiful sight to wake up to on the morning of our nation's birth!

I don't know who is to thank for what has become a tradition in recent years. Someone told me it was the staff of Adashun Jones Realty. But to them or whoever else is behind this wonderful gesture of giving us flag-adorned streets on the Fourth of July, I want to thank you - as one proud and grateful American to others.

Happy Birthday, America! And heartfelt thanks to all the veterans - past and present - who help keep her free!

- Cheryl Hentz
Co-host/producer, “Eye on Oshkosh”