Friday, June 30, 2006

Repeal law that deters public scrutiny in campaign finances

Earlier this week the state Ethics Board rolled out its Eye on Financial Relationships web site. While the concept is being lauded, the process by which the public can obtain information contained within the site is receiving criticism.

One such example is the Wisconsin State Journal. There was an editorial in yesterday's edition of the WSJ that outlined the specific problems the editorial board sees with the site. The piece also suggests that the governor and state legislature repeal laws that discourage public scrutiny into candidates' and elected officials' campaign finances and the like.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Five Rivers term sheet rescinded; some councilors lack courage to do the right thing and stand up for taxpayers

Earlier this evening the Oshkosh Common Council approved an amended version of a resolution, formally rescinding the term sheet with Five Rivers LLC (developer Tom Doig) based on the group’s failure to meet the items outlined in that term sheet for the Five Rivers Resort project.

The amended resolution was approved by four of our Common Council members: its sponsors Paul Esslinger and Dennis McHugh, as well as Bryan Bain and Burk Tower. It was not supported by Mayor William Castle and councilors Shirley Mattox and Meredith Scheuermann. The question is “why not?”

The main reasons they gave in saying they would not support it were: (1) it was going backward when we are trying to go forward and was really unnecessary because the Redevelopment Authority was already moving forward with a new Request for Proposals; (2) it had never been done before and would be setting a precedent; and, (3) it was essentially taking a poke at or kicking someone, and dividing the parties. These reasons make little, if any sense, and lack all merit, in my opinion. Rather, they strike me as comments from councilors who are afraid to take a public stand against a wannabe developer. Maybe they think Mr. Doig will come back to the city at some point in the future and they don't want to ruffle his feathers; I don't know. But here's what I see wrong with their "reasoning."

First, the passage of this resolution was certainly not taking a step backward. Quite the contrary. It is closing the door on a better than two-year chapter in this city’s history and bringing finality to it so we can better move forward. Our own assistant city attorney said it was a cleaner way of doing things, rather than to just leave things hanging.

Second, so what if we’re setting a precedent by doing so? It's important that developers would know we are willing to go the extra mile to work with them, but also important they realize that we expect them to do what they say they’re going to do and that they can't get something for nothing. I would remind Mrs. Scheuermann that while the council may not have rescinded a term sheet in the past, it also has never had a project of this magnitude in front of it before either. I also don't recall a term sheet being put out there like this before.

Furthermore, while Mrs. Scheuermann was concerned this evening about setting a precedent, I remember last summer when the fishing pier issue came up, she asked that the city take the lead on issues related to parks and neighbor notification, etc., when things were being done in the parks, be they neighborhood parks, regional parks, what have you. At the time she said that we shouldn’t be afraid of doing things just because they haven’t been done before. (Incidentally, what IS happening with Scheuermann's request, and how long must we wait for it to come to fruition?)

And finally, this resolution does not kick someone when they're down, create division, or anything of the sort. Mr. Doig did that I think with his comments in his letter to the city earlier this month and in the media. Doig’s remarks about a city that did everything but co-sign a loan for him (though we did contact lenders on his behalf) were doled out with not a word of defense publicly for the city from councilors Mattox and Scheuermann. Yet, these councilors were concerned about the resolution somehow kicking someone when they’re down, or, as Mrs. Scheuermann said, “dividing us.” It does nothing of the sort. The council had earlier in the process been asked to approve the term sheet; then approve an extension on it. Therefore, it is only fitting that the council give the entire process as we knew it some finality.

Kudos to the four council members who approved this resolution. And to those who wouldn’t because of how it might look or the message it might send, understand that your “NAY” vote sent a clear message of another kind – both to the taxpayers you’re supposed to represent and to developers like Tom Doig.

- Cheryl Hentz

[following is a response to the above post from an earlier version of Eye on Oshkosh]

Authored by: DBCooper on Thursday, June 29 2006 @ 07:47 PM MDT
Let us not forget, this is the same Meredith Scheuermann that had a private meeting with Mr. Doig, during which she signed a non-disclosure agreement with Doig/5 Rivers. Timeframe approx 2/15/06. Between the non-disclosure agreement, her behavior before the councils (illegal?) closed meeting with Doig (also 2/06), her vote in favor of the garbage fee, and now not voting for rescinding the term sheet, she has pretty much earned herself a spot in the express lane for tarring and feathering.Shirley Mattox just thought we were kicking poor Tom Doig when he was down. Clearly the oddest reason for not voting for it, but then, consider the source! She was probably still attempting to calculate the butterburger factor for $42,600 worth of Spanish tile...

Amendment to ban flag desecration falls short in Senate

In a nail-biter of a vote, a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration died in the U.S. Senate earlier this evening. The vote was just one vote shy of the required number needed to send it on to individual states for ratification. It comes a few days before Independence Day and just slightly more than four months before voters elect a new Congress, the Associated Press story says.

How do you feel about this issue? Is desecrating the flag more a freedom of express rather than free speech and should the flag be protected under the law? Or should the right to desecrate the American flag if we choose to be upheld?

I realize this issue is a passionate one for some and could get nasty. Please be respectful of each other’s opinions. They are, after all, protected under our Constitution.

- Cheryl

State web site shows financial relationships of people in state office

The State Ethics Board has rolled out its preliminary version of an on-line index to the financial relationships state officials have reported to the Board. State officials and candidates for state public office will file Statements of Economic Interests for public inspection at the time they enter the public arena, and will be required to update them annually. A statement identifies a filer's, and his or her immediate family’s employers, investments, real estate, commercial clients and creditors. The idea is to identify to which businesses and individuals an official is tied financially. The Ethics Board stresses that the focus is on financial relationships, not on one's personal worth.

You can access the Eye on Financial Relationships web site here.

The index can be used to learn the financial relationships reported by officials associated with each state agency, board, and commission and each committee of the state legislature. You can also discover the officials who have identified a financial relationship to a specific business or organization. By using the index you will be able to determine whether you want to look at the economic interest statement filed by a specific official.

The site was created using a $75,000 grant from The Joyce Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve public policy-making.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Looks like Five Rivers developer is the one who's really out of step

This morning’s Oshkosh Northwestern featured a rather in-depth piece by Alex Hummel looking at why the Five Rivers Resort proposal failed in Oshkosh even before it got off the ground. In the article, Hummel’s research confirms exactly what most of us have been saying all along: that it is not at all uncommon or out of the norm in the development world - at least where public dollars are at stake – to require financing commitment upfront before giving someone a developer’s agreement and letting them break ground.

The piece highlights two examples of somewhat similar projects, whose developers were required to follow essentially the same kinds of requirements by their communities as Five Rivers developer Tom Doig was being asked to do so here. And I know that Alex Hummel – or anyone else doing research on this – could find dozens more examples to show Oshkosh’s approach to the financing requirements of this project was not at all out of step with the development and banking worlds, as Doig stated in his now infamous pull-out letter of two weeks ago.

Doig insists he will build his project elsewhere, and in the manner he believes is the norm: by getting a signed developer’s agreement from a community first, with no up-front equity or financing; and apparently because he thinks communities are so desperate for development that they will buy into his resort concept: hook, line and sinker, with no regard for their taxpayers. As I have said many times before, I wish him well in finding that community, but I don’t think it will be in this lifetime. Municipal budgets are tighter than ever and he’s going to find as many, if not more, restrictions and requirements elsewhere as he did here in Oshkosh.

Meanwhile, I know there are some out there who want to call those of us who questioned this project and gave it closer scrutiny than many of our own Common Council members, “cobblestoners” or “naysayers,” when most of us really just wanted was to see the project done properly and with consideration given to the taxpayers’ interests. In the end, that was the concern that ruled the day, but Doig need look no further than himself to see why the project failed. He was unable or unwilling to make good on his promises and he was not forthcoming with information to the public, who was expected to be his “partner” in this development. He even kept those willing to finance most of the construction in the dark about his “deal” with the city. Perhaps in some respects we should thank Mr. Doig. It was his attitude and actions that caused him to leave the table - promising to build his “personal dream” somewhere else; and saving Oshkosh from the “Great White Elephant Resort.”

- Cheryl Hentz

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Five Rivers Resort, R.I.P.; developer still says we've got it all wrong

Today was the deadline for the City of Oshkosh to essentially make up its mind about what some believe could have been our city’s saving grace along the riverfront. That deadline came and went, and the city stuck to its guns by not caving in to one man's demands. So as the curtain closes on yet another act in the two-year melodrama known as the Five Rivers Resort project, that man - would-be developer Tom Doig - continues to insist that the City of Oshkosh is backwards and out of step with the banking and development world.

According to a story in the online version of the Oshkosh Northwestern, despite the $60 million dollar project sinking in Oshkosh, Doig insists it will be built somewhere, and in the manner he and his Florida real estate investment broker/partner believe to be the norm – evidently with a community ponying up millions of dollars in assistance and the project proceeding forward with a developer’s agreement in hand first, before a commitment of any up-front financing, including the absence of any investor equity. I wish him luck; he's going to need it, because those expectations are both unrealistic and ridiculous, unless you're dealing with a community which is completely naive and totally desperate.

The article says Doig continues to believe that “the Oshkosh Common Council and city Redevelopment Authority continuously received one-sided information from the city that never opened their eyes to what he considers the reality of the condominium-hotel market.” If anyone’s eyes are closed I think it’s Mr. Doig’s. Clearly, this man either continues to be in denial about redevelopment projects or he simply has not been around too many communities to see how things are done.

A quick Internet search will enlighten him to the way most, if not all, communities approach redevelopment projects. Moreover, he will also find that many such projects are done without the benefit of any public funding. Here Mr. Doig stood to receive about $16 million from us – had he been able to hold up his end of the bargain.

As far as the council or RDA receiving only one-sided information, I have seen a lot of the exchanges between the different parties in this matter. If anything, things seemed to me to often lean too much in Mr. Doig’s favor, not the opposite. The reality of the situation is Doig couldn’t deliver on what he promised the city; he apparently couldn’t convince traditional lenders to “buy into” his concept; and when he found someone to finance a large chunk of his “personal dream,” he wouldn’t even be completely forthcoming with them by sharing the term sheet he had been given by the city, not just once, but twice. And as said in the past, if Doig truly felt the request for having up-front financing before a developer’s agreement was in place was so out of step with the rest of the banking and development world, why did he not speak up sooner than just one week ago?

As to the “reality of the condominium-hotel market,” all Mr. Doig needs to do is read real estate publications, local newspapers from a variety of communities, scan the Internet or follow the links presented in a number of blog sites on such ventures and he will see that the type of project he proposed, while it may have tremendous potential, must be done right in order to be successful. More and more facilities like what he proposed are failing. So what was so different about Five Rivers that it would not only succeed, but create an economic impact that was “beyond the wildest dreams” of the Oshkosh community?

Indeed, Mr. Doig should open his own eyes – or at least take off the rose-colored glasses covering them – and be more realistic in his approach to such a project in the future. Along with that he should be honest with all those involved and include ALL partners, including the public partners who often may be unwitting ones. And above everything else, Mr. Doig might want to resign himself to the fact that just as information about his rebuffed project in Gladstone, Mich. followed him here, the last two years of his dealings in Oshkosh will follow him elsewhere. And in this age of the Internet, instant media, community journalism and public blogging, don’t think the next community will have to search very long or hard to find out what went wrong here.

- Cheryl Hentz

P.S. The episode of Eye on Oshkosh currently running features Oshkosh Common Councilor Bryan Bain in a discussion about the Five Rivers Resort project. Despite the fact that this project is, for all intents and purposes, dead, the information shared during the discussion is interesting and still worth checking out. I suspect the project will be officially dead when the council votes on the resolution Tuesday evening to formally rescind the term sheet offered to developer Tom Doig and start looking for new development ideas. Bain is also asking for the public's input about new development ideas for the property along the Fox River previously earmarked for Five Rivers. Visit his blog here and give him your thoughts; or just read his and others' comments to see what they're thinking.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Five Rivers likely not dropping anchor after all

After approximately two years of talking with the City of Oshkosh and trying to work out financing specifics satisfactory to construct the $60 million Five Rivers Resort, it appears developer Tom Doig of Five Rivers LLC will be setting sail down the Fox River instead of building his condo-hotel-convention center on it.

Representatives from the city met with C.D. Smith Construction earlier this afternoon and according to an online report from the Oshkosh Northwestern there were “unacceptable gaps in funding” for the resort project. As a result of that, the article says city staff is now recommending the city discontinue consideration of the Five Rivers proposal and begin looking at the possibility of other projects for the Fox River area west of Jackson in the area of Mercury Marine. The city’s Redevelopment Authority meets tomorrow at 4 p.m.; that meeting will continue as planned, with the future of the Marion Road/Pearl Avenue land, some of which was previously considered for Five Rivers, no doubt being discussed.

City manager Richard Wollangk, meanwhile, has drafted a letter to Mayor Bill Castle and the Common Council in which the results of the city’s meeting with C.D. Smith Construction are explained in greater detail.

If a recommendation to end the Five Rivers discussion is forthcoming it would seem to make a resolution drafted yesterday and sponsored by councilors Paul Esslinger and Dennis McHugh rescinding the term sheet and breaking off discussions with Doig a moot point, though as a matter of formality - and finality - it will likely still come to the council at its June 27 meeting.

I am glad the city has recognized the many shortcomings of this project and it seems that the staff’s so-called “due diligence” has finally paid off. While I am appreciative of the fact that this project may soon be coming to a halt as a result of those shortcomings, I also sincerely hope that Common Council members support a recommendation to stop the project now and that staff and council members alike will have learned some lessons from this, including: (1) Do your due diligence in the early stages from now on rather than later, and remember that doing due diligence also means including the public, especially if you’re asking us to contribute money in a partnership; (2) Listen to the public you’re elected to represent. Our ideas should not be summarily dismissed or be given less than their due consideration simply because we’re not elected officials ourselves. After all, I would point out that some of us asked more difficult and more pertinent questions than many of the council members themselves, and certainly much earlier in the process. And remember that to question something does not necessarily make someone a naysayer; (3) Don’t be so eager to give away the keys to our city and bank account to anyone who offers us the sun, moon and stars; (4) Try spurring development like townships and other communities do, without the benefit of a TIF district, because sooner or later you’re going to be TIFed out and then how will you spur new development? (5) Ask tough, but pertinent questions up front as if the money you were spending was your own. Because in reality, part of it is.

- Cheryl Hentz

P.S. With this two-year chapter in our city’s history seemingly coming to a close, ironically enough, at 5:23 p.m. today I received a voice mail message from the Attorney General’s office following up on messages I had left since last week trying to get a status report on the Open Meetings complaint Tony Palmeri and I filed more than three months ago. He and I will try reaching each other tomorrow. But we believe our complaint should still be fully investigated and acted on, irrespective of today’s news and the city’s decision on the Five Rivers project itself. We still maintain the Common Council operated illegally by meeting in closed session on Feb. 14, and a determination in our favor will hopefully help the council refrain from doing so in the future.

Some council support still remains for Fiver Rivers. But why?

If the latest article on the proposed Five Rivers Resort in this morning’s Oshkosh Northwestern is any indication, it may be that even more support for the project by Oshkosh Common Council members is waning.

In the article Mayor Bill Castle is quoted as saying “It’s getting damn close” to the time when the city should pull the plug on this $60 million, 312-unit condominium-hotel-conference center project, for which approximately $16 million in tax incremental financing and developer assistance grant money would be provided to developer Tom Doig. But then again, didn't he make somewhat similar comments when an extension on the term sheet was requested, and approved, in March? Exactly when, and where, are we going to draw the line in the sand?
We already know where councilors Paul Esslinger and Dennis McHugh stand. They have stated publicly their opposition to the project continuing and Esslinger met with the city attorney Monday to draft a resolution, directing the city to end discussions with Doig. That resolution, which comes on the heels of Doig’s letter to the city last week threatening to pull out of the project unless certain conditions were met, will be on the agenda at next Tuesday’s council meeting.

Also at that meeting will likely be a resolution brought forward by the Community Development department to extend the deadline for the project to break ground.

Either resolution will need a simple majority of the council (4 members) in order to be approved. Esslinger and McHugh have made their feelings known; Bryan Bain said months ago he had lost confidence in the project and its developer and, in fact, voted against extending a deadline back in March already, so it is unlikely he will go along with yet another extension. Castle’s comments in the paper lead us to believe he could go either way with the project. He sounds like he’s fed up, but could just as easily be swayed to give Doig a little more time. It’s unclear where Deputy Mayor Burk Tower stands on the latest developments, though he agrees there are more questions than answers and has said the council still doesn’t understand how the financing of the project is going to work.

The two councilors who for sure still seem to be hanging in there with Doig are Shirley Mattox and Meredith Scheuermann – and the fact that they are makes me wonder exactly what they’re thinking and why. Mattox says she’s not one to “jump the gun,” but also wants to make sure things are in place and done right. Okay, I’m all for that – but the time for that has come and gone. Scheuermann’s comments were the ones most confusing – and, I think, disturbing.

She was quoted in this morning’s article as saying "I don't think we should stay the course, but I don't think we should dig our heels in so far that we're not willing to be global on this piece until the end.” I have read the statement several times and still don't know what she really means by that. She also said she’d like to get both the city and Doig back on the same page and iron out their differences. Frankly, I don’t see how that is possible.

After all, Doig and his cast of supporting characters – his attorney, C.D. Smith Construction and RE/MAX Realtors, the company hired to market the project – have all said the city’s term sheet, which was originally approved last fall and an extension thereon approved in March, is backwards and that a developer’s agreement must be signed before condo units can be sold or more traditional, takeout financing can be obtained. This comes in the 11th hour when nary a word like this was said during the course of the last several months. Yet everyone involved had every opportunity to know what the term sheet called for. Now suddenly, it's “backwards” and Mr. Doig can’t do anything as a result of that.

But even Doig’s own people seem to be in a state of flux or confusion about the status of things. We’ve been told for months now that reservations were being taken for condo units. Some published reports even said some units were already sold. Yet Doig is now refusing to say how many units may be sold and his realtors are saying they can’t sell anything without a developer’s agreement. I don’t know how Mrs. Scheuermann wants to get the city and Doig on the same page when his own people don’t seem to be. And why would she want to? Can she even vote on this project? Let’s consider the last question first…

When she was first elected to the council last April, Scheuermann voted on projects involving contractor Ben Ganther. Later on I believe she abstained from such votes, saying there was a conflict of interest for her with respect to her job at U.S. Bank. So I’m confused as to how she could vote on a massive project like this when Ganther is directly involved in the project. Not only is he still listed on the Five Rivers web site as being a member of the project team, but he was copied on Doig’s letter to the city last week in which Doig threatened to pull out. I am not sure how you vote on something involving a contractor one month, don’t in another, then do so in another.

As to the question of “why” she or anyone else on the city council would want to get the city and Doig back on the same page, I think all councilors have to do is listen to the people they’ve been elected to serve. People are fed up; we feel we’ve been misled and strung along; and we’ve certainly been kept in the dark about a development we’re being asked to involuntarily be partners in.

Esslinger said it best when interviewed this morning on WOSH 1490-AM. He was asked about Doig’s charge that the City of Oshkosh is backwards when it comes to development. He said he disagrees with that comment, then added, “We bend over backwards.” That fact has been proven time and time again by evidence of the number of open TIFs we have in this city. It is now time for the Oshkosh Common Council to get its priorities in order and do the bidding for the right partners in this project – the taxpayers – and for the right reasons. Kill all offers of public funding and if Mr. Doig still wants to do his project, let him do it without our money. Then he won’t have to worry about developer’s agreements and “backwards” term sheets. And we won’t have to worry about whether we’re being sold down the river (or five rivers) by an overly ambitious developer or a city council that so far has seemed to care more about out-of-town developers than their constituents.

- Cheryl

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

Some council support still remains for Five Rivers. But why?
Authored by: Kent Monte on Tuesday, June 20 2006 @ 11:29 AM MDT
I know we have had our differences lately but this is one of the best written pieces that you have done. It is fair, unbias, and complete. Not that my opinion counts for much but I thought you would like to hear it. Also, if you are interested, I posted a copy of the resolution on my site for your reading pleasure.
Have a nice afternoon.
K. Monte

Some council support still remains for Five Rivers. But why?
Authored by: admin on Wednesday, June 21 2006 @ 06:56 AM MDT
Thank you for your comments, Kent. Though I must say I approached this piece the same as I have any other.
- Cheryl

Some council support still remains for Five Rivers. But why?
Authored by: DBCooper on Tuesday, June 20 2006 @ 04:50 PM MDT
This just in, city staff met today, looks like the end is near!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Resolution being drafted to break off communications with Five Rivers developer

According to a news report on the web site for WOSH Radio 1490 AM, Oshkosh Common Council members Paul Esslinger and Dennis McHugh were to have met with the city attorney this afternoon (Monday) to begin drafting a resolution under which the city would break off further discussions with developer Tom Doig over his proposed approximately $60 million Five Rivers project.

This follows several developments in the past two weeks, including a letter sent by Doig to Community Development director Jackson Kinney last week in which he claimed the city had put up too many barriers to entry; was not development friendly; and was essentially out of step with banking and development practices. In his communication he and his attorney reportedly set forth expectations they wanted the city to meet and gave the city a deadline of June 22 to respond back with its answer.

It is expected the resolution sponsored by councilors Esslinger and McHugh will be on the agenda for the next Oshkosh Common Council meeting on June 27. It will take a simple majority of the council (4 votes) in order for it to pass. It is unclear at this point if four such votes exist or, in the event the resolution passes, what Doig’s response might be.

Authored by: admin on Friday, June 23 2006 @ 09:24 AM MDT
[For anyone wishing to see it, here is a copy of the resolution being voted on by the Oshkosh Common Council Tuesday night to formally end discussions on the Five Rivers project with developer Tom Doig and Five Rivers, LLC.]

JUNE 27, 2006 06-221 RESOLUTION (CARRIED____LOST ____ LAID OVER ____ WITHDRAWN ____)



WHEREAS, the Common Council of the City of Oshkosh has previously approved a term sheet, since amended, upon which the City of Oshkosh would enter into a formal developers agreement for the construction of the Five Rivers Project in Marion Road/ the Pearl Avenue Redevelopment Project Area; and

WHEREAS, among the terms, the developer was to: “On or before May 31, 2006, present lender and equity commitments to City/RDA in form and substance satisfactory to City/RDA. Developer shall demonstrate satisfactorily to City/RDA ability to satisfy all conditions of commitment on or before closing”; and “If construction financing, Developer shall by May 31, 2006, provide evidence of permanent financing to City/RDA’s satisfaction”; and

WHEREAS, information made available to the Council indicates that the proposed financing is not in form and substance satisfactory to the City, that it does not meet the conditions of the term sheet as amended and, therefore, the City administration should cease all efforts to bring the proposed project to development;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Common Council of the City of Oshkosh that the Council as follows:

1. Finds that the financing condition of the term sheet as amended is not in form and substance satisfactory to the City;

2. Rescinds and withdraws the term sheet as amended in its entirety;

3. Directs the proper City officials to cease negotiations on a developer’s agreement with Five Rivers LLC based on the now-rescinded term sheet; and

4. Requests the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Oshkosh to authorize and direct the proper City officials to request and/or to receive other proposals for development of the Project Area.

Friday, June 16, 2006

180-degree turn on Five Rivers should be substantial enough change to bring project back to council

Friday, June 16 2006 @ 01:34 PM MDTContributed by: admin
Every day it seems we pick up the Oshkosh Northwestern, only to find something new being reported about the Five Rivers development – little of it good, it seems, and most, if not all of it, bringing more questions than answers. With those questions certainly comes more reason than ever to be skeptical of what we’re being told by the parties who have been at the center of the discussions for the past approximately two years.

The first shock came two weeks ago when we learned that in approving a term sheet last fall and an extension of that term sheet in March, the Oshkosh Common Council basically voted away its right to approve a final developer's agreement before groundbreaking – news that surprised most council members as well as many in the community. But according to city staff, the only way the agreement would need council approval would be in the event of a “substantial” change to the basic terms in the term sheet. And guess who gets to decide if there has been a substantial change: that’s right – city staff! Very convenient, and as far as I am concerned, highly inappropriate, especially since city staff members are not elected officials and really only have to answer to citizens through the council.

Then the other day we learned that because C.D. Smith Construction of Fond du Lac intends to finance the construction of this project, as opposed to developer Tom Doig securing traditional financing, meeting the threshold of pre-selling 50 percent of the condo units is no longer a requirement, or even considered important, apparently. One would think that even without traditional financing, C.D. Smith would want the kind of reassurance pre-sales could bring so it doesn’t get stuck holding ownership papers on this project at the end of construction if Doig can’t come up with more permanent financing by then.

We also have recently learned that Doig may be seeking an extension from the September 2006 groundbreaking set forth in the two term sheets and that C.D. Smith has not had any discussions with city staff at all to this point. Since they are the ones providing the construction financing and giving the city its much sought-after “missing link,” one would think that a call to C.D. Smith would have been one of the first steps in the city’s performance of its “due diligence,” wouldn’t you?

Last evening we taped a segment of Eye on Oshkosh with Common Councilman Bryan Bain discussing what the council learned at its Tuesday meeting from community development director Jackson Kinney and where we go from here. The council meeting was intended to help explain where the project was at and shed light on the latest developments. While it answered some questions, it spurred several others, among the public and council members alike. Now there are even more questions. Kudos to those council members – Bain, Paul Esslinger and Dennis McHugh – who continue to believe there are problems with the project and/or developer; that not enough has been done to satisfy the city’s position; and that perhaps the project should either be dropped or at least slowed down to insure the city and its taxpayers are duly protected.

Now this morning we read in the Oshkosh Northwestern that the term sheet rules are supposedly backwards and that “it's not possible to sell the condominium units without a developer's agreement, and without a history of sales, long-term financing is nearly impossible.” I’m sorry but someone is either highly confused about what has been going on for the last two years or we have been lied to, misled and manipulated throughout this ever-unfolding process. After all, have we not been hearing how there is so much interest in this project and how they’re busy taking deposits and reservations for the various units? I understand they perhaps can’t actually close on the deals until there is something more formal in place, but why is this the first we’re hearing about the term sheet being backwards? Why did C.D. Smith Construction just two weeks ago submit a letter of financial commitment but say nothing at that time about the term sheet being "backwards?"

And for someone to suggest that they cannot come up with condominium documents or let interested parties know what a condo association fee might be until a developer's agreement is signed is ridiculous.

What they’re asking us to believe is that they can establish a price for units; they can market the units; they can take reservations and deposits for the units; and they have oodles of interest generated; but they can’t tell people how the association would be run or what their monthly dues would be without putting the city taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars before-hand. Such a suggestion is both ridiculous and offensive. It also does not seem plausible that there could be so much interest and deposits being made on units without a formal agreement being in place, but suddenly the lack of condo documents and/or lack of knowing what a monthly association fee will be is going to be a deal breaker. In no other city where I’ve reported on economic development projects – large or small – has there ever been this much confusion and almost daily or weekly changes in the rules of the game. Nor has there ever been a developer and his cohorts calling the shots like we have here with Mr. Doig and his supporting cast of players.

My co-host Tony Palmeri has called this a “frightening bait and switch” tactic and I wholeheartedly agree with that analogy. I would again harken back to what I said earlier: If C.D. Smith and the realtors at Re/MAX are right – that there must be a developer's agreement in place before any units can be sold or traditional financing be obtained – why has no one said anything like that before now? Who’s been asleep at the wheel? Or is this just another slick attempt to try duping city leaders and citizens?

Here’s what I think has happened:
Following the council meeting Tuesday night I think some people became scared that there may not be enough council support for this project to make it happen. As a result, the rules of the game are changing in order to force the city’s hand. Something stinks to high heaven in this deal and the aroma becomes a little more pungent every morning when we open our daily paper.
Whether I’m right or wrong about what happened, one thing is for sure: either the city administration was right in crafting the term sheet and proceeding in the order it has (though many of us disagree with their overall methods of disclosure, or lack thereof, to the council) OR the contractor and realtors are right in saying that everything the city put together is backwards. Either way it is a testament of gross incompetence on someone’s part that we are first finding these things out in the 11th hour, or later. And no matter what, with the realtors, C.D. Smith and Doig’s attorney now saying they need a developer's agreement in hand before they can proceed with sales, etc., I think there is certainly a substantial enough change that this project can’t possibly proceed forward without it going back to the council. And that is where the rubber will have to meet the road and the line gets drawn once and for all. It really seems with so much confusion and continued secrecy, the best way for this project to proceed is for no public funding to be part of the plan. We have invested and gambled enough already. If Tom Doig wants to develop it, let him now do it on his own.

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This just in, Doig has whine with cheese
Authored by: DBCooper on Friday, June 16 2006 @ 04:38 PM MDT
The city has just released a letter from Doig that it received yesterday. Check the Northwesterns website for details. A whole bunch of whining by Doig, with some threats of pulling out if the city doesn't act soon. Whaaaa.

This just in, Doig has whine with cheese
Authored by: admin on Friday, June 16 2006 @ 05:24 PM MDT
Thanks for jumping in here, DB. I appreciate it. I was writing my piece at the same time you were posting your comment. Glad to see we're thinking along the same lines here and working together to help get the word out.
- Cheryl

180-degree turn on Five Rivers should be substantial enough change to bring project back to council
Authored by: admin on Friday, June 16 2006 @ 05:17 PM MDT
Now this afternoon we read in the Oshkosh Northwestern that developer Tom Doig has sent a letter to community development director Jackson Kinney, threatening to pull his proposed $60-some million project out of Oshkosh and take it to another community.

In his letter - dated June 14, received by the city yesterday, June 15, and made public earlier this afternoon – Doig says the city has “too many barriers to entry and is not ‘development friendly.’” His letter went on to say that he thinks “it’s a travesty that we’ve all spent too much time, energy and money on this exciting project to have it die on the vine simply because the City of Oshkosh has chosen to approach development in an inconsistent manner with respect to the rest of the banking and development world.”

I have no idea what Mr. Doig actually means by those comments, other than to suggest that by some people asking questions and trying to see that things are done in somewhat of a prudent, judicious and responsible manner, the city or some within the city are somehow out of step with the way things are traditionally done. I can assure him he couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, if anyone has done something in a manner inconsistent with the rest of the banking and development world, would this project of Mr. Doig’s not be a shining example of just that? It certainly looks it from my perspective. I’ve covered economic development issues for a long time in a variety of communities, and I’ve never seen an arrangement quite like this one has been (and continues to be).

Is Mr. Doig actually naïve enough to think that he should be given millions of dollars in TIF and grant money with no questions being asked (and answered) or reasonable assurances being put in place to adequately protect the taxpayers’ investment? Or does he think that this city needs his particular development so badly that we will do anything to get it? By the way, whether we will be those very kinds of guinea pigs or not remains to be seen. Doig has asked for some kind of response by the time he gets back in his office from out of town on June 22. We will see what this city decides to do: Will we proceed judiciously and let him walk if he chooses to walk? Or will we cave in to what I see as tantamount to blackmail and Mr. Doig throwing a $60 million tantrum because he wasn’t given the keys to the city without a fair amount of questions being asked by various individuals in the community, those of us in the media included. Let’s hope this city makes the right decision and not cave in to the pressure and unreasonable demands of a developer who is asking for millions of dollars in public financing while giving us little to nothing in return. The clock is ticking.

180-degree turn on Five Rivers should be substantial enough change to bring project back to council
Authored by: DBCooper on Friday, June 16 2006 @ 07:44 PM MDT
We may not like a few things about Five Rivers, we may not even like a lot of things about Five Rivers, but you have to admit that there WAS a chance this would have continued to move forward to completion. We're fairly sure we know who is against it, who is for it, and save for the calculation of the butter burger factor, it was going to go.If you were Tom Doig, why would you write a letter like that this far into the process? There's a good chance that anybody that was on your side now isn't. Because we are trying to be responsible with OUR money (tif), not to mention what this might or might not do to our city long term, we're not "development friendly"? Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Tom!We should just hand over money and keys to the city to a guy who1) Got tossed out of Gladstone, Michigan with this project already,2) Requires members of the city council to sign non-disclosure agreements before he will meet with them (don't even get me started on the ones that did that!)3) Doesn't have the decency to even show up for city council meetings. With what was discussed last week at the city council meeting, wouldn't it have been nice for him to at least show up? Doesn't matter if he wasn't scheduled or even authorized to speak. Be there in case anybody has any questions, at least ACT like you're interested. Oh yeah, he doesn't have to do that, he has Jackson Kinney to do his bidding for him!4) Is running on a such a low budget, he can't even afford Five Rivers letterhead stationary. Think about it. Look at the letter in question. If this project was so fantastic, couldn't the guy spring the lousy $50 to have a quick printer print a ream of professional looking stationary for him? How about a bad do it yourself ink-jet job?Does anybody remember "The Fourdrinier Club" in Appleton, about 25 years ago? A fourdrinier (named after it's inventor) is the machine that makes paper in a continuous roll instead of a single sheet at a time. About 1980 or so, before the Fox River Mall was built, a group of developers got together in Appleton. Their idea was to build "The Fourdrinier Club". TFC was going to be nothing like had ever been seen before in northeast Wisconsin. It was going to be a hotel/motel/time share/condo, etc, etc, before anybody even knew what to call them. Besides just rooms to stay in, it was going to have movie theaters, workout rooms, bars, the finest restaurants, etc, etc. I can remember the ads running on the Green Bay tv stations, for some sum of money, you got "in" on this dramatic/staggering/sure to be wildly successful (to use some of Doigs words) investment opportunity. With your investment, you even got a big gold plated skeleton key to show off. I saw one on ebay awhile back. It was quite the big deal.The hotel portion of this development was actually completed. Maybe one other building also? (Just the structures, not finished out). Not one single guest ever stayed in that hotel. The investors never came, the financing fell apart, as I remember a lot of people that did invest never got their money back, etc, etc. What it amounts to is the principals took a bunch of money from people without having to put a gun to their heads. The hotel sat empty for years afterwards.Today, the Fourdriniers Club former hotel is now the Holiday Inn on Hwy 41 in Grand Chute. It's the oval shaped building, maybe 8 stories tall, just south of the Outback restaurant.FOURdrinier? FIVE Rivers? Ohh, the irony...

180-degree turn on Five Rivers should be substantial enough change to bring project back to council
Authored by: admin on Friday, June 16 2006 @ 11:15 PM MDT
I think Mr. Doig sensed the problems were mounting and that there was less support now than before. And your comments about his coming before the public are 110-percent correct. I, too have said this all along. I even told Mr. Doig months ago that if he wanted public buy-in and respect from the public who was being asked to help finance his project, he needed to step forward and start talking to the other partners in this public-private partnership. That is how things have successfully worked in other communities. While he kept acknowledging my words, he also kept telling me it was Jackson Kinney who would not let him speak. If that was the case, I think it was inappropriate for Mr. Kinney to tell a developer not to be forthcoming with information, especially if he truly wanted to be. But still, it was Mr. Doig's project and he had the ability - and pull - at any point to step up to the podium and talk. Instead he hid in the shadows and the confines of closed session meetings and behind emails and phone calls protected by confidentiality.

After having been booked for at least two months, he canceled his appearance on Eye on Oshkosh, coincidentally one day after Tony and I were at City Hall looking at records under an Open Records request. Instead he said he'd come on after he had things more lined up - an offer which I politely turned down, telling him I was not going to have the show be a 60-minute public relations piece or infomercial for him. What about now, Mr. Doig? Care to discuss things and answer questions now? And why was the letter from his attorney Chuck Hertl not made public? Are they considering a lawsuit? I certainly hope not, especially given the fact that they have missed deadline after deadline and seem to have never quite hit the mark in meeting all of the city's demands. And now, they are the ones threatening a pull out. So if a lawsuit is even remotely in the picture, I would hope a judge would laugh them right out of court. I also found it interesting that Mr. Doig did not like the consultant the city selected, and even suggested the city perhaps consider working with someone of Five Rivers' own choosing. This man has gall like we've rarely seen and clearly does not seem to understand the basics of how local government works.

When we interviewed Bryan Bain last night I asked him if it was possible to get Mr. Doig at a council meeting where the council could ask him questions in public. He said he would try to do that. It looks like it won't be necessary now. Or will it? I understand from a very reliable source who must remain anonymous that when Jackson Kinnney got Doig's letter, he was frantically trying to get in contact with city manager Dick Wollangk, who was out of town on business. That leads me to wonder what kind of strategizing is taking place this weekend or will be yet to come in the next few days? Will the city find some way to entice this developer and his project to stick around? Or will they do the smart thing by calling his bluff and letting him take the project somewhere else - maybe to a place where there actually are "five rivers." At this juncture, it seems THAT would be doing the true "due diligence."
- Cheryl

180-degree turn on Five Rivers should be substantial enough change to bring project back to council
Authored by: admin on Sunday, June 18 2006 @ 11:28 AM MDT
This morning's editorial in the Oshkosh Northwestern charges the city's Common Council with being weak when it came to the Five Rivers Resort project. The editorial claimed the council has displayed a "lackadaisical approach" toward the redevelopment proposal. The editorial went on to say that "The council has some deep operational issues. This council cannot handle tough projects and has turned its decision-making responsibility over to the hired hands. This council doesn't ask tough questions, doesn't demand accountability." I would agree with this to a point.

Few questions were asked in the early stages of this project. Councilman Paul Esslinger asked the most questions and has remained steadfast in his opposition to the way this project has been handled. As time went on, Bryan Bain began doubting the project and/or developer and, as a result, has been asking a lot of questions.

In fact, he, along with Esslinger, voted against extending the term sheet in March. And at the June 13 council meeting, more questions were asked by most of the council. We really only heard no substantive questions from Mayor Bill Castle and councilor Shirley Mattox. Councilor Meredith Scheuermann was not present at the meeting, but had asked questions of Jackson Kinney which I posed to her about recent developments and how they impacted the project and council's decisions overall.

This project has been shrouded in secrecy from day one, despite pleas from many in the public, including myself, to have things be done in the open. This openness was especially important for two reasons: One, there clearly was no other competition for this land or project. There still isn't even as we speak. And two, the way to get public support for something is to include them in the process, especially when you're asking them to open up their wallets and be your partner.

Even the Northwestern's editorial said "Public support for any redevelopment project is critical and that public support is built, largely, on confidence in elected official." I agree it's built largely on confidence. But it's also built on openess, honesty and competence, something I don't believe we've seen much of during the course of the last two years with the Five Rivers project.

My disappointment with the city council is in (a) not asking enough tough questions early on (and doing so in public where the public can hear councilors doing their due diligence as well as the answers), and (b) the council reposing too much trust and responsibility in the hired help. I understand staff is fulltime and supposedly the professionals, but they are not responsbile to the taxpayers; the council is. The council is the body entrusted to watch out for our wallets. Let's hope before this is said and done, they will.

- Cheryl

180-degree turn on Five Rivers should be substantial enough change to bring project back to council
Authored by: DRR on Monday, June 19 2006 @ 11:45 AM MDT
Many on this council have TRIED to ask tough questions of city staff on many issues. Asking questions and getting answers are two different things. Repeatedly we have heard city staff dance around issues, deflect, avoid, and generally mislead, all in an effort to NOT answer the councilors question. Bain and Scheuermann both ran on campaign slogans using the term accountability. It is time they hold staff accountable.

180-degree turn on Five Rivers should be substantial enough change to bring project back to council
Authored by: mjs on Tuesday, June 20 2006 @ 10:43 AM MDT
I couldn't agree more.It is clear Mr. Kinney wants to maintain a professional sounding response...but it becomes problematic when "business speak" and jargon become a tool to smoke and mask true answers. Forget the retoric and just inform us in clear plain language please Mr. Kinney.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Diebold Action Alert

Dr. Ann Frisch, whose letter appeared in the June 11 edition of the Appleton Post-Crescent, has released the following Diebold Action Alert:

A special Winnebago County Board meeting has been called and will discuss and vote on a motion to accept the Diebold voting machines. Please consider asking your county board representative to vote "no" on the motion and wait to study how we can best serve the needs of people with disabilities without jeopardizing their votes with a Diebold machine that lacks accuracy, reliability and security.

Here is the information on the hearing, how to reach your county board member. At the bottom are "Myths and Facts" about the Diebold voting machines.

Please forward to democracy-friendly people and ask them to do the same.
Wednesday June 14, 4:30 p.m.
Winnebago County Court House, 415 Jackson, corner of Algoma and Jackson, Oshkosh.
"Public hearing" (actually a special board meeting on Diebold touch screen machines for Winnebago County).
Please come to voice your opposition to the Diebold machines and support democracy-friendly alternatives. We will have some signs for you. Please stay for the "show and tell" by Diebold at 5 p.m. and the public hearing /county board meeting at 6 p.m.

For information on touch screens, go to Myth Breakers at

If you live in Winnebago County, please call your county board member now to encourage a "no" on Diebold vote. You can find your rep at or
Voting Information by Address. Enter your address and find your supervisor:
For a copy of the agenda:
For information, contact Ann Frisch 920-237-1748, 920-279-7884 or email her at

Myths and Facts about the issue:
MYTH: The Help America Vote Act requires that each polling place have a Diebold touch screen voting machine available to assist disabled voters.
FACT: Section 301(3)(A) of HAVA says that each polling place must have "one direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities."
MYTH: The electronic Diebold TSX system that county officials propose to purchase is a reliable and secure piece of equipment.
FACT: Prominent computer scientists have discovered major security flaws in the Diebold technology, resulting in lawsuits in several states to prevent its use, emergency security alerts before recent elections in California and Pennsylvania, and a vote in the Maryland assembly of 137 - 0 to stop using touch screen machines.
MYTH: It's okay if a voting machine is insecure as long as it is accessible for disabled voters.
FACT: Disabled voters have the right to have their votes counted accurately as much as any other voter.
MYTH: Even though there are problems with the Diebold TSx, there are no other options available to Winnebago County.
FACT: The voting machines of five vendors have met the Wisconsin State Elections Board's (SEB) accessibility requirements. When the SEB approved the Diebold TSX, they also approved five security recommendations to go along with it. Diebold is the only machine that comes with security recommendations in addition to those provided by the vendor.
MYTH: The federal government will level stiff fines against any states and counties that do not have touch screen voting technology in place by the September primaries.
FACT: A growing number of states and counties are refusing to undermine their elections with shoddy voting equipment, making it unclear how the federal government will respond. "We're currently evaluating each state and each county, and the results of that evaluation will determine what actions we take," said Eric Holland, spokesman for the United States Department of Justice.
MYTH: We should just accept that there will be some glitches in the electronic, touch screen machines and move on.
FACT When other systems fail the poll workers have a voter marked ballot to examine to determine voter intent. With the Diebold machine, there is no ballot to examine.
MYTH: Adopting the Diebold touch screen machines will save us money.
FACT: No cost estimates have been done to include court suits, replacement machines, replacement batteries, increased number of poll workers, etc.
See also:

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Diebold Action Alert
Authored by: admin on Monday, June 12 2006 @ 08:41 PM MDT
[We received the following copy of an email Winnebago County Board Supervisor Mike Norton sent to County Clerk Sue Ertmer, and we thank him for sharing it with us.]
Dear Sue:
Below is an article what a county in Arizona did in rejecting Diebold. My question to you is did or has Diebold let other vendors lets test andtry see if their systems could work the system we already have in place ?Why or why not ?VOTING-MACHINE PURCHASE ISSUE PUTS COUNTY IN BIND(Arizona Daily Star, The (Tucson) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jun. 5 --Pima County could be in violation of federal law -- and on the hook for $2 million -- if the Board of Supervisors doesn't agree to buy touch-screen voting machines from Diebold Elections Systems.[1]But the county could end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit filed by election activists if it does buy the machines.The supervisors will be facing this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't dilemma for a third time Tuesday on what could be their last chance to make a decision in time for the fall elections.The board twice has postponed a decision on the voting machines in response to critics who say the devices can be tampered with and don't provide an adequate paper trail in case a recount is needed. In a prepared statement, Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer blasted the delay, calling it "unconscionable."The federal Help America Vote Act requires that in time for the fall elections, every polling place must have at least one machine that allows the disabled tovote without assistance. The law makes federal funds available to buy the equipment.The Secretary of State's Office said Pima County had to buy the Diebold AccuVote TS-X touch-screen machines because the county already uses Diebold optical scanners to count its paper ballots."We want a system that will work end to end," Deputy Secretary of State Kevin Tyne said.Thus, Pima County became one of 13 Arizona counties named in a lawsuit originated by Voter Action, an activist group that challenges the use of some electronic voting machines, particularly those made by Diebold and Sequoia Voting Systems. The Secretary of State's Office, also named in the lawsuit, has until June 21 to respond to a request for a preliminary injunction banning the use of the machines.The lawsuit says the machines aren't secure and don't meet the needs of all disabled voters. The two counties not named in the suit, Cochise and Graham,plan to use the AutoMark machine made by Diebold competitor Elections System and Software.The AutoMark gets high grades from some disability advocates, and Voter Action does not object to them because they produce a paper ballot.But Diebold will not allow its equipment to be tested with competitors' equipment. That means Pima County could not buy AutoMark voting machines to use with Diebold optical scanners, Tyne said."We're in a very unfortunate situation," Supervisor Sharon Bronson said. "The disabled community are the ones who will suffer if we delay. But if we dopurchase the machines, we may have to replace them if the lawsuit is successful."But Tyne said the county will have to return $2 million in federal funding if it doesn't have voting machines in place for fall and will have to use its ownmoney to buy the equipment.Tyne said Pima County is the only one delaying."We were on track to have all 15 counties with accessible voting machines," he said. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice's civil-rights division said the department hasn't decided how it will handle noncompliance.Lawsuits have been filed in other states, including California, Colorado and Pennsylvania, challenging the use of electronic voting equipment. New Mexico recently returned to paper ballots."We're currently evaluating each state and each county, and the results of that evaluation will determine what actions we take," said Eric Holland, the Justice spokesman.Supervisor Ray Carroll said he is willing to wait."I just believe the Diebold touch-screen machines do not meet all the needs of the disabled voter," he said./

Diebold Action Alert - Authored by: DRR on Thursday, June 15 2006 @ 08:56 AM MDT

Diebold Action Alert
Authored by: admin on Thursday, June 15 2006 @ 01:13 PM MDT
[Following is an email we received from Ann Frisch, Professor Emerita, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, containing a copy of the statement she presented to the Winnebabo County Board on Wednesday, June 14. In her statement she urged county board members to not vote for the Diebold touch-screen voting machines. We thank Dr. Frisch for sharing it with us and are pleased to present it her for you.]

We’re discussing here the proposal that the County Board would accept the HAVA grant to purchase touch screen machines, Diebold TSx in fact, for Winnebago County. One TSx per precinct would be installed for the purpose of providing independent voting for people with disabilities.

There are both fundamental issues of democracy and practical issues of cost to the taxpayer from my perspective.

Democracy, the will of the people, is missing both in the process of making this decision and in the Diebold TSx touch screen machine. The County Board was proceeding to make a big decision with no involvement of the public. The clerks, we were told, requested that the board accept the grant for the Diebold TSx. The clerks and poll workers were trained on that machine, but no people with disabilities. There was no opportunity for the general public to participate either in the discussion, the “training” or the recommendation. Without the news report in the Oshkosh Northwestern, the proposal might have passed without a single word of input from the major stakeholders. Although Chairman Albrecht discounts the significance of the vote (he calls it a “pass through”), this is a major concern to many people. It would have taken very little effort to get an independent citizens’ commission to study the issue.

When the Board voted to send the proposal back to the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Albrecht called a public hearing. That public hearing quickly became a special county board meeting, thus limiting the nature and amount of participation. In addition, the Chair would only allow one touch screen provider to demonstrate their machines, and even when a provider indicated they were coming at their own expense, the Chair refused to allow a demonstration and limited discussion of alternatives to the proposal. The Chair refused to invite any independent experts.

Because of the lack of involvement of the major stake holders: people with disabilities and taxpayers (some of whom are people with disabilities), we are unprepared for a full deliberation of the issue. It should be the public consensus, arrived at after full deliberation, which should be taking the issue to the governmental units. I believe that the municipalities and towns should have an independent choice after their deliberations as well. In fact, they should be held responsible as well as to have a choice. The inconvenience of counting the ballots should be secondary to every person gets their vote counted and the people’s choice wins the election.

The other aspect of this that is begging for democracy is the TSx touch screen voting machine itself. It is no state secret that there are many problems with this machine. Some claim there are problems with the present system (the opti-scan system) and they are correct. But the problems with the Diebold TSx (as well as other touch screen machines) are many times greater. Tony Palmeri summarized them on his web page: “[touch screen machines have]…forced states to hold new elections, added votes not cast by voters, subtracted votes cast by voters, changed voters’ choices on the screen, given voters the wrong ballot, passed pre-election testing and failed on election day, handed votes to the wrong candidate, reversed election outcomes, broken down causing long lines during elections, and recorded votes incorrectly…”).

One only has to read a few pages of Myth Breakers: Facts About Electronic Elections to know the horrors of having your vote stolen. Some claim a fantasy conspiracy to rig the elections is behind the opposition to the touch screen voting machines. Certainly there is plenty of opportunity for malice with insecure chain of custody (and Wisconsin does not yet have a secure chain of custody for the memory card that carries the record of your vote.) These machines can be hacked. Recently Wisconsin voted to require a paper trail, so that votes could be counted in case of loss of battery, improper coding, etc), but SB 612 eliminated with right of municipal clerks to choose a machine or paper trail by requiring a machine only recount. Think of the elections we have had in Winnebago where the people’s choice was known only through a paper ballot count. So whether there is a conspiracy to make the elections turn out in a certain way or to reduce the number of voters is immaterial. I think we should consider the issue on its merits.

In short: we have a grant to buy machines, the convenience of use, the pressure of complying with the federal government’s wishes with our current machines versus the probability that our vote might not be counted and the will of the people will not prevail. Which is it for you?

I would ask the County Board to authorize an Independent Citizens’ Commission that would bring together people from all Winnebago municipalities and towns. Town hall meetings with experts in the field should be held. It should include primarily people with disabilities to consider the various ways of voting independently. New citizens should be included because although they have all taken a citizenship test in English may need help with voting. The commission would make recommendations about how best to serve the needs of people with disabilities, including (as Leah Kitz suggested) help getting to the polls and inclusion by others in the process of considering and meeting the candidates and discussing the issues.

A second area of concern is the cost to Winnebago taxpayers. Municipalities, we hear, are having trouble paying for garbage pick up among other things. For the supporters of the Diebold TSx, free money from the federal government is a solution. However, there have not been any cost calculations on what will be the monetary cost over time to implement these highly technical, flawed machines.

Douglas Jones, Professor at the University of Iowa Computer Science Department and specializing in election computers and also served on the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems, has said:

“In the area of voting system price, it is quite clear that the amortized price per vote over the lifetime of a voting system is far more important than the purchase price. Given this, one would hope that state and county governments would spend a significant effort attempting to document these costs for existing systems and predict these costs for new systems. Sadly, this is not the case. …most counties are making basic purchase decisions on up front costs, with only the vaguest attention to the other costs involved.”

Although paper less balloting is touted as cost saving, The municipality will still have to print paper ballots not only for absentee voting, but for provisional ballots when the machines break down. There will still be the labor cost of designing and laying out of the ballot and one time printer set up charges. In addition there will be the cost of printing. The savings from bulk orders will not be available.

The cost of the touch screen machines is two to three times the cost of opti scan machines. CalTech/Mit study estimated that the touch screen voting machines would cost, over 15 years, $18-25 per voter for acquisition, considerably more than the $6-8 for opti-scan machines.
Maintenance costs for touch screen is .50 cents to $1 for operating touch screen machine, opti-scan just slightly higher $1-2 for operating.
  • Increased cost for secure and environmentally-controlled storage for the machines when they are not in use.
  • Increased energy costs for keeping the back up batteries charged between elections.
  • Increased labor costs for security when these machines are stored overnight at the polling place before an election.
  • Increased costs for hardware maintenance and software upgrades for each of the thousands of such machines for a typical large county.
  • Increased costs for expendable parts, including the back up batteries and smart cards used by the machines.
  • Increased labor costs for verifying that each machine has the correct version of the software and firmware installed immediately before the start of every election and again immediately after each election is concluded.
  • Increased labor costs for individually performing logic and accuracy tests on every one of the thousands of machines prior to the start of every election and again immediately flowing each election.
  • Increased labor costs for hiring additional poll workers (San Diego doubled the number of poll workers when it switched to touch screen)
  • Increased costs for poll worker training, both for longer training sessions and larger number of poll workers to train on using a much more complicated system.
  • Massive costs for replacing these machines when they age and the technology they employ is no longer maintainable or supported by the vendor.
  • Vendor agreements may prohibit the public from changing or adding on machines, thus driving up the costs and possibly compelling municipalities to buy machines that they consider insecure, inaccurate or unreliable.
  • The court costs that may be brought by citizen group for failure to maintain a functioning voting system, or to decertify a system that is faulty.

There is a great temptation to grab the money whatever the consequences. But regardless of what the federal government says, there is no free lunch. It is our money, those federal dollars, and we should make good decisions about how it is spent.

Consider this: We have approximately 20,000 people with disabilities in Winnebago County. One per cent of them now vote. If we increased that number to 10,000, we would have an average of 204 ballots per precinct. We could do this with Vote Pad and a lock box, given a lack of restraints from the State Elections Board.

I urge you to vote no on the proposal.
We can make lemonade but we can’t count votes with a lemon.

Diebold Action Alert
Authored by: admin on Thursday, June 15 2006 @ 08:17 PM MDT
[Following is a letter Mike Norton of the Winnebago County Board has sent to members of the Oshkosh Common Council. If next week the County Board votes against accepting a grant for the currently recommended Diebold touch screen voting machines, it will be incumbent upon local municipalities to find a way to comply with the Help America Vote Act by this fall. In sending this letter, Mr. Norton is hoping to convey his concerns about the machines in anticipation of the Common Council having to make a decision about what type of machines some voters in Oshkosh will have.]

Dear City Council person : As you all know I am a member of the Winnebago County Board, and we are considering an application for a grant to cover the costs of voting machines to comply with HAVA.I am not against a grant that covers the whole county; I support that idea. I do oppose the machines the clerks chose--Diebolt machines. I voted against the grant in May and expect to do the same next week as well.I find these machines very unsecured when securing an individual's vote, plus the handicapped at the meeting had problems with the voting device. I also question whether the clerks in Winnebago County did consider the handicapped themselves, for they did not bring them in to evaluate the machines when deciding what to purchase.I like ESS (which the city of Appleton uses) which I saw demonstrated online which is less cumbersome and I believe it gives a paper ballot to the voter who then handles and puts it into the counter. I also like Vote Pad which cannot be used with optical scan machines at the present time. I wonder if a municipality appealed to the SEB to allow them to use it with optical scan machines they would change their mind?I believe that no matter what the County Board does next Tuesday the decision on what to purchase will be decided by you. I hope that you question the security of this machine as well as what is best for the handicapped voters in the city of Oshkosh. I do ask that you vote in favor of another machine or voting system - check out the other systems yourself or invite them to your meeting before the vote. In Outagamie County two of the other voting systems are used.Any questions feel free to contact me.




Friday, June 09, 2006

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project

According to the agenda for the Tuesday, June 13, 2006 meeting of the Oshkosh Common Council, a discussion of the multi-million dollar Five Rivers resort project is listed under the section of "Whatever else is pertinent and for the good of the city." By placing it there, the public has no opportunity to speak on the project or its recent developments - of which there are many, and none, in my opinion, that so far seem to be "for the good of the city" and certainly not in the best interests of its taxpayers. And if they are, we wouldn't know because we have been shut out and essentially dismissed and discounted at every juncture in the two-year-long development of this project, and continue to be even as it nears the final planning stages prior to groundbreaking.

We are said to be partners in this public-private partnership, yet the public - which is being asked to cough up several million dollars in tax-incremental financing and developer assistance grant money - have been shut out by both the developer Tom Doig and our own city administration.

Earlier this evening, my co-host Tony Palmeri, sent an email to members of the Oshkosh Common Council (with a copy going to the media) asking that the discussion item be moved to a place on the agenda that allows the public the opportunity to speak. Or in the alternative, he has asked that citizens be allowed to speak during this section of the agenda, if it is to remain under the "Whatever is pertinent" section. It is only right that we, as the taxpaying partners, have such an opportunity, one way or the other.

Following is the letter Tony sent. I have also sent them an email making a similiar request. Let's hope these requests are honored on behalf of all taxpayers in the city of Oshkosh.
- Cheryl Hentz

Dear Members of the Oshkosh Common Council:

Reading the agenda for the Tuesday meeting, I noticed that a "Five Rivers Update" has been
placed under "Whatever else is pertinent and for the good of the city." Having the update at the point in the meeting prevents citizens from commenting on it. I request that you move to revise the agenda so that the Five Rivers Update be delivered during the Report of the City Manager. This will provide citizens the opportunity to respond.

If the agenda cannot be revised to move the Five Rivers Update to a more citizen friendly part of the agenda, then I request that you allow citizen comments after the "Whatever else is pertinent . . ." section. My concern in all of this is that the Five Rivers project is now on a fast track, with all citizens (including all of you) expected to sit back and just hope that the administration is negotiating a good deal for the city. I find that an unacceptable way to proceed with a project of this magnitude.

I do not have email addresses for Mayor Castle or Mr. McHugh. If you could forward this message on to them I would much appreciate it.

Thank you for your time.
-Tony Palmeri

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: admin on Friday, June 09 2006 @ 08:30 PM MDT
Councilwoman Meredith Scheuermann has replied via email to say that the request to move the agenda item or allow citizens to speak during the currently planned portion of the meeting is reasonable. She says that while she will not be able to attend the meeting she will encourage staff beforehand to honor the request. We thank her for that.
- Cheryl

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: oshwi324 on Saturday, June 10 2006 @ 04:33 AM MDT
Cheryl wrote: "yet the public - which is being asked to cough up several million dollars in tax-incremental financing..."Cheryl, I disagree with your wording here. Taxpayers do not have to 'cough up' several millions in money to pay for the TIF. The TIF money is generated by money that WOULD GO to taxes with the new tax 'base,' but instead goes to pay the debt service on the new improvements. The city still receives the same tax money they had in years prior while the land was not developed. City taxpayers aren't out any money, they just don't get the tax money from the specific improvement until the TIF expires. Your description of a TIF is one commonly used as a way to dissuade taxpayers from being in favor of a particular TIF, when in actuality the description itself is wrong. Thanks for letting me clarify.

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: admin on Saturday, June 10 2006 @ 08:04 AM MDT
oshwi324, I understand what you are saying, however, if the city needs to bond for any portion of this project - and that is certainly likely - then we are still laying out money for the project up front while not receiving additional tax benefit on the improved land until the TIF expires or closes. That all comes at a cost, not only to the city but also the county and school district. And there are no guarantees that the city will eventually see the full tax benefit. Certainly while most TIFs are successful, we have all seen or heard of ones which failed, just as we have all seen businesses which, for whatever reason, do not pay their taxes. This makes it even more important for the city council to protect our interests to the fullest extent it can.

You said my description of a TIF was "one commonly used as a way to dissuade taxpayers from being in favor of a particular TIF..." I know you think my description or understanding is wrong. Conversely I think the way the city describes a TIF is too overly simplistic and makes it seem like TIFs are created at no cost to the taxpayer at all. I've actually heard people on the city council and in city adminstration, and even Five Rivers developer Tom Doig himself say there are no tax dollars involved in TIFs. That simply is not the case. If there weren't, it would not be called TAX incremental financing. Additionally, if TIFs were nothing but good, I doubt seriously the state would put restrictions on how much of a percentage of a city's value can be tied up in TIFs; nor would they have prohibited places like townships, for example, from participation. There is money layed out up front and there is risk. We should not give developers the option of deciding for themselves whether they have a "direct pay" or "pay as you go" TIF.

These are decisions a judicious city council must make in order to protect the taxpayers. And if, as we're now being told, there are risk mitigators that can be built into either option sufficient enough to adequately protect us, then why would the "pay as you go" option ever have been created? And why did Jackson Kinney tell the city council last year that the "pay as you go" method of financing was his preferred method?

Something stinks here and if everything is above board, I maintain we should not have been shut out of the project. As a way of helping folks understand TIFs, here is an explanation by a citizen advocacy group, of exactly how TIFs work:"When TIF is created, the equalized assessed valuations (EAVs) on which property taxes are based are considered "frozen" at a "base EAV level." Generally, the city borrows money by issuing bonds. "The money is then used to make the land designated as a TIF more attractive through improvements in infrastructure and public utilities, and to provide services such as land clearance. These improvements are supposed to be used to attract developers who otherwise would not have been interested in or capable of developing the TIF land. "As the TIF develops and the land is improved, the equalized assessed value is supposed to increase to reflect these improvements, and this increase in equalized assessed value over the base level at the time of the creation of TIF is called the increment. The base EAV revenues continue to go to the taxing bodies serving the TIF area, but any rise in revenues goes into a municipal fund to pay off the municipality's debt and expenses incurred for development. "Property tax revenues to local taxing bodies, such as school districts, remain at the base level for the entire length of the TIF, which may continue up to 30 years. Ideally, after the TIF project is complete, the developed land increases the tax base for all of the taxing bodies within the area. " Once the debt and expenses are retired, the incremental EAV becomes available to all of the taxing bodies. If an area is truly blighted and no development would occur without the TIF, all the taxing districts stand to gain from a TIF because their tax base will eventually experience improvements that would not have otherwise occurred. If, however, the EAV is rising naturally, or the property would have been improved without a TIF, then the taxing bodies within the area are losing the EAV that would have otherwise been theirs."

- Cheryl

City continues to shut public partners out of Five Rivers project
Authored by: admin on Tuesday, June 13 2006 @ 07:31 AM MDT
[We received the following posting from councilman Bryan Bain in another section of this web site, but wanted to repost it for people here. Again, many thanks to Bryan for seeing that the public gets a chance to comment on the latest developments with the Five Rivers project.]

Authored by: blbain on Monday, June 12 2006 @ 09:24 PM MDT
Cheryl-I am happy to report that Mayor Castle has agreed with my request to move "Whatever Else is Pertinent or for the Good of the City," which will be an update on Five Rivers, to before "Citizen Statements" so that citizens will have an opportunity to speak on the issue and comment on the update.
---Bryan L. Bain

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Five Rivers saga: more twists and turns than the Fox River it will be built on

Well, it looks like Five Rivers is moving forward. I wish I could say I was surprised, but most of us who have been around awhile have, over the years, developed somewhat of a cynical attitude about things. We expected this to go forward, especially since the Common Council was being led around by the nose by Community Development Director Jackson Kinney and because we didn't hear tough questions being asked by many council members (with the exception of Bryan Bain and Paul Esslinger; and I'm sure Dennis McHugh would have played an active role, too, had he been there at the time).

In this morning's Oshkosh Northwestern we see just how much authority the council has actually given Mr. Kinney and others in city administration, wittingly or unwittingly. According to an article by Alex Hummel the council will probably not be asked to approve any formal Five Rivers development agreement. That's because the term sheet it approved last year "contained a provision that authorizes city staff to ink the formal agreement and move on. That is, if nothing within the term sheet language substantially changes, requiring council reconsideration."

  • Here are some questions council members need to get answered immediately, if not sooner, before this goes any further.
  • What is the exact wording of that provision referenced in the article and where is it spelled out in the term sheet? I have copies of what are supposedly both term sheets, though they look more like outlines of something than anything else and don't contain much, if any, legal specificity.
  • The term sheet was modified in March of this year. Did the modifications include that same provision and if so, where can it be found?
  • Who decides if the term sheet has "substantially" changed or not? Jackson Kinney? Warren Kraft? Richard Wollangk? All of the above? And wouldn't you think that a contractor underwriting some or all of the very project they're going to work on is akin to a "substantial change?"
  • There's been a lot of talk about "pay as you go" TIFs and those which are "direct pay." It's been well-documented that the "pay as you go" better protects taxpayers' interests. If this doesn't come back before the council, who decides which pay option developer Tom Doig and his friends get? Jackson Kinney? Richard Wollangk?
  • Exactly how much of this project is C.D. Smith financing and why would a contractor finance a project like this? You'd think they'd want to MAKE money, not just break even. If they're underwriting it, where and how do they make a profit and how much of the grant money do they get?
  • If C.D. Smith is getting some or all of the grant money available for this project, what is to prevent them from stopping the project partway through - basically taking the money and running? We've certainly seen other companies take our money and run, or have we forgotten Wisconsin Automated a few years ago? Different circumstances true, but the Common Council at the time operated on information given to them by Jackson Kinney and we all see where that ended up. I do not believe Mr. Kinney is as careful as he should be OR he simply doesn't have the taxpayers' best interests in mind.
  • How did C.D. Smith automatically become the contractor on this project? It is being built in a TIF district with a lot of TIF money being funneled into it. Where is the competitive bidding on the job or is this yet another project where the public will be told bids can be waived? If so, I would like someone in the Attorney General's office or State Legislature to explain to us under what conditions bids ARE necessary.

Neither Jackson Kinney or any of the others mentioned above are elected officials (though I think we can agree they each can be somewhat of a politician) and they do not answer directly to the electorate. Therefore, for this council to have abdicated its authority and given it to the "hired help" is shameful. And if Jackson Kinney or someone else in City Hall has used semantics and legal loopholes to pull the wool over the council's eyes, it is as, if not more, unconscionable and reprehensible. Jackson Kinney has pushed for this project from day one. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.

One last question: Did our city council members know they were essentially agreeing to give away their electorate-given authority by approving a term sheet? If so, why would they do that and if not, why did they not know?

The public has been shut out of this process from the beginning and now the council, while good enough to keep granting extensions to Mr. Kinney and this developer, and which will have to approve the necessary bonding, has been shut out of the final approval process. Council members need to find a way to have this brought back in front of them so they can do the job they were elected to do and scrutinize the financing details and vote them up or down. But whether they do or not, the onus of responsibility with respect to this project falls squarely on their shoulders.

- Cheryl Hentz

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

The Five Rivers saga: more twists and turns than the Fox River it will be built on
Authored by: DP on Saturday, June 03 2006 @ 12:42 PM MDT
Good point...who gets to determine what "substantial" is? It is ironic that once again we could be confronted with an "opinion". I haven't seen the documents, but you would hope that the staff has it written with more clarity than that.I do know that according to a recent e-mail from the developer...they think the city has approved their plan (it says it right in the e-mail).I do hope that once the ink has dried, and the ground is broken, everyone could get behind this development. Regardless of your opinion on viability, it does have the potential to be a wonderful project for our city.

The Five Rivers saga: more twists and turns than the Fox River it will be built on
Authored by: admin on Monday, June 05 2006 @ 11:56 PM MDT
City Councilor Meredith Scheuermann asked the questions in the above post of community development director Jackson Kinney. Earlier this evening she sent his responses to both Tony Palmeri and I. They are posted below, along with a statement from Mr. Kinney prior to answering the questions. We thank both Mr. Kinney and Mrs. Scheuermann, however, I find the answers disturbing at best.

Kinney statement: "First, in the Council's approval of the Term Sheet, the Resolution authorized the proper officials to enter into an agreement with the developer based on the parameters in the Term Sheet document. Also, various Security/Guarantee measures will be built into the Development Agreement to help protect the City/RDA's interests."

Hentz: Who decides if the term sheet has "substantially" changed or not? Jackson Kinney? Warren Kraft? Richard Wollangk? All of the above? And wouldn't you think that a contractor underwriting some or all of the very project they're going to work on is a substantial change?

Kinney: City/RDA staff will determine if there is a substantial change to the parameters in the Term Sheet. This would be a reasonable interpretation of City/RDA staff responsibilities. It needs to be recognized that the Development Agreement document will be a public document and the Council and general public will see that document and there should be able to be a rather straightforward recognition of whether a substantial change has occurred from the basic parameters set forth in the Term Sheet document.

Hentz: There's been a lot of talk about "pay as you go" TIFs and those which are "direct pay." It's been well-documented that the "pay as you go" better protects taxpayers' interests. If this doesn't come back before the council, who decides which pay option developer Tom Doig and his friends get? Jackson Kinney? Richard Wollangk?

Kinney: The Term Sheet does give Five Rivers the option of selecting either the "Direct Pay DAG" or the "Pay-As-You-Go DAG." While the "Pay-As-You-Go DAG" may be the preferred DAG approach from a City/RDA perspective, we also recognize it is more the exception than the rule when it comes to the provision of assistance in support of projects. We wanted, however, to at least include the option for a "Pay-As-You-Go" DAG, so if the developer could see an advantage to taking assistance on that basis we would be in a position to work with them in that regard. The developer has, however, indicated they wish to receive a Direct Pay DAG.
The Term Sheet spells out the format for either DAG funding approach.
The Term Sheet document, page 5 item C, "has given Five Rivers the option to choose either."

Hentz: Exactly how much of this project is C.D. Smith financing and why would a contractor finance a project like this? You'd think they'd want to MAKE money, not just break even. If they're underwriting it, where and how do they make a profit and how much of the grant money do they get?

Kinney: According to CD Smith's commitment letter of May 31st, they state: "Funds will be advanced and provided for all phases of construction, including all hard and soft costs, as more specifically provided in a construction contract between Smith and Five Rivers and development agreement between Five Rivers and the City of Oshkosh (the "City"). The financing will be in an amount sufficient to complete the Project less any amounts awarded to Smith pursuant to developer's assistance grants through the creation of a tax incremental finance district by the City of Oshkosh (the "City")."

As noted in the City's Press Release of last week: "Upon initial review, the commitment appears to meet the financial requirement of the amended term sheet dated March, 2006. However, the city and its consultants will continue to review the commitment letter and will meet with the parties to ensure common understanding of this commitment."

Hentz: If C.D. Smith is getting some or all of the grant money available for this project, what is to prevent them from stopping the project partway through - basically taking the money and running? We've certainly seen other companies take our money and run, or have we forgotten Wisconsin Automated a few years ago? Different circumstances true, but the Common Council at the time operated on information given to them by Jackson Kinney and we all see where that ended up. I do not believe Mr. Kinney is as careful as he should be OR he simply doesn't have the taxpayers' best interests in mind.

Kinney: As pointed out previously, various Security/Guarantee measures will be built into the Development Agreement to protect the City/RDA's interests.

Hentz: How did C.D. Smith automatically become the contractor on this project? It is being built in a TIF district with a lot of TIF money being funneled into it. Where is the competitive bidding on the job or is this yet another project where the public will be told bids can be waived? If so, I would like someone in the Attorney General's office or State Legislature to explain to us under what conditions bids ARE necessary.

Kinney Response: It's not up to the City/RDA to select the contractor on the construction of the hotel/resort complex, that's an obvious developer responsibility, and those are not "public improvements" subject to public bidding.
- end Kinney responses

I have only now gotten this and will study it in greater depth tomorrow, at which time I will likely have some more specific thoughts. I also had sent Mrs. Scheuermann some additional questions that I will be posting here. Until then, feel free to give us your thoughts on these responses or the project altogether.
- Cheryl

The Five Rivers saga: more twists and turns than the Fox River it will be built on
Authored by: alibi2day on Tuesday, June 06 2006 @ 01:51 PM MDT
Did our city council members know they were essentially agreeing to give away their electorate-given authority by approving a term sheet? If so, why would they do that and if not, why did they not know?ME THINKS THIS ONE IS CONTINUING TO SMELL --either the Council didn't do their homework or the city planning staff has pulled another one over on the Council and the taxpayers.Who on the Council will have the nerve to question this issue????WHO SHould We TRUST as the representative for the Taxpayers?

The Five Rivers saga: more twists and turns than the Fox River it will be built on
Authored by: DP on Tuesday, June 06 2006 @ 08:32 PM MDT
I was under the impression that the project was approved by the council provided the financing committments were met. I'm not sure why so many people (including council members) are confused about this. What did they THINK they were voting for?

The Five Rivers saga: more twists and turns than the Fox River it will be built on
Authored by: DRR on Wednesday, June 07 2006 @ 09:19 AM MDT
After reading The Northwestern today, it sounds like this is anything but a done deal. Is the council in the dark as much as it seems? It sure looks like it!