Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Change of government referendum defeated by council

I was pleased to see the resolution to place a change of government referendum questions on the November 2007 ballot defeated by the Oshkosh Common Council, 2-5, this evening (those voting for it were councilors Tony Palmeri – who was also the resolution sponsor – and Paul Esslinger). I opposed this resolution for a number of reasons, many of which were stated by citizens and councilors during the meeting.

Let me preface my statements by saying I DO believe the form of government issue needs to be resolved before a search for a city manager is conducted. But I also believe this approach tonight would have been the wrong one.

My first problem with Councilor Palmeri’s proposed referendum had to do with the timing of it. A spring 2008 is much more prudent and, as I understand it, if a mayoral form of government were to be approved it would become effective the following spring, which would more appropriately coincide with the expiration of Mayor Tower’s current term. That makes good sense.

I was also opposed to a special election at a cost of $20,000, especially one in which voter turnout would undoubtedly be pretty low and where there were too many pieces to the puzzle which were missing in the proposal offered by Palmeri tonight. I also agree the council needs to focus on budgetary matters right now; not get bogged down with trying to get information out to the public about a referendum question it has approved. Additionally, I am opposed to a term for full-time strong, elected mayor being four years. I believe that is far too long, especially when this would be something Oshkosh has not had in 50 some years and we not only would have to adjust to it, but work out the other chinks in the armor we’ve recently experienced.

My final reason for opposing this resolution was because I believe the most successful forms of mayoral government, such as is being discussed, are those which also have aldermanic districts. Clearly they do work and the issues raised by some from the early days of Oshkosh and beyond do not exist today. This talk of horse-trading and such would hold no more water under a mayoral/aldermanic form of government than it does under the city manager/at-large council form of government. I would respectfully suggest that anyone who thinks horse-trading and behind-the-scene deals haven’t been going on under this form of government, is either sadly mistaken or extremely naïve. And I refuse to believe that progress in Oshkosh would come to a grinding halt if we had district representation as opposed to continuing with one that is at-large. Progress and development are booming in places with mayoral/aldermanic forms of government; they are enjoying great success. One look at those communities should quickly dispel the myths and rumors to the contrary. Interesting to note that Tony Palmeri has been an advocate of aldermanic districts for as long as I’ve known him, so I don’t know why he would have proposed something that excluded them from his proposal. It was disappointing. I know he's suggested that is a piece that could be addressed another time, but why undertake another related referendum some other time and run the risk of further confusing voters? From a common-sense and efficiency standpoint it makes more sense to handle both issues at the same time.

At this stage of the game I am willing to give either form of government a try. Perhaps with a new city manager coming in fresh from outside the city, things at City Hall would be a little different; or maybe a different form of government altogether is in order. There are plenty of good arguments on both sides of the fence. But either way, we need to resolve the form of government issue before attempting to recruit city manager applicants in a nationwide search.

That being said, it seems pretty clear a citizen-led petition drive will be getting underway in the near future. I would encourage those doing so to wait a little while longer and work toward placing a referendum on the spring ballot where they have more time to get public input and to address the various issues raised during tonight’s meeting. By waiting until spring, they’re also bound to get a more accurate reading on the citizens’ feelings. I would also recommend that a mayoral term, at least initially, be only two years and district representation be a part of the mix. For those who prefer having at-large councilors, strike a compromise and have some district representatives and a few at-large council members. Bear in mind, that would likely expand the council by a few members, but that may not be the worst thing to happen to Oshkosh either. And having an interim city manager for six months to a year (or so) is not going to bring us to a screeching halt either. But to rush things and do them haphazardly could have serious ramifications. So let’s take our time and do it right.

A programming note: In coming weeks we will explore the more popular forms of city government and what the pros and cons are of each with Stephen Hintz and Jim Simmons. Hintz is the former Mayor of Oshkosh and common council member. He is retired from the UW Oshkosh faculty where he as Director of the Masters of Public Affairs program, Chair of the Department of Public Affairs, and Associate dean of the College of Letters and Science. He is a partner in Public Administration Associates, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in local government recruitment and management studies and an acknowledged expert in local government, organizational theory, and intergovernmental relations. Simmons is a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He has been a member of the UW-Oshkosh Faculty Senate since 1993, has served as its president for five years and as a member of its executive committee for seven years. He’s served on about 30 university committees, 10 college panels and in a host of departmental administrative and governance roles. He’s been president of the Wisconsin Political Science Association twice and served in other leadership roles for that group. He is the editor of the “Wisconsin Political Scientist” and a Center for Voting and Democracy founding member. He has also assisted in past citizen-led efforts to change the form of government in Oshkosh.

So if anyone has any questions for them about the different forms of government, please submit them to us at hosts@eyeonoshkosh.com.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Labor Day Celebration sponsored by local labor council


Date: Monday, September 3RD
Time: 10:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m.
Location: South Park in Oshkosh

General Public Welcome
Please Join Us to Celebrate Labor’s Heritage

Corn Roast Saturday and Other Upcoming Events

Hello Members and Friends of the Winnebago County Democratic Party!

Please see below for some upcoming events! We hope to see you!

Winnebago County Democratic Party Corn Roast

Come out for Democratic Discussion and the best corn in WI!

Many Speakers!

$5 for all the Allen corn and hot dogs you can eat!

Saturday - 8/25 - 1:00-5:00 PM

Winnebago County Park – Hwy 76 & Cty Y – Oshkosh, WI

Conversation About Choice

NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin would like to invite you to a conversation about choice!

Wednesday - 8/22 - 7:00 PM

Oshkosh Public Library, 106 Washington Ave – Oshkosh, WI

Outagamie County Democratic Party Corn Roast

Come get the 2nd best corn in WI!

Monday - 8/27 - 5:00 PM

Shelter 1, Sunset Park, 426 W Kimberly Ave – Kimberly, WI

Healthy WI Forum

Come learn more about how to bring healthcare to all WI residents.

Wednesday - 8/29 - 5:30 PM

Hilton Garden Inn, 1355 W 20th Ave – Oshkosh, WI

Fox Valley Democratic Unity Breakfast

Come enjoy breakfast and conversation.

Friday - 8/31 - 7:00 AM

B J Clancey’s, Midway & Oneida – Menasha, WI

Neenah / Menasha Labor Day Parade

Come show your support for our friends in labor!

Monday - 9/3 - 8:00 AM

Germania Hall, 320 Chute St – Menasha, WI

Neenah Labor Day Celebration

Monday - 9/3 - After the Parade

Labor Hall, 157 S Green Bay Rd – Neenah, WI

Oshkosh Labor Day Celebration

Monday, 9/3 - 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

South Park – Oshkosh, WI

Winnebago County Democratic Party Monthly Meeting

Wednesday - 9/12 - 7:00 PM

Delta Family Restaurant, 515 N Sawyer St – Oshkosh, WI

As always, contact me at anytime with questions!

Not a member? Join now – www.winnebagocems.com!


Jef Hall

Chair, Winnebago County Democratic Party
2nd Vice Chair, Democratic Party of WI
224A Scott Ave
Oshkosh, WI 54901


Authorized and paid for by the Winnebago County Democratic Party

Monday, August 20, 2007

Who's really to blame for the city manager problems leading to his early retirement

In recent weeks there has been a spate of vicious comments by some on various blogs concerning city manager Richard Wollangk. I suspect today’s announcement concerning his retirement, effective Oct. 13, will prompt another round of equally nasty remarks. It is one thing to be critical of his performance – many of us have; it is quite another to be ugly, nasty and just downright inhumane about it. I also think the one thing that too many people seem to have either forgotten or completely overlooked is the fact that Wollangk’s performance, for better or worse, is at least partially the result of actions or lack thereof of every single city councilor who has served since the day Wollangk was hired (the two exceptions being first-time councilors just elected in April - Jess King and Tony Palmeri). We’ve all heard the expression “We reap what we sow.” So it is in this case.

The Oshkosh Common Council hired and supervised Richard Wollangk. As with any employer-employee relationship, the council needed to set expectations and establish ground rules in the beginning of the relationship. As the relationship unfolded, if a council didn’t like what the city manager was doing, those council members needed to take responsibility for letting him know and telling him what they expected. As the landscape of the city changed, it should have been the further responsibility of the council to review the changes and to see, if we as a city, were still headed in the right direction. If not, the council needed to make clear the new direction it wanted the city manager to take. Only by doing so could both parties be successful. That didn’t happen and suddenly when there were problems as there have been in the last couple of years, everyone was complaining about the city manager or the city manager and his department heads. There is blame there, to be sure, but past common councils must assume some of the blame as well.

I recently learned that a list of REAL goals was given to the city council shortly after Richard Wollangk was hired, but that the goals were essentially dismissed out of hand. It has only been in the last couple of years, as there appeared to be a lack of accountability at city hall, that we’ve heard anything about any goals or tasks being assigned to him – uninspired and unchallenging as they were.

Now we are at a turning point in the city of Oshkosh. Already there is talk about changing the form of government and who will lead the city no matter the form our government takes. There will always be those who want only the city manager form of government and there will always be those who want a mayoral form of government. Then there are those who want a mayoral-aldermanic form of government. Still there are others who may wish for some combination of the two. We’ll be hearing much in coming weeks about these different options. But one thing’s for sure: Before we set out on a nationwide search for a city manager, we’d best get settled, ideally by referendum, what form of government the people in this community want. If we don’t, we will have little to no luck in attracting a quality professional city manager. After all, who would want to come here when there’s a possibility that they’d be out of a job by a change in government a few years, or less, down the road? And we don't need or want a repeat of what happened 11 years ago. So, let’s put the form of government issue to a community-wide vote, get the issue resolved and get moving in a forward and positive direction – once and for all.

Finally, to Richard Wollangk, while you may have fallen short along the way, thank you for all that you have done and accomplished in Oshkosh, especially since 1997. Best wishes to you in the next chapter of your professional life.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rep. Hintz to hold Office Hours

OSHKOSH– Representative Gordon Hintz will be holding office hours at the Oshkosh Senior Center to listen to concerns facing Oshkosh residents as well as answer any questions on the current state of the 2007-2009 State Budget. The event is open to the public and questions on all topics related to state government are encouraged and welcome.

Anyone with questions or comments is encouraged to contact the office of Representative Hintz toll-free at 1-888-534-0054 or via e-mail at rep.hintz@legis.state.wi.us.

Who: Representative Gordon Hintz
What: Office Hours
When: Friday, August 17th 9:00am-12:00pm
Where: Oshkosh Area Senior Center, 200 North Campbell Road

Reader writes about Congress Avenue safety

[we received this comment by email and are publishing it on the author's behalf...]

Here's an example of a safety measure at its finest. After much public complaining and discussion about the difficulty WIOWASH trail users have in crossing Congress Avenue, there is now a small sign in the middle of the road that cites a state law, I assume about pedestrians and stopping for them. The problem is two-fold: You can't read the sign until you're practically on top of it; and, people travel too fast on Congress to pay any attention to it. Besides even if you were going the speed limit by the time you can read what the sign says it's too late to stop. To those you add that far too many drivers in Oshkosh are rude and don't give a hoot about the laws anyway. Sorry City of Oshkosh but I don' think this is the safety solution we need. Better get Paul Esslinger on top of this situation right away since he is the self-proclaimed safety expert.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Town of Algoma contemplates suit against school district

So it sounds from this article in the Oshkosh Northwestern and this one that the Town of Algoma may take legal action to try preventing the Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education from establishing new boundaries for the district. Town supervisors are apparently upset that the town was not included in the planning team’s decision-making processes regarding any potential boundary changes and that town of Algoma residents are affected as it is within the OASD. One town supervisor, Tim Blake, was actually quoted in the article as saying, “It shocks me that the town of Algoma was never invited to any meetings that other municipalities were. To me, that’s appalling because it affects our community.”

Perhaps I missed something somewhere along the way, but the only municipality that I recall the district talking to was the City of Oshkosh and that was a workshop in council chambers initiated by the Oshkosh Common Council. Is there something wrong with the phone lines or email programs in the town of Algoma that the town supervisors who are expressing concern about not being part of the process didn’t see fit to contact the school district to discuss the matter with superintendent Heilmann? Is the Oshkosh Northwestern not delivered in the town of Algoma nor any radio stations or TV stations broadcast there? Do none of these supervisors receive or watch any of the OCAT programming in their homes; I know they can receive it in the town on Charter Cable Channel 19. I realize the town is slightly outside of the city and likes to consider itself very independent on some issues; but they don’t live in a vacuum over there, do they? They certainly knew this issue was being discussed - or should have anyway, especially if, as elected representatives, they're paying attention to things going on in the area.

While supervisor Blake finds it appalling that the town wasn’t invited to any meeting, I find it appalling that apparently neither he nor any of his fellow supervisors who are so upset by the school district's actions were concerned enough before now to take any initiative on their own - not by any of the aforementioned methods nor by attending any school board meetings. Now suddenly, in an almost "Johnny-come-lately" move, they’re calling for a closed session meeting to contemplate action, which may include a lawsuit. I wish them a lot of luck with that one; I just don’t see it going anywhere. Unless the district has done something illegal, I really don't see how it can be stopped by litigation from instituting a boundary change it has a legal right to make.

Nissan working to keep drunk drivers in line

When we spoke recently with Winnebago County Sheriff Mike Brooks, one of the things we talked about was an effort by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to mandate the installation of interlocking devices on the vehicles of drivers convicted of drunken driving. According to this news article Nissan is using technology to take things even further.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Commentary: Attorney's advice on Bain perplexing

[The following is a commentary written by Stephen Hintz for the Oshkosh Northwestern on the independent counsel's advice that Councilor Bryan Bain should not participate in further discussions about the city manager's performance and future employment - at least not while termination is being discussed. It is published here with permission from Mr. Hintz and we thank him for that...]

Commentary: Attorney's advice on Bain perplexing

By Stephen Hintz

The attorney advising the Common Council in its discussions about the status of the city manager has come up with a legal interpretation requiring Councilor Bryan Bain to remove himself from any discussions about termination because Bain previously had stated that Oshkosh needed a new city manager.

What is the basis of this interpretation? Clearly, it is not in state statute chapter 64, which establishes council-manager government.

First, the city council by state statute has the authority to hire and terminate the city manager. This means the entire city council.

Second, by state statute, the city manager can be dismissed for cause (defined as willful misconduct in office, misfeasance, or malfeasance) or without cause. The city manager thus is an at-will employee who serves at the pleasure of the council. The only obligation of the city council is to provide specific reasons in writing for the dismissal, 60 days notice, and an opportunity for the city manager to present his response in a public forum. The specific reasons do not have to rise to any level of seriousness or meet the cause standard as defined by court cases.

There are instances when the city council functions as a quasi-judicial body such as considering a recommendation to revoke a city license. It is understandable why a public comment on the case by a councilor might disqualify the councilor from hearing the case. However, in the instance of deliberating about the city manager, the council is not acting as a quasi-judicial body. It is the employer making a decision about an at-will employee.

The interpretation by the attorney seems to suggest that the discussions of the council essentially constitute a hearing for the city manager to evaluate evidence. State statutes mention nothing about a hearing, in either open or closed session, or an appeals process. The city manager does not get to argue his case in front of the council. He simply is entitled to know the reasons for dismissal and to have an opportunity to publicly respond.

I do not believe that there is any legal connection between prior comments by a council member and council deliberations. By barring a council member from participation, the interpretation is improperly restricting the legal authority of the council member.

Let us look at several situations. What if a slate of candidates campaigned on the dismissal of the city manager and they won. Does it make any sense that they would be disqualified from participating in a discussion about termination? What if the slate included all of the council members? Would this mean that the council could not discuss termination of the manager?

What if several councilors publicly indicated that they thought that termination was a bad idea. Shouldn't they also be barred from participating in council discussions on termination by the same logic that kept Bain from participating?

We need a better legal explanation than we have received.

*Stephen Hintz is the former Mayor of Oshkosh and common council member. He is retired from the UW Oshkosh faculty where he as Director of the Masters of Public Affairs program, Chair of the Department of Public Affairs, and Associate dean of the College of Letters and Science. He is a partner in Public Administration Associates, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in local government recruitment and management studies and an acknowledged expert in local government, organizational theory, and intergovernmental relations.

Statement from Mayor Frank Tower on city manager meetings

Following is a statement from Mayor Frank Tower, given after the Monday, July 30th executive (closed) session of the Oshkosh Common Council to discuss the performance and employment of city manager Richard Wollangk...

"The Council has reviewed the information and concerns requested at our last meeting and has discussed its alternatives. Focusing on this information and formalizing our concerns has led to the need to collect additional information and verify some of the concerns raised before determining the appropriate action. The Council plans on meeting and discussing this information in the near future. As any decision on this matter may well impact the City for years to come, we do want to carefully consider all our options and make our best effort to come up with the best possible decision under the circumstances.

"The state statutes provide as one alternative for dealing with this matter that the Council present Mr. Wollangk a notice that his employment may be discontinued at the end of 60 days, giving him an opportunity to respond. If the Common Council were to take that course of action, it would have the duty to provide Mr. Wollangk with due process. One tenet of due process is that of an impartial decision maker. Mr. Bain has publicly stated that he believes Mr. Wollangk has to leave. That statement could be viewed as pre-determination of the Mr. Wollangk’s employment status and a violation of Mr. Wollangk’s due process right to an impartial decision maker. The Common Council is appropriately addressing all aspects of this matter, therefore , Mr. Bain is not participating in the initial decision of what action may be appropriate. In the event that the Council determines to follow the statutory notice procedure, Mr. Bain will be unable to participate in that hearing.

"The Council anticipates reviewing the materials that have been collected and will be verifying additional information. In an attempt to bring closure to the matter, we anticipate meeting again hopefully within the next 2 weeks, depending on the availability of Council members. Again we thank the public for its patience while we make this important decision. We will keep you advised of our progress."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

No logical reason for Bain to be out of city manager discussions

Much has been written and even more said about the city manager’s performance, recent and future closed door meetings to discuss councilors’ feelings about his performance – especially in light of recent activities at City Hall – and the decision made this past Monday that Councilor Bryan Bain should not participate in discussions about the possible termination of Mr. Wollangk or any future vote on same. That decision came after independent counsel from Green Bay advised councilors that Bain should probably not participate in the process because of public comments he’d made that he believed we needed someone different running the city. That counsel maintains that because of those comments Bain cannot be impartial in this process.

While some in this community believe Bain has put his foot in his mouth and somehow done something wrong, I feel like many others – that he’s done nothing wrong and should insert himself back into the discussions and possible future vote.

Bain has had two-plus years working with Richard Wollangk. He and other council members have told Wollangk they expect to be notified of events in the city as they occur so they are not blindsided or appear out of the loop when approached by citizens or the media. I believe he was impartial, and maybe even liked the job Richard Wollangk was doing when he first began serving on the Common Council. That does not mean his opinion can’t change over time, nor does it mean he can’t be free to express it.

I don’t think there’s a person out there who honestly believes the rest of the council members don’t have some very strong opinions about Mr. Wollangk’s performance – in fact they better or I don’t think they’re in a position to be serving the citizenry. And obviously they must have some opinions, or at the very least some displeasure, or Councilor Dennis McHugh would not have asked for the closed session meeting to discuss Wollangk’s performance to begin with. Does that mean he, too, should be removed from the process? Other councilors have said during their time of service and/or when running for office that there needs to be more leadership and greater accountability by Wollangk and his staff. Should they also be removed from the process? The obvious answer to both those questions is “no;” so why should Bain?

Like most employees in the state of Wisconsin, Mr. Wollangk’s employment is at-will. He serves at the pleasure of the Common Council and at such time as his performance no longer “pleases” them, they have the right to terminate him. Just because Bain had the courage to say it out loud and to Mr. Wollangk’s face earlier this year should not be a reason for him to be removed from the process – either by his own choosing or anyone else’s.

Granted the contract with Wollangk calls for a severance package of six months pay if terminated, but it’s a matter of opinion as to which is more costly: Leaving him on the job for another six months or paying him his severance and finding an interim.

Some people are saying Bain’s comments would be fodder for a lawsuit from Wollangk. A lawsuit based on what?! Again, the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council and can be terminated anytime, keeping in mind, again, the six months severance clause. It seems to me that the only way successful litigation could be brought about by Wollangk against the city is if he is terminated for cause and the severance not be paid. Depending on the strength of his case he might win his severance, but he surely can’t force a judge to keep him on the job if the Common Council doesn’t want him.

At such time as Mr. Wollangk is told his employment may be terminated, he is entitled to a hearing. But by then each and every council member will have had their minds made up, if they don’t already. In fact, by the time they would give Mr. Wollangk notice of their intended action each and every one of them would already have had to state their position. Does that then render them all incapable of being impartial to the point where they should be removed from the hearing and firing process? By the time things reach the point they have in this administration, would any employer be completely open-minded and impartial. The simple answer is “no” and how could they be?

Bottom line: Every one of these council members has previously stated in one venue or another how they feel about things that have been going on in City Hall. They all know in their hearts how they feel about the city manager’s performance. And each council member is entitled to his or her own opinions on Mr. Wollangk’s performance and to make a determination individually and collectively whether he stays or goes. Bain is one of those elected representative and is entitled to participate in that process. Perhaps it’s time for Councilor Bain to get his own counsel. In the words of city attorney Warren Kraft, “This is just one attorney’s opinion.” For what it’s worth, there are plenty of us in Oshkosh and beyond who believe this attorney’s advice is wrong.

Tell us your views, either by posting a comment, participating in our online poll, or both.