Saturday, November 14, 2009

Council vote on fire truck wrong, weird

I was out of town the early part of last week, but when I returned had a couple emails and a voice mail about Paul Esslinger’s latest shenanigans – this time in the form of an old fire truck that years ago was used here in Oshkosh. I got the low-down from these folks and then, over the weekend, finally had a chance to watch the part of the Common Council meeting that dealt specifically with this item. Paul Esslinger tried to shorten the version of events surrounding this fire truck during his speech at the meeting. I’ll make them even shorter.

Fire Chief Tim Franz brought to Esslinger’s attention the existence of a 1915 fire truck that at one time was used here in Oshkosh. Esslinger looked into it and, having been told there was a potential buyer that could swoop in and get the truck, Esslinger and the chief took a road trip to Illinois, whereby Esslinger personally paid $8,500 for the truck, $250 to insure it and arranged for transportation back to the city to the tune of between $400 and $1,700. On Monday, he then had placed on the Common Council agenda for the following evening an item under which the city would accept this gift from him.

During Tuesday’s meeting Esslinger further explained he would essentially arrange for and hold three separate “fundraising” events, through the help of others and one already being the Oct. 12 Holiday Parade, where people could donate money to help him recoup his financial outlay, something he estimated at $11,000 but believes will be less. He indicated he would turn the truck over to the city in January, after these three events were concluded. He further explained that the rush to get this “gift acceptance” approved Tuesday evening and the reason for only 24 hours notice (or less) was because the parade was scheduled for two nights later and he wanted people to know where their donations were going. Plus, he said he was uncomfortable accepting money directly from people.

While I enjoy history as much as the next guy, and am sure this fire truck is a treasure, there are several problems I have with this, the least of which it involves more hypocrisy from Paul Esslinger. The rest are here, in no particular order:

(1) I can’t imagine there being a throng of people rushing to donate to Esslinger’s pet cause, but if there were they could easily have been told to make their checks out to the city with the reference section of their check stipulating it was for the truck. And if Esslinger was still concerned about this he could have pulled the fire truck from the parade, or just left it in and not accepted donations for it at this event. After all, this was an impulse purchase, no matter the circumstances, and if he had to forego fundraising at one event, so be it;

(2) Though Esslinger says the city will not have to pay anything for this truck, even for its storage – something else he’s arranged for and which some local business owner has volunteered to donate – it’s already been stated by the city attorney that we taxpayers will have to pay for the insurance of it, unless someone privately offers to pay for it year after year. I also have a strong hunch that over time the city will take on other financial needs related to this “gift;”

(3) I hope the fire chief was not considered “on duty” during the six hour round trip and additional time spent dealing with the seller. I also hope there was no mileage, gas or meals reimbursed to either he or Esslinger by the city;

(4) This item was placed on the council agenda for action with less than 24 hours notice – something Esslinger has, along with others, railed against in the past. Does that only apply when it’s NOT something Esslinger is personally advocating for;

(5) Along that same line, this council, with Paul Esslinger and Tony Palmeri at the helm, have pontificated ad nauseum about citizens deserving ample time to review and discuss items that affect them. Few council members seemed to have a similar concern about the lack of time for public input on this issue, and that includes the mayor and deputy mayor. Extremely disappointing, not to mention shameful and hypocritical;

(6) Bob Poeschl was one of those concerned about the rush to accept the “gift,” and originally voted against it. But since he voted first Tuesday evening and after the others voted he saw the decision was unanimous – Esslinger’s “present” vote notwithstanding – Poeschl said he wanted to reconsider his vote. Because he was not in the majority vote, he couldn’t make such a motion so Jess King did it for him. He then changed his vote, saying he didn’t want people to think he was against the “gift” overall. For God’s sake, Bob, you still could have voted the courage of your convictions and have people “get” your overall message at the same time. But you caved in and looked foolish in the process. Another disappointment;

(7) Just how long does it take this city to create a gift policy? This has been talked about since the fishing pier was donated to the city by the Otter Street Fishing Club more than four years ago, maybe even longer. I really can’t imagine it taking this long, despite other, more pressing matters, but perhaps we should stop accepting gifts until such a policy is created and approved. Since all of these “gifts” eventually come with a price tag, THAT might be the best “gift” of all to the taxpayers.

Have I forgotten anything else weird or wrong about this vote?

(Be sure to vote in our electronic poll about this issue on the right side of the page)


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