This week’s column in your favorite weekly newspaper is directed to the finalists for Platteville city manager, who were in Platteville Friday and Saturday. As someone whose Platteville residency totals three years — which is three years more than any candidates’ residency here — here’s what I think the hired candidate will have to do.
Congratulations on attaining the final round in the selection process for Platteville city manager.
The winning candidate will become Platteville’s 15th city manager, and the 11th person to be hired for the job. You will be replacing Larry Bierke, who, as of his departure date Friday, served four years and four months. No city manager has served longer than 5½ years.
That may be because the expectations in the city manager position are not clearly defined, at least according to someone who sits at nearly every Common Council meeting. The seven people hiring you, the Common Council, have gotten a reputation for micromanaging city operations. Even some aldermen believe that’s the case, and yet nothing seems to be done about it.
Your predecessor suffered locally from the perception that he wasn’t sufficiently tied into Platteville because he didn’t live in Platteville permanently. (You can find him in Mount Horeb because of family issues, and you certainly should talk to him about what I call The Ville.) One would think that candidates who live now in, in increasing distance, New Glarus, Mauston, Oshkosh and Edina, Minn., won’t have that issue. As you know, perception can be reality in some minds, whether the perception is accurate or not.
I wouldn’t call the council fractious. (I reserve that term for a group you will learn about soon enough, the Grant County Board of Supervisors, which, for beginners, organizes itself into pro-board chair and anti-board chair factions regardless of who the board chair is.) The council, however, has a reputation not only of micromanaging (be happy you didn’t witness the 2012 downtown parking saga), but having messed-up priorities. A potential candidate for your position noted the council’s lack of progress on fixing streets (the city is years behind its street construction schedule) and dealing with its long-term debt, focusing instead on, most recently, whether pit bull dogs should be banned from the city.
The other issue that always comes up at budget time is how city services are performed. The Common Council chose to cut hourly workers’ hours by three per week for three years due to budget issues. They’re back to 40 hours per week now, but, as with many budget-time decisions, not enough scrutiny was given as to whether city services were being adequately performed at 37 hours per week vs. 40 hours per week. No one wants to cut city employees’ pay, but as you know the object of any unit of government is to perform the services that need to be performed — police, fire, EMS, streets, water and sewer, and garbage collection, for beginners — in the most fiscally and performance-efficient manner possible, not principally to employ people.
Fortunately, Platteville is more than its elected city government. The Platteville Regional Chamber is the most active organization of its kind in Southwest Wisconsin, marketing the Platteville area as not just a place to visit, but to do business. (The next time the council loses its collective mind, I will say that I would rather be governed by the chamber board than the Common Council.) Platteville Public Schools continues to outperform area school districts in the statewide report cards while collecting other measures of merit, including, most recently, being named one of 200 Best Communities for Music Education in the U.S. (and one of 12 in Wisconsin) out of more than 3,000 applicants. The police and fire departments do excellent work. I assume Platteville EMS does too; I haven’t had to experience its work, which is fine by me. (I certainly hear their work as their Armageddon-volume ambulance speeds by my house on calls.) We have a quality and innovative hospital in a definite growth mode, which beats the alternative, because as you know organizations and communities are organic; they either grow, or they shrink.
And then there’s UW–Platteville, the single most dominant feature of Platteville. (Speaking of growth, UW–Platteville is the fastest growing UW System four-year campus and has been for several years.) About half of Platteville is UW–Platteville — not in terms of campus size, but certainly in terms of student and related population and impact. The latter gives us long-term citizens headaches from what I call Stupid Student Tricks, but overall the pluses of living in a college town — more to do, more retail infrastructure (particularly restaurants), and the sense of activity and vibrancy in living here — far exceed the minuses.
One other thing: The editor of The Journal spends his time at exceptionally long or exceptionally obtuse Common Council meetings mentally writing this column.