City of Platteville voters cannot complain about lacking choices in the April 2 Common Council elections.
Both the at-large race and the District 1 race present choices between incumbent Alds. Steve Becker and Mike Dalecki, respectively, and challengers who do not represent the status quo.
Every election that includes an incumbent member of an elective body is a referendum on not just the incumbent, but the elective body on which the incumbent serves. The Platteville School Board, in contrast, has all three incumbents unopposed.
During Becker’s and Dalecki’s terms in office, city operations have changed pretty considerably, and not to everyone’s satisfaction. City offices are now open only four days per week, and the city’s hourly employees work 37 hours per week, instead of 40 hours per week.
Dalecki claims that city operations have not been negatively affected by the reduction in hours. Both challengers, Michael Denn and Barb Stockhausen, are campaigning on restoring the hourly-employee work week to 40 hours per week. Doing that may improve city services, but it will increase city spending on personnel. Denn and Stockhausen need to explain how to fund what would be an 8-percent increase in the portion of the city payroll that funds hourly employees’ salaries without raising taxes, unless they think taxes should be raised to fund higher employee pay.
Dalecki has been vocal at least as long as I’ve been here about what he sees as the city’s “fiscal cliff,” the city’s spending too much on operations and not enough on capital improvements. That’s an interesting point. Let’s see some evidence. (That unfortunately could be said about numerous things aldermen say during meetings after which there is no follow-through — for instance, Becker’s comment during the 2013 budget deliberations about how city economic development spending is better spent with some organizations than others.)
The council — that is, a majority of the council — has also moved toward replacing funding by property taxes with funding by fee for garbage collection (which Becker opposed and opposes) and, probably soon, brush pickup. The advantage of that approach is that those who are using the service are paying for it. The disadvantage is that, while services funded by property taxes are deductible off your income taxes, fees for municipal services are not. Switching from taxes to fees thus increases taxes in a state with the fourth highest state and local taxes in the country.
There also seems to be a sense that the council as a body (again defined as the majority) doesn’t listen to what aldermen don’t want to hear. That became crystal clear during the parking discussions that sucked up much of 2012.
The converse to that is an additional sense that the council micromanages city operations. If it’s true that Ald. Eileen Nickels proposed two years ago a test of renting downtown parking stalls, why did it take two years for the council to decide to rent one downtown parking lot as a test? If the Downtown Redevelopment Authority proposed months ago to rent downtown parking stalls, why did it take months of deliberations — in which the council obviously wanted to rent far more than just one parking lot — to finally decide to follow Nickels’ and the RDA’s recommendations?
The city has sent out notices more than once that city residents are needed to serve on the city’s committees, boards and commissions. I wonder if any alderman has thought that perhaps the reason there are vacancies is that people who might otherwise be willing to serve conclude that the council isn’t going to pay attention to their work.
Related to that is the issue of respect, and the feeling throughout the city (I wrote that because I’ve heard it ever since I got here last May) that Dalecki, the Common Council president, and other aldermen don’t respect opposing opinions, particularly those expressed during Common Council meetings.
I wasn’t here to witness the meetings that prompted the interesting reading on this page last April 25 and May 2, in which a letter about Common Council conduct was followed by a column about decorum at Common Council meetings. I have been at Common Council meetings in the past nine months where exchanges between aldermen and speakers got more testy than they should have, although whose fault that was depends on your point of view. I witnessed Feb. 12 a discussion between two aldermen about the proposed brush pickup fee that could best be described as “snippy” in points.
Admittedly, we live in a fractious age, where it seems the most-intensely-expressed viewpoint gets the most attention, not necessarily the most valid viewpoint. We should expect better, though, from our elected officials, who are in charge of around $15 million in city spending each year. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing on issues. There is something wrong when the impression those whose taxes pay aldermen’s salaries have is that their opinions are not welcome when they are contrary from an alderman’s opinions. Decisions should be made on their merits, and only on their merits.
Challengers cannot merely say what they are against; they must say what they’re for to convince voters to choose them. Voters need to know how Denn and Stockhausen would deal with city issues differently from Becker and Dalecki, respectively, not merely that they would be different from Becker’s and Dalecki’s approaches.
The last point to keep in mind is that if Becker and/or Dalecki are replaced, the new aldermen need to be able to work with the other aldermen. An elected official accomplishes little if he or she is the only vote on the losing side of a proposal.