In addition to our endless winter, it’s time for another season — election season.
Apparently Platteville will have Grant County’s only primary election Feb. 18, when three contestants for Ald. Patrice Steiner’s at-large Common Council seat will be reduced to two for the April 1 election. (Draw your own conclusions about the date of the general election.)
The Journal and the Platteville Main Street Program hosted a forum of the three candidates Wednesday, but you knew that from page 1 of this week’s edition of your favorite weekly newspaper. The forum can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eABKY2vt1aY and on www.swnews4u.com, and will be shown on CenturyLink channel 36 before Tuesday’s primary.
Assuming no one wants to run a write-in campaign against District 2 Ald. Eileen Nickels, the at-large seat is the only opportunity for city residents to choose their representation this year. The at-large seat represents all city residents, even though the Common Council needs to represent the entire city anyway, whether an alderman represents a specific district or has an at-large seat.
Candidate forums often feature similar candidate answers on questions. No one I’m aware of opposes more business development, or keeping up city streets, or providing efficient city services. The question is how to do those things. The follow-up question is how are those things being done now, and how could they be done better, however you define “better.”
Some people see the role of the Common Council as overseeing city government. To me, though, the council’s role has to do more with decisions in two areas — hiring and supervision of city management, and policy. The question voters need to answer then is who will make the best decisions, because bad decisions now lead to consequences later. That is a better evaluation of city council performance than asking whether the council micromanages or not; the answer usually turns out to be “it depends.”
The decision-making process is important, not merely the result, which you learn upon watching yearly budget deliberations. The 2013 budget process demonstrated that well — cuts were made when a shortfall appeared imminent, only to disappear when more money was found. That’s not how to budget. A last-minute thrown-in employee pay increase with no link to on-the-job performance isn’t how to budget either.
Platteville is one of 10 Wisconsin cities to have a council–manager form of government. (Interestingly, the National League of Cities claims that the council–manager system is the most common among U.S. cities, but certainly not among Wisconsin cities.) A reasonable question to ask, then, is whether the council exerts enough authority over the city manager (whoever that person is), who is supposed to administer city operations but not set policy; that’s the council’s job.
If you want someone on the council to be a critic of what’s being done in city government now, Darrel Browning is your man. Browning has been clear over the past year or so that he thinks the city is harassing elderly homeowners. His most recent letter to The Journal says the city should “apply Platteville’s city codes fairly and equally throughout the city. No one should be afraid of city government.” Obviously someone who writes that believes that’s not happening now.
The challenge of being a critic, though, is to be an effective critic. Someone on the wrong end of a lot of 6–1 votes obviously disagrees with the majority, but that makes one wonder the extent to which the opposing voter has attempted to persuade others of his or her point of view. A legislator — a county board member, or a municipal board member, someone who makes legislative decisions — needs to do more than just vote; he or she needs to get others to vote in a similar direction.
Amy Seeboth is a UW–Platteville employee. She seems to represent the young professional moving to Platteville (as she did in 2008), the type of person every community wants to attract. Seeboth’s UWP employment could be a negative to those who think UWP already exerts too much influence on the city and city government. However, it’s impossible for the city’s largest employer by far and the owner of the largest chunk of property within the city by far to not have influence on the city. As it is, since the defeat of Ald. Mike Dalecki last year the only direct connection is two former UWP employees, Alds. Barb Daus and Barb Stockhausen.
Brian Chapman would seem to represent young families, the sort every community also wants to attract. He also might be the candidate of those who don’t want someone connected to any faction of city government. Some would argue that we’ve had too much factionalism — pro- or anti-UW–Platteville, connected or not to city government, or part of the “in crowd” or not are three examples that come to mind.
I think what the council needs is someone who won’t reflexively vote yes or no on a particular subject, but will decide that issue on its merits, not on who (on or outside of the council) supports or opposes it. The council needs someone willing to ask tough but pertinent questions of city staff when issues come up.
The ultimate winner April 1 will participate in a series of difficult future council decisions. The city is behind its desired schedule of street replacement. The fire station is old and overcrowded, the EMS garage appears to be ready to collapse if you sneeze on it, and a likely seven-digit remodeling project is proposed for the Municipal Building. The state appears uninterested in sending more aid to Platteville, so paying for all that will have to take place within these 5.45 square miles.
Cast an informed vote Tuesday.