Since this is the last column of 2015, this is our fourth annual That Was the Year That Was 2015, a year that defies easy ability to fit into 800 or so words. (That’s what the literary types call “foreshadowing.”)
In fact, one bit of news didn’t even make it into the Retrospect section of your favorite weekly newspaper, but is on page 1 — the decision by Platteville Alds. Barb Stockhausen and Mike Denn to not run for reelection after one term each.
You may recall that Stockhausen and Denn replaced Alds. Mike Dalecki and Steve Becker, respectively, who were seen as pro-economic growth and fiscally conservative but, at least in Dalecki’s case, publicly abrasive. It will be interesting to see who runs to replace Stockhausen and Denn — for instance, former candidates Darrel Browning and Angie Donovan — and whether candidates run on doing things differently from the current council.
(For that matter, it will be interesting to see if another eight people run for the Platteville School Board. There will be at least three Grant County Board races, two more than in 2014.)
One reason Common Council races, however many there are, will be interesting to watch is because of how many Common Council decisions have been driven by the City of Platteville’s problems funding big-ticket items, such as a new fire station or city street work.
Southwest Health took over Platteville EMS, with a promised upgrade in EMS service. Southwest Health EMS isn’t a paramedic service yet; that is up to a year away, as was known when the agreement was signed. The city also signed a deal to develop the Library Block, with a new library and downtown hotel, though a project considerably different than introduced to the public at the start of this year. (What a great way to introduce new city manager Karen Kurt to the community by asking her to publicly tout what seemed to some as a bait-and-switch.)
In both cases, it could be argued the motivator was less about improving government services and more about a lack of money to fund those services. Platteville EMS was a break-even proposition, but the city had no money to replace the EMS garage. The city also had no money to fund expansion of a building that was far too small. A trial balloon was floated during the 2016 budget process of holding a referendum to fund a new fire station and renovation of the Municipal Building and museums. In both cases, past decisions (or lack of decisions, such as failing to pursue economic development in the 1980s and 1990s) have present and future negative impacts. Both are examples of why people really need to pay more attention to what their elected officials are doing, even at the municipal level.
The Library Block debate seemed to defy sense sometimes. One alderman said “there is more to life than crunching numbers.” (I’ll keep that in mind when I find the Corvette of my dreams and seek a loan to pay for it.) Another person claimed she wanted a new library but didn’t want her taxes to pay for it. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong with that statement, no one can help you.
It is not that people are opposed to paying taxes here. Platteville Public Schools voters overwhelmingly approved spending $15 million they could have chosen to not spend to fund $16.6 million in school improvements. Potosi School District voters overwhelmingly approved spending $2.3 million of their tax dollars on school improvements.
I can’t let politics and government go by without commenting on the utter waste of time that was the proposed Platteville pit bull ban. Politicians do not enhance their credibility with the voters when they make public statements touting their idea that are not merely false, but are easily, provably false using public records. Perhaps it’s anti-democratic to say this, but stupid ideas should never see the light of day.
Then there was the unpleasant issue of the past two months — race. Platteville High School’s school year is featuring a lot about race after a student incident escalated into online threats of violence that weren’t carried out. There were also comments elsewhere in the media that the Stop-N-Go robbery was a demonstration of what happens when Platteville and UW–Platteville grow, which were argued to death on social media.
The only thing I will say here relative to the previous paragraph is that, in the same way that lawyers say that good cases make bad law, racial enlightenment isn’t going to occur when both white and non-white PHS students believe non-white students are treated differently and unfairly for different reasons, or when one crime becomes a sociological metaphor.
At the beginning of this column I wrote that it would be difficult to condense 2015 into 800 or so words. I just proved myself correct. We shall resume this subject next year — that is, next week.