we have a plan for sidewalks in De Pere

Posted by Scott Crevier • Wednesday, December 24, 2014 11:24AM
City Happenings

Consider this. A group of business people want the city to construct a parking lot that will benefit many businesses. So the city builds it. A neighborhood group wants the city to build a park so their children will have a safe place to play. So the city builds it. A developer wants to build a new neighborhood and needs a new road to get you there. So the city builds it. While these all seem like examples of good cooperation between city leaders and the community, they can also lead to a very haphazard city where poor planning creates more problems than it solves.

So, for reasons like these, municipalities employ city planners. Well-run municipalities have comprehensive plans, with ideas and assertions about how the city should grow.

Now consider our recent (and seemingly annual) discussions about building new sidewalks in De Pere. As new developments and neighborhoods are built, as new destinations like schools and parks are built, as funds become available to support our plan, we must constantly be looking at our sidewalks, and making sure that we are providing facilities that allow us to walk to our destinations. And even without a particular destination in mind, we must still have sidewalks that provide the means to go for a family stroll, or take the dog for a walk in a safe manner.

At our November 18, 2014 city council meeting, we discussed issues related to building new sidewalks on Lawrence Drive. Lawrence Drive is home to our (relatively) new Southwest Park. If you think back a few years to when the park was in the planning stage, it stands to reason that along with planning for the ball diamonds, soccer fields, and playgrounds, that we also considered access to the park. This means including things like parking lots and sidewalks.

missing sidewalk

missing sidewalk (2010 Comprehensive Plan Update, p 261)

So when we decide to build a 95 acre park like Southwest Park, we’ve got to agree as a community that the surrounding neighborhoods will have sidewalk access to the park. And this has to be agreed upon without consideration for any particular dissenting homeowner. It sounds harsh, but the only way that this can work is if all properties have sidewalks. Consider this photo, which shows what happens to accessibility when one particular lot is allowed to not have a sidewalk. As you can imagine, this situation is even worse in the winter months.

Consider also our 2010 Comprehensive Plan Update, which mentions the word “sidewalk” 118 times, and the word “pedestrian” 340 times. If you’re a De Pere resident, and you perfer to live in a city that does not put a focus sidewalks and pedestrian safety, then you’re living in the wrong city.

So, we need sidewalks. The crux of the issue seems to be in deciding who pays for the sidewalk. Here in De Pere, that responsibility lies with the property owner. My own home was built in 1974 and the developer built the sidewalk at the same time as the house. So the burden is on the property owner, plain and simple.

Back to our recent city council meeting, where we discussed new sidewalks on Lawrence Drive. Some property owners feel they don’t need a sidewalk in front of their house, they don’t want a sidewalk in front of their house, and therefore they certainly shouldn’t have to pay for a sidewalk in front of their house. In our discussion, Ald. Rafferty asked a simple question, “So, are we forcing these property owners to sell us their land so we can put in sidewalks that they don’t want?” And the simple answer to that is “yes”. But it’s not just a flippant “yes”. This is part of a well thought out plan. These are the kinds of projects that we need when we choose to live in a city like De Pere. Allowing one homeowner to dissent creates situations like that in the previously mentioned photo.

When a member of city staff tells a homeowner that they must put in a sidewalk, don’t misunderstand the directive. This isn’t a rogue staff member making a decision on their own. This is a conscientious staff member respecting our city’s comprehensive plan, which was developed with much thought and effort and approved by the city council, your elected leaders.

If you disagree, I’d like to offer a suggestion. Since these actions and projects are all part of a larger plan, don’t wait until we’re ready to implement them to share your feedback. Look through our comprehensive plan today. See the locations where we’re planning to build roads and sidewalks. Read about all the great plans we have for the growth of our city. And if you see something you don’t like, then bring it to the council and let’s talk about it in terms of the plan. Protesting it at the point of implementation is too late.

Existing Pedestrian Facilities

Existing Pedestrian Facilities (2010 Comp Plan)

Recommended Pedestrian Facilities

Recommended Pedestrian Facilities (2010 Comp Plan)

Additional reading: De Pere Municipal Code Sec. 22-5 – Construction and repair of streets and sidewalks

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Jobs First Coalition director should know better

Posted by Scott Crevier • Thursday, October 30, 2014 2:25AM
City Happenings

My recent blog post about the negative campaign ads against Dan Robinson sparked a bit of conversation among some of my friends and colleagues. In one such conversation, I was trying to explain who Jobs First Coalition is, since they paid for the ads that I criticized. I was not able to offer a lot of information to my friend, because I don’t know much about them. But he suggested I dig further, so I did. Here’s what I found with little effort. (Be sure to read my previous blog post first to gain context for this information.)

The executive director of Jobs First Coalition is Bob Reddin. According to Reddin’s LinkedIn profile, he also serves as alderman on the Brookfield, WI common council. He was elected to his first 4-year term in April 2006; he was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2014. So, Reddin serves his community in a capacity practically identical to Dan Robinson when he served on De Pere’s common council from 2007 to 2013. Given this role, and the fact that he’s held it for so many years, I would expect Reddin to understand how elected officials’ salaries are determined here in Wisconsin.

As if that weren’t enough, according to this Jan 16, 2008 Milwaukee Journal Sentinal article, the Brookfield Common Council took up the issue of their own salaries. Ten of their aldermen voted to freeze the pay for their next term, while 3 disagreed and voted to increase their pay. And guess which side Reddin was on. Yep. He voted to increase his pay for his next term.

According to the article, Reddin said that not approving raises would send a message to the community that the position of alderman is not important and would discourage more candidates from running. Dan Robinson made almost identical comments when discussing the salary of De Pere’s alderpersons. Reddin went on to say that he would not abandon these convictions and would vote for the increase even if he’s criticized for it.

So what does this all mean? It means that Bob Reddin and Dan Robinson see eye-to-eye on the issue of salaries for local elected officials. And yet Reddin’s organization criticized Dan for his votes on the issue. What does that say about the attack ads paid for by Reddin’s organization? They’re rubbish. Plain and simple.

Look, I commend Bob Reddin for his service. As a fellow alderman, I know the job, I know how difficult it can be, and I know how rewarding it is. And I agree with him and Dan on the issue of salaries. I just don’t understand why he would spend money on ads that attack a colleague for beliefs that match his own.

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negative ads about Dan Robinson are outright lies

Posted by Scott Crevier • Wednesday, October 29, 2014 12:44AM
City Happenings

I don’t have to tell you that during an election season, there are too many negative ads out there. But I do have to tell you about a couple of local ads that are extremely unfair and blatantly inaccurate.

Dan Robinson (D) is running for the 88th Assembly seat here in Wisconsin. I’ve known Dan for years. We are coworkers at St. Norbert College. We worked together on the De Pere City Council; while I’m still on the council, Dan is now serving on the Brown County Board of Supervisors.

Dan and I have always gotten along well. As colleagues on the City Council, we frequently agreed on local issues for the benefit of the people of De Pere. He has since moved on to a larger county office, and is now running to represent an even larger district at the state level. I don’t think Dan will mind if I tell you that he and I had a conversation over the summer, where I told him that I couldn’t endorse him in his current state race. Simply put, as he’s taking on larger issues, our philosophical and political differences are much clearer than when we addressed things like trash collection fees for the city of De Pere a few years ago.

That said, there are a couple of ads out there about Dan that I just can’t keep silent about. They are the epitome of negative ads that are written to distort the truth, and in this case, they contain flat out lies.

The first ad is a mailer that was sent to households in his district. It attacks Dan on his vote regarding our Sex Offender Residency ordinance here in De Pere. You can read the full mailer yourself. I’d like to point out a couple of statements:

“While parents strive to protect their kids, Dan Robinson said our public safety measures keeping sex predators away from our schools and parks only ‘looks good’ and he was ‘glad’ to repeal them.”

First of all, if you know Dan like I do, you also know that he wants nothing but the best for our children and our community. Dan’s position is not something he made up on his own because he doesn’t care about our kids. Dan’s position is based on the opinion of experts in the industry. I sat with Dan in numerous meetings as we talked about the effectiveness of Sex Offender Residency ordinances in an effort to decide what will be best for the citizens of De Pere. We solicited feedback from people much smarter than us on the topic, people like our police chief Derek Beiderweiden, people like Tom Smith and Jed Neuman, both from the sex offender registry unit of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. These people came to our meetings and explained to us why residency ordinances not only do not work, but they make the community less safe. A bit of research also reveals similar opinions from the Brown County District Attorney’s office, Green Bay’s Assistant City Attorney, officials from the City of Appleton, the list goes on.

By voting the way he did on this, Dan showed that he is not willing to take an issue at its face value; that when it comes to a serious issue like the safety of our community and particularly our children, he will dig deep, he will do the research, he will ask the tough questions, and he will ultimately vote based on what is best for our community. So when the mailer says “we cannot trust Dan Robinson”, it’s quite the contrary. He’s one of the most trustworthy men I know.

The second ad is one that is popping up on web sites like Facebook. When you click on it, it takes you to a larger ad that says that Dan “was giving himself and other politicians a raise”, and it quotes the De Pere City Council minutes from January 2, 2013. So let’s clear this up. First of all, state law says that the elected body of a municipality must set the salaries for all elected officials. This is just the way it is. Someone has to set the salary, so who better to do it than elected officials who are accountable to the voters? As an alderman myself, I can tell you that ours is a very committed and sometimes difficult part-time job, and it deserves a modest part-time salary. This is even more important as we try to encourage more people to run for public office. (Our current salary is $6,392 per year, and it’s been that way since 2009.)

Additionally, the ad is true, that Dan voted in favor of a salary increase for the De Pere City Council. But again, because of state law and the timing of the vote, that increase does not take effect until May 1, 2015. So at the time, Dan was NOT voting for his own current salary. He would have had to go through another election cycle to benefit. That’s how Wisconsin state law works; it’s very fair and appropriate. Third, Dan is no longer on the city council. He never actually received the increase himself. So did he “give himself a raise” as the ad states? Absolutely not. It’s just a flat out lie; there’s no other way to put it.

Another point made in the ad is that he voted to increase property taxes. Well yes, that is indeed true. But as you can probably understand, the costs of running a city are always rising. We in De Pere want to pay our city employees a fair wage. We’ve got a good thing going here in De Pere, and we want to keep up and even enhance our city services. Recent community surveys have shown that De Pere taxpayers prefer to pay more taxes to maintain our services, rather than cut services to save money. So Dan was following the wishes of the community. I would expect nothing less.

So, who’s responsible for these trash ads and outright lies? It’s an organization called Jobs First Coalition out of Brookfield, WI. I know nothing about this group except for what I read on their web site. They claim that the creation of jobs is their focus. Granted, they might view one candidate as being better for job creation in Wisconsin than the other, but putting out lies like these to discredit a candidate and get someone elected is wrong. And even though it seems they would support candidates of my political party, I strongly urge you to not support them in their efforts.

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fire department options

Posted by Scott Crevier • Sunday, July 13, 2014 11:41PM
City Council meeting, City Happenings
We’re in the process of figuring out what to do with our Fire Dept. I want to provide an update on my thoughts, so let’s start with a timeline of facts:
Apr 2013 Fire Dept Chief Bob Kiser retired.
Mar 5, 2013 De Pere City Council approved a contract to hire Jeff Roemer of RW Management to run the department on a temporary basis, Apr 1, 2013 thru Dec 31, 2013 ($9000/month, 4 days week).
Jun 18, 2013 De Pere City Council approved a contract to hire RW Management to perform organizational and consolidation feasibility report ($15,000). This will help us figure out if we want to simply hire a new Fire Chief or enter into some kind of consolidation with another department (or other possible options).
Oct 15, 2013 De Pere City Council approved a six-month extension of RW Management contract through June 30, 2014.
Nov 5, 2013 Fire Chief Jeff Roemer presented his Fire Dept Organizational and Consolidation Analysis Report to the De Pere City Council. It contains numerous recommendations including sharing the cost of future fire equipment purchases with neighboring departments (p 2.12), expanding training to include neighboring departments (p 2.15), functional consolidations with Green Bay Metro Fire Department to share services like administration, prevention, operations, technical rescue, water/ice rescue, standards of coverage (p 2.18).
Nov 19, 2013 De Pere City Council discussed Fire Dept Organizational and Consolidation Feasibility Analysis Report with Chief Roemer. He would like to explore certain functional consolidations with the Green Bay Metro Fire Department.
Apr 3, 2014 Green Bay Fire Chief Litton explained the situation to the Green Bay Police/Fire Commission. Among other things, he said, “We’re going to be meeting with De Pere in a workshop type session in a couple of weeks to present to them the idea of administering their department to begin with, over a period of the next 6 months as kind of a probationary period of easing in, to show them what we can actually do and how we can do it and how we can make it work for them, with the end point of making it look like an Allouez-type consolidation.”
Apr 23, 2014 Green Bay Fire Chief Litton attended a meeting with De Pere City Council to discuss the options. Though he said he’d be willing to consider a functional consolidation, he would only do that on a temporary basis, 2 years maximum. He reiterated his desire for full consolidation.
May 20, 2014 City Council approved another 6-month extension of RW Management contract through December 31, 2014

Before I continue, I want to clear up the term “full consolidation”. This term has been used by various people in this process, and it’s important to understand Green Bay’s definition. Consolidation to them means we dissolve the De Pere Fire Department, and we contract with the Green Bay Metro Fire Department for their services. In such an arrangement, they would likely hire our firefighters and acquire our equipment and buildings (or the use thereof). As Green Bay Chief Litton said on April 3, it would be “like an Allouez-type consolidation.”

This brings us to the June 17, 2014 city council meeting a couple of weeks ago, where Chief Roemer asked for permission to pursue possible functional consolidations with Green Bay Metro Fire Department. I don’t feel that this recommendation makes sense. To summarize, there are only three possible ways to go with our Fire Department:

  1. Hire a new Fire Chief, keep our own department (like we’ve always had).
  2. Consolidate certain services/functions with another department.
  3. Dissolve the De Pere Fire Department and contract with another department for services.

Note that options 2 and 3 above require that we have a willing partner; we would need another neighboring department who is willing to work with us. There are no such departments willing to do #2, however Chief Roemer is requesting that we do just that. Green Bay Chief Litton said more than once that they would want a full consolidation (option #3) and that’s it. He said that they’d consider some functional consolidation temporarily (he told the Green Bay Police and Fire Commission 6 months), but it would have to lead to full consolidation.

When we hired a temporary fire chief, we did so to give us the opportunity to figure out what we want to do with our fire department long term. We should not be trying a temporary solution that would bring temporary savings or efficiencies like #2. We’ve already been in this temporary state for well over a year, we’ve already extended our temporary contract with Chief Roemer twice, we need to move forward with a permanent long-term solution. Our citizens and firefighters deserve a solution.

So, at the June 17, 2014 city council meeting, I made a motion that we do not accept Chief Roemer’s recommendation, and instead ask him to provide a comparison between hiring a new fire chief (option #1) and doing a full consolidation with Green Bay (option #3). My motion failed because no other alderperson seconded it. So we voted on Chief Roemer’s original request to pursue a 6-month functional consolidation with Green Bay. That motion passed 4-3, with Bauer, Boyd, Kneiszel, and Rafferty voting in favor, and Crevier, Donovan, and Raasch voting nay (Lueck was absent).

I certainly respect my colleagues and the democratic process, and this is our plan. Chief Roemer will go to Green Bay with a plan for a 6 month functional consolidation.

If this goes through, then after six months, we’re right back where we started, and we’ll need to choose option #1 or option #3, and we will have lost another 6 months of time.

UPDATE 7/16/2014: we decided to hire a new fire chief.