At Whitewater’s Common Council Meeting, 10.4.16

There are a few moments from last night’s Common Council meeting that I’ll consider briefly today.

Budget.  It’s fall, and so for Whitewater’s local government that means a proposed budget rollout, and  Council sessions principally occupied with that subject through November.

On efficiency of government services, City Manager Clapper remarked that one can expect municipal services to cost more each year, in the way that Christmas presents for his children seem to cost more each year.  The two are not analogous, of course: city work is a day-in, day-out provision of services, unlike holiday-season demand for retail toys.  It’s an inapt comparison.

In any event, a successful, functioning market produces lower-cost, higher-quality goods and services year over year.  America’s most competitive industries function this way, in goods or services (cheaper data storage, increased computing power, improved call quality, more advanced automobiles, etc.).

What City Manager Clapper is contending is that Whitewater’s local government will not, or cannot, meet the standards of the most productive private enterprises, but will look more like toymakers who rely on higher prices through seasonal demand.

It is, if nothing else, an honest admission.

There’s also something odd about reliance on efficiency comparisons to cities of similar size when some – but not all – of those cities receive vast sums of public money for infrastructure, operations, etc.  It’s easy to claim local government functions at relatively lower cost when one’s city is awash in public money, to subsidize city government or to support a public university.

Our full-time staff might reply that they need some measure of state subsidy to function in a city that has a university that places infrastructure demands on local government.

Fair enough.

Would municipal officials live with the need for a subsidy while there is a university in town, or forgo the subsidy and ask UW-Whitewater to leave?

It’s a rhetorical question:  if UW-Whitewater became UW-Palmyra, so to speak, this city’s economy would collapse.  Crying about the need to maintain a university amounts to crocodile tears; the university gives more than she takes from Whitewater.

There’s also the question of Mr. Clapper’s search for revenue (fees, charges, surcharges, tipping fees for imported filth) to keep city government functioning at the ever-larger level he’d like (money for chosen businesses, running an aquatic center, spending big – millions – on infrastructure).

Over two million for the East Gateway project – do you feel two million better off?   (Funny, then-councilmember Kidd wanted hundreds of thousands more for buried wires along the project site.)

If Mr. Clapper didn’t spend so much, and didn’t seek to acquire so much under city control, he wouldn’t need so much.

As for supposed revenue streams, there’s still a lingering, eighteen-month window to find a partner to deliver waste into Whitewater, in the absurd theory that the tipping fees would make Whitewater better off.  Lynn Binnie helpfully turned out a majority for Clapper to continue along this path (Binnie, Kidd, Wellnitz, Grady).

There was no duress in any of this, of course – politicians choose freely, sometimes well, sometimes poorly.  There are those who, no doubt, experience duress in life, but that unfortunate pressure doesn’t weigh on middle-aged men while sitting on Whitewater’s Common Council.

The Schools Presentation.   The session last night began with a presentation from the Whitewater Schools’ new district administrator, Dr. Mark Elworthy, and Director of Business Services Nathan Jaeger.

It can’t be an easy time to arrive – Dr. Elworthy started this summer, with a construction referendum in the works, and a Board that went out of its way to mention at Dr. Elworthy’s introduction that he had been successful with prior referenda at other districts.  One day, this district and her leaders (and other districts) will be able to lead with something other than the budget.

Honestly, I wish that had happened last night.  There’s value in a PowerPoint for Council, but I think it would have been even more effective to listen to Dr. Elworthy alone, without a presentation, simply talking about what he wanted to accomplish (operational, capital, curricular, all of it).

Finally, there’s Business Director Jaeger’s reliance on a school construction survey from the spring to consider.

I’ll take two days next week first to discuss the survey and then to show, apart from the survey but relying on better information, that the referendum is likely to pass.

Lock Box.  Better to place the matter – new ordinance, repeal of old, etc. – on an upcoming agenda.  The friction over this issue shows that full-time municipal staff have a problem listening to merchants and appreciating their concerns.  It also shows that full-time municipal staff think that it’s legitimate to circumvent those concerns through an ad hoc committee composed of obliging insiders.

All in all, we’re a small town, but never a dull one.