A Sign for Whitewater High School

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

Whitewater Planning Commission – A High School Sign from John Adams on Vimeo.

Anyone who thinks that small town politics is simple hasn’t watched small town politics. In the video above, the Whitewater Planning Commission took 28 minutes to approve conditions for the local high school to place an electronic sign on school property. (Whitewater is a small city of about fifteen thousand, half of whom are college students attending a local campus.)

I’d invite readers to watch the video (and the video of the full meeting, too, online @ https://vimeo.com/250492564).

A local family raised donations toward the cost of an electronic sign with a scrolling message the school could display. One sees signs like this across America.

Whitewater’s planning commissioners, one of whom sits on the Whitewater city council, consider here whether the sign would be a distraction, where it would be placed, what kind of message should scroll on it, how long the messages should scroll, when some messages but not others should scroll, etc.

The summary written immediately above takes only a few seconds to read; the  discussion of these topics consumes nearly a half-hour.

A few remarks:

1. A lawyer in town raises concerns about the sign. He contends that traffic in the area is intense. That’s a relative term; there are millions of commuters who travel safely each day in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York under conditions that they would consider intense.

2. How risky is driving at the intersection near the sign? The local lawyer says it’s intense, and a commissioner/council member mentions that the commission might have asked the police department for accident reports from the area.

No one, however, took the simple step before the meeting of asking for a summary of existing accident data for the area. It wouldn’t have been hard, but instead of looking for the best available information, the commissioners and city planner speculate without it. No data will offer a perfect assessment, but it’s a sign of a lazy mindset to know one could get better information – and relatively easily – and not even bother to try.

3. Hyper-rationality isn’t rational. It’s right to ponder something, to think it through, and yet, and yet – some matters will remain undiscernible even after lengthy consideration. Some scrolling letters might be less distracting than other letters, at some times of day, under some weather conditions, at some months of the year, etc.

It’s not a higher reasoning, but instead a lower one, that delves into unknown (and unknowable) speculation. Significance (relevant & material) constrains – as it should – right reason. On and on doesn’t bring one closer – it takes one father away.

4. The question for Dr. Elworthy. Mark Elworthy, the school district administrator, appeared to answer any questions that the commissioners might have. Commissioner/Council member Lynn Binnie decided to ask him one (@ 6:20 on the video):

Binnie: You received a copy of Mr. Devitt’s [lawyer-resident objecting to sign’s location]  letter. What comments would you have with respect to those concerns?

Elworthy: We’ve talked about that, but Mr. Devitt has spoken to the school board, and the school board has responded to all of those. I apologize, I did not, I got the copy, if I could look at those I could answer it. [Receives Devitt letter, examines.] I guess I came here this evening to share that the school board has listened a couple times to Mr. Devitt, responded, we have spoken privately as well, the board has listened to those concerns, after listening to his concerns the board approved the sign.

Elworthy’s right, here, about how to respond. He’s an appointed administrator of an elected, collectively-governing body. He neither can nor should offer an individual, point-by-point reply if there’s already been a decision of the board to which he is responsible. Elworthy’s right to point to a decision of the collective body to which he, Elworthy, is responsible. A point-by-point reply would inch Elworthy away from whatever the board has decided on the matter. It’s the board’s position, and the board’s language, that controls the school district response.

Binnie’s free to ask the question, of course, but Elworthy answered soundly. (One can’t tell whether Binnie expected the response he received. Perhaps he didn’t know that there had been prior discussions with the school district, perhaps he didn’t see that the proper answer precluded a point-by-point reply, or perhaps Binnie just asked the question regardless to appease a complaining constituent.)

5. Conditions. One hopes that there will never be an accident at the high school intersection, or any other intersection in town, for any reason. The relationship between the commission’s conditions for use of the sign and the actual value of those conditions for safety, however, is unknowable.  What one can say, however, is that it’s much easier to impose conditions – one after another – than to show how any of them will actually reduce the chances of an accident.

These conditions should also give pause, that the commission regulates easily, and readily, even over a simple matter.

It would have been a moment of candor for the members of the commission to admit as much.

Film: Tuesday, January 9th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Dunkirk

This Tuesday, January 9th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Dunkirk @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Christopher Nolan directs the one hour, forty-six minute film. Dunkirk recounts ‘the dramatic and true evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, England and France, who were cutoff and surrounded by the German Army, from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France, May 26-June 4, 1940. Told through the eyes of a trapped soldier, two RAF pilots and a group of civilians. A critically acclaimed film starring Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and Kenneth Branagh.’

The historical drama carries a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Dunkirk at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

Thanks, City of Jefferson!

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin There’s something funny, and something sad, about the City of Jefferson’s decision to host for five more years a Harry Potter festival with the same mediocre promotional leadership the festival’s had while in Edgerton and (more recently) in Jefferson.


See Attack of the Dirty Dogs (“If vast numbers are disappointed, it matters not at all that [Jefferson City Manager] Freitag thinks the event exceeded his middling hopes. The only benefit in knowing what he thinks is to learn that he doesn’t understand the instrumental role of government and that he’s too undiscerning to know the difference between a good and bad time.” It’s worth noting also that I am not writing from personal disappointment; I found the many accounts of patrons who wasted hundreds traveling to Jefferson and buying tickets for this shabby event truly moving. They deserved better.)

What does this mean for Whitewater? It’s an assurance of years without even the possibility of this dirty-dog-run festival befouling our city. One always hopes for more than merely avoiding the bad, but avoiding the bad is a good start.

For the town blogger, specifically, this means an opportunity for me to concentrate on more important matters (e.g., use of force against peaceful residents, whether immigrants or non-immigrants, matters concerning ongoing assaults on and off campus, defending principles of open government, and digging in as hard as one can against every last aspect of Trumpism).

It’s wrong to continue a shabby festival, but if that shabby festival stays away from Whitewater’s city limits, one can be satisfied. There are better matters to occupy our attention in Whitewater.

Thanks, City of Jefferson —  my best to you all, from the very deepest place in my heart.

For Ramona Flanagan, Edgerton City Administrator? I’ve never met Ms. Flanagan, but from everything I’ve read she’s smart, professional, and capable. Her city hosted the event for two years before wisely passing on more (after which the promoters decamped to Jefferson).

Note to Edgerton: You need to consider a promotion for Flanagan. She’s served you well. I’m not up on all the titles available in your city, but if baroness or duchess are untaken, I’d say that’s a start. Good sense deserves a good reward.

Note to Flanagan: If you’re ever in Whitewater, feel free to drop me a line. Lunch is on me. My pleasure, I’m sure.

For the press? Coverage of the festival is proof of how weak the local press really is. The Daily Union ran a fine investigation into the festival’s bad showing in Edgerton, and gave Jefferson a forewarning of the debacle that was to come. The DU even reported on this year’s mess, until someone apparently got cold feet and coverage shifted into overdrive in support of city officials and promoters who were behind it all.

All of these local papers are afraid of municipal officials (and far more afraid of hyper-cautions advertisers). If an advertiser gets the sniffles, the publisher comes down with double pneumonia.

There are probably many reasons that neither America nor any other country has selected the scaredy cat as a national symbol. That’s just no way to be.

Candidates and Candidacies

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Small towns have reputations for being plain-speaking places, but the less so, in fact, than reputation suggests. One will hear much about who’s running, who’s in, who’s out, but not as much – if anything – about what candidates believe.

Longtime readers know that I comment on politics, but know also that I’m opposed to mixing a publisher’s and a candidate’s roles in a small town. Indeed, one may say that completely opposed fits my view accurately. They’re separate roles to my mind, each valuable, each belonging within a larger civic life of which they are parts. (In any event, this bleeding-heart libertarian blogger does not, and would not, represent government; officials are more than capable of speaking for themselves.)

But that’s a critical role for a candidate, isn’t, it? Good candidates with worthy candidacies say what they believe, what they’d like to see, what they hope to accomplish. They stand for something, and say so.

(This is another reason that key meetings should be recorded for public viewing. The December 11th Whitewater Unified Schools meeting that heard prospective appointees answer questions – in full – would have been valuable to this community. It has been our past practice to record these meetings, and it should be our continuing practice. I posted a bit on this general topic in December, and will have more to write after finishing a longer series. From December, see Twilight, Midnight, and Daylight. No one should settle for less; it’s a challenge to a better practice to expect that anyone would.)

If one had any advice for a candidate, it would be this: tell people what you believe, and what you hope to do. Say so plainly and clearly, so that all the community might know your views.

Whitewater’s Outlook for 2018

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

An explorer comes to a forest, one he’s not seen before. He’s been in forests before, but not one as dense and dark as this one. He could stop, and make predictions about what it might be like, but however long he takes, the forest yet stands before him. Our national outlook is like this, overcoming even the smallest, most distant places.

The delusional will deny there’s a dark forest, the fearful will sit still, and the faint-hearted will go around.

Americans are neither delusional nor fearful nor faint-hearted.

Predicting, however, is not exploring.

If an explorer, then an exploration: one either goes in or abandons the effort to more intrepid men and women.

Better to rely on past experiences, present understanding, and ongoing observations, walking cautiously but confidently into the forest.

On the other side: something better, either discovered or, if necessary, created.

Review: Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017

On January 4th, I posted Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017. Here’s a review of that post. Original from 1.4.17, with comments from 12.31.17 in blue italics, paragraph by paragraph —

A year like 2016 – nationally – should leave a prudent person cautious about making predictions. I’ll not overlook the lesson from last year’s national scene, and I’ll apply it to 2017’s local outlook. Rather than predictions, I’ll offer a few observations on the likely direction of local affairs.

This was the right approach; extreme circumstances make predictions especially difficult, and worse, they become wishful distractions from actual work. 

Local politics. Trump’s election completes what amounts to a nationalization of politics, in a state like Wisconsin that’s already seen (these last six years) the triumph of statewide concerns over purely local ones. There are still local issues – and they’ll need to be addressed. The adage that all politics is local, however, has never be so wrong as it is now. National issues will stop being conflicts between Republicans and Democrats (and millions of people, of which I am only one, are neither); the fundamental national divide will come to be between radical populism and democratic republican government. See, Evan McMullin’s Ten Points for Principled Opposition to Authoritarianism and In a Principled Opposition, the Basis for a Grand Coalition.

Honest to goodness, the Whitewater area is clock-a-block with aging town figures and publishers (Gazette, Daily Union, Banner) who think they can ride out Trumpism by ignoring it, escaping blame for its many excesses (and quietly savoring some of those excesses, to be honest).  No, and no again: there’s no waiting out Trump, getting around Trump, carrying on as usual. Better, of course, that Trump had never come on the scene, but an ostrich with its head in the sand looks like ostrich with its head in the sand. 

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Economy. There’s talk of another national stimulus program, although neither the late Bush Administration’s nor the early Obama Administration’s efforts did much for Whitewater’s economy except generate headlines for the local Daily Union. What Trump will do is unclear, but this small town has been saturated in public funds to without altering a trend of increasing poverty. See, The Local Economic Context of It All and  The way out in the near term would be a break with past practice of trying to guide the local economy, but that break isn’t likely to happen in 2017. See, How Big Averts Bad (where big isn’t a project but a break from control). The alternative is continued relative decline until a time years from now of gentrification.

Whitewater’s economy is stagnant; stagnation is relative decline. 

Fiscal policy. Expect local government to try to consolidate a few staff positions, while simultaneously asking for as many big ticket items as possible, and pursuing revenue-generation schemes that either cost too much, achieve too little, and perhaps degrade the environment and quality of life while doing so.

It’s been less troublesome in this regard than one might have feared; part of that is simply because there’s not much left at the bottom of officials’ wishing well.  

University life. The last chancellor was supposed to be the bridge between town and university life, a longstanding town notable who would run the university the way city insiders wanted. If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s that Whitewater’s town notables are unsuited to run a modern American university. The future for UW-Whitewater lies in a more geographically diverse student population, but that population will bring higher expectations on and off campus.

Whitewater has a choice: meet those expectations, at the price of discarding traditional local standards, or frustrate those expectations, and watch the leading economic force in the city decline. Expect attempts to split the difference between competing views, in a way that satisfies few, and gains Whitewater nothing.

Whitewater’s campus administration has had an easy year – the challenges from consolidation with UW-Rock are yet to come, the problem of recruitment elsewhere will only get worse, and this chancellor and her predecessor have never faced a serious critique of the campus culture. 

School district. Aside from assuring safety, construction will never replace instruction, and grandiose marketing will never replace unique and admirable individual accomplishments presented in a lively way. It’s an easy pose to say that no one else understands education except a marketing-mad few; it would be more believable if they made their work more than cut-and-paste presentations. All around, this community is filled with smart, well-read residents.

It’s an ill-fitting crutch to say that anyone who offers a critique is anti-education or opposed to children’s futures.

A combination of condescension to rural residents, and yet fear of their complaints, leaves the district’s full-time leadership mired in reactionary public relations that neither instructs nor uplifts nor attracts. Rationalizing that some aren’t ‘our population’ consigns all the community to the condition of the under-served.

The most important work happens inside the building. True yesterday, true today, true tomorrow. 

Green shoots. Here’s what’s hopeful. In this city, the best ideas – private restaurants, a brewery, community events, charitable efforts, and a nearly-all-year city market, etc. – are successful not because city government guides them, but because talented, private individuals need no political guidance. See, An Oasis Strategy.

Whitewater will not be a prosperous city until her some of her residents stop deferring to local government as a solution (or, more commonly, stop using government as a brake on anything that they don’t like). Government as an overbearing father is politics-as-bad-parenting.

There are national political challenges that cannot – and must not – wait. The resolution of those challenges will assure a better life for all, across this continent. Yet for those matters unique to this small city, it is in the local apolitical work of so many talented people that Whitewater’s particular hope for 2017 rests.

Here we are, at the end of a long year. Our national politics is troubled, our state politics is troubled, and our local politics has not been worse (and injurious of constructive private life) only through restraint of the worst of national and state impulses within this city.  One could hope, of course, that 2018 will see a similar forbearance, but in a conflict no prudent person would place his or her hope merely in others’ forbearance. Someone in Africa might hope not to be devoured by a hyena, but resting that hope on the hyena never becoming hungry would be, at a minimum, unrealistic.

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Tomorrow: Whitewater’s Outlook for 2018.

Film: Tuesday, December 26th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

This Tuesday, December 26th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

James Gunn directs the two hour, sixteen minute film. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage: “It’s the day after Christmas: time to relax, roam the galaxy, and conquer the Universe. Star Lord Peter Quill and his family of misfits are back to, well, conquer the Universe. This tongue-in-cheek sci-fi romp returns Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel (“I am Groot”), Bradley Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. Bring your grandkids; we’ll have popcorn and treats.”

The adventure science fiction film carries a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2  at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

Daylight (Part 3 in a Series)

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinOne finds oneself with a question, when there are gaps in a public record, when there are easily-avoidable deficiencies of open government: What will one do about it?

A good method in this matter is deliberate, dispassionate, and diligent. A few thoughts:

1. Foundation. One looks at state and local provisions for public records and open meetings: Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31 – 19.39, Wis. Stats. §§ 19.81 – 19.98, municipal ordinances, and school district policies (1, 2).

2. Methodical. There should be a discernible method to one’s inquiries. See Steps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal. Concerning open government, of all things, one shouldn’t undertake sudden or surprising steps.

In a situation like this, the first step should be to make an inventory of which records are now publicly available, which are now missing, and then craft formal inquiries accordingly. It’s worth taking one’s time and being thorough.

3. Foresight and fortitude. It’s right that one moves deliberately and hopefully, but it makes sense to look ahead to possible setbacks.

One can expect, as someone recently suggested, that there may be efforts to waive open-government provisions even in circumstances ‘not necessarily emergencies.’

Not everyone sees these matters the same way. One hopes for the best, but should plan for encountering and overcoming possible challenges.

4. Tranquility. Wholly serious, here: a foundation of open government is right in itself and offers a more orderly, more peaceful, more dependable way to approach one’s community. It’s the non-partisan foundation of a well-ordered politics.

In these last ten years that I’ve been writing in this small city, so many officials have held office: two city managers, three chancellors, four district administrators, and dozens upon dozens of other municipal, school district, and university officials. A commitment to simple principles would have produced more stability and been far better for Whitewater.

Whitewater hasn’t a need for more officials; steady ones are enough. Open government provides that steadiness.

Whitewater hasn’t provided the right political climate. She’s followed a model with a high and narrowly circumscribed perimeter fence. This has made work much harder for good leaders, and much easier for poor leaders. It’s a self-destructive approach.

A consistent public commitment, daily lived, is better than any press release, presentation, proposal, or project.

Previously: Twilight (Part 1) and Midnight (Part 2).

Midnight (Part 2 in a Series)

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Open government is right both in itself and in consequence: a free society confers political power only for limited & enumerated purposes. Those who confer this power have a right of oversight and a sensible obligation to assure that power’s exercise remains limited & enumerated.

The right derives both naturally and by positive law.

In a well-ordered community, a community worthy of America, residents and officials to whom they confer limited & enumerated authority see the importance of open government. Federal, state, and local provisions – if sound – advance open government.

These principles, established and mostly followed in Whitewater these last several years, now seem to have fallen out of fashion (as though fashion mattered).

Millions for a municipal government with a communications manager, but meetings left unrecorded, inconsistently recorded, on a haphazard schedule.

Tens of millions for school district upgrades, but for the best records of public meetings, of public officials, acting only through conferred authority, well, that’s not a priority.

The same officials who know how to make a recording of a parade or concert (all good efforts) presumably know how to record a public meeting (a recording surely no less important to public business). If, among those in the Municipal Building or Central Office, there’s a particular amnesia that impairs operation of video equipment, then I don’t know of it.

English is my first language, and so I have spoken and written in it for many years. Here’s the simplest way to describe a situation like this:

We’ll do something, sometimes, when it seems convenient, based on all our many priorities, as we alone order those priorities. What are you going to do about it?

And so, one confronts this concise question: What will one do about it?

Tomorrow: Daylight (Part 3 in a Series).
Previously: Twilight (Part 1 in a Series).

Rabbi Sharon Brous’s Advice for Small Towns (and Everywhere, Really)

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

Over at The Atlantic, there’s an interview with Rabbi Sharon Brous, the senior rabbi at IKAR, a non-denominational synagogue in California. See ‘I’ve Spent My Life Studying These Books That Say Decency Actually Matters.’ Rabbi Brous describes religious belief among progressives in contemporary America, and two of her observations are particularly suited even to Whitewater (or other small towns). Emma Green conducts the interview —

On the need for interfaith outreach:

Emma Green: You’ve been hanging out with William Barber, right? Wasn’t he recently at IKAR?

Rabbi Brous: Before launching the Poor People’s Campaign, he did a series of massive town halls around the country. They called to ask whether I would speak the night before Rosh Hashanah. And I said, ‘I’ll happily do that if William will come to share a little bit of his Torah with us the next day.’ It was an incredibly powerful moment for our community, and I think for him, too.

There is a bigger national conversation happening right now, and Jews are a part of it. It is about progressive religious voices not being afraid to say there’s decent, and there’s indecent. There are people who are fighting for dignity, and people who are fighting to deprive other people of their dignity. We have to be willing to stand up and fight with a prophetic voice.

One unites and allies with others, including new friends from faraway places, to a general advantage.

On faith and political controversy:

Rabbi Brous: I went to give a talk at a [synagogue] in the early spring, and I asked the rabbi in advance of the talk, ‘Are there any hot-button issues I should avoid?’ I don’t really go there to get them in trouble; I want to make sure I know where the community is. And he said, ‘You can talk about anything you want, but not politics.’ He said, ‘We have three Trump supporters in the community’—three, out of a community of 1800 families—‘and they will go ballistic.’ He was told, after the inauguration, not to say the word ‘Pharoah’ because it seems political, like an attack on Trump. Rabbis are being told, because there are three people who think that the most profoundly indecent candidate for president that we have ever seen, and the most unqualified, reckless, bigoted and indecent candidate has risen to power, that now we can’t speak Torah anymore because it might make people think we’re uncomfortable with that person and his values.

For me, I say what I need to say. I’m not looking to build the biggest, widest tent so that any person with any political perspective should and could feel absolutely comfortable here. I think in those environments, we become so neutral and so numb that we can’t actually say something.

The new normal is not normal. I’m glad I’m not in an environment where I’m afraid to say out loud, ‘This is not okay.’ I say that not because I’m a political pundit, but because I’m a rabbi, and I’ve spent my life studying these books that say decency actually matters….

There’s great truth, and sadness, in her observation. Formerly, in a place like Whitewater, a few local notables – mostly mediocre and wholly entitled – expected and received undeserved deference for their ill-considered positions and self-promoting claims. Theirs was a kind of big-government conservatism, with public resources disproportionately controlled and unevenly distributed. They walked around like they owned the place.

Their own errors were That Which Paved the Way for something worse, and beyond their control: a brassy, loud, ignorant nativism that doesn’t think – and so doesn’t care – about anyone outside itself. See Old Whitewater and Populism.

Neither Old Whitewater nor a new Populism deserves deference and appeasement. These Old Whitewater men and women who are silent in the face of Trumpism either implicitly support its aims or are too weak to resist.

Men and women, having as children graduated from crawling to walking, shouldn’t willingly return to their original method of locomotion.

Rabbi Brous wisely offers a better way: say what one needs to say.

Film: Tuesday, December 12th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Almost Christmas

This Tuesday, December 12th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Almost Christmas @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

David E. Talbert directs the one hour, fifty-one minute film.  During a family’s “first Christmas gathering since their mother passed away, Dad begs the family to suspend their differences and have a peaceful Christmas at home. Comedy, drama, laughs, and tears follow. A clever, fun, and inspirational Christmas tale, starring Danny Glover, Gladys Knight and Mo’Nique.”

The movie carries a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Almost Christmas at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

Contrast

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Consider the contrast between how the Janesville Gazette‘s publisher want his city to be seen, and how an economics reporter describes the Janesville area:

Janesville Gazette editorial, A question for Janesville to consider:

[James] Fallows and his wife learned the differences between success and failure during a 54,000-mile journey across the United States in a single-engine plane. They hopped from city to city (though didn’t pass through Janesville) and wrote several pieces for The Atlantic. We examined Fallows’ criteria and, from our admittedly biased vantage point, are happy to report Janesville meets many of them.

Perhaps the one exception is the first sign on Fallows’ list: Divisive national politics seem a distant concern. But in all fairness, how many cities have a Congressional representative who is speaker of the House? Furthermore, many locals are less obsessed about national politics than outsiders who occasionally parachute into Janesville to protest, study the city or otherwise seek attention.

Much of this attention is out of Janesville’s control, but residents and local leaders should take to heart Fallows’ assessment: “Overwhelmingly, the focus in successful towns was not on national divisions but on practical problems that a community could address. The more often national politics came into local discussions, the worse shape the town was in.”

Janesville does better with other markers on Fallows’ list. Fallows says successful cities have a downtown, and they have big plans and public-private partnerships….

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, John Schmid, Wisconsin childhood trauma data explodes myth of ‘not in my small town’:

Of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, Rock County falls into the highest tier of overdose deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits linked to opioids and heroin, as ranked by state health authorities….

Once solidly middle-class Rock County today harbors the state’s highest scores for childhood trauma, the deepest plunge in income since the turn of the century, and one of the most extreme drug epidemics.

Of the state’s 72 counties, Rock County is home to the fourth-highest share of single-parent households (17.6%) behind Menominee, Milwaukee and Kenosha counties (28%, 23% and 18.4%, respectively). In the last 20 years, households in the county accepting FoodShare entitlements rose 310%. In the last 15 years, childhood poverty surged 150%, the second fastest increase in the state. The rate at which babies in the county are born with opioids, heroin or other addictive drugs in their bodies more than tripled from 2013 to 2016.

“Soon, we’ll have a whole generation of grade school kids who all have in common a parent who overdosed and died of heroin,” said Janesville police officer Justin Stubbendick. “It breaks my heart to think”….

I  invite readers to read Fallows’s original Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed. (Two posts about Fallows’s article appeared here over a year ago: Part 1, Part 2.)  If there’s anyone who sees Janesville in Fallows’s article he or she needs critical assistance in reading comprehension.

For the Gazette, careful consideration looks like troublesome news from “outsiders who occasionally parachute into Janesville to protest, study the city or otherwise seek attention.”

Actual conditions – of so many in Janesville, Whitewater, Palmyra, Milton – fall below what one might expect in a successful, prosperous community.

A community cannot fix what its leaders will not acknowledge is broken.

Old Whitewater and Populism

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Most of the figures who represented an Old Whitewater outlook have faded from the scene. Their high water mark was several years ago; they’re receding now. Their like won’t be seen again.

Their decline, however, comes in the immediate conditions of an impatient populism. That populism doesn’t represent a New Whitewater, but replaces Old Whitewater’s errors with a new set of mistakes.

Old Whitewater was (and what’s left of it still is) hierarchical, insider-centric, mediocre in policy and understanding, but with a boundless sense of entitlement. The present populism that creeps about is ground-level, ignorant in policy and understanding, with an impatient insistence that it has its way.

They both share some characteristics, including a powerful nativism, but the key difference is that this local populism has no deference or respect for Old Whitewater. They’re not submissive, and won’t take direction from a few aging town fathers. (Organizations with primarily older members still show considerable reverence to an older way, but those organizations are themselves in decline.)

There is another key difference: populism’s likely to burn itself out quickly; the older way it’s supplanting will have had a longer run.

(There’s little stranger than watching one of the old guard, wholly committed for a lifetime to a hierarchical, insiders’ approach, try to transform into a storm-the-Bastille kind of guy. A whole life facilitating opacity doesn’t easily shift into a convincing advocacy of transparency.)

Neither Old Whitewater nor the creeping populism that now replaces it are worthy outlooks: they’re both bottom-shelf approaches.

There’s reason for optimism. There’s nothing of the current scene – nothing – that cannot be overcome, decisively, if one will only hold to expansive rights, continental standards, and a methodical approach.

Film: Tuesday, November 28th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Wind River

This Tuesday, November 28th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Wind River @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Taylor Sheridan directs the one hour, forty-seven minute film, in which a “veteran tracker with the Fish and Wildlife Service helps to investigate the murder of a young Native American woman, and uses the case as a means of seeking redemption for an earlier act of irresponsibility which ended in tragedy.”

The crime drama & mystery stars Kelsey Asbille, Jeremy Renner, and Julia Jones, and carries an R rating from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Wind River at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

National in Local

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin I’ve always thought that the best approach for local public policy is to reach for competitive national standards (where one truly tries, rather than simply insisting that local work is nationally competitive).

A focus on a national approach now matters for another reason: our current national environment is troubled, and by focusing on it reminds oneself of how much is at risk, and how important is the work of opposition.

1. National politics matter more than ever, and so one begins each day with an assessment of the risk to national standards and rights. That’s why each Daily Bread post includes recommendations for reading from prominent, worthy publications.

2. There are particular risks before this community:

(1) Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities, (2) harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, (3) unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby.

These local risks are greater, in this and other communities, because of the darker national scene.

3. The principal focus of opposition to the wrong course should be, on a national or local level, those officials and operatives who advance or acquiesce in these darker national policies. Concerning the national level, see Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders.

4. Failure to reply to officials’ wrongs allows the worst policies to gain a permanent national and local footing. See Trumpism Down to the Local Level.

Aside from these, there are two other projects to undertake.

5. A medium-term project concerning education, thinking about what’s going well, and what’s needing change. Some schools are doing well (indeed, very well), one has a much-needed and welcome new approach (that will produce good results), but elsewhere one sees reason for concern. To be candid, some of these concerns weigh heavily, and when considered produce a genuine melancholy. Heartbreaking, nearly.

The medium-term amounts to several months, and there’s much to organize.

6. There’s a long-term project to complete, when these difficult national challenges are overcome, about That Which Paved the Way to our present circumstances. There’s much to ponder, and collect, for that project from the history of this small and beautiful city.

There are more things than these about which to write, of course, but it helps to organize and publish one’s principal focus.

Hiring Processes

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Whitewater’s public bodies (city, school district, university) have over the years hired more than one person; they’ll keep doing so. (Those who have asked if two of last week’s posts were about a hiring process are right to think so, but only in part. Those posts were also about broad trends within the city. See  The Winnowing Transition and Policies & Actions.)

A few key points:

1. The Proper Measure. The best way to judge a hiring process, for a police chief or any other position, is both by the integrity of the process and its result. Both are important: a good process and a good result.

2. Responsibility. Fair enough, if this city wants to manage its own hiring process. One should be clear, though, that (1) past advocacy of a consultant-led process rested on a concern about city-managed inadequacy, (2) that concern was founded, (3) even consultant-led processes can and have been shabbily conducted to favor insiders’ preferences yet (4) whatever process Whitewater chooses will be the responsibility of the city’s appointed and elected officials (in both integrity and result).

3. Patience Rests on a Good Foundation. One can, and should, watch all this unfold patiently and dispassionately, relying on Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law (Wis. Stats. §§ 19.81-19.98), her Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39), and most of all the enduring standards on which America rests. (Hyperlocalism in standards, however often pushed, is a bottom-shelf approach.)

It seems accurate (if truly unfortunate) to contend that these next several years will be hard for Whitewater, and so while one always hopes for good processes & outcomes, it’s a cautious hope, derived from experience.

Policies & Actions

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Yesterday’s post, The Winnowing Transition, offers thoughts on the last several years in Whitewater, and a look ahead to the next several. The key point is that we’re in a transitional time, where many who were politically prominent a decade ago no longer are, and few who are prominent now will come through the next seven to ten years successfully.

A few more observations —

1. Policies, Actions. In a time of transition, where many have faded and others will, it’s more useful to focus on policies & actions than officeholders. The important questions will be what someone believes and what will he or she do.

In 2007, when I began writing, Whitewater’s city notables were at their high water mark, and conditions for them were seemingly stable. Most of them assumed they’d easily outlast a critic, and imagined – or at least declared – no end to their own prospects. Focusing on specific officeholders mattered more in conditions where an official’s tenure might yet be lengthy.

Weak policies (revealed to be even more so by economic conditions after 2008) came to take a toll, and over time officials’ prospects became weaker and the accuracy of criticism clearer. There might have been an effective break with the past between 2010-12, perhaps, but Whitewater’s officials didn’t make that complete break.

(As a policy matter, a complete break was needed; as a cultural matter it was more than even those who knew better could manage. Indeed, Whitewater’s policymakers have been laughably slow to admit their own mistakes, and delusionally stubborn in the face of repeated errors. See The Last Inside Accounts and The Dark, Futile Dream.)

Over time, a critic’s position has proved the stronger. See Measuring the Strength of a Position.

Who’s going or who’s arriving now matters less than what someone believes and what will he or she do. More of the same will prove worse than useless.

2. Many Options. There’s a common technique among those with an Old Whitewater outlook that every choice is between their way and chaos. This was especially true ten years ago: officials convinced others that the choice was between the official view and disaster/chaos/cannibalism/killer bees. That’s never been true: there are many kinds of conservatives, many kinds of moderates, etc.

It served small, smug notables to shout that it was a choice between their way and utter madness. One can sell slop if customers believe the only alternative is sludge.

3. Challenges Ahead. We have at least this many risks before us: harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities, harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby, and an unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

4. Some, Yet Few. There are some – yet few – officials now serving who, if they so decide, could help Whitewater during the rest of this (sometimes difficult & painful) transition.

Not most, to be sure, but a few.

Nationally and locally, it will be a tough slog. Now and always, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Whitewater.

The Winnowing Transition

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinToday’s a good day to post about the transition through which Whitewater is now going. It’s a winnowing transition, in which many political and economic positions formerly popular are slowly being swept away. (There are, in fact, few leading public officials even from a decade ago still around. Those who are operate in conditions of constraint that would have seemed impossible to imagine ten years earlier.)

1. Whitewater’s near-term outlook seems one of stagnation (and so relative decline).

2. Stagnation and relative decline are not unending – they’re usually transitional. Local political & economic failures, and the resulting (truly regrettable) economic hardship will make the city’s reduced property values attractive to larger-scale, private investment. That’s not our best outcome, to be sure, but those who wanted a better outcome would not have chosen as town notables chose a decade ago.

Bumbling boosterism brought us here.

One can be confident that we’ll pull out of this, but it may be seven to ten years until we see that kind of change.

3. Big Ticket Public Projects Haven’t Stopped Short Term Distress. They’ve been no more than ornaments to the pride of self-promoting notables. The Bridge to Nowhere, TID 4 spending, Innovation Center, WEDC expenditures, Innovation Express, pricey infrastructure spending over modest improvements: bunk & junk, all of it.

4. Political Boosterism’s Almost Finished in Whitewater. It’s simply no longer realistic: aged residents’ unfounded nostalgia and wishful thinking aren’t policies. They’re delusions.

5. There Are Still Risks, Even While Notables’ Boosterism Wanes. I’ve mentioned three risks for Whitewater (and like places) in a post entitled The Somber Trio:

Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities,

Harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, and

Unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby.

There’s a fourth, making this a Somber Quartet:

An unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

Public officials who advance Trumpist views, or cater to them as a balancing act between factions, advance or appease a malevolent ideology. They’re not owed their catering or balancing. If balancing bad ideas with good was tolerable before, it’s not now – the risk is too great to be endured without reply.

6. Charity Endures. For all the political changes sure to come, charity remains a good. Find a good cause, and make it your own.

7. Treading Water Isn’t Swimming. Staying afloat isn’t the same as truly swimming, just as surviving isn’t the same as prospering. One would prefer a community of those who swim & those who prosper, over those who float and merely survive. The goal should be to help people swim, rather than merely boast that a few are good swimmers.

In conditions of stagnation, many officials are treading water more than they’re swimming. There is this one truth and consolation, though, about officials who are merely treading water: as they weren’t moving competently or productively, their departures are inconsequential when compared with a competent or productive person. In this way, personnel departures matter less; there’s hardly a need to see this as troublesome.

8. Better, After. We’ve some difficult times ahead, nationally and locally, but on the other side of this winnowing transition we’ll find a happier and more dynamic country and city.

Film: Tuesday, November 14th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Baby Driver

This Tuesday, November 14th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Baby Driver @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. Baby Driver is “part heist/car chase/romance/music video.”

Edgar Wright directs the one hour, fifty-two minute film, starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, and Jon Hamm. The film carries an R rating from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Baby Driver at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

The Astonishing Truth About WEDC


The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin
One can be a longtime critic of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and still learn even worse things about that agency.

With the Foxconn deal pending, WISGOP legislative leaders Vos & Fitzgerald want the WEDC board to be able to see the full text of the Foxconn contract. See Walker Delays Commenting On Possible Change To Foxconn Contract Approval (“GOP Leadership Has Called For WEDC Board To See Full Contract Before Vote”).

Of course the WEDC’s own board should see the full contract before voting on it. WEDC is a state-established entity, using public money.

One might have thought that Foxconn sought – wrongly, to be sure – to withhold the full contract from WEDC’s own board, but this concealment isn’t limited to Foxconn.

The truth is far worse, as Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Laurel White reveals:

Typically, the board would vote on a staff memo outlining the contract, instead of seeing the entire document.

(Emphasis added.)

Typically – as in ‘conforming with what usually happens’? In all these years, in all these failed WEDC deals, what has usually happened is that the WEDC board has not seen a full contract before voting whether to approve a deal?

These board members are not board members of a major corporation like Apple or Verizon. Not at all – they’re overseeing the distribution, in significant measure, of public money from a small Midwestern state. Members of WEDC’s board should not be relying on a staff memo, they should be looking more closely and exercising greater scrutiny with public resources. Worthy scrutiny for WEDC requires a review of the full contracts.

Perhaps someone in Whitewater will pass this message along to each town notable who flacked the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, or touted awards they’d won from WEDC (e.g., ‘best business citizen’):

WEDC was, is, and as constituted will continue to be an embarrassment and disgrace to the reasonable people of this state.