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.

The Market

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin There’s an editorial at Royal Purple that contends a future Grocery store should accommodate students.

The editorial makes sound points for pricing outreach to students, but my focus here isn’t merely a supermarket or co-op, but the general economic market of Whitewater and nearby, smaller towns (some of which are part of the local school district). So, in the paragraphs that follow, the focus is on economic markets and not particular businesses.

A few key points:

1.  The City of Whitewater’s not homogeneous – there are several key constituencies in town. Old Whitewater – a state of mind – describes part of the town as the real town.  The insatiable desire to wrap the town in a middle-aged-or-older, white package is both futile and inhibiting of future (cooperative)  growth.

Over 56% of the residents in Whitewater are between 15 and 24. 

https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/15_5YR/DP05/1600000US5586925

2.  Half’s only half as much. One could ignore that 56%, but to do so cuts the size of one’s nearby economic market in half. For supermarkets, co-ops, or any number of other general-interest businesses a within-the-city 56% (even a part of it) is astonishingly valuable.

3. A short distance is usually an easier distance. Although a business could try to supplement an older demographic within the city with an older demographic on the other side of the city line (in nearby towns), the farther a business tries to reach from its home area, the closer it will come to competitors defending their home areas.

It’s not impossible for a general-interest business to succeed with an older demographic in town combined with an older demographic outside town, but it’s sure to be more difficult.

4. Broad-based success within town requires an ability to reach multiple demographics. Thousands of businesses across America – small and large – know how to sell profitably to different consumer groups.

5. If a general-interest business can’t or won’t sell to multiple demographics in a diverse city like Whitewater, it’s an inefficient business. Why use resources to attract people from far away, when with fewer resources one could have customers right in town?

I’m not writing about a co-op, or any specific store, but broadly: those general businesses that ignore 56% or so of the city’s economic market may be doing so for cultural or other reasons, but these cultural or other reasons are short-sighted, producing less productive outcomes.

(As for what these cultural or other reasons might be, that’s a post for another day.)

Boo! Scariest Things in Whitewater, 2017



Here’s the eleventh annual FREE WHITEWATER list of the scariest things in Whitewater for 2017. The 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 20142015, and 2016 editions are available for comparison.

The list runs in reverse order, from mildly frightening to truly scary.

10. Dirty Dogs. This town’s like a magnet for every smooth talking heel with a scheme to develop the place, a just-what-you-need-be-prosperous-quick plan. They’ll come in packs, or at least a couple from the same litter, and before you know it, you’re facing the Attack of the Dirty Dogs. It’s almost as though someone might try to convince a town to pay for a poorly planned, ratty excuse for a festival by taking a beloved children’s series and turning it into nothing but a pile of doggie doo. You say it couldn’t happen, but look just 13.9 miles to the north, and perhaps you’ll change your mind…

9. Demand.  It sounds bad, doesn’t it, the demand for something. The word sounds so pushy, so coercive, so oppressive. But when residents complain that there’s too much demand for student housing, they’re not describing the Big Bad Wolf at a straw house.

They’re describing ordinary buyers and sellers in the housing marketplace, looking to make voluntary and cooperative transactions to rent places to live. Some of the same people who enjoy our Farmers’ Market or a City Market refuse to accept a housing market.

8. Big Projects.  The cost of spending on one big project is both alternatives passed over and, for any community, constraints on how much can be spent on other projects while serving the last project’s debt. Going big on one project, and pretending it’s done and in the past, doesn’t place that project in the past – the influence of that past expenditure reaches into the present, and limits the future.

7.  Fairness.  Here’s a question that this community might consider: what does it mean to be fair? Does fairness require that, in all cases, each person should be treated alike, or does it require that in some cases persons should be treated alike and in other cases goods and services should be distributed to each person based on need? (That is, is all justice commutative, or is justice sometimes commutative and sometimes distributive?)

For thousands of years, civilization has recognized more than one concept of justice, with each applicable in different situations. Whitewater’s had a problem – and has recently & happily shed at least one administrator too dense to comprehend any of this – with seeing how important these distinctions are.

When commutative justice is misapplied to deny services to the needy, the denial is injurious specifically and ignorant generally. 

6. What’s Inside.  It must be scary, because leaders would rather start with a discussion of what’s outside than what’s inside. No, and no again: one builds outside to assure vibrant relationships inside. Those relationships are more than the building, more even than photos or videos of what’s happening inside.

5. Comparative AdvantagesThey must be scary, because officials have such trouble grasping them. It makes sense to follow the best practices of others, but a comparative advantage requires doing something better (often a specialization) over one’s competitors. Doing the same thing as everyone else only leaves a community lost in the shuffle. Everyone in the state has a flimsy business development scheme, a new construction project, etc. Every town has roads, buildings, etc. 

4. Personal Awards.  If you’re leading with your personal awards, you’ve already lost anyone accomplished. It’s that simple. When an email signature line lists individual awards, there’s a good chance of over-rating, and an excellent chance of vanity. Accomplishment should be clear after acquaintance. There’s a better way than leading with one’s individual achievements: For Your Consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk.

Team awards, by contrast, are different: they’re not about one person, but about the gains to a group or organization. That’s not vanity – it’s legitimate pride in group accomplishment.

3. That Which Paved The Way. Trump and Putin didn’t emerge overnight. When they came on the scene, many communities across America were vulnerable to their lies and manipulation. Smarmy glad-handers played a role in advancing junk claims, and weakening critical thought. They were part of That Which Paved the Way.  

2. Tabbies, Not LionsMen who were supposed to be the lions of this community, roaring of themselves as movers and shakers, visionaries, dignitaries, etc., are now mostly silent when Trump’s name comes up. Suddenly, but not surprisingly, they’re quiet about the most significant political development of our time.  When they do speak, it sounds like When Lions Meow.

1. Trump.  Of course: autocratic, bigoted, ignorant, contemptuous of democratic traditions and desirous of dictatorial ones.

However serious the challenge from Trump, there’s this consolation: Trump did not carry the City of Whitewater last year. What he did not do in ’16, he will never do. The majority in this small city rejected Trump last year, they would reject him again this year, and they will forever reject him.

We’ve a long slog ahead, but we’ll come through this a free and, one can truly hope, a stronger people.

Best wishes to all for a Happy Halloween.

Film: Tuesday, October 31st, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Halloween Movie Festival

This Tuesday, October 31st at 12:30 PM, it’s Halloween movie festival at Seniors in the Park with Halloween treats and movie tricks including a Mighty Mouse cartoon, a serial chapter Commando CodyRadar Men from the Moon,” and “KONG: Skull Island.”

Kong: Skull Island is a redo/update/reboot of “King Kong” with an All-Star cast of Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L.Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, and John Goodman. KONG IS H-U-U-G-E !!!

Enjoy!

Area Population, Properly Understood


The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin
There’s an unfortunately misleading story from the Lake Geneva Regional News, picked up uncritically at the Banner, on a population increase for Walworth County and part of Whitewater. See “Walworth County population is up — here and there.”

The story (1) cites a tiny population increase, (2) ignores relative trends entirely, and (3) leaves readers (and any policymakers ignorant enough to take the story at face value) with a false confidence in growth that’s unsupported by serious demographic assessments of the area.

1. The Tiny Population Increase. From the story, one reads that

Overall, Walworth County’s population in the past seven years has increased by more than 300 people, from a total of 102,228 to 102,590.

Other than the village of Bloomfield, the biggest sign of growth has occurred in the city of Whitewater, where the population jumped from 11,150 to 11,541 [that is, the Walworth County part of Whitewater].

For Walworth County, that’s an increase of about 0.3% (three tenths of one percent) over seven years.

(Update for WW detail: A measure for Whitewater from 2010 to 2016, using population estimates for all of Whitewater into 2016, shows growth and then decline over the last few reported years: 14,401 (2010), 14,661 (2011), 14,852 (2012), 15,052 (2013), 15,035 (2014), 14,685 (2015), 14,517 (2016).)

Imagine if one invested a dollar for seven years, and at the end of that time learned that after those many years one gained only a third of a penny.

That’s what this increase looks like. It’s the same increase that the Lake Geneva Regional News reporter describes as “the wave,” “where the population jumped,” etc.

It’s not a wave, it’s a mere trickle. It’s not a jump, it’s barely a walk.

2. The local reporting ignores relative trends entirely. On October 1, 2010, the United States population was 310,036,087; on October 1, 2017 it was 325,994,783. (Using United States Census Bureau population clock data.)

In seven years, the American population increase has been 5%, but locally in Walworth County it’s been only 0.3% . That’s an American population growth rate about 16 times larger over the same period.

Indeed, Walworth County hasn’t just grown slowly, and doesn’t just lag behind America – she is also one of the most income-unequal places in America. See Inequality in the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ Area.

3. Good Policy Requires a Good Grasp of Conditions.  For a generation, Whitewater’s policymakers have too often pushed a positive narrative, no matter how flimsy or  false (and sometimes outright dishonest) that narrative has been.

Policy based on error leads to a misallocation of resources. Policy based on obvious error is, of course, worse (as it should have been more easily caught).

Policy based on a few people’s happy-talk narrative, however, is worse than error: it’s a selfish insistence that all is well so that a few insiders can elevate themselves as the authors of supposed successes while downplaying the real and unfortunate conditions of their fellow residents.  

By insisting that all is well, those most in need are wrongly ignored. By insisting that all is well, policies that would most help those in need are wrongly ignored.

(There’s no mercenary motive in writing this: I have never contended that my own circumstances are unfortunate; on the contrary, I’ve been undeservedly fortunate. It’s a strong & necessary rejection of a lesser outlook that provides all the motivation one needs.)

It is in equal measure ridiculous and reprehensible that this small city has produced a generation of exaggerated accomplishments and under-appreciated suffering.

In our schools and at our university – among elected officials, appointed officials, faculty, and students – one should expect a better grasp of our situation than a shallow, misleading story on our area’s true conditions.

Film: Tuesday, October 24th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Ghostbusters (2016)

This Tuesday, October 24th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Ghostbusters (2016) @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, “paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.”

Paul Feig directs the one hour, fifty-six minute film, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. The film carries a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

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

Enjoy.

The Same Ten People Problem (Revisited)

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

In a presentation from September on the state of the city (really meaning the state of Whitewater’s municipal government), City Manager Cameron Clapper tackled again the ‘Same Ten People Problem’ (STPP), where only a few people participate in municipal meetings, etc. One can find the full video presentation below; Clapper’s remarks on the STPP appear from 26:20 to 34:02.

A few remarks about all this, below:

Credit Where Credit Is Due. City Manager Clapper has discussed his concern about participation before, much to his credit. It is a problem, although one that some would rather not discuss, so much the better to avoid a solution that might dilute their influence.

Clapper’s (Partial) Solution. In his remarks, Clapper offers POLCO, a web-based community survey provider, as a partial solution to the STPP. That’s novel, actually. POLCO bills itself (mostly) as a way to allow officials to receive community opinion on key issues; Clapper’s now holding POLCO out as a way to entice participation beyond mere survey responses.

I’m not sure how effective POLCO will be, but it’s more likely to be useful as a gateway to additional individual participation than as an accurate representation of community opinion (the problems of collecting an accurate surevy through POLCO are too great, to put it mildy). As a way to whet someone’s appetite, though, Clapper may be right, and may have found a way to make POLCO one part of a solution on participation. (It’s worth noting that he contends it’s one solution, not the only solution.)

The STPP. I’ve written about Whitewater’s STPP before. See The Perimeter Fence and  The Solution to the ‘Same Ten People Problem.’ From the latter post:

In a post from yesterday I wrote about how cultures have perimeter fences, figurative boundaries marking the divide between what they consider acceptable and what they don’t, between those of the community and those outside of it.

Whitewater’s maintained a perimeter fence that is too circumscribed, and by design too impermeable.  It’s more than generational change that limits participation.

We’ve a fence that’s too close and too high….

That’s the source of the STPP in Whitewater: a local culture that expects a few leading figures and the community story be channeled through a few narrow gates of a few high walls.

What’s Coming. I’ve always felt that Whitewater will be better when she evolves more completely into a community with multiple sources of information, and diverse points of view. See New Whitewater’s Inevitability.

The idea of wrapping the community into one package was, as a digital imitation of the Register (when that paper still mattered), was always yesterday’s idea, a retrograde notion. Bundling the city in a box, adding a bow, and presenting ‘Whitewater!’ was always yesterday’s outlook; it was visionary only if one defines myopia as keen eyesight.

The future – for Whitewater and other towns – has always been myriad sources, each independently contributing to a vibrant community.

Truthfully, she’s already part way there: there are dozens of local sources of information, from dozens of community groups, written in the style that suits each group, respectively. Look only in one place, and one misses so much.

It makes sense that Cameron Clapper would want more government participation now; it won’t come that soon, yet it will come. There are likely to be much harder days of challenge between now and then. We would have done better if we had made this transition sooner, of course.

Still, much of what seems so vital now won’t last into a New Whitewater, but then each generation should – and inevitably will – make its own choices.

If City Manager Clapper stays in Whitewater for another decade – and despite disagreements with him, one hopes he does – then he’ll see these changes.

Between now and then, there will be a hard slog in Whitewater, but there’s no better place, in all the world, to be.

A Brighter Outlook for Whitewater High

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinWhitewater High School has the advantage of a new principal and assistant principal. I’ve written before that I’ve no particular advice for Messrs. Lovenberg and O’Shaughnessy.  See For Your Consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk. (Indeed, in that post I offered only a question, but – to be sure – one that implied how very much their efforts are needed and welcome here.)

For general views on education in this community and elsewhere, see An Opportunity at Whitewater HighAn Opportunity at Whitewater High (Part 2), Mentoring, and The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 3 in a Series).

An optimistic view of recent administrative changes is widely shared in this community. There’s undoubtedly satisfaction – and for some outright & legitimate relief – that Whitewater High has a new team.

An addled nostalgia for the past shows either ignorance of actual conditions or a preference for inferior ones. 

Those committed to high standards and fair practices should expect from a collectively-run school board a collective commitment to Whitewater’s current team. There’s something particularly risible about a single member whose candidacy was based on ‘planning for the future’ but whose outlook is to the past and whose direction is one of retrograde motion. In any event, one could confidently refute each and every contention that single member might make in this regard; it’s no more than a reckless presumption that invites such a refutation.

Longtime readers know that – to be mild – I’m not without occasional words of criticism. (Nor, in now saying so mildly, without a sense of humor and awareness.) And yet, and yet, one criticizes truly from love and hope. It’s this community one loves, this community to which one is forever committed, and this community for which one is hopeful.

We would do well to put nostalgia aside.

To move backward will prove quickly destructive, to remain motionless slowly debilitating, but forward – of all other directions, however unfamiliar by comparison – alone offers a hopeful future.

The Somber Trio

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Among the most serious harms are those to liberty and physical well-being. One can compensate adequately for many injuries, but damages at law are slight compensation for lost liberties and physical injuries.

We’ve a new national environment, in which actions once impermissible are now encouraged, and redress once required is now no longer recognized. If asked to list the three gravest concerns for this small town, these come to mind, in no fixed order:

Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully settled 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 an obvious difference between risk (the chance that something might happen) and harm (what results if it does happen). The harms that might befall some in this community have always been clear; the risks of these harms has grown as Trumpism encourages force where it was once properly discouraged, and discourages peaceful resolution where it was once encouraged.

These greater risks did not begin with Trump. In towns across America, including Whitewater, one can see That Which Paved the Way. Those who have ignored or denied past wrongs have left their communities vulnerable to those who would, with satisfaction & delight, commit new and worse injustices, all the while declaring their actions the very height of order and propriety.

The worst risks, of the worst harms, fall on some of our fellow residents more than others. The moral burden of lessening risks, and of redressing harms, falls on all of us.

Film: Tuesday, October 10th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Wonder Woman

This Tuesday, October 10th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Wonder Woman @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Wonder Woman (2017) tells of the famed comic book heroine: “Diana is the principled warrior-daughter of the female ruler of Paradise Island, sheltered from men and the outside world’s evils. Then, an American pilot crashes on the island, telling her of The War to End All Wars. Wonder Woman enters the fray: World War I! This was the summer’s most popular film, garnering great reviews, as well.”

Patty Jenkins directs the two hour, twenty-one minute film, starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis. The film carries a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

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

Enjoy.

Amendments, Canaries, Coal Mines

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

                    Embed from Getty Images

I wrote yesterday about two proposed amendments to Whitewater’s Landmarks Commission ordinances (Items O-1 and O-2 on the 10.3.17 Council agenda). See Amendments Concerning the Landmarks Commission. Last night, Council unanimously passed O-1, and amendment O-2 died for lack of a second vote to move consideration of it.

A few quick points about all this – and what it likely says about more serious matters.

1. Contentious, Not Dangerous. The most important point about the proceedings last night is that they may have been the consequence of disputes and contentions over a challenge to the Landmarks Commission’s authority, but there was nothing of danger in any of this. These were not matters of public safety, where lives and property might be immediately and grievously threatened.

That’s why it made sense to let the matter unspool on its own, ending yesterday’s post on the subject with ‘We’ll see.’ Nothing was at risk by waiting and watching without further comment. Indeed, one sometimes observes the course of an event for months before writing on it.

2. A Preference Against Change. All considered – all meaning events both near and far – I wouldn’t have proposed any changes to these existing ordinances. There are ordinances and policies in Whitewater I’d like to see changed; the existing Landmarks provisions of our municipal code would not have been among them.

3. A Protest. This may not have been my cause, so to speak, but it’s encouraging to see a pre-meeting protest before City Hall. Old Whitewater (a state of mind, rather than a person or chronological age) has for years expected a heads-down-eyes-averted approach to town notables’ ideas and actions. There’s never been a reason for that in an American town, that don’t-you-know-who-I-am expectation of self-declared leading figures. (No one should yield to imposed expectations like that.)

Residents in Whitewater can protest without the sky falling. Actually, they just did, last night.

4. Sharp Residents, All Around Us. Whitewater’s filled with sharp people. All communities are — society wouldn’t be able to function without large majorities of capable people performing myriad challenging tasks each day. Critiques are seldom if ever about intelligence (it’s not in question); critiques are typically over perspective, over ways of learning to see things.

5. Item O-1. Item O-1 was the more interesting, although the less contentious, of the two proposed amendments. Consider Section 1 of the amendment:

SECTION 1. Whitewater Municipal Code Chapter 17.12, Designation of Landmarks,
Landmark Sites and Historic Districts is hereby amended as follows:
Sub-Section 17.12.040 (e) is created to read:

Before the Landmarks Commission explores a city owned property as a
potential landmark, the Commission shall notify the City Manager with a
notice of intent….

There one finds a simple error of drafting, that might easily have been avoided, and if avoided, would have produced a far better amendment.

“Before the Landmarks Commission explores….” The obvious point is that explores is so nebulous and susceptible of multiple meanings that it’s too vague to be in a properly worded ordinance. Indeed, explores is nowhere present in Whitewater’s Municipal Code, not once in usage, let alone as a definition.

One knows what it means to explore (Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole comes to mind), but that definition of exploration is inapplicable here. Does explore mean first to think about the matter, to raise the subject, first to debate it as a commission, first to vote on it, etc.? One sees the point: explores cannot mean never consider – because if one does not consider at all, how is one to contemplate what might be a desirable proposal for the commission?

An ordinance isn’t merely for the moment, but for years yet to come, when those now part of a present question or controversy have long passed from the political scene. The ordinance has to be clear for them, too. Explores doesn’t offer the clear definition that an ordinance needs to be enduringly useful.

Note what this means: a clear definition is in everyone’s interest, to prevent future uncertainty and disputes that would arise from it.

6. An Easy Fix. Instead of explores, one would set the trigger of notifying Council to a specific, concrete event: before the commission votes on any proposal, after a single meeting’s discussion but before any other action, etc. There are many possibilities that would make the ordinance clearer, and so more useful to avoid disputes now and in the future (when new members have to look at these provisions with fresh eyes).

7. Why Someone Writes This Way. Someone writes this way (using explores) to come to a consensus between parties in the present – to find language that satisfies them. That’s the important work of conflict resolution, to be sure. It’s not an easy task – it is an admirable one. One could easily list city officials who would be skilled at conflict resolution. That contention isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment – it’s acknowledge meant to a vital skill.

It’s just that – as with so many divisions of labor – it’s not the only skill that matters. Someone else on council or in the local government, not part of a conflict-resolution outreach, should have been able to see that the ordinance needed improvement, to make it an even better expression of the parties’ and city’s interests.

Perhaps there was a concern that, having reached a solution, it was risky to offer further suggestions that might upset that immediate solution. That’s too cautious – having gone so far, one could have gone a bit farther (and done even better) by showing what good drafting can do.

8. Canaries, Coal Mines. So why a picture of a canary in a coal mine? Because after this present dispute fades, there will still be a need in this community for public and private institutions to develop a stronger grasp of risk and opportunities under the law. City, school district, university – this community doesn’t have a professional class that inculcates in its members an correct understanding of what’s possible and what’s not.

Like the ACLU (of which I am a member), this libertarian has no interest in representing government’s interests. (Government is the one client the ACLU never represents.) There are many people in the city who can care for government’s interests ably, if only they’d broaden their perspective, beyond the immediate and transitory.

There are many reasons for this lacking: a smaller number of transactions in a small town, a small professional class (of any profession), a distance from a plaintiff’s bar that would otherwise be noticing events even more closely (than a few ADA deficiencies) on which to litigate, etc.

Draft amendment O-1 is a like a sentinel species, a canary in a coal mine. Its condition – its quality of drafting, in this case – tells something worrying about what may lie ahead, if one looks farther, and deeper, into the workings of the community’s principal public institutions.

As one would always prefer sound workings over unsound ones, there’s reason for concern.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 2 in a Series)

local sceneWhitewater, as with other Wisconsin cities and towns, has a Planning Commission. Like some towns (but not others), Whitewater by practice places a member of one commission (let’s say, Parks & Rec) on another commission (let’s say, Planning): a representative of one commission to another. So a person might be appointed to serve on the Parks & Rec Board, but then also be the representative of Parks & Rec on the Planning Commission. (In this way, the resident then serves on two commissions.)

What happens, though, when a resident appointed to Parks & Rec,  who then becomes the representative to the Planning Commission, requests to become the representative from Planning (on which he was never appointed) to the Community Development Authority (a third board)?

A second question: if the Parks & Rec board member was formerly head of the city’s neighborhood services department, should he even be able to serve on the Planning Board (as Planning oversees neighborhood services)? (Other cities would not allow the former neighborhood services leader to serve on Planning – neither directly nor by jumping from one board to another).

Those are questions that a member of the Planning Commission presented in June, before the Planning Commission made its choice for its representative to another board (the Community Development Authority). See Plan Commission 6/12/17 & 6/19/17, preliminary discussion & commissioner’s remarks from 1:30 to 3:50 on the video.

I view of this discussion with distance and detachment, with clear and cold eyes.  In the months since I first heard it, it has now & again returned to my mind. (One may read and hear much, but write less, and even then only at a later, more suitable time.)

Could the French ambassador to the United States, upon his arrival on these shores, then and there become the American ambassador to Brazil? Could a marketing manager at Ford Motor Company, upon becoming the marketing representative to an engineering team, then and there become the engineering representative to the accounting group?

It’s notable – and not to Whitewater’s credit – that not a single commissioner offered a word in reply to these concerns. Not a word of support, not a word of opposition: nothing.

The only commissioner who addressed this concern was the commissioner who raised it. “So shines a good deed….

There is the erosion of political norms: so eroded that nothing is said in reply.

PreviouslyThe Erosion of Political Norms, Part 1.

Tomorrow: The Erosion of Political Norms, Part 3.

The Shallowness of Local Policymaking (and Some Policymakers)


local scene
Consider a woman who walks into an auto dealer to buy a new car. She asks him about the price of one of his cars, and he tells her that it’s a great bargain. She asks the dealer why it’s a great bargain, and he tells her he can prove it, handing her a piece of paper with twelve words in bright red type:

I can assure you that this is a great bargain, believe me!

What would one say about this? Reasonably, one would say that the prospective buyer should (and would) ask fundamental questions about the purchase — no one would expect her to make a major choice simply in reliance on a few words in large, red type.  Indeed, no one would teach a child to make purchases simply in reliance on a seller’s printed, but unsupported, assertion.

And yet, and yet, policy and policymaking in Whitewater over the last generation often falls below the standard one would expect – and hope – of a competent young adult.

Click for larger image

If a student in our high school produced a story of a company’s prospects with little more than that company’s press release selectively highlighted in red type, he or she would reasonably expect a poor grade. Whitewater’s policymakers think so little of quality that when a longtime politician-publisher-school-board member does the same, the effort passes for a news story.

A bridge to nowhere, an ‘Innovation Center’ that’s a dull office building built on grants for another purpose (now used mostly for public-sector workers), a failed tax incremental district, an unused (now defunct) ‘innovation express’ bus line, crowing about taxpayer-funded state capitalism at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, an unsound, but twice-proposed digester energy project, and flacking for mediocre & mendacious insiders: that’s not a fit legacy for a serious, competent policymaking. (A best business citizen designation from the WEDC is the state’s way of saying least-competent grasp of simple economics.)

These many years have yielded an embarrassing legacy of weak thinking and weak projects.

When residents of Whitewater – and other small towns in this state – look out at empty shops, cracked streets, and above-average child poverty, perhaps some will console themselves that they endured all this for an aged generation’s pride, so that a few could proclaim themselves visionaries, movers and shakers, influencers, dignitaries, whatever.

Although some may console themselves this way, Whitewater – and other small towns in this state –  inauspiciously see each year an exodus of many of their best, most creative young people to other places, convinced that they’d rather not live their lives stagnantly under a few aged residents’ false, self-serving claims.

Here one encounters a sad irony: those who fancy themselves ‘Whitewater advocates’ have repeatedly pushed policies, and an unchecked boosterism, that have only reduced Whitewater’s appeal to a new generation.

Film: Tuesday, September 26th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: The Shack

This Tuesday, September 26th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of The Shack @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

The Shack (2017) tells of a “grieving father who is drawn to an abandoned shack, where he meets and receives counsel from a woman who calls herself Papa — the name his wife uses to describe God. The faith-based drama stars Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Tim McGraw.”

Stuart Hazeldone directs the two hour, twelve-minute film, carrying a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

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

Enjoy.

Hotel Preliminaries

local scene

Whitewater’s full-service grocery closed in 2015, and then the UW-Whitewater Foundation bought the property. (Premier Bank, successor to Commercial Bank, has a 5% interest in the property.) A developer from Minnesota, having been unsuccessful in a project near the center of town, now proposes purchasing the former grocery building & lot, and constructing a Fairfield Marriott on the property, while renovating the existing (now empty) grocery building (meeting space, office space, etc.).

Because the developer wants two buildings on the lot, he (through the existing owners) sought conditional use approval for his plan. Conditional use approval leaves many details left unaddressed, but it was a necessary first step.

A few remarks.

1. City of Whitewater obligations. If it should be true that Whitewater will incur no expenses for studies, water main relocations, or other costs – that these will be borne by the parties – then the project is of limited concern. There is no reason that the residents of this city should subsidize a hotel, but if they’ve not the burden of subsidizing one, then let the private parties do what they want.

If the UW-Foundation and Premier bank want to sell, with the expectation of a donation of a portion back later, let them. They are not unsophisticated parties – they should be free to buy and sell as they wish. If the deal goes bad, the risk would be (and should be) theirs alone.

2. Building on the lot. The parties want two buildings on the lot, but if they should want three or thirty, I’d not stop them. Practicality is a greater constraint than law. Many uses are permitted, but only some succeed.

3. Building height. There’s a funny moment when the city planner recognizes that the planned height of the hotel is 45′ not 145′. It’s true that a project of this size would not be 145′ high, but that’s not what’s funny. What’s funny is the idea that a 145′ building would be too tall for Whitewater.

Why? There are much worse things than a tall, privately-constructed building.

4. Economic benefits. This session was about whether the applicants would be granted conditional use approval. Along the way, the developer included a supposed list of economic gains. Much of it is simply unsupported, and looks suspiciously like grandiose claims meant to impress gullible or over-eager residents.

If these parties are spending their own money, and not burdening this city, then the economic benefits are their private matter. There is something risible, however, about reading the same boilerplate used elsewhere that’s meant to impress, but impresses only the ignorant or weak-minded.

It would have been faster for the parties to call residents of the city gullible than to waste time typing unsupported economic claims. (Much faster: gullible is only one word, while the developer’s memo, beginning at memo paragraph three in the packet below, uses 325 words for its economic claims.)

5. Gratitude. There’s an unfortunate moment midway in this discussion, when the council member on the Planning Commission tells the developer that “well, we’ve been hoping for a new hotel for a long time, so we’re grateful for, I would say, I’m grateful for the effort that you’re putting into this proposal…”

When one has told the developer that one is grateful for the effort, the developer understandably gets the signal that oversight will be minimal. Now, I’m not so concerned about oversight as long as this city’s residents aren’t paying for the project. Still, from a regulatory perspective – as required by law – expressions of gratitude are hardly a signal of scrutiny in the public interest.

6. Devil’s in the details. There’s another meeting of Planning Commission in October….

The 9.11.17 Plannning Commission packet, with agenda and relevant part (Item 9), appears below —

Download (PDF, 3.37MB)