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.

The Enduring Sadness of Walworth County

“ELKHORN—A woman who son was shot and killed by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy in 2012 has settled her lawsuit against the county and deputy for $1.1 million.

Nancy Brown, mother of 22-year-old John Brown, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee in May 2013 alleging Deputy Wayne Blanchard used excessive force when he shot her son a year earlier at her town of Lyons home, according to court documents.

She had called police because her bipolar son was suicidal and had locked himself in his room with a knife, according to the complaint she filed.

The settlement, signed Jan. 23, brings the case to a close with the county and Blanchard denying any misconduct, according to a copy of the settlement document obtained by The Gazette.

The payment “is being made for the sole purpose of avoiding the substantial expense of further litigation,” the settlement states.

The settlement will be paid by the county’s insurer, Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance, County Administrator Dave Bretl said Monday.

The shooting is among seven fatal shootings by law enforcement in Walworth County since 2010….

Phil Koss, the district attorney at the time of the shooting, said Blanchard’s actions were justified as self-defense.

[Plaintiff’s attorney Antonio] Romanucci said he and Brown were glad the legal matter was resolved.

“We’re very pleased with the conclusion of this matter, and that we were able to avoid trial with a very substantial settlement,” he said.”

Via Walworth County settles fatal shooting lawsuit for $1.1 million @ Janesville Gazette.

See, also Thursday shooting is eighth by Walworth County law enforcement since 2010 (“The incident [on 2.2.17 in which twenty-six year old Kris Kristl was shot to death] was the eighth shooting–seven of them fatal–by law enforcement in Walworth County since 2010 and the third in 13 months”).

Inequality in the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ Area

Over at the Economic Policy Institute, there’s a newly-published study of income inequality in America, and it ranks Walworth County as one of the most income-unequal places in the nation.  The study refers to the ‘Whitewater-Elkhorn’ metropolitan area, but with a population of 102,000, it’s clear that the reference is to Walworth County, using the 2010 Census population count.

(The methodology is that of Piketty and Saez, used years earlier to study income inequality across America.  Their method is not without critics, to be sure.  I find many of those critics compelling.)

Apart from this or other studies, however, it is still evident to anyone visiting Whitewater or Walworth County that pockets of significant poverty are all around.  This poverty surely  produces wide gaps with economically-successful residents.

Accentuating the positive in Whitewater has come at the price of ignoring actual conditions.

A few policymakers in Whitewater are versions of Japanese businessmen in the late ’80s, men who were so proud to proclaim that they had rebounded from the misery of war and thus had then arrived at the pinnacle of world achievement. (They were to find that arrival disappointing, as they’d overlooked actual economic conditions, and arrived only to years of stagnation.)

We would do far better to describe ourselves as we truly are, and invite others to join us not in an imaginary, perfect place, but in this real, beautiful, but work-yet-to-be-done place.

Local Election Recap

Local elections affecting Whitewater went about as one might have expected.  I’d guess there were, in the end, no surprises.

There were three uncontested races for Common Council (Allen, Binnie, Langness), and two for the Whitewater Unified School District (Brunner, Stewart).

That leaves two contested races in the immediate area: a Common Council race between Patrick Wellnitz and Ken Kienbaum, and a Walworth County Circuit Court race between Dan Johnson and Dan Necci.  Wellnitz won over Kienbaum with a vote (unofficial results, of course) of 405 to 237, about 63% to  37%.

In the one contested race that was heated, Family Court Commissioner Dan Johnson defeated District Attorney Dan Necci, 16380 to 13360, about 55% to 45%.  In the end, opinion from local officials undoubtedly had a big impact on the outcome.  I’d guess that after a brief time, the tensions of this race will evaporate, particularly as Johnson had bipartisan support from numerous officials.

 

The Walworth County Circuit Court Race (Final Thoughts)

I posted in February on the Walworth County Circuit court race between Family Court Commissioner Dan Johnson and District Attorney Dan Necci.

A month and a half later, there’s no change in the dynamic of the race: Johnson has widespread support from officials in the county, across party lines, and Necci is relying significantly on prominent out-of-county endorsements.

Since both Johnson and Necci are officeholders now, that’s an odd situation for Necci: after years in office, the clear majority of officeholders – including leading conservatives – support Johnson, not Necci.

The most typical sort of race would be one in which local officeholders split more evenly than has happened here. It would probably also be true that even if officeholders opposed a candidate, they would do do passively (by saying nothing or not endorsing) rather than actively (by writing and speaking in opposition).

In this race, judges, law enforcement leaders, court personnel, former members of the district attorney’s office, and many other local leaders have actively supported Johnson, and opposed Necci.

It’s hard to get over how odd that is. It suggests strongly that after working with both men, local officials have formed a clear preference, based not on partisanship, but on actual experience.

In a judicial race like this, typically far removed from statewide issues or controversies, one would expect that actual experience of the two candidates should be decisive.

Respect for that experience would impel one toward supporting Dan Johnson. Residents are about to find out, one way or another, how much that actual experience of the two candidates matters to Walworth County’s voters.

It’s been an odd race, in this way, soon to conclude, one hopes, with regard for that experience.

On Wisconsin’s 2.16.16 Primary

Results are in from yesterday’s February primary, and there are a few clues about the April 5th election, with one big uncertainty.

First, the obvious uncertainty.  The Republican and Democratic presidential races have offered surprises, and will likely offer more.  One or both major-party contests may still be raging by 4.5.16.  Ongoing interest in either, or both, of those races will affect turnout for Wisconsin contests, including of course the Supreme Court race between Justice Bradley and Judge Kloppenberg.

Second, of the Supreme Court race results from yesterday, there were no surprises: Bradley and Kloppenberg finished close together, with Judge Donald far back.  They were better funded and better known; he was at a significant disadvantage throughout.  (Unofficial results: Rebecca G. Bradley (inc) 251,826 45%, Joanne F. Kloppenburg 243,190 43 %, Joe Donald 68,373 12 %.)

Third, the Walworth County Circuit Court race results were revealing.  Commissioner Dan Johnson finished first, with D.A. Dan Necci and Attorney Shannon Wynn farther back, but close to each other.  (Unofficial results: Daniel S. Johnson 3,356 37 %, Dan Necci 2,922 32 %, and Shannon Wynn 2,799 31 %.) (Disclaimer: I don’t support Necci.)

Necci has been District Attorney for over three years, with all the publicity that affords, and he could only garner 32% of the vote.  This was not an ordinary three-person contest: it was a notable incumbent facing two less-known opponents.  Along with the Walworth County sheriff, the Walworth County district attorney is the only well-known position in the entire county.  (By comparison, about twelve people in Walworth County know who County Administrator David Bretl is, and that’s including his family members.)  I can’t think of a recent county race where an existing officeholder did this poorly.

Attorney Shannon Wynn, who has never held office, came within just 1% (122 votes out of 9,102 cast, including 25 write-ins, of sending Necci home.)

Neeci claimed the support of Supreme County Justice Rebecca Bradley, but he ran far below her vote total in the county.  Out of 9,246 votes for in the county for our high court, Justice Bradley received 5,303.  In his race, Necci received just 2,922.

Necci ran 2,381 votes behind the top-of-the-ticket candidate whose support he trumpeted.  Thousands of Bradley supporters voted for either Johnson or Wynn.

The press won’t cover this race insightfully.  Already, news about the race is how Candidate A and Candidate B are happy to move on to April, from those who must know that a huge issue here is how officials and law enforcement personnel who have dealt with Necci truly don’t want him around.   Huge numbers of Walworth County’s Rebecca Bradley supporters didn’t want him – that’s how odd this situation is.

For the press, including a reporter who certainly knows better, it’s safer to cover this as A v. B heading into April.  No advertisers will be offended while shying from the implications of one’s own past stories.  Presenting this as list of candidates, pictures, and website links doesn’t begin to explain how odd Necci’s position is.

Necci could win in April, but he’ll need lots of unaware voters, lots of money, and probably a hyper-ideological tone that brands everyone else – including obviously conservative officials who work in Elkhorn – as insufficiently zealous.

Interesting times ahead.

 

The Walworth County Circuit Court Race (Preliminaries)

One may say two things, preliminarily, about the Walworth County Circuit Court race:

  • It’s a race between generally conservative candidates; there are no left-right differences of significance.
  • Incumbent District Attorney Dan Necci, after only briefly serving in that role, is running with almost no local, official support for his candidacy from among those with whom he has worked or would have to work.

That’s a huge tell, and reason to write again about this race at length: Necci’s been district attorney only for a short while, and now wants to be a judge, but cannot serve effectively in that role without significant, positive collaborative relationships.

He has few, if any, such relationships in Elkhorn. That seldom happens – most officials will accept one local candidate or another.

It’s more than unusual – it’s a practical disqualification. Necci’s not running as an editorialist, a blogger, an activist – he’s serving as a district attorney, and is running to be a circuit judge. Those roles require cooperation with other officeholders, and their support going forward – but Necci has almost none of that.

He’s had to rely on support from out-of-county officeholders, or state politicians with no day-to-day role in Elkhorn.

Needless to say, I’m not disposed to the political culture in Elkhorn, but then that’s why I am not – and never will – run for office there. Necci is running there, but he’s so alienated other officeholders that his support among them is almost non-existent.

Even former members of his own district attorney’s office are supporting one or another of his opponents.  Local lawyers, local law enforcement, local court personnel, etc., are all lined up with his opponents. 

Honest to goodness, that doesn’t happen unless one has made an utter hash of his or her time in office.

And that, dear readers, is a subject worth pursing as the general election in April draws closer.

What the Victim’s Mother Told Walworth County Judge Carlson

It’s both a pity and a disgrace that a fourteen-year-old victim’s mother had to plead with the Hon. James Carlson to sentence to jail the men who assaulted her daughter:

ELKHORN—The mother of a 14-year-old girl sexually assaulted by three men in an Elkhorn basement in 2013 pleaded with judges Tuesday to send two of the men to prison and require sex offender registration.

At the final man’s sentencing Tuesday, the mother’s frustration boiled over when the judge ordered no prison and no sex offender registration.

“This has got to stop,” the mother told Walworth County Judge James Carlson. “We’re not setting a good example for other children in our community. They think this is OK, that all you’re going to get is a slap on the hand.”

About two hours after the mother’s pleas, Carlson sentenced Braden D. Mann, 19, of W5244 County ES, to nine months in jail and five years probation….

See, Elkhorn men get jail, probation for sexually assaulting same 14-year-old girl @ Gazettextra.com (subscription req’d).

It is – and should be – deeply unsettling that a layperson displays a better sense of justice than those who ostentatiously wear the black robes. 

Seventeen Questions: Injustice in Walworth County Wrongly Sends a Fourteen-Year-Old to Jail

Yesterday, I posted about an appellate court decision that reversed a juvenile’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.  See, Injustice in Walworth County Wrongly Sends a Fourteen-Year-Old to Jail

Today I’ll post several questions concerning the decision and two published accounts about of it. 

The appellate decision (“Appellate Decision”) is online at State v. Charles C. S., Jr., No. 2014AP1045, unpublished (Wis. Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2015), available at https://www.wicourts.gov/ca/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=134396;. 

The two published stories are from the Gazette, at Appeals court calls for Walworth County new trial in juvenile arson case (“Gazette 021315”) and Walworth County DA says detective, prosecutor acted correctly in juvenile case (“Gazette 021615”), subscription req’d for both Gazette stories. 

This case concerns a burglary and arson at the Bethel United Methodist Church in Sugar Creek.  Three boys – of whom Charles was just one – were suspected in the case.  The crime is serious; the legal question isn’t one of seriousness, but of culpability under the law. 

The question isn’t whether someone damaged the church – the question is whether the Walworth County District Attorney acted wrongfully to obtain the particular conviction of a particular boy (rather than, for example, one of the other two).

1.  Isn’t it persuasive that Walworth County Detective Jeffrey Recknagel gave, as the appellate court found, “demonstrably false testimony that Drake [another boy] had been honest with him ‘every time’ “? (Appellate Decision, ¶. 17.)

Here’s a portion of the transcript (from redirect examination, during the State’s exchange with Recknagel):

Q: And as a detective have you had any training on
detecting honesty?
A: Yes, ma’am.
Q: And from your interview with Drake [], did you feel
that he was being honest with you?
A: Absolutely. And I haven’t had just one interview with
Drake, I had more than one interview and I believe that
every time he was being honest with me.

(Appellate Decision, ¶. 17)

Despite his trial testimony, Recknagel later admitted in a post-disposition proceeding that “Drake lied to him at least three times.”  (Appellate Decision, ¶. 9)

2.  Do Walworth County D.A. Necci and Walworth County Sheriff Picknell think that there’s no difference between honesty every time and dishonesty at least three times? 

If so, does that mean that Messrs. Necci and Picknell get to utter at least three lies of their choice, with impunity?

3.  Gazette reporter Frank Schultz writes that “Necci said that he has read the trial transcript, which shows that Recknagel was saying that people always lie to him at first, but after the initial lies, Drake and Robert consistently told the truth.” (Gazette 021615.) How does Necci’s interpretation contradict or negate the testimony the appellate court cited in Appellate Decision, ¶. 17? 

Recknagel plainly and clearly says ‘every time’ in the trial transcript, and later admitted he, Recknagel, knew the other boy did lie to him, at least three times.

What prior testimony of Recknagel could make the actual, verbatim transcript testimony cited in Appellate Decision ¶. 17 any less false? 

4.  Although this is a case involving a juvenile, and subject to concerns of confidentiality, if D.A. Necci thinks other portions of testimony somehow rehabilitate Recknagel, then why doesn’t he seek court permission for publication of the relevant passages he’s supposed to have discussed with Gazette reporter Schultz?  For that matter, why not seek court-authorization and publish the full transcripts, subject to necessary redaction? 

5.  When Necci reportedly tells Schultz that other trial testimony somehow supports Recknagel (Gazette 021615), did reporter Schultz ask to see those transcripts? Did he see them? 

6.  When Necci reportedly tells Schultz that other trial testimony somehow supports Recknagel (Gazette 021615), did reporter Schultz even ask Necci to read aloud to him the passage that Necci says supports Recknagel? Did reporter Schultz just take Necci’s word for it? 

7. In the second published news story (Gazette 021615), D.A. Necci’s quoted as saying he has the “utmost respect” for Recknagel.  This is after the appellate court conclusion that Recknagel gave “demonstrably false testimony.” (Appellate Decision ¶. 17)  If that’s an occasion to have the ‘greatest possible amount, degree, or extent’ of respect, what would Recknagel have to do to give Necci any pause at all?

8.  Gazette reporter Schultz quotes Necci as saying that he, Necci, “just can’t agree with the notion that my prosecutor took advantage of the defense attorney” who is a licensed attorney who should know the law, Necci said.” (Gazette 021615.  As District Attorney, does Necci believe that his office has no independent duty to justice, to offer truthful testimony or sound arguments, apart from a defense attorney’s own statements?  

If Necci doesn’t believe his office has an independent duty of justice, then how does he explain SCR CHAPTER 20, Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, SCR 20:3.8  Special responsibilities of a prosecutor?

9.  Does D.A. Necci believe that having a law license is justification enough to try a case – that is, once licensed, an attorney is always capable and competent? 

If he does believe that a mere license is enough, then does D.A. Necci believe that there should be no possible claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, as a matter of law?

If he does believe that a mere license is enough, then how does D.A. Necci explain SCR CHAPTER 20, Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys,  SCR 20:1.1  Competence?

Isn’t it clear that every lawyer is ethically obligated to know that a license is not enough, and that “[c]ompetent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation”? 

10.  In the 2.16.15 Gazette story, Necci contends that the appellate court decision is “over the top” and “unnecessarily inflammatory.”  What portions does he think are “over the top” or “unnecessarily inflammatory”?    

Is his objection merely to tone?  Isn’t it clear the decision (see the embedded document, below) rests on a finding of wrongful presentation and testimony, not mere rhetoric? 

By the way, if it’s all a matter of rhetoric, does D.A. Necci mean to imply that the appellate court might have been legitimately inflammatory, but then went too far, and became unnecessarily so?

That would be something like, “Please don’t unnecessarily inflame me, bro.”

11. From the beginning, wasn’t the case against Charles – a juvenile who spent over a year in jail – weak and without direct evidence?  From the uncontradicted observation of the appellate court, “[t]he State did not have any direct evidence that Charles was at the church.”  (Appellate Decision, ¶. 2.)

The DA’s case rested merely on the claims of two alleged, juvenile wrongdoers that a third person was also culpable. 

12.  How strong was the pressure to find someone – anyone – to blame and convict for a church fire?  If this crime had been against someone’s trailer, would the Walworth County D.A. have relied on a case without any direct evidence, and the testimony only of other juveniles?

13.  Does the Walworth County D.A. think that a burglary and fire in one building over another – a shack versus a mansion, for example – necessarily make the case against suspects strong or weaker?

14.  In the first Gazette story, Sheriff Picknell contends that, pending an inquiry into Recknagel’s testimony, he, Picknell would give Recknagel his “full support.”  (Gazette 021315.)  Considering that an appellate court found Recknagel culpable of “demonstrably false testimony,” what does that say about Picknell’s impartiality and neutral decision-making?

Isn’t it closer to the truth to say that Picknell’s response looks like a company-man’s wagon-circling?

If you’re Recknagel, and Picknell is your leader, don’t you and all your colleagues now have free rein to say whatever you want to a court, even under oath?

15.  In the Gazette story of 2.16.15, what message does D.A. Necci send to his assistant prosecutors and law-enforcement witnesses when he backs them publicly and wholeheartedly against even an appellate court’s judicial rebuke for false testimony and impermissible argumentation?

16.  Walworth County developed a national reputation a decade ago for having one the worst district attorney’s offices in America.  See,  A poisoned prosecution at the Center for Public Integrity.  Does Mr. Necci’s office’s handling of this case, and its response to it, provide any reason to think conditions are better now?

17.  Charles C. S., Jr., a fourteen-year-old boy, was confined for over a year, convicted through the actions of men and women found to have offered false testimony and legally-prohibited arguments.  Should that have happened to him?  If his family had been powerful or connected, would it have happened to him?

In any event, should reasonable people be confident in the fairness and thoroughness of work like this? 

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The 2014 Wisconsin Spring Primary

Results from the Wisconsin Spring Primary are, mostly, now in.  

In Whitewater.  I’ve commented on this race in email and online. The unofficial results (Binnie 152, Yvarra 30, Meyer 26) in the top-two primary show a marked gap between the incumbent and his challengers. In a primary that awarded the race to a candidate with a majority from among all votes cast, the race would now be decided.  

That’s not our law, of course, and there will be a Spring General Election, about six weeks from now, on April 1st.  There are other uncontested council races on the ballot (incumbents Phil Frawley, Ken Kidd, and Stephanie Abbott) at that time.     

It will be well worth hearing from all these candidates at the March candidate’s forum.  

In Walworth County.  In Walworth County’s District 5, the primary vote (Staples 169, Redenius 126, Boss 112) pits challenger Charlene Fell Staples against incumbent Carl Redenius in April for a supervisor’s position.  

In Wisconsin.  These spring primary races were so local, with such sparse voting in some parts of the state, that they offer little indication of how statewide primaries or the November election will go.

The Long, Hard Roads

Over at the Gazette, there’s a story entitled, Walworth County officials hope drug court for heroin addicts will start in June (subscription required).  The story, from reporter Andrea Anderson, is about a hoped-for program of rehabilitation for heroin addicts.  

The program would apply to Walworth County residents, addicted to, and charged with possession of, heroin. If part of the program, they would receive a jail term that would allow for detoxification, a months-long program of after-care, and mandatory, periodic testing and counseling in exchange for the possibility of becoming clean and avoiding a felony conviction.

It’s a program that Walworth County should pursue, with the goal of restoring addicts to health, preventing a relapse into addiction, forestalling other crimes in furtherance of addiction, and to demonstrate to others similarly addicted that rehabilitation is possible for their own conditions.   

I’ve no personal experience with addiction, but like many others (right, center, left, libertarian), I can see that punishment alone – without treatment – is an invitation to relapse into addiction and crime – an invitation to an increasingly expensive recidivism.  

Many libertarians read widely about crimes of addiction because that topic highlights the harm from obsessive government punishment alone. The state fails often, but of addicts and their victims more so than many others.  

No manner of punishment alone has been enough to prevent addiction; no manner of punishment alone could ever be enough.   

There are, in fact, two long roads ahead, for this better idea and those (including the community, generally) who would benefit from it.  

Immediately, there’s the hard path that addicts will have to walk, albeit with necessary assistance, to become sober again.  Their sobriety would be both a personal and a social gain.  All Walworth County would benefit.  

There’s another hard road for this program.  One can expect that for a few, unreconstructed in their politics and grandstanding in their manner, opposition to a program like this will be a reflex. They’ve insisted on waging war against some of their fellow citizens over narcotics, and using that decades-long war as a means to political and institutional power. 

That war has achieved too little, and cost too much, but for the unreconstructed there’s no admitting any of that – they’ll insist on more of the same (but failing) approach as they only imaginable course. 

There is a better way – indeed, there has to be a better way than repeated addiction, unchecked crime, and perpetual waste.  

One hopes the best for this limited program, knowing full well that it will be a hard path, made occasionally harder still through a stubborn, unthinking opposition.

The End of the Beginning

After a British victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Churchill famously observed of the war in November 1942 that 

….Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning….

So it is, even locally, with the War on Drugs. Like many others, I don’t smoke and I seldom drink (all the more to savor an occasional drink recipe).  Like millions of others, though, I see that the Drug War has been too expensive, too ineffective, failing to prevent drug abuse while simultaneously abusing civil liberties. 

The problems of addiction are no better; headlines proclaiming supposed victories no longer command belief, these forty years on. 

When proponents of numbers policing chose to describe their efforts as a war, they might have thought more carefully about which war we’d be waging.  For all their good intentions, they gave us not the Second World War, but Vietnam.  

That’s part of the sadness of this effort, too: so many good, frontline people tied to an ineffectual  strategy that’s been unworthy of their participation.    

Close at home, one sees signs of the end of the beginning, from the Janesville Gazette‘s Friday editorial, “As marijuana gains ground, law enforcement faces decisions.” 

The editorial is available only in print or to online subscribers, but it’s telling.  Ever so hesitantly, cautiously, almost begrudgingly the Gazette‘s editorialist inches readers toward the truth of marijuana enforcement: that it’s been an expensive mistake.   

In Rock, Jefferson, and Walworth Counties, there will be furious insistence from the unreconstructed that nothing’s changing, and that nothing ever will. In some towns nearby, and particularly from the bench and Sheriff’s Office in Elkhorn, the last holdouts will rail against change until, finally, the laws they’ve so punitively enforced and sentences they’ve so punitively imposed are no more.  

To those few, who have been inveterate Drug Warriors, seeking punishment but not treatment: you will, not so long from now, see our nation’s rejection of your approach.  The Draconian laws on which you’ve relied will be repealed, your enforcement programs cancelled, and your funding for endless, pricey purchases cut.  

In place of all this, you’ll still have a useful role: as examples of what not to do, of yesterday’s approach, as exemplars of the ill-conceived.

Across America, states are liberalizing their marijuana laws, police officers are declaring against the Drug War, and there’s a growing effort to Regulate Marijuana Like Wine.  A majority nationally now favors decriminalization, and that political trend is only growing.   

We’re not at the end of a failed strategy, but we’re at least at the end of the beginning of that failed strategy. 

When the laws change (and they will), I’ll still not smoke, and I’ll still drink only occasionally.  Yet, on that day, I’ll raise a glass to those who fought for change, for a focus on treatment over punishment, and in memory of those whose lives were ruined through an expensive, decades-long, ineffectual strategy.

The Nature Conservancy

If a man wanted to leave a legacy of land to remain forever in its natural state, then he could donate it to the Nature Conservancy (http://www.nature.org/), a charity that preserves donated nature land in exactly that way.

I’m indebted to a sharp reader who offered this suggestion for proposed parkland for Walworth County. I’ve mentioned the Nature Conservancy before, but sadly forgot the argument for that worthy charity when writing a post about someone who wants millions in public money, professedly to preserve the natural condition of his land. One is always made better by the knowledgeable suggestions of talented people – my thanks to a reader who helped me retrieve what I had carelessly dropped.

(See, about that parkland post from last week, Parkland at a Price of Millions: Bogus Philanthropy at Public Expense.)

A Nature Conservancy donation would preserve the land’s condition without hitting taxpayers for the cost of a private seller’s would-be legacy.

(It would otherwise be a public cost of about two-million dollars, from a seller who – by the account of Walworth County’s Central Services Director Kevin Brunner – actually wanted three million originally, a figure 50% higher than even the most generous appraisal number. So much for a genuine, charitable impulse.)

A Nature Conservancy donation in this matter (as for so many other donors who’ve done the same across America) would be a truly commendable gift to all Walworth County.

Parkland at a Price of Millions: Bogus Philanthropy at Public Expense

How about a plaque for the site of Walworth County’s parkland scheme, should it be completed?

DEDICATED TO ONE PRIVATE SELLER WHO FULFILLED HIS DREAM WITH MILLIONS OF YOUR TAX DOLLARS

Last Sunday saw another public-relations exercise in selling the residents of a rural county on purchasing private land, at a cost of millions in public money (all of which – state or local – comes from taxpayers’ earnings).

See, from Walworth County Sunday, Land of Opportunity?

Candidly, the arguments for justifying the purchase are even weaker in this story than those described in an earlier newspaper story (June 9) and a subsequent Gazette editorial (June 15).

(For my earlier posts critiquing the deal, see Hey, Walworth County, How About Buying Over-Priced, Half-Unsuitable Parkland with Taxpayer Money! and Part 2: Hey, Walworth County, How About Buying Over-Priced, Half-Unsuitable Parkland with Taxpayer Money!)

On the basis of these three attempts to hawk the deal, one could almost propose a Theory of Devolution: something can get successively smaller and more primitive over time.

A few responses to the latest arguments in favor, and some suggestions, too:

1. A private seller’s dream at others’ expense.

One reads that owner-seller Duane Clark has a dream, yes a dream:

It took a journey of 3900 miles for Duane Clark to reaffirm what he knew in his heart to be true.

The problem, and his quest, was to convince others that his nearly 200 acres in the town of Lyons should be preserved for the masses to enjoy.

The ‘masses’ – too funny, really: A seller has a dream that can be fulfilled for the little people – the unwashed, undifferentiated masses – not through his philanthropy or their voluntary contributions but only through their compulsory taxation.

Amazing, isn’t it, that Walworth County now has a new definition of philanthropy: the philanthropist donates a gift that’s entirely paid with other people’s tax money.

A seller’s dream, but on your dime. He’ll receive millions, from taxes collected, so that he can be a philanthropist.

Very, very few of the people taxed to fulfill one man’s supposed dream will ever receive millions from a land sale – yet here the private seller’s happy to build his dream on their backs.

That’s not genuine philanthropy – it’s an embarrassment.

2. About those supposedly few large pieces of land left.

The seller offers 200 acres, but the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit, is already 22,000 acres of superior land with assuredly superior care. Our area does not lack for recreational land.

Still, these gentlemen would like common people to pay for an uncommonly selfish deal that adds only 0.9% to area parkland. That’s zero-point-nine, a number even less than one.

3. The price of an option to purchase.

One reads that an extension of the option to purchase from August to January was ‘free,’ and without additional change to the county. No, not really: the original cost of the option was $5,000, for a deal that these parties – at least professedly – would be willing to make with no one else.

The seller hasn’t asked for more toward an option on this scheme, but then who else would even consider this parkland idea?

Too funny: not only does the seller reportedly want his philanthropy at others’ ($1.9 million) expense, he wouldn’t even offer the original option without getting $5,000 for it.

That’s some philanthropy, I wouldn’t wonder.

4. The Walworth County Board Chairman Salutes a Dreamer (and would enrich him, too).

Nancy Russell, County Board Chairwoman, wants everyone to know why this matters:

The thing is that this has been a dream of Mr. Clark’s for a long time…”

I’m sure it has been, but I’m equally sure that there are many people in Chairwoman Russell’s county who dream about adequate food, clothing, and shelter, too.

Not one of those impoverished residents is asking that their dreams be fulfilled at a price of $1.9 million. No one (not otherwise obtuse) who has been fortunate in his or her life believes that Clark’s dream is as meaningful as the dream of mere sustenance that some unfortunate few have each night.

No one owes a dreaming private man these millions in public money.

5. “…but there are always reasons to say no to a project like this…”

Yes there are, and they’re more compelling than enriching one seller at others’ expense.

6. About that public hearing.

Another supervisor touts a public hearing response that was favorable to this sale. These are small-scale surveys, of those attending from among those who are able to attend, and aren’t slightly representative of the county’s demographics – and everyone in Walworth County government knows as much.

More to the point, the proper comparative measure isn’t this pricey deal among other land deals, but this deal specifically against all possible county expenditures.

Similarly, the proper popular survey would be among all people, legitimately sampled, rather than limited, unrepresentative surveys.

7. “…but if we don’t take advantage of it, the money will simply go somewhere else…”

Here one sees an appeal to gluttony.

What was once a deadly sin is now a principle of public policy.

It’s a contention both wrong and inefficient. It’s wrong because in conditions of restraint, appropriated money need not be spent. It’s simply inefficient because it signals demand even when there are better uses elsewhere.

Here’s what it really means, too: let’s spend it on a bad idea before someone in the state has a better idea.

Let’s spend it needlessly in Walworth County so no one elsewhere in Wisconsin will have the chance to spend it properly in their respective counties.

8. Ask way too much, settle for merely too much.

Here’s what Central Services Director Kevin Brunner has to say about the seller’s price:

But when we got involved in discussions he was asking well in excess of $3 million.

Well, thank you, Mr. Brunner, for admitting to the community that a supposed philanthropist was looking to grab even more from the public treasury. Much appreciated (even if the revelation comes at the expense of a story line – about how generous all this is – that he can’t keep straight.)

That’s some negotiating position Mr. Brunner has there, too: someone asks him to spend $50 on a can of Coke, and he feels feel satisfied if he pays only $30.

Funny thing, though: he’s not paying with his money, is he? Every big project is the same: he’s been a wheeler-dealer with someone else’s (tax) money. They earned it; he spends it.

9. About that Appraisal Price.

Now Mr. Brunner and others have had months to think of justifications for this scheme, but watch how easily it is to refute the argument in defense of the appraised price. Here’s what Mr. Brunner said about that price:

You can argue that $1.9 (million) or $2 million was too much, but that’s what the appraisal numbers say.

Here’s a quick reply:

A single mother walks into a car dealership, to buy a used car for herself and her three children. She’d like something for transportation to work and her children’s activities. She’s thinking about a hatchback or a small SUV.

The salesman, however, insists that the car for her – the one that would be best, the one she must buy – is a 2010 Maybach Model 62 sedan in excellent condition, for just $386,295.

20130830-135055.jpg

The woman is stunned, and she asks why he thinks she could possibly afford a $386,295 automobile.

The salesman replies that he thinks she should because that’s the Kelley Blue Book Value and he might have asked even more for it.

There we are: Mr. Brunner hits on the idea of an appraised price, but he shows no willingness or ability to place that price in a proper context.

Those who want to leave a legacy should donate it freely, not charge others for the supposed privilege.

A few helpful suggestions:

1. Walworth County officials are really at sea on even simple economic justifications for their proposals. Someone needs to find and begin a remedial course on economics, at the simplest level.

2. Walworth County needs a better point-man for these ideas. The County Administrator must be able to find someone of strong reasoning, somewhere. It’s a county of over one-hundred thousand, after all.

It’s evident he’s not yet found someone of that ability.

3. Does County Administrator Bretl understand the residents of his county? I’m not sure. Best guess is that he’s working in a county echo-chamber, and consequently he has almost no feel for how his arguments sound when examined outside this group. (Without question, Kevin Brunner had this problem in Whitewater as city manager, too.)

4. Better still, come up with better ideas.

The Crazy-Wrong Argument on Taxes

A succinct truth: money doesn’t grow on trees.

Local government funds municipal projects in one of three principal ways: through local taxes & fees, local borrowing (debt in the form of bonds), or public money from other jurisdictions (grants from the state or federal government).

These grants of state or federal public money are, themselves, from taxes or borrowing (at the federal level, this includes the reckless, inflationary option of simply printing more greenbacks).

In no case, however, in not a single one, do these grants come to a community without a tax impact.

And yet, and yet, official after official will contend that one can take state or federal money without a local consequence, with ‘zero tax impact’ (in the words of a poorly-reasoned newspaper editorial about purchasing expensive farmland as parkland). Residents of a Wisconsin county are simultaneously residents of the state and of America, after all.

(Those who talk about grabbing state and federal grants mean that they’ll take all of the supposed benefits but apportion the costs not merely to their own constituents but to a larger number elsewhere, who will receive no benefit at all.)

Even libertarians, as I am, accept that there will be some public spending, and that there should be some. The key questions are (1) on what objects will we spend? and (2) at what cost, immediately and in alternatives left unfunded?

Exhorting a county’s residents, for example, to “grab” state money now, for whatever silly project, is an exhortation to unthinking selfishness.

It’s all just stuffing more in, and more still, while others go without anything, as though there were no consequence to taking in whatever one can, or whatever comes by on a plate:

Hey, Walworth County, How About Buying Over-Priced, Half-Unsuitable Parkland with Taxpayer Money!

Most people would say that among the important uses for public money are public safety (and the administration of justice) & emergency services for the truly needy. One might think of it this way: safety, justice, and poverty assistance.

There are few people who would ask a small rural county – with a large state forest system in its midst — to spend almost two million dollars for over-priced, supposed parkland, half of which is, itself, unsuitable as parkland, anyway.

Few people, yet at least two (one of whom, Clark, is the seller):

LYONS — Duane Clark and Kevin Brunner stood on a grassy bank of the White River on a recent spring afternoon with birds chirping in the woods around them and water gurgling over rocks a few feet away.

They were showing a Gazette reporter and photographer around Clark’s property off Sheridan Springs Road in the town of Lyons. The land is less than five miles northeast of Lake Geneva, but Brunner said it feels like someplace else.

“Do you think you’re in northern Wisconsin here?” he asked.

Oh, brother.

1. It would be a $1.9 million-dollar purchase with public money.

2. There’s reasonable suspicion it’s over-priced.

3. Walworth County Central Services Director Brunner wants this land for recreation (‘kayak, picnic,’ etc.).

4. There’s an existing 22,000-acre state forest in Walworth County, and adjacent counties. It offers fine opportunities for hiking, riding, skiing, and nature study.

Behold, THE KETTLE MORAINE STATE FOREST, SOUTHERN UNIT:

20130611-113348.jpg

5. Not only would Walworth County deplete what it has in its park fund for this one purchase, it would have to grab almost a million dollars from the state, and borrow almost — wait for it — $600,000 more. Taxpayers in Walworth County will be hit with tax money spent and debt incurred, and taxpayers across the whole state will be asked to subsidize this scheme.

6. Simply because there’s money in a park fund does not justify wasting it. Someone should properly reallocate the money to greater needs, or at the least not add more unsuited land to public property.

When government spends money budgeted for minor wants instead of allocating it to dire needs, needy people experience continuing deprivation and comfortable people only engorge themselves (from others’ earnings).

Allocations of that kind are misallocations.

Others’ earnings, taken or to be taken as taxes, shouldn’t simply be used because they’re burning a hole in a bureaucrat’s pocket, and not for the first time.

7. One reads that Walworth County’s Central Services Director assures that purchasing the land with taxpayer money and public debt will have “zero tax impact.” That’s impossible, of course, and as state taxpayer dollars, local taxpayer dollars, and public debt all have a tax impact.

Here one finds an example of the late economist Henry Hazlitt‘s contention that

….there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of a policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.

(Emphasis added.)

A simple truth, from a simple and plain book, yet a lesson still ignored.

8. One learns of this proposal from an informative and well-written news story, by the way.

9. Thanks much to the sharp reader who told me of this story — I’m appreciative, as always.

USDA declares 23 Wisconsin counties disaster areas

Walworth County among them. Neither ordinary nor easy times:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Federal officials have declared 23 counties in southern Wisconsin as natural disaster areas, making farms in those areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

The counties have been baked by recent heat waves in which temperatures sizzled into the 100-degree range and left severe drought conditions that took a major toll on crop production.

The disaster designation was announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Via WQOW

Election Transparency: How Jefferson and Rock Counties Still Top Walworth County

On April 5, 2011, I wrote about the more transparent and informative election websites in the area: Election Transparency: How Jefferson and Rock Counties Top Walworth County.

It’s a year later, and Walworth County still lags behind Jefferson and Rock Counties. The Walworth County website doesn’t list results by precinct, leaving residents in the dark about which areas are in. (That’s the kind of omission that raised concerns about Waukesha County’s 2011 election reporting.)

Walworth County’s site simply lags behind the standard a Wisconsin county should meet, and that both Jefferson and Rock Counties do meet.

Walworth County:

Rock County:

Jefferson County:

Walworth County Today: Farmers market vouchers available in Walworth County

There will be (first-come, first-served) vouchers available for low-income senior citizens of Walworth County to use at farmers’ markets.  Details of the program appear in the story to which I’ve linked, below.

In a world of many programs, government or otherwise, efforts like these are particularly admirable.

SeeFarmers market vouchers available in Walworth County — Walworth County Today.

Whitewater Among Top Six Walworth County Communities for Foreclosures

Although Whitewater is a larger city than some others in the county, nothing about her presence on a foreclosure list is auspicious.

If there’s even the slightest doubt that these last several years have been unfavorable for countless thousands in the county, perhaps another disappointing statistic will overturn years of empty boosterism.

See, Top Six Walworth County Communities for Foreclosures.

Whatever their errors (and they made many), at least the New Dealers cared about ordinary people, and described conditions honestly and starkly, to convey the seriousness of the problems ordinary people faced.

Better to see conditions as they are, so as to spur effective solutions, than to pretend all is well, while people languish unnoticed.