Local Government

Daily Bread for 5.21.24: On Arguments from Yesteryear’s Community Development Authority

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will see afternoon clouds and evening thunderstorms with a high of 85. Sunrise is 5:25 and sunset 8:17 for 14h 52m 53s of daytime. The moon is a waxing gibbous with 95.5 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Lakes Advisory Special Committee meets at 9 AM and the Common Council meets at 6:30 PM.

On or about May 21, 1673, Fr. Jacques Marquette, fur-trader Louis Joliet, and five French voyageurs pulled into a Menominee community near modern Marinette, Mich.

On this day in 1792, a lava dome collapses on Mount Unzen, near the city of Shimbara on the Japanese island of Kyushu, creating a deadly tsunami that kills nearly 15,000 people.

Witness conflicts of interest and hear self-serving claims long enough, and one risks becoming accustomed to them. The claims offered may be no better than a child’s connivances, yet repetition will cause hesitation even among reasonable and independent-minded people. FREE WHITEWATER published a few words on Monday about Whitewater’s new Common Council and Community Development Authority majorities. See On a New Common Council & New Community Development Authority. Today, a few remarks will follow about specific contentions from holdovers of yesteryear’s CDA.

The video of the Whitewater CDA meeting from 5.16.24 is embedded above. In remarks below, I will refer to specific claims from that meeting, and from earlier public meetings.

A few points worth remembering:

1. Whitewater lacks adequate housing. This condition should be evident to everyone and anyone. See Video, CDA Meeting of 5.16.24 @ 33:02.

2. Whitewater’s new CDA majority has proposed a residential development on South Moraine View Drive. See Video, CDA Meeting of 5.16.24 @ 31:47 and professional reporting from WhitewaterWise, CDA recommends approval of 128-unit multifamily development on Moraine View Parkway. This proposal is well-located and would provide a needed boost to our housing supply.

3. Rents in Whitewater are high for many residents.

4. A former CDA chairman, a second-generation landlord, when arguing against these new opportunities for others, concedes his belief that the proposed developments will affect his financial condition:

He [a consultant] mentioned that it would have no effect on student housing. And he’s absolutely wrong.

See Video, CDA Meeting of 5.16.24 @ 36:14.

It’s a candid admission: an acknowledgment that his view is particular, specific, and biased, impacting his interests.

These are not the views of an independent, unbiased analyst. It’s as though someone asked a Volkswagen salesman on commission which car to buy. (Be careful: someone may try to slip in some TruCoat.)

It is an implicit concession that rents will decline in conditions of steady demand and increased supply. With holdings in incumbent properties, this gentleman has a financial interest in preventing an increase in supply that might affect his bottom line.

5. He follows with a disingenuous assertion that he knows of no instance in which the city has provided financial assistance to a project like this. See Video, CDA Meeting of 5.16.24 @ 36:37.

The closer you look at his claim, the less you see.

The claim that there hasn’t been an effort to subsidize is disingenuous because policymakers (and self-interested men) can influence policy not merely through spending but through zoning. They can pay to make something happen, or they can argue against zoning regulations to limit competitors.

These gentlemen once backed zoning liberalization in the mid-Aughts when they wanted more opportunities for rental properties. See from March 2014 Last Night’s Zoning Rewrite Meeting (Residential Sections).

Later, when, as incumbents, they decided that they’d rather not have competition, they began to argue against others’ new properties. From 2014 see Daily Union, Whitewater council eyes zoning for Campus Edge development, where the CDA chairman produced a parade of horribles against more development.

See also FREE WHITEWATER @ Boo! Scariest Things in Whitewater, 2014 (“So a new apartment building at Main & Prince is ‘too extreme’ in design for Whitewater? Well, I would guess that existing landlords must think so. [Update: For consumers, it’s a good thing, and a bad joke that anyone from the CDA would shill against it.]”)

Years later (they’re tenacious!) they similarly fought in 2018 against a project on Tratt Street. See Daily Union, Common council rezones annexed land.

That project has been quite helpful and attractive.

As with the 2014 effort, they argued up and down against more supply to meet demand.

6. Perhaps, as someone now contends, he’s simply an advocate of affordable single-family homes. No, he’s not. These gentlemen have argued against affordable homes in Whitewater. In 2022, they argued against smaller homes, insisting on larger ones instead.

See from 2022 Housing Opportunity and Opportunity’s Adversaries, where these men argued against smaller lots for more modest, affordable homes. Fortunately, at least some lots were approved.

Whitewater’s Common Council, by a vote of 5-2 at its 9.20.22 session, sensibly approved on first reading the creation of an R1-S zoning district for detachedsingle-family homes on smaller lots. A zoning change that offers some builders and buyers, even in limited areas, more options is, prima facie, the right decision.

So what a this lights on for us, lights off for you public policy? It’s this:

A tiny clique of landlords has for years addressed this issue opportunistically. These few wanted to liberalize Whitewater’s ordinances to permit more student housing. And so, and so, there were more student apartments in the center of town. Ah, but when competitors sought approval to build on Prince or Tratt Streets, an incumbent landlord (and sometime public official) used one claim after another under the city’s ordinances to prevent or restrict those competitive projects.

These are proud, private businessmen right up until the time they hold public offices and entreat public bodies to bend to their special-interest desires. 

The larger homes these men advocated would have been out of reach for many residents.

It’s as though you told a struggling person that he should hold off buying tuna until he could afford caviar. A person taking that advice would go hungry waiting.

They opportunistically shift from one position to another while leaving residents without genuine, real options. Wait a bit is easier for men who already have than men and women who would like something affordable.

These gentlemen want the law liberalized when it liberalization suits their bottom line, but want the law restricted when restriction suits their bottom line. They could not be more obvious if they tried. (In my own case, the best policy would be fewer restrictions all the way down, but that’s not the point here. The point is that their views have shifted with their interests rather than the common good, and their interests are not the same as the city’s interests

7. Tax incremental funding comes up as an objection to this project. One should remember that the new CDA’s program here is to meet an existing need for affordable housing. A reminder: food, clothing, shelter. Any tax incremental fiancing now would meet a fundamental need. (I write this, by the way, as a long-standing critic of tax incremental financing; yet, this critic can see that some cases are more important than others, are more understandable than others.)

For years, these older men were involved in tax increment financing for Whitewater. They weren’t critics then; they’re raising doubts now they see competition. (These are not free-market men; they’re a few self-helping businessmen.) 

See from the 2013 Whitewater Register, TIF districts reviewed by city’s CDA:

Expressing optimism with perceived economic improvements, members of the Whitewater CDA recently discussed a number of the areas of the city designated as tax incremental financing (TIF) districts.

Officials briefly went over TIF districts 5 to 8 during a meeting Oct. 23. TIFS 5 and 7 are designated for mixed-use, a term denoting a blend of commercial and residential uses. TIFs 6 and 8, meanwhile, are earmarked for industrial use.

“We’re kind of getting out of the doldrums of this economy,” said CDA Chair Jeff Knight, expressing optimism of future development within the city.

Our current housing needs are, by far, greater than those of any tax incremental plan or other plan that a former CDA has ever advocated in this city.

If these few holdovers from another time would like to lecture others about tax incremental financing, they should first look to their past roles in tax incremental financing in this community.

Most important of all: it’s a city of 15,000 equal people, many of whom have good ideas for our future. A few older men who keep insisting ‘we’ve never done it that way’ or ‘that’s not our history’ only bolster the case for encouraging new officials, new voices, to advance a different way. We’ve not benefited from the public policy advice of the last generation. See A Candid Admission from the Whitewater CDA and Whitewater’s Still Waiting for That Boom.

It’s time — well past time — to blaze a new trail.

Daily Bread for 5.20.24: On a New Common Council & New Community Development Authority

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be cloudy with rain and a high of 75. Sunrise is 5:25 and sunset 8:17 for 14h 51m 06s of daytime. The moon is a waxing gibbous with 91.2 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Library Board meets at 6:30 PM.

On this day in 1609,  Shakespeare’s sonnets are first published in London, perhaps illicitly, by the publisher Thomas Thorpe.

On this day in 1863, after the unsuccessful assault on Vicksburg the previous day, Union forces regroup in front of the city. The 1st Wisconsin Light Artillery and the 8th, 11th, 18th, and 23rd Wisconsin Infantry regiments joined the 14th and 17th Infantries to prepare for the next attack. While these arrangements took place at Vicksburg, the 4th Wisconsin Infantry fought in a skirmish in Cheneyville, Louisiana.

Whitewater now has a new Common Council majority and a new Community Development Authority majority. A few remarks today about these new majorities; remarks will follow tomorrow about specific contentions from a few holdovers from yesteryear’s CDA.

First, the obvious: this libertarian blogger is not, and has never claimed to be, a development man. And yet, and yet, a person need not be a development man to see the difference in quality between the self-serving claims of a conniving clique and the genuine accomplishments of residents and development employees. (One doesn’t have to be a watchmaker to see the difference between a fine timepiece and a cheap knockoff that’s scarcely right twice a day.)

Whitewater is a town of many talented people, of many sharp people, of many capable people. Thousands upon thousands, truly. This isn’t true because I believe it; I believe it because it’s true. Our advanced American civilization is far more than the product of a few — we are the work of millions across centuries. Whitewater, in the same way, is far more than the product of a few — we are the work of thousands across generations.

Whitewater, after all, has a Common Council (lit., ‘belonging to, open to, or affecting the whole of a community’) and Community Development Authority (lit., ‘the people of a district or country considered collectively; society’).

Whitewater does not have a Special Interests’ Council, or a Few Businessmen’s Development Authority. These are public bodies of — and for — the whole community, not simply platitudinous men, self-dealers, self-promoters, and their operatives, catspaws, scoundrels, or sycophants.

Whitewater now has sincere, independent majorities on her Common Council and Community Development Authority. They and I will not always agree, but I and others owe these officials the acknowledgment that whatever disagreements we may have, they are disagreements with capable and independent men and women.

Left, center, right, whatever: first, one must have men and women who exercise their independent judgment on behalf of not fifteen, but all fifteen thousand in this beautiful city.

For tomorrow, particular remarks on the CDA meetings of 4.18.24 and 5.16.24.

For today and always, best wishes and support to those sincere and principled officials acting on behalf of all of our city.

Bison herd charges Yellowstone tourists:

Daily Bread for 3.15.24: A Sunshine Week Story

 Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will be sunny with a high of 52. Sunrise is 7:04 and sunset 7:02 for 11h 58m 32s of daytime. The moon is a waxing crescent with 33.4 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1991, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany comes into effect, granting full sovereignty to the Federal Republic of Germany.

  It’s Sunshine Week in America. You know, your right to know. Miles Maguire has published a story for Sunshine Week about the fight for open government in Wisconsin entitled UW-Oshkosh buried facts about mishandled Native American remains. Sunshine laws uncovered them:

Last April the Wisconsin Examiner published an examination of the way that Native American human remains have been retained by public institutions in Oshkosh long after the passage of a federal law that was intended to speed their repatriation to the tribes that once inhabited the area.

The article included some startling details that demonstrated the callousness of the institutions, especially the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. But the university also managed to keep even more graphic information out of the story.

For example, readers did not learn that a Native American skull, collected in Oshkosh on the south bank of the Fox River, had been stolen in 1990 from an exhibit case on campus and “broken during the bungled burglary.” Nor did they read about the time that the remains of one individual went missing from an excavation where an assistant professor found 43 burials but apparently lost track of one “en route to the archaeology laboratory.”

The reason that these details, contained in inventory records that had been easily accessible at the campus library, were not included in my story was that during the course of my reporting university officials stepped in and placed the documents in a restricted area. I was in the midst of reviewing the documents when the university decided that they needed to be kept from the public on the basis of what turned out to be a completely bogus rationale.

Last month the university released a full set of the inventory records under prodding from the Winnebago County district attorney, whose investigation showed that UW Oshkosh had repeatedly and egregiously manipulated state law.

The DA’s investigation confirmed what I had asserted in a complaint filed in July, that UW Oshkosh had made a mockery of the state’s public records law, slow-walking responses, making up excuses for redacting information and misapplying doctrines like the attorney-client privilege. Among other things, I pointed out, UWO had withheld documents from me that it had released to another news organization and claimed that it had the right to keep from me a copy of an email that I myself had written.

(Emphasis added.)

Again and again: public officials in public institutions conducting public business aren’t entitled to private avenues of concealment. Officials who would like private protections can find those defenses just as soon as they return to private life. 

Not a moment sooner.

See also Speech & Debate in the Whitewater Schools. 

Watch Brewers grounds crew remove outfield covering at American Family Field before opening day:

Daily Bread for 3.5.24: The Agenda for the First Council Meeting in March

 Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 52. Sunrise is 6:21 and sunset 5:50 for 11h 29m 27s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 29.2 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

There will be a session of the Whitewater Common Council tonight at 6:30 PM.

On this day in 1953, Joseph Stalin, mass murderer and longest-serving leader of the Soviet Union, dies at his Volynskoe dacha in Moscow after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage four days earlier.

A note and an agenda for today. 

The note: I’ll hold a bit on a series about the school district, awaiting new developments. It’s not true — as a clever but mistaken resident once said — that this libertarian blogger comments hastily. Not at all. Some posts or series wait for the right time, and that time may come weeks or months after an event.

For the schools, more time will lead to a dispositive assessment.  

The agenda: Linked above and embedded below. 

Stay overnight in St Paul’s Cathedral’s Hidden Library:

Daily Bread for 3.4.24: Two Quick Points on Local Government, Special Interests, Etc.

 Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny during the day, and rainy this evening, with a high of 64. Sunrise is 6:22 and sunset 5:49 for 11h 26m 33s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 39.7 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

There will be Election Inspector Training today in Whitewater at 2:30 PM and 4:30 PM. Whitewater’s Lakes Advisory Committee meets at 5 PM, and the Equal Opportunities Commission also meets at 5 PM.

On this day in 1776, the Continental Army fortifies Dorchester Heights with cannon, leading the British troops to abandon the Siege of Boston.

Two quick reminders on local government, special interests, etc.:

First, the closer you look, the less you seeStand back a bit, and what seems large is only one part of a panorama.  

Second, a good way to measure the strength of a position (considering its quality of being strong, its merit, and its desirability) is to ask: would one trade that position for another one?  

Dangerous Winds and Deep Snow Ensnarl California

Daily Bread for 3.1.24: Toward a Unified Public Board Theory in Whitewater

 Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 47. Sunrise is 6:27 and sunset 5:45 for 11h 17m 53s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 70.8 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1917, the Zimmermann Telegram is reprinted in newspapers across the United States after the U.S. government releases its unencrypted text.

Most of the run-government-like-a-business rhetoric leaves this libertarian blogger cold. There are fundamental distinctions between public and private that the mantra about making both run the same way ignores. And yet, ironically, a description of how private corporate boards work, from Matt Levine, is a good starting point for a discussion of public municipal boards. Levine explains when The Board of Directors Is in Charge (and when it’s not): 

The basic rule is that the board of directors of a company is in charge of the company, and when they are faced with a decision, the directors are supposed to make the choice that they believe is best for the company and all of its shareholders. The shareholders don’t make the decision; the board does.[1] 

Now, the directors are elected by the shareholders, and when the company has a controlling shareholder, the idea that the directors are in charge can feel somewhat absurd. The controlling shareholder — say, a founder and chief executive officer who owns 60% of the stock — can come into the boardroom and say “I want you to sell all of the company’s assets to me for $1,” and the directors will say “no, in our independent judgment that’s a bad idea,” and the founder/CEO/shareholder will say “okay you’re fired,” and she will replace them with more pliable directors. And she can do that, because she has the votes.[2] But still: The directors are supposed to exercise their independent judgment and do what is in the company’s best interests, and if they conclude that the founder/CEO’s plan is bad, they have to say no and get fired. They can’t just say “well, ultimately she controls the company, so we have to do what she asks.” Exercising independent judgment is their job.

I cannot promise that every board of directors of every company sees things this way — I think some directors of private startups see their job as “advise and empower the founder/CEO” rather than “exercise independent judgment” — but the courts in Delaware, where most US public companies are incorporated, definitely see things this way.[3] 

(Levine is always worthy reading — insightful and artful.)

There’s much in this description that one can apply to public councils and boards. 

First, ordinarily, a council or board is, and should be, the primary authority in a public institution. 

Second, they are to make decisions in the public interest (as directors are to make decisions in shareholders’ interests). 

Third, just as some shareholders gain so much leverage over an institution that they become controlling shareholders, so in disordered communities special interests sometimes gain control over a council or board and misdirect its attention and efforts to their own selfish ends.

Fourth, the distinction between private and public action is fundamental: public institutions belong to all, while private institutions belong to those who have ownership interests. In the case of Whitewater, the answer to the question Who Owns Whitewater? should and must be Everyone and Yet No One.  

There should be, and must be, a large space for private activity, but just as all cannot be public in a productive society that necessarily depends on private property, so not all can be private in a society that respects equally the rights of individuals. 

While controlling shareholders may dominate and manipulate a private corporation and its directors, however risky that may be, private residents must not dominate public institutions in the same way.

Reasonable people are able to make relevant and material distinctions between private and public

Applied to Whitewater: recently the Whitewater Common Council and for many years the Community Development Authority were run as though this city had a few controlling shareholders who counted for more than others. These controlling shareholders were no better than others, if not in many ways worse. 

There is reason to be concerned that the same special interests (acting as though they are controlling shareholders) are even now plotting a return, first to capture again the CDA and then to capture again the Common Council in the years afterward.

About these scheming men, see The Special-Interest Hierarchy of a Small Town.

Repeated encroachments will only lead to an escalated campaign against their efforts; a campaign against them will not stop until they stop. 

While the city has had a problem with a few residents who have acted as controlling shareholders and catspaw directors, the school district has a different problem: the district has a board that simply will not listen to any shareholders, and is run with, so to speak, a CEO and weak board of directors that allows too much from the CEO and listens too little to the shareholders. 

The city has seen too much influence from a few entitled men; the district has seen too little influence from well-meaning ordinary men & women. 

This, it seems, is the least responsive school board and administration since FREE WHITEWATER began publishing in 2007. (Honest to goodness, I never thought a board and administration would be less responsive than when Steinhaus was administrator, but never say never. See Dr. Steinhaus’s Glass House and Dr. Steinhaus vs. Student: Student Wins!)

I’ll offer a series next week on how we got here, and how to set the district on a better path. 

Jet suit pilots compete in first-ever race: 

Daily Bread for 2.17.24: Smell VR? Perhaps There’s a Use in Whitewater

 Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will be sunny with a high of 29. Sunrise is 6:48 and sunset 5:29 for 10h 41m 08s of daytime. The moon is a waxing gibbous with 60% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1965, the Ranger 8 probe launches on its mission to photograph the Mare Tranquillitatis region of the Moon in preparation for the crewed Apollo missions. Mare Tranquillitatis or the “Sea of Tranquility” would become the site chosen for the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

We Tried Smell VR – and It’s Better Than You Think!

When this libertarian blogger first watched the video, aroma-producing VR seemed clever but with no significant value. On reflection, I now see that my initial assessment was ill-considered. There are uses for aromatic VR.

In Whitewater, smell VR could be used to signal to those watching a public meeting when a notably bad proposal or suggestion is being made. At that moment, the smell of skunks, dog poop, or skidrow bum would flood the meeting chamber or emanate from someone’s home computer or cable box. (Admittedly, viewers would have to spray air freshener afterward, and in large quantities whenever a special-interest man took to the podium.)

Americans are creative; I’m sure we could work the bugs out. Now’s the time for the Whitewater University Innovation Center (honest to goodness, they still call it that) to start innovatin’. 

He’ll meet you at the door:

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Daily Bread for 2.7.24: What’s Next, Common Council?

 Good morning.

Wednesday in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of 48. Sunrise is 7:01 and sunset 5:16 for 10h 14m 29s  of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 7.9% of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Landmarks Commission meets at 6 PM

On this day in 1979, Pluto moves inside Neptune’s orbit for the first time since either was discovered.

  The Whitewater Common Council met last night, and appointed two residents to fill vacancies (Carol McCormick to fill an at-large vacancy into April 2024, and Patrick Singer to fill the District 1 vacancy into April 2025.)

In all that comes next, as with what’s come before, it’s what officeholders elected or appointed say and do: public words and public actions in sessions, on recordings, and in transcripts.

People choose freely, sometimes well, sometimes poorly. Whitewater deserves only the former.

California rains trap travelers like rats hotel guests:

Daily Bread for 2.6.24: The First Common Council Session in February

 Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be partly cloudy with a high of 45. Sunrise is 7:02 and sunset 5:14 for 10h 11m 56s  of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 15.2% of its visible disk illuminated.

The Whitewater Common Council meets at 6:30 PM

On this day in 1862, forces under the command of Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew H. Foote give the Union its first significant victory of the war, capturing Fort Henry, Tennessee in the Battle of Fort Henry.

  Linked above is the Whitewater Common Council agenda for the first council meeting of February. Embedded below is the agenda for the session. Let’s see what happens: 

Why human brain cells grow so slowly:

Daily Bread for 2.4.24: Here & Now Reports on Whitewater’s Newcomers

 Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 46. Sunrise is 7:05 and sunset 5:12 for 10h 06m 54s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 33.4% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1789, George Washington is unanimously elected as the first President of the United States by the U.S. Electoral College.

PBS Wisconsin’s Here & Now reports on immigration in Whitewater

On “Here & Now,” Nathan Denzin unpacks why large numbers of migrants are heading to Whitewater.

However unnecessarily controversial1 the issue has become, this libertarian blogger has not commented on a letter to Pres. Biden that led to state and national discussion of our small town. Not unwillingness but patience has prompted my stance: the truest test of what city officials profess and how they act will come if Whitewater becomes part of the national discussion during the fall election. I would hope that test does not befall our city; this community has endured even now too many lies and too much vilification. 

Knowing what has happened, local officials must be prepared to defend zealously and diligently should distortions of our city become part of a state or national campaign this autumn. 

X-ray sky as seen by eROSITA instrument in space:


1. This matter has been unnecessarily controversial. The closed ‘press conference’ of Sen. Johnson and Rep. Steil was all anyone needed to know to see how almost any further communication from the city would be misrepresented. Of the Johnson-Steil press conference see The Local Press Conference that Was Neither Local Nor a Press Conference. Of the sensible recommendation against highlighting migrants further as a staffing justification in 2024’s fraught atmosphere see More on the 11.21 Council Session:

If a [staffing] study on the matter points to the need for more officers, and if the method of hiring requires a referendum, then (but only then) the question of staffing becomes an electoral & political matter. There’s sure to be a desire, from city staff and the department, to address all of this now. Choosing among justifications, however, has political implications. 

How to present a referendum is a matter that can be addressed when the city is closer to a vote (likely spring 2025). 2025 may seem close, but there’s plenty of time.

Daily Bread for 2.1.24: Private Company, Public Company, Public Agency

 Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will be partly cloudy with a high of 47. Sunrise is 7:08 and sunset 5:08 for 9h 59m 35s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 63.9% of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Ethics Committee meets at 5 PM

On this day in 1942, Voice of America, the official external radio and television service of the United States government, begins broadcasting with programs aimed at areas controlled by the Axis powers.

There’s a difference between a private company, a public company, and a public agency. Ordinary people understand this difference, but special interests conflate these three different arrangements to maximize their influence over wholly public agencies. 

First the distinctions, with help from Matt Levine’s description of Elon Musk’s influence on private companies as against public companies. A private company is held individually or by shareholders with shares that do not trade on a public exchange. A public company is a private enterprise with shares that do trade on a public exchange (e.g., the New York Stock Exchange). Levine writes of Musk’s considerable leeway with a purely private company like SpaceX:

At all but one of his companies, he could stroll into the boardroom, throw a big bag of ketamine down onto the table, and say “I need the company to spend $50 million to build a giant golden statue of me riding a rocket,”1 and

  1. the board would be like “yes definitely let’s do it,”

  2. the board members themselves probably are, or represent, big shareholders of the company, and as shareholders they would happily go along with the statue plan to keep Musk happy and dedicated to their company,

  3. the other shareholders, the ones without board seats, are probably even bigger Musk fans, and are probably working on their own Musk statues in their garages anyway, so they’ll be fine with the company spending their money on a corporate gold statue, and

  4. nobody else really has any standing to complain.

And so in fact when Musk went to SpaceX and asked to borrow $1 billion until payday so that he could buy Twitter Inc., the board was like “here’s the check, we’ve left the amount blank, take whatever you need.” And, look, was there a Wall Street Journal article saying “hey that’s weird”? There was; it was weird. Did anything come of that? No. SpaceX could just do that: Musk controls SpaceX, the board loves him, the shareholders love him, nobody in a position to complain has any complaints, and everybody else is in no position to

SpaceX is a bigger version of many private companies: these companies may have one or more owners, and those owners may be shareholders, but those shares are not available for ready trading by the general public. These owners have considerable leeway. 

By contrast, a public company is also a private enterprise, but it offers shares on a public market to which the general public has access during trading hours. Trading on public markets comes with public — governmental — rules & regulations. (There’s a Securities and Exchange Commission, after all.) Levine explains how rules for a public company like Tesla limit Musk:

Tesla is a public company, which means that, even if 99% of shareholders love him, if 1% of shareholders don’t, they can sue.3 They can say: “Look, the board has a fiduciary duty to manage the company on behalf of all shareholders. Giving Musk a giant golden statue of himself is not necessary, or a good business decision, or fair to the shareholders; it’s just the controlling shareholder fulfilling his own whims with corporate money, and an ineffective board of directors giving him whatever he wants. He should have to give it back.” And they will go to court, and the shareholders will make those arguments, and the board will say — accurately! — “no you see giving him this giant golden statue is necessary for us to get more of his incredibly valuable time and attention,” and that will sound bad in court. And then a judge will get to decide whether the deal was fair to shareholders or not, and if it was not, the judge can make Musk pay the company back. Even if the board, and 99% of the shareholders, want him to keep it!

Levine’s description of Musk ends here, understandably, because Levine is writing about Musk’s role in private and public companies. An analysis of these companies is distinct — as Levine knows intuitively — from public agencies and governmental bodies. 

Special interests, however, don’t see it that way: they look at public bodies (a town council, a school board, or a community development agency) and expect that they can manipulate and control that public institution like a private company. They see a public body as another of their private possessions. 

No, and no again: formed only by statutes and ordinances, maintained only under statutes, ordinances, and publicly-adopted policies, these councils, boards, and agencies are public from alpha to omega. 

Special interest men in Whitewater take public bodies and illegitimately and wrongfully refashion them through catspaws into versions of private companies. In this way, they place their hands around a public agency and squeeze until it does their private bidding.  

Which appointed officials come along matters less to the health of this community than that special interests meet their match from among residents until attrition and exhaustion take their toll on that scheming faction. 

What’s in the Night Sky February 2024

Daily Bread for 1.30.24: Hey, Journal Sentinel — Yeah, Sure, They’re Both Old. If That’s All You Can See, You’re Politically Blind.

 Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of 38. Sunrise is 7:10 and sunset 5:05 for 9h 54m 50s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 80.1% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1930, the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union orders the confiscation of lands belonging to the Kulaks in a campaign of Dekulakization, resulting in the executions and forced deportations of millions.

Trump is old, and Biden is old. Neither is getting any younger. And yet, and yet, if that’s all someone sees in these men, then he or she is politically blind. Along comes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with a story that gives voice to the ignorant and obtuse among us in ‘They’re both dinosaurs’: Concerns about age drive lack of enthusiasm for Biden and Trump.

It’s much easier for the Journal Sentinel to publish a story with a handful of snide quotes from superficial voters than to use their print & web space to show political and legal differences between the candidates.

Perhaps that’s why the Journal Sentinel Has Lost 81% Of Readers. 

Meanwhile, in Whitewater, an evergreen reminder: Telling readers who the applicants are for local offices (before the deadline has arrived!) matters less than what those applicants believe and how they would act on those beliefs. 

I’ll wait.

Mona Lisa Glass Case Splattered With Soup by Food Protesters in Paris:

Environmental activists splattered the Mona Lisa with soup on Sunday morning as they called for the right to healthy and sustainable food. The protesters threw tomato soup at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, which is protected by a glass case in the Louvre museum in Paris.

The painting wasn’t damaged and the gallery where it hangs was closed for an hour for cleaning, the Louvre said. The room reopened at 11:30 a.m. local time.

Quick comments: (1) Most performative protests are unproductive or counter-productive, (2) throwing soup at painting to protest for “healthy and sustainable food” is nuttily counter-productive, (3) Oh, my — France went from Devenue and Belmondo on the run to Riposte Alimentaire‘s soup-hurling act? That’s a disturbing devolution if ever there were one. 

Daily Bread for 1.26.24: For Years Ahead, Whitewater Will Have to Adjust from Plugging Leaks to Surfing the Waves

 Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will see light rain with a high of 36. Sunrise is 7:14 and sunset 5:00 for 9h 45m 46s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 99.1% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1915, an act of Congress establishes Rocky Mountain National Park.

Policymaking in Whitewater has traditionally been slow, short-sighted, and dull.

For the next few years, at least, to be successful Whitewater will have to adjust from plugging leaks to surfing the waves.

At first, wave upon wave will seem unpredictable, as though the water, itself were awry, askew. And awry comes at you fast:Foresight allows the avoidance of many problems, yet not all. For the unavoidable remainder, it’s “what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time.” Whitewater, historically, has never been adept at either foresight or alternative missions.”

The tired refrain that this is how we do business around here won’t be good enough. Not even close to good enough.

Over time, the skillful and adroit will manage the waves and enjoy the ride. 

Protesters across Germany rally against the far-right:

Daily Bread for 1.25.24: Now is Whitewater’s Time to Seize an Improving National and State Economy

 Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of 39. Sunrise is 7:17 and sunset 4:59 for 9h 43m 36s of daytime. The moon is full with 100% of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Lakes Advisory Committee meets at 5 PM and the Board of Zoning Appeals meets at 6 PM

On this day in 1945, the Battle of the Bulge ends in an Allied victory. 

When the national economy is poor, it’s unlikely that Whitewater (having for years lagged the national economy) would do well. When the Wisconsin economy is poor, it’s unlikely that Whitewater (having for years lagged the state economy) would do well. Even when the national economy was doing well years ago, Whitewater was behind

As it turns out, happily, the state and national economies are again doing well. Those favorable economic conditions are an opportunity for Whitewater — now’s the time to join in America’s and Wisconsin’s achievements. Of those national economic gains, there’s more good news from across a continent with 340 million people. Ben Casselman reports U.S. Economy Grew at 3.3% Rate in Latest Quarter (‘The increase in gross domestic product, while slower than in the previous period, showed the resilience of the recovery from the pandemic’s upheaval’):

The U.S. economy continued to grow at a healthy pace at the end of 2023, capping a year in which unemployment remained low, inflation cooled and a widely predicted recession never materialized.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. That was down from the 4.9 percent rate in the third quarter but easily topped forecasters’ expectations and showed the resilience of the recovery from the pandemic’s economic upheaval.

The latest reading is preliminary and may be revised in the months ahead.

Forecasters entered 2023 expecting the Federal Reserve’s aggressive campaign of interest-rate increases to push the economy into reverse. Instead, growth accelerated: For the full year, measured from the end of 2022 to the end of 2023, G.D.P. grew 3.1 percent, up from less than 1 percent the year before and faster than in any of the five years preceding the pandemic. (A different measure, based on average output over the full year, showed annual growth of 2.5 percent in 2023.)

Emphasis added. 

Now’s the time. 

Rare double brood of cicadas will emerge this spring: