There are (at least) four predictable public policy topics in the Whitewater area between now and winter’s beginning on December 21st.
The City of Whitewater’s Proposed 2015 Budget. It’s budget season in Whitewater. The city’s proposed budget is now under consideration, at weekly meetings to stretch into November.
The Schools Referendum. Outside and inside the city, a close gubernatorial election grips Wisconsinites. There’s no bigger political topic than Walker-Burke; that contest overshadows, but also underlies, the political prospects for the referendum.
I’ll write about the referendum next week, in three posts: (1) one about its general political prospects based on past elections and the current statewide contests, (2) one about what the campaign for the referendum says about Whitewater’s local politics, and (3) one about how the substance of education (the broad curriculum of academics, athletics, and the arts) is more important even than a budget discussion.
In this, I’ll be true to my contention from August that what matters is what one wants to accomplish for the children of this community, and that that’s much more than a matter of scores or metrics.
Far from thinking that one should justify an educational ‘return on investment,’ I don’t think that matters as much (or as much to residents) as simply knowing what students are studying, knowing about what they’re trying to do each day.
Perhaps there are those who feel differently about seeing a supposed return; I’ll explain next week why I’m not among them.
UW-Whitewater’s Social Relations. Campus has seen all kinds of construction, and talk about being an entrepreneurial environment, but I doubt that will be remembered half so well as how people on and off campus have related to and treated each each other during this time.
New buildings and grandiose press releases have occupied attention these several years, but social relations are more significant and will prove more memorable.
The City of Whitewater’s Waste Digester Proposal. Full-time city leaders plan to present a waste digester proposal to the city in December. They’ve been working on it for many months, using a cleverly-described ‘study’ as a city-funded means to develop a digester in Whitewater. They have not been studying, in any way that conveys independent reflection; they’ve used tens of thousands in city funds to advance the project through closed-door meeting after meeting.
Along the way, there have been brief public discussions of their efforts, most of them riddled with gushing, presumptuous advocacy, and the remainder evincing the respective vendors’ half-truths, or local officials’ evident ignorance about a project like this. (It’s a case of not knowing what they don’t know, or not caring to know.)
If advanced – and there will be a tenacious, relentless effort from vendors and insiders to advance this project – this would be the single most consequential public project of the last thirty years. Nothing this community has spent during that time, for the lakefront, a new high school, an Innovation Center, road projects, etc., comes close in scope to the financial, environmental, or health risks to Whitewater.
It may seem odd that of all the many paths leaders might choose for the city’s future, they’d pick this one. There’s hubris in this, perhaps from a confidence that the past assures them that they can manage any future opposition.
Perhaps their brimming confidence is justified, and they will find the future manageable, so to speak. If they should be wrong, though, it’s a much harder path ahead for all concerned.
These are merely predictable topics for the fall; the Fates may alter the course of events as they see fit.