The World Loses Another Hero – R.I.P. Gen. Schwartzkopf

Last night a personal hero of mine died.  General (Stormin’) Norman Schwartzkopf passed away at the age of 78.

I had the distinct pleasure of serving under his command for just over six months during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  Prior to the war, during Operation Desert Shield, I did have the honor of meeting Gen. Schwartzkopf.

I was a newly promoted seargent assigned to the Military Intelligence Company of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.  The 2nd Cavalry was one of those units that didn’t get alot of TV time during the war, and for good reason.  The job of the 2nd ACR was to spearhead the eventual attack; therefore, our actual location in the desert was kept a pretty good secret.  It was no mystery to the other side that if they wanted to set up their defenses, they should set them up accross the border from us.  (However, we got the last laugh because a few days before the eventual ground war started our unit littlerally disappeared off the map and in full radio silence moved over 100 miles to the west to magicially appear BEHIND the Iraqi lines – living up to the nickname given the unit in WWII of Patton’s Ghosts.)

The militiary intelligence field is fairly interesting.  These are truly some of America’s brightest and with my own IQ being in the 170′s, I would say that I was average at best.  So, here I am in a unit of ueber-geeks, basically surrounded by my peers… linguists and analyists, interragators and code-breakers.

One thing that the ueber-geek crowd is not exactly known for is our mechanical apptitude.  Just because my roommate was a world-ranked chess champion fluent in 4 languages with an IQ over 200 does not mean that he knew how to open the hood of a vehicle.

This became a problem because the vehicles we used were prone to mechancial failure.  At that time, we really didn’t have any vehicles designed for the equipment that we used.  We would basically convert existing trucks (and in my case a tracked artillery ammunition carrier) to handle our equipment.  That made these vehicles overloaded and often over-taxed.  For example, the electronic equipment “hut” that we had on our converted M548 Ammo Carrier (we called it an M1015 by the time we were done with it) weighed almost double the maximum recommended payload.  On top of that, our equipment was extremely power hungry and needed a 60 Kw generator.  There were two ways of getting that power, neither one bode well for longetivity of our vehicle.  One was to pull a massively heavy trailer with a 60 Kw generator on it with two large fuel tanks (a heavy trailer is always a good idea when your vehicle is already overloaded).  The other option was the on-board 60 Kw generator that was run by the vehicle’s engine.  The onboard control unit would bring the vehicle up to about a hair short of redline and then that would send the power back through 3″ diameter power cables.  Needless to say, putting the gas pedal to the floor for hours on end while sitting still also not the best for the vehicle’s engine.

It was very clear to me long before being deployed to the desert that my survival in combat would depend on my vehicle’s operation.  On training exercises, when there was a break down, you just called the unit’s mechanics and just hung out until they got there and got the problem fixed.  It was clear with a front line, fast moving unit like 2nd Cav, just waiting for the mechanics to show up if real bullets were flying was not going to be a good option.  Therefore, I took it upon myself to be there every time the mechanic was there.

Although us uebergeeks may not be mechancially inclined, we are able to learn things quickly.  (It didn’t hurt that my dad was a diesel mechanic and it turns out that some of that skill is heriditary.)  I learned what the biggest problems were, and I learned how to do much of the basic work myself.  I could change a fuel filter (our #1 problem) and on more than one occation assisted in pulling out and replacing the full engine.

Back to my encounter with “Stormin’ Norman”…  We had gone on some kind of training mission and on the way back… the engine of the vehicle was losing power.  I instantly knew the problem was again going to be the fuel filter.  It was an easy fix, you take it off, clean it, and put it back on.  It was something I didn’t need to call the mechanics on because I had done it so many times.  The only hard part of the job was getting to it.  It was on the bottom of the engine.  Back when this was an ammo carrier, that was no big deal, there was an access panel from the cargo area to get at it.  However, we had a large electronics hut, a heat exchanger, and some other fun stuff in our cargo area.  It would take a day to get that stuff in the cargo area moved.  Or, with a little bit of dexterity, you could climb into the engine bay head first, squeeze between the engine and the side of the vehicle, and access it that way.  It did require a little bit of help (someone to hold you feet so you didn’t fall all the way down in).

While I was upside down in my engine compartment litterally ankle deep with one of my troops standing on top of the engine cover, just in case, I dropped a tool.  I didn’t take a flashlight down with me because I didn’t need one, you could almost see what you were working on but what I dropped was now in the belly of the beast.  Just as this happened, I could hear my guy jump down off the vehicle.

I was impressed, he heard the clank, he heard the language that normally follows a clank and he was off to either get me another tool or a flashlight.

I could hear talking and talking and what seemed like 20 minutes passed (though I am told it was only a minute or two).  I was not pleased that my guy was out kabitzing while I was dangling upside down in an engine bay.  So… I am yelling at him to come back and bring me what I needed.  As I am yelling at him, I am using the approproate profanity that this situation warranted.

I could hear him climbing up the side of the vehicle.  Well its about god damn time!!!  He hits me in the boot with a wrench or screwdriver (don’t remember which, it was a long time ago) and I yell up don’t you dare throw that down, hand it to me.  Again, I am using language appropriate to the situation.  I am wiggling and contorting so that I can reach my hand up as far as he can reach his down.  He sees my hand waving and is able to pass the tool off to me… as he does that I can see his hat and it is not the forest green camo hat with a private first class stripe that he had on earlier.  This was a much larger and older man with a desert camo pattern hat with 4 black stars on it.

So… I spent the last few minutes swearing at a 4-star general calling him every name I could think of.  Well, crap.  As I said earlier, I was a newly promoted seargent, so I was thinking that it was nice that I hadn’t gotten around to sewing my rank on.  I was still using my brand new pin-on rank.  I think I still had all of my old Specialist rank insignia somewhere.

Actually, he thought the entire encounter was pretty funny.  He helped me out of the engine bay and we had a brief discussion of what I was doing and why, gave me a coin, and went on his way.

He wasn’t a stuck-up, I’m better than you “Pointer”… he was a down to earth guy and the kind of guy you wanted to go into battle following.

As I tweeted last night….  rest in peace, sir.  It was a pleasure serving under your command.

Posted in Army, Cavalry, Desert Storm | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Initial Thoughts on Licensing Wausau Landlords

If you have read this Sunday’s Wausau Daily Herald or watched the news last night on Channel 9, you are aware that the City of Wausau, yet again, is starting to make some noise about licensing rental properties.

The Wausau Housing Task Force (which I am a member of representing landlords) has been tasked by the Mayor with coming up with a licensing program.  I nearly quit the Task Force after this directive, but was convinced by others that even if I am dead set against this, my voice needs to be part of the conversation.  Our first Task Force meeting when we are going to start addressing this issue is today.  However, a few weeks ago I decided to come up with my own personal thoughts on a licening program.  I emailed this to the Task Force for consideration, and have also shared this with the Wausau Area Apartment Association.  Below was what I sent to both groups:

Instead of trying to take someone else’s rental unit licensing program and make it fit for Wausau, I personally believe that if Wausau is going to do this, they should design a program that addresses the specific needs that Wausau has.  It has to…

1)      Obtain the ultimate goal of ensuring that residential rentals are all safe and code-complaint.

2)      Determine which residential housing units are, in fact, rentals.

3)      Create a punishment for residential housing providers who refuse to provide safe and code-compliant housing.

4)      Create an incentive program for residential housing providers who want to provide safe and code-compliant housing but currently fall short of that.

5)      NOT create an undue burden for residential housing providers who are providing safe and code-compliant housing.

In addition to the above items that I feel this program needs to do, some other items that I feel a rental licensing programs should do include…

1)      Create an enforcement tool for residential housing units that sit vacant for extended periods of time, which include bank-owned “REO” properties and properties going through a foreclosure action.

2)      Create additional incentives for residential housing providers whose housing do meet minimum standards to increase the quality of housing beyond those minimums.

3)      Take into consideration current and future staffing levels of the City of Wausau Inspections department, in order to ensure that the program can actually be managed.

 

The following is just some conceptual guidelines that I would use if I were going to set up a licensing program that meets all of the issues listed above.  I would request that this document be used as starting point and possible frame work for a licensing program.  Of course, the devil is always in the details.  But if the general concept can be agreed upon, it does make working out the details much easier.

 

I believe a one size fits all license is not applicable because we do not have a 1 size fits all housing blight problem.  Therefore, I would suggest creating various classifications of residential housing licenses, including:  License Exempt, Provisional License, General License, Probationary License, Preferred License, and Suspended/Revoked License.

LICENSE EXEMPT – All residential properties are assumed to be rentals and will require a license.  However, if a property is owner occupied the owner/occupant can fill out a short form acknowledging that fact and that particular property will then be exempt from licensing for a total of 10 years, or until the title transfers to a different party.  At the end of the ten years, the owner would just renew the simple form.  If the property is sold to a new owner occupant, that person would do a new simple form.

A primary problem that the City has is identifying properties that are actually rental properties.  Through the current rental registration program, the Inspections department estimates there are 15% of the rentals that have not yet complied, but that number could be greater or smaller because it is often difficult to determine if a property is a rental.  Those properties that are the hardest to identify as rentals are most likely to be owned by landlords either unaware of applicable laws affecting them, or are aware and don’t care.  Therefore, the ones hardest to license would be in the most need of having a license.

This would help make sure that all rental properties are identified as we assume all are rental unless the City is told otherwise.  A problem that the city has is when properties are sold, they are turned into rentals and no one knows.  By making the exemption end with any title transfer, the city would be able to identify any new rental properties that were owner-occupied homes.

Another way to lose the exemption would be if the property sits vacant for an extended period of time (a year for example).  The property may not be a rental per se, but it is not technically owner-occupied if it is not actually occupied.  Water usage is probably the best way to determine it is unoccupied.

 

PROVISIONAL LICENSE – Because the logistics will not always allow for a timely inspection of units (either when the program goes into effect, or when a license expires), the rental property owner should not be punished because of city staffing levels.  Therefore, all residential rental units will be issued a provisional license.  This allows them to rent the property and is valid until the license is either upgraded or downgraded.  There would be no cost for this provisional license.  At the start of the licensing program, all of the residential properties that have not requested an exemption would be issued a provisional license, UNLESS there were open repair orders already in the system.

At the time this licensing program would go into effect, you would have somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 rental units that would need licenses.  If you didn’t grant a license until the unit was inspected, and it took 2 hours to do a full inspection, it would take nearly 10 years go get every unit inspected assuming one person did this as their only full-time job.  Also, assuming re-inspections will need to be done to renew the license, again a landlord should not be punished if the city does not have the staff to take care of this in a timely manner.  The issuance of the provisional license follows the “innocent until proven guilty” concept.

 

GENERAL LICENSE – This license is granted upon passing an inspection.  The inspection criteria are to ensure that the rental unit meets certain minimum standards for safety and code compliance.  The term of the license is something that needs to be determined.  I would propose a 5-Year term for properties where lead paint is not an issue (1978 or later) and a 3 year term for pre-1978 properties.  There would be no license fee for this General License.

Although no license fee, I do anticipate their being a cost involved in the inspection of the property.  One of the challenges is getting the rental housing stock inspected based on the current resources available to do the inspecting.

A condition of granting of the general license is the inspection.  However, the Inspections Department should not be the sole authority capable of doing inspections.  Once the inspection guidelines have been set, any properly licensed property inspector should be able to also do this inspection, assuming the property inspector is not the property owner.  It will be the job of the property owner to hire their own inspector at their expense (they can hire the city’s inspector, but the city should establish a reasonable, competitive fee).

If an inspection is done based on complaint or based on the right to inspect (covered later), that will not be able to be used to issue a general license unless the inspection fee is paid.

In order to motivate those with the provisional license to go through the effort of having their units inspected, the City should work with various non-profits in town that provide rental assistance (NCCAP, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Job Center, Women’s Community just to name a few) and come with an agreement by those agencies to NOT give rental assistance to properties that have suspended/revoked licenses, or provisional licenses only.  Based on the expected cost of the inspection versus the amount of assistance normally given, it would make sense for a landlord to spend $200 to $300 for an inspection to get a $500+ rent assistance check.

When a General License expires, if it is not renewed, it will revert back to a Provisional License.

 

PROBATIONARY LICENSE – A rental property that has found to not meet the minimum standards will first go to the probationary license stage.  This license will have some type of license fee and will be subject to a more frequent inspection program.  This license can be updated to a general license after a certain amount of time with no further issues, or if problems persist, this can be downgraded to a suspension (or even revocation).

This is going to be the most complicated part of the program and the part that will require the closest attention if this licensing system is going to work.  This is for those rental properties that don’t come up to par, but the property owner appears willing to make the efforts needed to comply.  There would be an annual license fee and the inspection criteria would be more often.  If a landlord had an inspection done and issues were found, they could fix these issues themselves and get reinspected and getting the General License avoiding this.  But if the landlord was just going with the Provisional License because they didn’t want to spend the money on the inspection, and if they were then inspected by the City and were found non-compliant, the General License was now not an option.  The cost of the provisional license should be high enough that landlords would be money ahead getting inspected so they could go to the General License, but should not be so high as to make it un-affordable to do the repairs needed to get the property compliant.

 

PREFERRED LICENSE – This a short time license, that would have a fee, that had higher standards than just the basic license.  Preferred License holders would be listed on the City Website.

In addition to motivating sub-standard property owners to bring their units up to code without harming property owners who aren’t being a problem, I think this would make a nice motivational tool for property owners who want to be better than minimum standards.

The free advertising on the city website would be a nice feature especially for those very small landlords with just a few units who don’t have a big marketing budget.  An ad in the Wausau Daily Herald can run $300 or more a month depending on how many days a week it runs, and internet advertising is out of reach for most small operators.

What I would see happening is that a small operator might do what they need to do to hit this preferred status when the unit came vacant with the hope that it would fill up much faster by being on the city’s website as a preferred license holder.  This would give incentives for small operators to not only do needed repairs but go above and beyond.  This might include updates beyond code, it might include aesthetic items, it could also include landlord training and education.

If the Preferred License was not renewed at the end of its term, it would revert to a General License until the end of the General License term.

 

SUSPENDED/REVOKED LICENSE – This entire program will be useless unless there is an enforcement mechanism.  Depending on violation, or violation history, at some point the city needs to be able suspend a license, or in worst cases completely revoke a license.  This would be the hardest part of the ordinance to create.

In addition to listing suspended and revoked licenses on the city’s website, once a quarter a notice should be mailed to “Tenant” at the property address indicating that there is not a valid license in place.  Also, a list of all of these properties should be mailed to the various non-profits that provide rental assistance.

 

OTHER GENERAL CONCEPTS

RIGHT TO INSPECT – A goal of the licensing program is to give the City Inspections department an easy tool for being able to get into a property to do an inspection.  I would see as a condition of any of the licenses discussed here that the inspections department has the right to enter and inspect on some type of reasonable notice.  A refusal by the property owner to allow the inspections department to enter to inspect could result in the suspension of the license.

 

OPERATING WITHOUT A LICENSE – The biggest potential problem I see with any licensing program is what is going to stop someone without a valid rental unit license from renting out that property?  Just telling someone they can’t do it isn’t going to stop the problem.  The city will already post a property uninhabitable only to have the property owner take down that posting and move in a new, desperate renter.  Of course there will be some kind of fine involved, but if the fine doesn’t get paid what are you going to do?  I would propose tying in this particular violation with Wausau’s rent abatement ordinance and making a suspended or revoked license an automatic abatable item at the 95% rate.  Of course, we would still need a program to catch offenders, but hopefully the list of suspended/revoked licenses will not be a long one and these are properties that can be driven by semi-regularly to ensure they are not being lived in.  This driving by (especially at night when it is easy to see if a place is lived in because of lights on) could be something that alderpersons could do in their district.  Also, water usage could be monitored.  There should be very little usage in a vacant property.

 

LONG TERM VACANCIES – Speaking of vacant properties, part of the housing blight problem is not rentals but is instead long time vacant properties that are in some stage of foreclosure or already owned by the bank.  A lot can happen to a property if it sits vacant for an extended period of time.  If the water department determines that there has been zero water use at a property for 12 consecutive months, that should flag a property for inspection.  If this was an owner-occupied property that was exempt from the license and therefore inspection, a long term vacancy should result in a loss of that exemption.  This would then revert to a provisional license and that would allow for the ability to inspect.

Another possibility is that any occupancy permit that was originally granted for a property is no longer valid if that property sits vacant for a certain period of time, and before the property can be re-occupied (as a rental or an owner-occupied property), a new occupancy permit would need to be issued.

Posted in Abandoned Property, Apartments, Blight, Chronic Nusiance, City Council, Foreclosure, Housing Codes, Housing Task Force, WAAA, Wausau | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2012 Elections – My Least Worst Choices are…

It is finally here, election day. Time for the robo-calls to stop calling, time for the radio and TV ads to stop playing, time to get back to some sanity.  That is until the next round of recall elections.

What has start to come an election day tradition is my blog post (which I do mostly against my better judgment) explaining who I voted for and why.  Some people have found this interesting because as a self-described independent, I really am not a big fan of either major political party.  Therefore, I tend to look more at the person than at the party.  I cannot remember a time that I have happened to vote one party all the way down the ballot.  The first time I did this, I was expecting the uncivil hate mail and the name calling in the comments section of the blog to start, but to date, each of these blog posts has actually resulted in civil discussion.  Disagreements, but polite disagreements based on the merits of the arguments for or against and no name calling.  How cool is that.

There are some who are confused because there are so many people who are “undecided” right up to the election.  The candidates for almost every office differ so greatly that partisan people are confused how anyone could be undecided.  Well, I am going to go out on a limb and say those undecided people tend to be a lot like me (though I had made my mind up on who I was voting for a few weeks ago).  They are like me because they have given up trying to figure out who is the best choice on the ballot, and instead they focus on trying to figure out who is the least worse.  That is why negative ads work so well with the average undecided voter.  The ad says “I know I suck, but look how much worse the other guy/gal sucks.”  And let’s be honest, we tend have a lazy electoriate who will put faith and credence in those 30 second sound bites without digging deeper to learn the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say.

I try to arrive at the Town of Wausau Town Hall around 6:45 AM every election day with the hope of being voter #1.  That has not yet happened.  I am normally in the top 5 though and I once got to be #2.  This morning I arrived at 6:50 and by the time I got in line, I was voter #15.  The poll worker handing people their number had just given out #40 as the polls were offically opened.  So, pretty good turn out so far in the Town of Wausau based on my personal experience.

On to my ballot…  to be honest, I was not thrilled with any of my choices and as you can see, all of my choices were based on who was the least bad choice.

President – Obama

This was actually a pretty easy choice.  If you remember 4 years ago, that race started with foreign policy being the major issue because the Repbulicans were blind to what their failed fiscal policies were doing to the country.  That was until the bubble burst and the economy become the focus of the election.  The economy has turned around under Obama.  Has the turn around been as fast as we would like, no it hasn’t.  But, the collapse was caused by a bubble of unsustainable growth that burst.  I would rather see growth come back at a sustainable level than come back too fast creating another bubble to just burst again later on.  I don’t think that putting Romney in the White House will help with the recovery, I really don’t.  He is too out of touch with the middle class, with people like me.  I am not saying that Obama necessarily understands how the other half lives either, but of the two of them who don’t have a clue, I feel that Romney has fewer clues than the president.

Although my mind was already made up when a recent radio ad came out by one of the Pro-Romney special interest groups, I think that ad helped to reinforce my position.  That ad touts some of the things that Romney was able to accomplish as governer.  That ad also points out that he did this with “over 90% of the legislature” being in the other party.  That over 90% number sounds pretty high, but this is a pro-Romney ad so I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Some people see that and say that he knows how to work with the other party.  Well, 90% is a veto-proof super majority my friends.  So, touting what good things he did as governer when the legislature had the votes to do what they wanted… not helping your case.

U.S. Senate – Baldwin

This again goes with my theme of least worst.  I don’t like people on the far left or the far right, what ever happened to the moderates on both sides that an independent could actually support as a candidate?  (Support is not the same as vote for.)  I am one of those people who had voted for Tommy when he was governer.  However, back then he was more of a moderate.  That is not who Tommy was campaining as.

With Tammy, you know who you are getting.  You are getting a far left liberal, bordering on socialist.  She is a known quantity.  She will not get her way in the senate because even the far left democrats in the senate won’t go as far left as she does, so her views and abilities will be tempered somewhat by her own party.

With Tommy, my problem with him, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, is that I don’t know who I am actually voting for.  Is it moderate Tommy who did such a great job as governer of this state?  Is it right wing nut job Tommy who showed up in the debate and the commercials?  Or, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, is it special interest Tommy that the democrats have been trying to lable him as.  I dont know which Tommy he is, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, and since I vote for the person and not the party, if I don’t know what I am getting, there is no way he can be the least bad choice LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.

Again, my mind was made up on Tammy when I attended the debate held here in Wausau, where I was in the audiance at UWMC, but that debate reinforced that I had made the right choice.  As an independent, the key thing I want my elected leaders to be able to do is to be able to have the ability to listen to opposing views and be able to play nice with others.  Both candidates were asked about a position of the other candidate that they could support.  Tommy had nothing.  Tammy responded with at least a half a dozen items where she agreed with Tommy on issues.  That was all I needed to hear.

(Also, another factor is that I was much more comfortable with my vote for a Republican in the House, it made sense to want to vote for a democrat in the senate to help make sure no single party has all the power.)

U.S. House (7th) – Duffy

Although Duffy didn’t keep his word that he was not going to vote to repeal Obama care until proposed modifications were ready, he was a freshman republican, of course he was not going to buck his party on that issue.  And, since the democrats still controlled the senate and the white house, those votes to repeal it really weren’t going to accomplish anything.  The fact of the matter is that he is a likable person, he has been accessible for the most part (although I know of some who have tried to make appointments with him never get a call back), and he has bucked his party on some issues, most notably funding for public radio and TV.  Is he a good choice as an independent voter, of course not.

On the other hand, Kreitlow was one of the Doyle democrats who used closed door, single party in control games when serving at the State level.  The electoriate was not happy with these games and “threw the bums out” flipping the entire government in Wisconsin from Democrat to Republican for the first time in almost forever.  Of course, the republicans had learned well from what the democrats could do when in total control and they applied those lessons well.  Too well, the electoriate got tired of that and triggered two rounds of recall elections eventually taking senate control of way.  Although Kreitlow was not in office in Wisconsin for very long, he fails on the “plays well with others” issue that is most important to me, making him the worse choice and Duffy the least bad choice.

WI Assembly (85th) – Snyder

This was the vote that upset me the most.  Based on how many people vote for each office, this is the vote of mine that technically carried the most weight, and it was the one that took me the longest to decide.

The last election cycle, I voted for Libertarian Maas instead of casting a vote for either Seidel or Eno.  Although I don’t completely agree with everything the libertarians stand for, I am fiscally conservative (which they are) and on social issues, I am a live and let live kind of guy which earns me the title of social liberal (which the libertarians are as well).  I was dissapointed when Maas only pulled in about 5% of the vote.  But when I learned this election cycle how much campaigning he actually does, I am not actually kind of impressed with that 5% number.

I wanted to vote for Maas again this time and that was my original intent.  To this day, a large Maas campaign sign adorns my front lawn.  However, after watching him in the debates and seeing just how little he was doing to campain and get elected, I felt my vote for him would be wasted and as Mike Beck said in the WDH interview, you only get one and that vote is a valuable resource.  Maas was asked about why a vote for him would not be a wasted vote.  He stated a vote for him “sends a message to Madison” that you are not happy with either party.  I am sorry, Jim, but if I want to send a message to Madison, I do it with my keyboard, with an actual message.  I had the oppurtunity to get to know both Donna Seidel and Jerry Petrowski, and they have gotten the oppurtunity to get to know me.  They both know where I stand on issues.  I sent a message to Madison and based on GREAT discussions I had with my elected leaders, they both let me know the message was recieved.  But a vote for a candidate that is not really trying to get elected – wasted vote, plain and simple.

Another problem I had with Maas is that I want to vote for the person, not the party.  And so many times in the debates when asked for HIS opinion, he would state “the Libertarian position is…”  I don’t give a flying you know what about what the Libertarian position is, or what the Repubican one is or what the Democratic one is, if I am voting for the PERSON, I want to know what the PERSON thinks.  So answers telling me what the party thinks won’t earn you my vote.

So, now I needed to figure out the least worst candidate between Snyder and Wright.  I started the race leaning heavy toward Wright  I even cast a vote for her in the primary election based on her “plays nice with others” platform.  However, the deciding factor for me came through in the debates and the WDH interviews, which I watched every one of, some of them a couple of times.

Mandy is well versed on education, as she should be as a teacher.  But I don’t believe she has the rounded background in all of the issues it takes to be a good legislator.  So many times during debates she was able to steer discussion on other topics back to education.  That had a one-trick pony feel to it.  Another item that really bothered me was during the WDH interview where she felt that the government needs to get involved in venture capital.  It is one thing to spend my tax money on roads or education.  But to suggest that the government use my tax money to give out loans that are so risky that no bank will touch them… I don’t think so.  I agree that venture capital is important to encourage development of small businesses, however it is not the job of government to provide that venture capital.  Although I think the government could do some things to encourage the private sector to make this venture capital more attractive to offer.  As for playing well with others, which is so important to me, Mandy may be willing to but based on some of her non-compromising views and her active role in the recall efforts, the question comes what republicans are going to be willing to play well with her.

With Pat, you have the same Tommy issue as to which Pat are you getting.  Are you getting a Pat who says he can work with the other side and is willing to listen, or do you have the Tea Party activist who has basically been a right wing nut job on the radio for the last 10 years.  Well, I do know that the Howard Stern that you hear on the radio is not necessarily the same Howard that exists in real life off the air.  I am willing to give Pat the chance to show me that his persona from the radio is not the same persona he will have in the halls of Madison.

One thing that gives me hope the off air Pat is different than the on air Pat is that he is in a mixed marriage, married to a democrat.  I am also in a mixed marriage (I am a left leaning independent married to a true southern Republican)… so I know how interesting that can be.

Pat is my least worst choice.

There you have it, my partisan election 2012 ballot, let the hate mail begin…

Posted in Elections | 3 Comments

Free Political Speech in Wausau – Only If Properly Zoned

I received an interesting call from Wausau’s inspections department yesterday.  Apparantly, we are violating Wausau’s zoning codes and someone complained about this violation and now the City is following up.

So.. what did we do?  Trash can out too early? – Nope.  Lawn not mowed? – Nope.  A property condition that is contributing to Wausau’s inner-city housing blight? – Nope.  What did we do that is taking our inspections department away from addressing real problems?

We are allowing candidates to put up political signs on some of our properties.

It seems like this year, with two rounds of recalls, that the political season never really ended.  As such, there has been yard signs up for this candidate or that candidate for a while now.  I had always wondered just how useful these signs were.  Did seeing a number of people supporting candidate X through signs help sway voters?  However, as useless as a tool that signs are, I always just assumed that these signs were political free speech.  Currently, I am speaking out against the established political parties who transfer power back and forth, neither one who really represents me, but having a large sign in my yard supporting the Libertarian candidate on the Assembly ballot.

It turns out, in the City of Wausau at least, that the power of free speech through signs for political candidates does not expand beyond Wausau’s residential zoning districts.  If you have a political sign in business zoning, it needs to come down.

My employer has a number of high-visibility commericial properties in Wausau that every election cycle has signs for candidates on them.  However, when giving candidates permission to put their sign up, our long-standing company policy is to not grant exclusive access to the lot.  If candidate X wants their sign up on our land, they can put up their sign.  However, if candidate Y also asked to put a sign up, we are going to allow them to do so also.  We just ask that they are adults about it and not put up their sign in a way to block or to interfere with others signs on the property.  (This asking the candidates to be adults didn’t seem to work that well during the recall election, as the battling signs just got silly after a while.)

I recieved a call for signs that we have on our parking lot at 119 Clark Street (or the signs on the north side of Stewart Avenue between 1st and 3rd Avenues).  Currently, there are signs up for the Libertarian and Republican candidates.  The ONLY reason that there were no democratic candidate signs up on that parcel is because no candidates had as of yet asked.  But, it turns out that these signs will need to come down.

It will be interesting to see if the inspections department are only going to ask a certain party to take their signs down off of commerically zoned properties.  Are they going to go through town and note every single sign and contact every single commericial property owner.  Or, are they only going to respond to complaints.  Either way, how much time is going to be spent on this issue versus tackling REAL problems.

So… can the City of Wausau ban political signs in business zoning districts?  After all, that seems like a free speech violation.  I don’t know if they can, but they do.  And after doing some research, it looks like they have the State of Wisconsin’s backing on this.

Here is how the law works in the City of Wausau.  Athough you are free to do whatever you want on your property, your enjoyment of your property cannot impact the enjoyment of other people using their property.  The tool to accomplish this are zoning laws.  Properties are divided into various zones.  Zoning ordinances specifically spell out what you can and cannot do on your property.  If something is “permitted”, you are free to do it.  If something is “conditional”, you have to ask the city’s permission and they can take these requests on a case by case basis.  If what you want to do is not on the “permitted” list, and not on the “conditional” list, you simply can’t do it.  It had been determined by someone at some time that things not on either list, if done, would interfere with others trying to enjoy their property.  So, this would be the reason you can’t have an industrial chemical plant in residential zoning.

If you go to Wausau’s ordinances, 23.14.060(a)(8) talks about political signs.  This specific ordinance covers political signs and what is allowed.  This is important, because if the ordinances doesn’t allow it, it is not allowed.  This ordinance, which does allow political signs, is found in the R-1 (Single family residential) zoning codes.  When looking through all of the residential zoning districts, they all state that the signage ordinances for the R-1 apply.  However, when you get to the other non-residential zoning districts, there are no mention of political signs, so by default, they are not allowed.  One thing that 23.14.060(a)(8) does is refer back to Chapter 12 of Wisconsin Statutes in when political signs are allowed.  So, I decided to go take a peek at that as well.

When looking at WI SS 12, and specifically 12.04, it appears that the State of Wisconsin endorses Wausau’s business property political signage prohibition.  Although Wisconin State Statute does indicate that municipalities cannot prohibit these political signs and can only limit them based on size, this statute applies ONLY to residential properties.  So, one could deduce that it was never the intent of the State to allow signs on business properties.

I have contacted some people who know people who are more well versed in constitutional and federal law to do some research on how “legal” this City of Wausau (and apparantly State of Wisconsin) prohibition is.  For now though, I am going to call it a City of Wausau prohibition.  The State Statute does not say that you can’t have the signs on business property, it only says you MUST allow them on residential.  Each municipality can choose how to handle their own business zoning districts.

The City of Wausau now has a choice.  They can either spend time and resources policing these signs on business properties.  And, with my time spent on the Housing Task Force, I am sure they can find better ways to spend their time policing properties.  OR… they can add a provision in the code that would allow these political signs.

Do I think these signs are an eye sore… yes I do.  But, we are a free society and the elecction season (in normal years) is not that long.  I should be free to put a sign in my yard supporting my candidate(s) of choice during the Election seasoon as defined by WI SS 12.  I should be free to do this regardless of zoning.

How many people on the city council, even the mayor, had their signs up on commercially zoned properties illegally?

The City can agressively enforce a policy that arguably impacts free speech.  Or, they can change the ordinance to reflect how things have been done for the last million or so years.

Come on City Leaders – Make the Right Call…. your inspections department seriously has better things to do.

Posted in Blight, City Council, Conditional Use, Elections, Housing Codes, Wausau | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Since When is it MY Job to Ensure my Tenants Have a Healthy Lifestyle?

If it seems like forever since you saw a blog post here, well I can assure you it has felt like forever.  I have gone through some changes, professionally and personally, that has got me to spend less time on this blog and more time on things that are more relevant to me personally.  I feel bad that I have not provided new resources for information for landlords and tenants, but I do look at the web stats for this blog now and then, and I still see that it is used as a reference a few times a day.

So… what has gotten me riled up to again come to typing up and posting my thoughts?

What else, a MASSIVE waste of my tax-payer dollars.

Let me back up a little bit.  Apparantly, the federal government (through the Center for Disease Control) has established grants to help educate people about better living, better food, excersing more, stopping smoking, etc.  The concept is that if we, as Americans, ate better and excersized more and smoked less, we would be more healthy.  Okay, I won’t dispute that.  Apparantly, some numbers people did some research (or made up some facts, either way it doesn’t matter) and learned that Spending money on encouraging people to me more healthy is a wise investment because if we were more healthy, certain government costs on health care would be less.  Again, I can buy that logic.

So, based on this logic, MILLIONS of dollars are being given out to promote healthier living with key focuses on the three areas of better diet, more excersize, and less smoking.  Here in Wisconsin, an agency that calls itself “Transform Wisconsin” has received $6.6 Million dollars of this money.  Various agencies in Wisconsin were able to apply for that $6.6 million and this week, over 30 different agencies made the cut.

By the way, I have been having a heck of a hard time getting more information on exactly what 30 agencies got these awards and for what.  This is annoying.  I have been able to find many news sources that indicate that “Transforming Wisconsin is distributing $6.6 million in federal grants to 30 different programs in 25 counties.”

I learned about this whole thing when someone from Wisconsin Public Radio contacted the Wisconsin Apartment Association for information on a story they were doing.  Here is where my understanding of this little folly of spending my tax money on things start to make less and less sense.  Why would the Wisconsin Apartment Association care about this $6.6 million in money to promote healthy living?

Well… it turns out that because the government has been unsuccessful in convincing people that smoking is a bad idea, they have decided they are going to have landlords do their work for them.

Remember when I mentioned the anti-smoking focus?  Well that money isn’t for cessation programs or smoker education or teen smoking reduction.

Nope, that would go to spend money directly at the people who can use it.  And as we all know, that is NOT the government’s way.  Instead, the anti-smoking part of these grants are to educate and encourage landlords to make multi-unit apartment buildings smoke free.  That’s right folks, instead of getting people to stop smoking, they are going to try to get landlords to get people to stop smoking.

According to the article that Wisconsin Public Radio did, “Eight anti-smoking grants were distributed. One of them, in Outagamie County, amounts to $160,000 to encourage landlords to turn their buildings smoke free.”  So, of the 30 grants totalling $6.6 million, I know the amount and location of one of them.  And, I know that a total of 8 of the thirty were aimed at smoking-tollerant landlords.  Needless to say, I was hoping by doing a quick google search I could find the press release that listed the amounts and locations of all of these grants, but that was not to be.

After a half hour, I found a number of press releases from various agencies to say that they got some money.  I was able to determine that all of the anti-smoking grants were $160,000.  In addition to the one that went to Outagamie County, I was able to learn that more of these $160,000 checks went to Tobacco Free Columbia/Dane County, Five Counties for Tobacco Free Living headquartered in Fond du Lac County and Focus On Community/Racine County Youth Coalition.  Eight grants at $160,000 each comes out to over $1 1/4 Million to specifically focus on landlords allowing smoking.  There were other grants awarded for $460,000 to programs that were going to address all three of the issues, including smoking.

Marathon County was one of these recipients, so I am eagerly awaiting my phone call telling me how to tell my tenants how to live.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not a fan of smoking, never have been, have never even tried smoking once.  I grew up around smokers and can’t stand it.

I also would LOVE to be able to make all of my rental properties non-smoking.  It would reduce the amount of damage that happens, it would make cleaning apartments easier, I would not have to paint them as often.  I have one apartment that the smoker left 5 months ago, I have repainted twice, put in new carpet and pad, sent in two different cleaning crews, and still can’t figure out how to get rid of that odor.  So, trust me… the reason why I don’t have non-smoking units has NOTHING to do with me not wanting them.

Unlike the government who can just magically make $6.6 million dollars appear, I have to use real world considerations when establishing a policy like that.  There are three fundamental reasons why my money spent to convince me to ban smoking is going to be money flushed right down the toilet.

Problem 1 is straight economic, supply and demand. 

Establishing this policy will limit the market on potential renters.  Although the percentage of the population that actually smokes does appear to be on a long-term downward trend, there are a few realities when looking at who are smokers.  First, there appears to be a coalation between income and cigarettes; basically, the farther down the socio-economic ladder you are, the more likely you are to be a smoker.  Also, there appears to be an age factor.  The younger you are, the more likely you are to be a smoker.  However, once you climb up that ladder, people tend to go withthe social norms of giving up that nasty habit.  The same is true as young people mature, the meet girls or guys, have kids… and smoking isgiven up as they mature.

Now lets look at the average renter.  There is an increasing population of what we landlords call “renters by choice”.  These are people who are financially stable enough to be home owners, but for whatever reason (flexibility, liking having someone else take care of repairs, cost, etc), they choose to instead rent.  Although that market is slowly growing, the vast majority of people who rent are renting because they have to.  They are young and either not stable enough to purchase a home.  Or they are lower on the economic ladder and don’t have the resources.  So… when we look at the people most likely to be smokers, that is the same pool of people who are most likely to be renters.  That is not opinion, that is statistical fact.

As I said before, I would love to make my units non-smoking.  And, there are a number of landlords whose units are non-smoking.  But, any time you establish a policy that alienates you from potential customers, you need to do so with caution.  There is no doubt that by establishing non-smoking apartment buildings, you are going to attract non-smokers.  You can sometimes even charge a premium becuase non-smokers are willing to pay more to be away from smokers (and non-smokers have excess money that wasn’t spent on cigarettes to spend).  However, you at the same time are pushing people who at the very least want to be able to smoke in their home away.  (Even in smoking buildings, no smoking is allowed in common areas like halls and laundry rooms.)

Most landlords have determined that the economic benefit of being a preferred provider of services for non-smokers does not justify alienating such a large segment of the potential applicant pool.  A unit is easier to rent if you don’t put that smoking restriction on it – plain and simple.

Problem 2 deals with practical enforcement.

A fundamental challenge that comes from renting out smoke-free apartments is that they are, in fact, smoke free.  If you rent some place because it is smoke free, and the neighbors downstairs smoke and the smoke comes out of their window and goes up and comes in your window – you will be not happy.  You would be not happy if the place allowed smoking, but you would be EVEN MORE not happy if the place doesn’t.  So, you call your landlord to report the smoking with the assumption that the landlord will make them stop.  God, I wish…

As a landlord, yes, I can ask them to stop smoking.  I can tell them to stop smoking.  But the way Wisconsin laws work, in many cases what I am going to be essentially telling the offending tenant is:  “STOP SMOKING – OR I WILL TELL YOU TO STOP AGAIN”.

What so many people just don’t realize is that when a tenant in a rental property is doing something that violates a lease agreement, there are only two things that a landlord can do about it.  1) They can threaten to evict the tenant; and 2) they can evict the tenant.  And of course, if you are not willing to actually do #2, #1 is off the table.  So, the only thing the landlord can do about a problem (assuming the landlord asks the smoker to stop and the smoker doesn’t) is to evict them.

If the tenant is in a period rental agreement (such as a month to month), this is not too hard to do.  You give the proper notice ending the month to month agreement.  So, if I give my tenant notice on July 15th I am ending their month to month, their contract ends and they need to be out by August 31st.  Six weeks of the non-smokers dealing with it, all the while I am the bad guy because I am not doing anything.  If they don’t leave, I can file for an eviction action and depending on the county and caseload, 5 to 9 weeks later they may be out.  And remember, that is the easy way because on a month-to-month, the landlord can end the rental agreement with 28 days written notice for no reason.

That is not the case if someone is under lease.  Okay, you can choose not to renew the lease when it is up, but I am sure the non-smoking tenants are going to be thrilled about patiently waiting 6, 7, 11 months until that happens.  Nope, to solve this problem NOW, eviction is the one and only tool that landlords have.

Evictions MUST go through court.  You, as a landlord can NEVER physically remove a tenant from the property, ONLY the sheriff can do this.  And, the sheriff can ONLY do this when they have a court order to do so (called a Writ).  And, this court order is issued by the judge as a result of an eviction court procedure.

So, to evict that smoker downstairs (assuming you have given them the proper warning notice and they have not complied), you will need to evict them.  Again, a process that can take a month or longer to do.  But, just cause you ask the judge to the evict the tenant does not mean that they will.  To get that eviction, a landlord has to convince the judge of two things:  1) the tenant breached the lease; AND 2) the breach was “material.”  In layman’s terms, the landlord will need to prove that the tenant was in fact smoking in a non-smoking building; and assuming you can prove that, you have to also convince the judge that this violation warrants making this person (or their entire family as the case may be) homeless.

As for the first point, I would love to know how to prove this person was smoking.  It is very unlikely that the tenant upstairs who filed the complaint is willing to come with you in court as a witness.

As for the second point, different circuit court jurisdications have different threshholds for what is worthy of evicting someone.  As a matter of fact, sometimes different judges in the same court jurisdication will have different standards of what is a “material” breach.  If the judge does not think that smoking in your own home is worthy of making your entire family homeless, well then the landlord has no way of enforcing their non-smoking rules.

Don’t think that could happen?  In talking with landlords all over the state, there are judges who don’t think that being behind in rent, if only one month behind, is grounds for eviction.  They will dismiss the case unless the tenant is a few months behind.

Problem 3 is a philosphical civil liberties issue.

I am a landlord.  I am not a parent.  I am not the “healthy living” police.

Last time I checked, smoking was legal.  (To me, if you really want to solve the problem, just make smoking illegal – period – and be done with it… but alas we don’t have time for rational solutions.)  I’m am sorry but I rent to adults.  I rent to adults capable of making their own decisions regarding their lifestyle and how healthy it is.

The government does not have the cahones to try to outlaw cigarettes, but they feel more than justified to spend over a million dollars to convince me that I should.  That is just wrong on so many levels!

So, I intrude on my tenant’s lives and tell them they cant smoke, and I do it for their own good, to be more healthy.  What’s next?  I will be “encouraged” to have a no-fried food policy?  (Deep fat fryer stains are also not fun to clean.)  Mandatory vegitable usage policies?

I don’t rent apartments or duplexes or houses… I rent HOMES!!!!  That is an important word… HOME… You should have the freedom to enjoy your home without the government, or the landlord, telling you what LEGAL activies you can and cannot do for your own health.

What a waste of a million bucks!!!!  SERIOUSLY!

Posted in Apartments, Evictions, Freedom, Grant, Housing Policy, Smoking Ban | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Put Up or Shut Up

It truly has been a very long time since I have posted a blog entry, and I do apologize for that.  And there has been so very much that I should have blogged about.  But the truth is that a lot has happened in my life both personally and professionally since that last blog post and those changes have kind of deflated me a little bit where the desire to write has decreased a great deal, and the spare time available to me to write has also taken a hit.

 

However, the reason I am picking up the keyboard today is because I have been considering, very seriously considering, announcing my candidacy for the 85th Assembly district.  And I had made a promise to myself that today, March 13th, would be the day of the announcement.

 

The reason why I feel now would be a good time to make a run at that seat (as an independent as I really don’t identify myself well with any particular party) is that I feel there is a very high likelihood that this will be an open seat, with no incumbent.  My current representative in the Assembly, Donna Seidel (D-Wausau), has announced that she plans on going up against Senator Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) in the now-certain upcoming recall election.  With Senator Galloway being a freshman with just over a year of service and there being a pretty strong anti-republican feel to things, I put Rep. Seidel’s chances of success in that Senate election pretty high.  This would leave the 85th up for grabs.

 

So far, two people have declared their interest in running for this seat.  And any hopes thatWausauarea moderates had for a candidate they can truly support are waning quickly.  Although I am hopeful others will announce their candidacy, as it stands right now we have the chair (or former chair?) of the Marathon County Democratic Party going up against a right wing local Rush-wanna-be radio host.

 

And then there is me.  I have been saying for a long time that I want to make a run for the Assembly, and I have been saying that I want to make that run as an independent.  I truly believe that the more left the Democrats go and the more right that the Republicans go that there is a larger and larger base of people who are somewhere in the middle who are able to identify less and less with either party.  To me, the timing could not be much better.  A larger “middle” hoping to not go to the ballot box and figure out who is the least worst choice combined with a district with no incumbent.  So for me, it is truly time to put up or shut up.

 

After long consideration and discussions with friends and family, possible political allies and potential political opponents… with people who strongly support my run and would help with the campaign and with people who think that my run would be a bad idea because that third party vote would hurt their chosen candidate… with Madison insiders whom I trust, and a few whom I often question the motives of… and most importantly, long discussions with Mrs. Rent who for over a year now has been in Oklahoma because she was not able to find a job in her field here… After all of this, I have decided that although it may not be time to truly shut up… it is not right for me to put up.

 

I am not going to run for Assembly, at least not this election cycle.

 

There are a great number of reasons why I was thinking that it would not be a good idea to run, but the more people I talked to whose opinion I value, they indicated that every reason I thought I would make a bad candidate is actually something that would help my case.

 

For example, one of the big changes in my life since my last blog entry is that I am no longer a small business owner.  After trying to weather these hard economic times, I just couldn’t hold out much longer and I was able to negotiate turning my properties back over to where I purchased them.  I thought that failing in my business venture would not help my case as a candidate.  Also having a wife who lives inOklahomawouldn’t help me either.  However, I am told those things might actually help.  I know what it is like to be impacted by this economy… to have a business venture fail, for my wife to have to find a job a thousand miles away because there was no work for her here… these are things that families can relate with.  People want someone they can identify with and I am going through things they can relate to.

 

However, the main reason that I have decided not to run is because it is pretty clear that I am going to be running against two very well-funded partisan candidates.  I will not be able to compete against them in the money game.  Therefore, I will need to compete by doing what I do best.  By talking… by writing… by having the electorate get to know me and who I truly am.  By getting my message out there about what I believe in and what I oppose… and on what things I think I need to do to represent them.  The way to compete against money and ads and special interests is to get out and talk to people, one at a time and win each vote by asking people to vote for the person, and not the party.

 

I truly believe that I could actually win with this strategy.  I don’t want to run and get 5% of the vote, I want to make a race of it.

 

The problem, what I would need to do to win, that one on one… that knocking on doors… that is just something I don’t know that I can do.

 

First of all… when would I do it?  Because I no longer own my own business, I can no longer make my own hours.  I am on someone else’s payroll now.  I can’t afford to leave that job to take the time to campaign, and with that job taking anywhere from 60-70 hours per week, that doesn’t leave much time for me to get my message out there.

 

However, time is not the biggest obstacle… my own comfort level is.  For those familiar with personality typing… I am an I-S-T-J using the Myers-Briggs typing… or an Introverted Sensing Thinking Judger.  It is a personality that is actually well suited for public service and is often called the personality that “Does What Needs to be Done.”

 

The problem is that I am, by nature, a private person.  I don’t think people realize how big of a deal it is that I write this blog and often share personal feelings and experiences.  I am not on facebook or myspace or twitter, because those social media outlets are a voluntary invasion of privacy in my opinion.  This style of campaign will require me to open myself up to my district, the state.. the world for that matter and I am not sure I am comfortable doing that.

 

Although I do really enjoy public speaking and I think I would do extremely well in debates and speeches and things like that, to win as an independent, I would need to go beyond the large group setting and knock on doors and talk to people one-on-one.  I would need to shake hands and start “Hi, my name is John…”   To be brutally honest with myself, and with you, I don’t know that I have that in me.

 

So, I will not be on the November ballot for Assembly, and I apologize to those who want so strongly for me to run that they were ready to help out on the campaign.  But, I must be true to myself.  I know what I must do to get elected, and I just don’t believe that I can do what needs to be done.  I have always believed that if you are going to do something, do it right.  Throw yourself into it 110%.  If you are not going to give it your all and give it all that you have, you should probably not even do it. 

 

Do it right or don’t do it at all.  I am choosing to not do it at all and hereby declare my non-candidacy.

Posted in Elections, Freedom, Mrs Rent, Politics | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Weston’s Final NO to Bus Service (P.S. I Don’t Think It’s About the Money)

The events of the last few months has me confused… perplexed… even somewhat baffled one could say.

 

What events are those?  The republican presidential primary battle?  The recallWalkerefforts?  The occupy movement? 

 

Nope.. what has me at nearly a loss for words is the complete and total regression in the village leadership for Weston.  That community that I used to use as model for how municipal government is supposed to work… That community that “got it”…  That community that I used to consider the best governed in the state… That community that has basically mastered the art of stakeholder input…  well THAT community has completely lost touch. 

 

Weston’s “LEADER”-ship has de-volved into Weston’s dictatorship.  They have become yet one more unit of government that knows what’s best for their citizens and taxpayers.  They no longer need to listen to other opinions, or even ask for the thoughts of those whom they govern.  You either agree with the Weston leadership, or you are in the way.

 

These are some pretty strong words coming from me.  I tend to be fairly objective when I criticize… but alas so great is my level of disappointment with the leaders of Weston that I have no choice but to say what I really think.

 

This entire thing comes from the bus/public transportation issue.  Weston has always been a very good steward of tax dollars.  So, when they originally were going to cut public transportation because the Village simply couldn’t afford to spend $100,000 on something very few people use.  Well… I get that.  As a tax payer, I don’t necessarily disagree with the fiscal argument.  (How I feel about the social argument may be a different matter, but that I have already blogged about.)

 

However, the more this situation evolves… I can’t help but think that this is not a fiscal issue at all… but it smells a lot like a social issue.  It smells a lot like theVillageofWestondoesn’t want the “kind of people” who use public transportation, and the Village can eliminate even having those people there by just eliminating the bus.  The Village wants the young professionals.  They don’t want the disabled, or the elderly, or those on a fixed income.

 

How can I draw such a conclusion…  well let’s look at how this situation evolved.

 

-         Weston announces very early this year they are ending bus service as of 2012 because the $100,000 doesn’t make sense based on the number of people who use this service.

 

-         Transit system officials come back with a proposal cutting drastically the number of runs the bus makes, cutting the total cost by nearly two-thirds.  Weston had originally said they would not revisit the issue unless there was some drastic changes in what it cost.  Well, cutting the cost to well under half was not “drastic” enough and Weston refused to re-visit the issue.

 

-         Weston was going to make keeping bus service the taxpayer question of the month on their website, but then decided there was no reason to get input from the public and it informed staff to not make it a question.

 

-         Bus riders unite, organize, and get a significant number of signatures on a petition that would force the Village to make bus service a referendum item.

 

-         Even with the large number of signers (who are Village residents and taxpayers), the Village decides not to revisit bus service for 2012, but will instead let it go to referendum so that citizens can decide if bus service should return in 2013.

 

-         The most recent development is that Weston’s Attorney had deemed the referendum illegal.  What I think happened, is that Weston’s leadership didn’t want this referendum to happen and tasked their attorney with trying to find some loop-hole to justify NOT putting this question up to referendum.

 

If this was about the money, you had me.  It is becoming very clear this has absolutely nothing to do about the money.  The cost was cut drastically, and still Weston would not reconsider.  A petition was signed by thousands, and still Weston would not reconsider.

 

What is the harm in the referendum?  If the vast majority of Weston residents don’t feel the bus service is worth spending tax money on, let it go to a vote and let the people decide.  Village leaders will then be vindicated.  The public will have spoken and the bus service will justifiably end.

 

But… the only reason I can see for Weston to try so hard to keep this off the ballot is because they fear that the general public DOES understand the role that public transportation plays.  And if the electorate decides that bus service stays… then of course that undesirable population that comes with bus service also stays. 

 

That is the conclusion I draw from all of this… I don’t see how a different conclusion can be drawn.  If it is about the money, why not put it to a vote?  After all, law freezes how much in property taxes can be charged unless an increase is put to voters in a referendum, and that is exactly what this is.

 

So… once again.. the government knows what’s better for the people than the people they govern.  I expect this from those idiots in congress… I expect this from those idiots inMadison.  It doesn’t surprise when this happens inWausau.  But… for Weston to decide to get on that bandwagon – well.. there goes the neighborhood…

Posted in Weston | Tagged , , | 3 Comments