It has been an interesting couple of weeks. Often, when I use the word “interesting”, it means “bad”. However this time “interesting” has given me hope. I have hope that Wausau turned a corner when it comes to cooperation and more importantly communication.
So, what are some of these events that have given me new-found faith in “the system”? Well, there are a couple of things.
The most significant was a meeting that happened a few weeks ago. During the campaigns of some aldermen, they had mentioned (both in person and through online posts) a willingness to talk to stake holders when it came to looking at solutions to addressing the blight issue that is taking hold in many inner-city neighborhoods. Aldermen Oberbeck and Havel held true to their commitments. They met with myself as well as 3 representatives from the Wausau Area Apartment Association. We got to know a little bit about each others’ background. We got to understand what some of the issues were that the other side is dealing with (us them, and them us). We discussed some of the probable sources of some of the issues (it is easier to solve a problem if you understand the cause). We discussed some of the things the City was doing right, and some other areas where the City’s actions actually contribute to the problem. We discussed a number of possible ideas to start looking at the blight problem and their practicality. Although no real decisions were made as two aldermen acting alone cannot make any decisions for the City, it was by far the most candid and open conversation that I have personally had with anybody within the City of Wausau – ever. The impression that I got was that this was the first step toward opening a better dialogue between property owners and the City… and only time will tell if that is the case.
Another ray of hope for a new promise of openness was when the Wausau Police Department made the decision to put the daily police report online where anyone can have a look at it. In the past, this was the report that was shared with City leaders and the press. Then, after work between former Main Street leader Leah Alters and Officer Max LaPorte, downtown business and property owners became part of the distribution base of this list. A few weeks ago, the list moved to the City’s website.
As with many times when the City has taken a step forward, it has taken a half of a step back. First, the police log has been seriously watered down. I have written many times about how difficult it is to get information from the Wausau Police Department when I am following up on reports of possible criminal activity in one of my rentals. That daily police log was a HUGE help. I would look at it every morning looking for addresses of properties that I either owned or managed, and names of tenants. The new version of this online police report makes them useless to me for what I used them for. The new report does not name names, and only gives a general location. So, if an arrest was made in the 700 Block of Jackson Street, there are many properties in that 700 Block, and I now have no way of knowing if it was one of the 5 addresses that I manage.
The other issue is that via email, if I was out of the office for a few days, I could always catch up on what I missed. However, on the City’s website, you will only find the most recent report. If you miss one day, you miss that day. Also, unless you know where to look on Wausau’s website, you will probably never find the information. (Here is a hint, try looking here: http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Departments/Police/CrimeInformation/DailyCrimeLog.aspx)
So, although the reports really don’t have specific information anymore that is useful to me (and I have gotten the same report from people within City Government who used to use those reports), and the location of the reports are difficult to find, I still applaud the Wausau Police Department for making this (watered down) information available to the public. I again am given hope. I am given hope that this is only the first step in a more open and cooperative Wausau Police Dept.
My hope continued to flourish with a meeting yesterday morning that included myself, a representative of the Wausau Area Apartment Association, Community Development director Anne Werth, Cliff (the property inspector), and led by Alderperson Lisa Rasmussen, who chairs the Public Health and Safety Committee.
The main topic discussed was the recommendations of the housing task force that I have written about in the past, and one of its recommendations to institute some type of licensing program for rental properties as a method to eliminate blight. There are going to be public hearings on all of the task force recommendations on June 7th and June 14th, but these City leaders wanted to meet with local leaders of the rental housing industry before then to start a dialogue. They acknowledge that solutions will be easier to create and implement by working together, and that fighting each other just wastes both of our valuable and limited resources. We talked about many issues and concerns. I have had conversations with different people in City Hall in the past, but this time it was different. Much like the conversation with Oberbeck and Havel, I got the feeling they were listening. Often, you have meetings and public hearings because they have to. They take the testimony and then they just do what they were going to do anyway, their mind was made up before it even started. That is not the feeling I got this time.
I truly believe that the City is starting to realize that this problem is beyond what the City can address from a typical top-down approach, and will require the cooperation, input and buy-in from the stakeholders to have any reasonable level of success.
The icing on the cake was a visit made to our office by Dawn Follendorf, who is the new manager of Wausau’s Main Street program. She, and one of the Main Street directors had set time to meet with me and my business associate in our Schofield office so that we could meet her, and share some of our ideas and perceptions of the Main Street program, and we could get to know a little more about her, her background, and her personal vision for where things should be heading. This meeting was refreshing, but not as unexpected as the other happenings. Main Street has always been one of the more easy to work with quasi-governmental agencies. Although Leah and I didn’t always agree on things, her door was always open to get my point of view, and more than once she would seek out input from others. It was Leah’s work with the Wausau PD that made the former version of the daily police log available to Main Street businesses and owners. The meeting with Ms. Follendorf simply reinforced that the culture of openness and cooperation that Main Street has had is very likely to continue.
So… I have hope. Has the City turned the corner? No… not yet. It remains to be seen if these first few steps at cooperation will stick after the novelty of the concept wears off. However, although the corner has not been turned, the City appears to be approaching the corner with the intent of turning it when it gets there – and for me… for now… that gives me Hope.
Thank you to all in the City whom I have worked with… and I extend my wishes for a long, mutually beneficial relationship if we can keep that door open.