Is Thuy Pham-Remmele a nuisance or a lonely voice of reason, courageously fighting for the besieged taxpayer on a get-along to go-along Madison Common Council dominated by liberal free spenders?
The answer is yes.
Tuesday night, four council members walked out while Thuy was speaking -- Tim Bruer, Steve King, Joe Clausius, and Paul Skidmore. Bruer says he left to make an important meeting.
Joe Tarr has the story. This is unprecedented in my experience in any chamber of government. It shames the walkers, not the talker.
I will say it here: Thuy Pham-Remmele is more blunt than a set of brass knuckles.
But listen to some of the criticisms. Here is Ald. Joe Clausius, as reported by Joe Tarr: "If she wants to ask questions start coming to the committee meetings."
As if the committee meetings are covered by the news media or attended by the average citizen voter! Of course, Mayor Cieslewicz purposefully left Ald. Thuy OFF those committee meetings.
No, the Common Council is the place to make a Mr. Smith-Goes-to-Washington stand.
When she was so rudely interrupted, Thuy was talking about:
- the multi-million dollar city purchase of Union Corners
- the city's seemingly insatiable quest to build low-income housing in order to attract more welfare recipients
- the ethics of the mayor's habitual trips to Europe.
"The pros & cons of such major undertakings that burden Madison taxpayers should be openly discussed for the public record," Ald. Pham-Remmele said in a communication made available to Blaska's Blog.
As Thuy says for herself, "It's curious to me that some alders will discuss trivial issues for hours: backpacks left in the park by the homeless, urban chicken coops, ... impeaching the President, boycotting Arizona, Sister City somewhere, even plastic flamingos, etc ... yet walk out on serious items that impact ALL Madisonians, constituents they promised to serve."
I will acknowledge that I am not an expert on the Madison Common Council. I can, however, detect a different ethos in that body as opposed to, say, the Dane County Board or the state legislature.
Clearly, the Madison Common Council operates much differently then the county board, although they share the same chambers. The chief executive (the mayor) presides over the council but not the county board, where the legislative branch chooses from among its own members. In the city, the mayor makes all appointments. In the county, the exec appoints only advisory bodies -- the legislative branch has its own committee structure and only those committees have budgetary and ordinance authority.
Folks, the legislative branch makes the sound of democracy. It is where the issues of the day are debated. You will not get that democratic debate in the executive branch -- you will not hear the president debate (unless Bob Woodward writes a book), or the governor argue with himself or the mayor present both sides of an issue.
Profiles in courage
There is no question that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, for all his surface avuncularity and ironic mien, is an effective and intimidating political operative. All the good ones are. He knows how to "punish" members with whom he disagrees.
I found, in 12 years on the county board and twice that amount of time working in the political fields, that a surprising few elected officials are brave enough to upset the status quo. Jim DeMint, the senator from South Carolina, is one of them, endorsing his own conservative slate of candidates at odds with the establishment Republican senatorial committee. In his own way, so is Ben Manski, trying to upset the Democrat(ic) party's apple cart in Madison-Shorewood Hills-Middleton's 77th Assembly District.
Collegiality is a useful quality. But so is the courage to represent one's constituents and to hew true to one's convictions.
Thuy is a true maverick. Could she be more effective? Possibly. But not if she doesn't raise the issues. And Thuy Pham-Remmele raises issues that others fear to broach. She is not politically correct in this statist, "progressive" city.
Here, I give rare praise to Ald. Mike Verveer and former Ald. Brenda Konkel for sticking up for Thuy's right to speak truth to power. Jack Craver has Steve King and Brenda Konkel's reaction.
As Ald. Verveer says, "Thuy's style seems to be it's more effective to ask these questions in public."
That sounds about right.
Blaska Blog's bottom line: Courage is a lonely virtue. Thuy Pham-Remmele, a legal immigrant who fled the communist oppression of her native land, is a profile in courage.
I yield the floor to Ald. Thuy
So far, news coverage has not included Ald. Thuy's reaction. Here it is, verbatim:
The Council session (Tuesday) night was a shame, yet I was not surprised at the disrespectful behaviors from those 4 men who walked out. It's a blatant, repeated pattern of group abuse. The Mayor's example of intolerance for differences in his attitude toward me (the only senior minority woman on this Council) has empowered those men to copy him openly, making my work environment more miserable & intolerable every day.
Tuesday was a long day for me, serving as "Principal for a Day" at Leopold Elementary with Principals John Burkholder & Abby Potter, followed by a luncheon with Madison School Foundation, then the Special Joint Board of Estimates & Council Leadership closed meeting about the Overture, plus the Water Utility Bonds meeting that ended immediately before Council Session.
As usual, many important, even super majority items that required 15 votes were included in the Consent Agenda to be passed by voice vote without any discussion.
I excluded [Agenda] Items (6, 7, & 8) to abstain from approving the Mayor's appointments, until the process is improved, as publicly promised since May 2009 by CCOC.
I excluded Item # 14 Land Banking/Union Corners, a questionable City approach to dabble in million-dollar real estate deals during this time of austerity. The pros & cons of such major undertakings that burden Madison taxpayers should be openly discussed for public record.
(On Tuesday, Oct. 19th, after spending $5 million Land Banking to purchase Union Corners (adding $600,000 annual interest to city debt / taking $127,000 off city property tax roll) the Mayor immediately proposed the City to pay another $4.73 million for his "vision of bigger and taller buildings" on Don Miller prime redevelopment properties on the same day.
(Two days later, while still sojourning in Stockholm, Sweden, he sends the following message asking all of us "to practice some restraint on spending...")
Item # 20 Community Development 2011 Action Plan to question Madison's long term Affordable Housing Plan, many of my constituents are very concerned about our City's add-on low income housing without clear goals and adequate resources to accommodate the ever-increasing lower income population.
Item # 25 Edible Landscape in Wingra Park to have Parks Superintendent K. Briski publicly confirm that his Division has adequate staff & resources to handle additional responsibilities accommodating this special interest initiative without requesting extra resources.
The clusters of serious Ethics Issues: Items 50, 51, 52 need to be openly debated because they deal with conflicts of interests for appointees serving on City commissions, elected officials having their expenses paid for by third parties (ex: the Mayor's extended trip to Europe last May), and guidelines for incumbents to solicit funds.
About a quarter to 10, four alders walked out, causing a lack of quorum that ended Council session.Their walk-out seemed to be orchestrated, and Council President Mark Clear immediately dismissed all.
It's curious to me that some alders will discuss trivial issues for hours: backpacks left in the park by the homeless, urban chicken coops, any liquor ordinance, impeaching the President, boycotting Arizona, Sister City somewhere, even plastic flamingos, etc ... yet walk out on serious items that impact ALL Madisonians, constituents they promised to serve.
Unless, my concerns are things these alders don't want the public to know.! They talk "Transparency' but walk away from it. I have been admonished repeatedly that I didn't do my homework and waste their time by questioning issues in front of the public. They advised me to "go to meetings" or, just call them to get the explanation Privately & Prior to Council Session. The Mayor advised me ,"Don't worry, don't ask, eventually you will get the hang of it".
It's because I do my homework and peruse the entire Council Agenda line by line that I have to raise issues for the public to be aware of. Having been so marginalized I have far greater trust in the public than the Mayor & his Council.
It's easy to talk about being fiscally conservative, but we demand to see that claim put in practice. Major projects like Union Corners, the Public Market, Central Park, etc. are nice to have, but burdening us now with ever-increasing taxes is unfair and irresponsible.
[Thuy asked that I quote from her online quarterly newsletter. I do so, in part, here]
On any given day, unelected, unaccountable individuals with special interests, sometimes out-of-towners, are making decisions impacting all of us. If you have watched the Common Council in session, you may have wondered about my abstaining from confirming the Mayor's appointments (his personal selection of citizens and alders to serve on 80-plus City committees/commissions).
Often the Council is provided with very limited information about these appointees: their names, addresses, committees they are serving on and length of time served. I am troubled seeing the same people sitting on many important committees for years, moving around like musical chairs and making important decisions impacting all of us. I am further disturbed when even certain confirmations on the Mayor's appointment list that require a super-majority (15 votes) are routinely included in the consent agenda to be approved wholesale without any discussion. It is against my integrity to approve such important appointments without being provided adequate information about the individuals: their expertise, reason for serving, and if there are any conflicts of interest. I abstain from confirming the appointments under the current process until Council leadership is willing to honestly fix it.
Nowhere else in the country is there such an overlap of the executive and legislative authority, which renders checks and balances ineffective.