Since last year, Joe Lusson has seen a dramatic change in James Madison Park, which sits across the street from his house on East Gorham Street.
This spring, the Madison Parks Division decided not to renew a contract with Supreme Water Sports, a business run by Tom Murphy, who'd offered boating rentals and classes there three years running. No other business put in a bid for this amenity.
"Now that he's gone there's a void," says Lusson, "and we're seeing more individuals drinking and camping out."
Another park neighbor, Patrick McDonnell, agrees: "On a recent Sunday morning walk about 9:30, my wife and I saw people sleeping down in the area behind Lincoln School apartments, a person sleeping on a picnic table. And unfortunately we saw someone using the bushes as an outhouse, right in broad daylight."
Parks Division spokeswoman Laura Whitmore says the division seeks bids each fall for a business to operate a boating concession at four of its parks: James Madison, Wingra, Vilas and Warner. She says Murphy didn't meet the city's minimum requirements for safety, endorsements and business plan, adding, "We did give him an opportunity to revise, but he chose not to."
Murphy could not be reached for comment. But in an email to Lusson's wife, he said all of his staffers have Red Cross lifeguard certifications and alleges, "the city was trying to charge me an arm and a leg to make up for their budget costs. The business was basically break-even."
McDonnell says Supreme Water Sports did more than just provide boating lessons. "Having a regular business concession there day in and day out added security to the park and allowed there to be a presence of authority in the park and aware eyes in the park."
Lusson isn't bothered that more vagrants are using the park, since "everyone should be welcome, even the transient guys." Rather, he's upset that the park is getting less use.
"The real tragedy was that a wonderful, viable business was pushed out of the park this spring and now there's nothing," Lusson says. "Now instead of getting any revenue, we're spending more police resources."
Whitmore says the division will put out bids this fall for next year and hopes to find someone to fill that role. So does Joe Lusson: "Parks dropped the ball. Hopefully they'll prove us wrong and do something great next summer."
Golden's bully pulpit
When former Madison Ald. Ken Golden announced two weeks ago that he is running for mayor next year, he accused the incumbent, Dave Cieslewicz, of not doing a good job. Among other things, Golden told the Wisconsin State Journal, Cieslewicz bullies city employees.
What does he mean? "I don't want to mention names," says Golden, "because they're still there." But he does offer this anecdote: "I had a bunch of lunch dates [with city employees], and when I announced I was running for mayor, they canceled. That tells you something right there. They just weren't comfortable being seen with me, and that's not a good sign."
Golden says the mayor "seems to have installed a cabinet form of government and wants them to be loyal to him." He thinks it's vital that department heads speak their minds, rather than say "what the mayor wants to hear."
He does cite one specific example - Mark Olinger not being reappointed as director of the department of planning, community and economic development. "I'm not sure why that happened. I know that Mark is very competent. He was not reappointed. That's the equivalent of being fired."
Cieslewicz says he's baffled by Golden's charge: "It's so off the wall, I don't even know what to say." He denies having fired Olinger, who continues to work at the city on an interim basis. "I have a good relationship with Mark. I like him very much."
The mayor chastises Golden for going on the attack: "I'm interested in talking about policy. If he's got disagreements on policy, gosh, I sure want to talk with him about it and have a healthy debate."
Golden says Cieslewicz's management style is one of a few themes he's developing for his campaign. "I don't know if that's a sexy enough issue to galvanize the people, but I'm going to make an issue of it."
Midtown Road again on hold
Midtown Road will once again have to wait for its makeover. The rough-and-tumble road, which is shared by the city of Madison and the town of Verona, was scheduled to be resurfaced next year.
But the two municipalities couldn't reach an agreement. According to Madison city engineer Rob Phillips, the city originally proposed rebuilding the road to 30 feet wide, which would be enough for two lanes of traffic and bike lanes. But the town was not able to approve it.
"We came back with a more modest proposal without bike lanes, just resurfacing," Phillips says. The town agreed to that, but with the condition that the city annex the road. Phillips says the city will look at starting that process, but it will delay the project for another year.
Meantime, Phillips says, "We're going to go out and do some more patching on the city of Madison side. It's in poor condition. A lot of potholes."
Brett Farrey, who has lived on Midtown for about five years, calls the road one of the worst in Madison. "There's barely a shoulder because it's so worn in," he says. "They keep patching it, which makes it even worse."