Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk says she's just trying to do District Attorney Brian Blanchard a favor. In her 2008 budget, Falk wants to move the nearly 200 child protective cases that Blanchard's office handles every year to the county's corporation counsel, as state law allows.
"We have a DA who says he's on overload," explains Falk. "He has a growing caseload and no new staff. Meanwhile, we've got these important cases for which time is of the essence."
The county's corporation counsel already handles an average of 80 cases a year involving child support and termination of parental rights. Falk says the office could easily take on the additional cases of child abuse and neglect from Blanchard's office.
But Blanchard doesn't want the help. He has one full-time attorney dedicated to both child protective cases and any related criminal charges that have been filed.
"It's been a very successful program to have one attorney do both," he says. "It's more of a holistic approach. You learn all aspects of a case."
Often, based on information uncovered during the child protective case, "we might decide not to file criminal charges," says Blanchard. "This gives us more latitude."
Last month, Blanchard assigned a second full-time attorney to help ease the caseload. "One of the goals is to move the cases reasonably fast."
But Falk says the county is eligible for $58,000 in federal funds - money not available to the district attorney - which could be used to help hire another attorney and a paralegal. The corporation counsel would assign five attorneys to work on the cases part-time.
"It's better for the kids," says Falk.
Blanchard disagrees, citing potential "institutional tension" when corporation counsel handles these cases. If a child dies because of negligence by a social worker, he notes, corporation counsel would have to simultaneously handle the child's case while acting as the social worker's attorney.
"Those cases should remain with the DA, where we don't have direct responsibility for social workers," says Blanchard. "We do have separate departments for a reason."
Army aims at schoolkids
The U.S. military has begun advertising in Madison's high schools. The ads, on scoreboards in all four school gymnasiums and both football stadiums, read: "Are you Army strong?" and include a phone number.
"I think it's extremely inappropriate," says David Hoppe, a member of the Madison Area Peace Coalition and a former career counselor at East High. "Schoolchildren play on these fields, and every time they look up, they'll see 'Army.'"
Earlier this year the school board, hoping to raise $200,000 in extra revenue, began to allow advertising on the scoreboards and on the district's website. Other advertisers include colleges, banks and radio stations. The military is paying about $20,000 for its ads, which will appear for three years.
School board president Arlene Silveira says the Army ad "fit our policy" and was unanimously approved.
The school board bars ads for tobacco, alcohol and junk food. But the military can advertise. "We do this with other institutions that are available to our students," says Silveira. "It isn't forcing anyone to do anything."
Local antiwar activist Will Williams, a Vietnam vet, says it's not that simple for kids: "They are being bombarded with stuff from the military. At that age, I don't think they can handle the pressure from recruiters."
Hoppe adds that joining the military is not like picking a college. "It's the only career choice that has a binding agreement," he says. "These kids are on the hook for years."
A panel of Dane County politicians, including County Board Chair Scott McDonell and County Executive Falk, has released a report on Superior Health Linens, a Madison-based company with a history of labor complaints.
Superior had a $50,000 contract with Dane County but last year declined to submit another bid, after county officials began questioning its practices. McDonell didn't want to just forget about the workers there, so he convened the panel.
"I felt like we left them on their own," he says. "Some of us were worried that we were washing our hands of it and moving on."
The report found "significant problems at the company's Madison plant, ranging from health and safety problems to violations of the county's Living Wage Ordinance and workers' right to unionize."
McDonell hopes the report will convince Superior's other clients, including St. Mary's Hospital, to rethink their relationships. "I don't know how anyone can have confidence that there's clean laundry coming out of there," he says. (A St. Mary's spokesman says the hospital has not seen the report.)
Superior responded with a 13-page letter that included photographs of smiling employees: "[W]e are disappointed and frustrated by the 'witch hunt' conducted by members of the Dane County Board and others." (For the report and this response, see the related downloads at right.)
The company noted that only six of 170 hourly employees took part in a Dane County forum in June. Responds McDonell: "I'm always amazed that even six people are willing to stick their necks out and potentially lose their jobs."
The white stuff
Now that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has appointed Kelly Thompson-Frater to the Community Development Authority, it's official. All of the CDA's members are white. And that concerns the Minority Affairs Committee.
The group, made up of city employees, recently sent a letter to Lucia Nuñez, head of the city's Department of Civil Rights: "Given the very political and highly racially sensitive waters the CDA will have to navigate with redevelopment of the Allied Drive area, in particular, as well as other city areas, a diverse authority membership is imperative." It offered to submit a list of qualified candidates of color, if the city couldn't find any.
Mayoral aide George Twigg says Cieslewicz picked Thompson-Frater as "the most qualified person available at the time." He adds that the mayor recently appointed Peng Her, who is Hmong, to the Economic Development Commission. And he's awaiting a report from Nuñez on ways to increase diversity on city committees and in city hires.
"We do okay," says Twigg. "But we need to do better than okay."
Can we talk?
Tensions between downtown residents and the homeless have been rising recently. But Donna Asif of Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. doesn't want to banish the homeless from downtown - she wants to start a dialogue.
"We are not talking to one another about this problem," she says. "Until neighbors start talking, nothing is going to change much."
Asif is organizing a community meeting on homelessness, with downtown residents, business owners, service providers, politicians and - especially - the homeless themselves.
"They must be there," she says. "We can't have this conversation without them."
The meeting will take place on Nov. 3, at Madison's Central Library, from 2 to 5 p.m. Asif hopes residents will come up with an action plan to combat homelessness. As she puts it, "Don't tell me it's a problem we can't find a solution to."