The city of Madison is taking over the planning of Central Park. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is appointing a task force that will make decisions on funding and design for the proposed 17-acre park on Madison's near east side.
'There's been a lot of good work done already,' says mayoral aide George Twigg. 'We need to push it forward now.'
There's been concern that plans for the ambitious park -- which could include community gardens and a skateboarding park -- have stalled. The nonprofit Urban Open Space Foundation, which has overseen the planning, has acquired only about half the needed land. And there's still no money to move the railroad tracks that bisect the property, which will cost an estimated $10 million.
'There have been incremental steps toward making the park a reality,' says Ald. Judy Olson, who represents the near east side. 'There are some very big steps that now need to be taken.'
Olson says the task force will solidify the city's role in planning and 'essentially to bless the park, to show our support for it.' Among other things, the task force will decide whether Central Park becomes part of Madison's park system or stays under the control of the private foundation.
Heather Mann, executive director of Urban Open Space, says the foundation always expected the city would help develop the park. 'It's the next logical step,' she says. 'It needs to be a collaborative effort.'
Mann notes that her group has done much to move plans forward, including holding last summer's La Fete de Marquette on the future site of the park. There are plans to reprise the festival next July.
But Mann admits that some private donors wanted the city to have a more prominent role. 'There are a number of questions that need to be resolved about the public and private roles,' she says.
Olson credits Urban Open Space with doing the tough work of not only envisioning the park, but persuading the community to accept it. 'There's a lot of people looking forward to Central Park,' she says. The task force 'will help propel things forward.'
If at first you don't succeed...
Olson is disappointed that the city council last week rejected her proposal to create neighborhood conservation districts. The ordinance would let neighborhoods of eight contiguous blocks stop development that doesn't fit with surrounding buildings.
Several council members felt there should be a formal process for contacting property owners and residents to ask if they wanted to form a conservation district. Olson counters that 'There's never been any reason to believe the neighborhoods would not be fully involved.' This is especially true given Madison's activist neighborhoods.
But Olson is willing to amend the proposal, if necessary, to include a formal petition. She wants the council to reconsider the idea at an upcoming meeting: 'It's too valuable a concept to let it die now.'
Last week, the Dane County Board voted to award a $56,000 laundry contract for its Badger Prairie nursing home to Aramark. The contract had been held by Superior Health Linens, a Madison company plagued by accusations of poor working conditions and bad service.
'It's sort of like our own little sweatshop,' says board chair Scott McDonell.
Organizers seeking to unionize Superior charge that the company has forced employees to work overtime without pay, suspended workers who complain about plant conditions, and threatened those who talk about unionizing. The company has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violations. And workers have alleged that Superior mixes clean linens with ones soiled by blood, feces and vomit.
The county had an option to renew Superior's contract, but decided to open the process to other bids; the company, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, did not submit one.
'It was not in our best interest,' says Superior's president, Jim Baumgartner. 'It was not profitable.' He refuses to comment on labor issues, saying only that the majority of workers ultimately rejected the union: 'We do not have a labor problem.'
Superior is still used by St. Mary's Hospital, which says it regularly makes unannounced inspections of the company's plant. 'We are confident that the linens we are provided are clean and safe,' says hospital spokesman Steve Sparks.
The Mic 92.1 is back, but many of its local programs, including 'The Pro Show' with Lee Rayburn and Jodie Shawback, have not yet returned.
'I am very disappointed that Clear Channel promised to bring back our shows and never did,' says Valerie Walasek, who led the fight against the company's plans to dump 'progressive talk,' including Air America programming, in favor of an all-sports format. 'The local shows are far more important than any of the Air America shows. It reinstates a sense of our community, and that's the most important thing to us.'
So far, Clear Channel has invited Stuart Levitan to resume his Sunday show on culture and politics. Levitan says his show, which used to concentrate more on national issues, will now be half local: 'I'm going to make a very focused effort to have a significant amount of commentary on local politics, culture and media.'
On Saturdays, Clear Channel will air a local show, broadcast in Spanish, that focuses on Latino music and culture. Both shows will begin broadcasting in February.
But 'The Pro Show' is still twisting in the wind. Mike Ferris, Clear Channel's FM operations manager, says Air America is still working through bankruptcy, and until the station knows what the national program changes will be, 'we're kind of in a holding pattern.'
Ferris says the station needs to consider how its entire line-up ' both national and local ' comes together. But, he stresses, 'There's always been local programming, and there always will be.'
Gotta hand it to him
As campaign slogans go, the one being used by Carl DuRocher is an oddity: 'Meet the politician who doesn't shake hands.'
'I'm not obsessive-compulsive about germs,' laughs DuRocher, who is running for city council for District 6, on the near east side. 'My arms are paralyzed from having had polio as a child.'
DuRocher says his campaign discussed whether the slogan was in poor taste, but he eventually decided 'it was what I wanted.'
Being disabled is a disadvantage for a council candidate, DuRocher admits. 'The most effective thing you can do is go out and meet a lot of people,' he says. 'People prefer to vote for someone they've met.' But DuRocher, who uses a wheelchair, isn't able to go door-to-door; he plans to hold receptions where voters can meet him.
DuRocher says he's running for city council because, with nearly half of the council members leaving this spring, 'there's a huge loss of institutional memory. I want to bring some of it back.' He's served for 15 years on various city committees and currently chairs the Transit and Parking Commission, which oversees Madison Metro.
'Because of the work I've done for the city, I have a lot of experience already,' he says, adding dryly, 'I could hit the ground rolling.'