Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is running for reelection this spring, to a third consecutive term, so it's fitting that he sees the challenges of the coming year through a prism of political struggle.
"The theme is going to be this tension between what I would define as a modern economy and attempts to roll that back," Cieslewicz says. "We're concerned about what the Legislature might do to our economy."
Having watched Madison miss out on being an approved high-speed rail line, Cieslewicz now fears the state will attack stem-cell research, domestic-partner benefits and funding for mass transit, among other things.
Though he seems willing to tangle with GOP legislators, Cieslewicz says the best way to deal with the new regime is by making friends. He wants the city to strengthen its ties to the UW-Madison, Madison College and the Madison school board, all of which are facing similar threats from the state.
Cieslewicz also hopes to build bridges with moderate Republicans: "We have to work those angles."
Otherwise, the mayor thinks the city is in decent shape. He's committed to seeing through projects approved in 2010: the Edgewater Hotel expansion, the central library renovation and Overture restructuring.
County Executive Kathleen Falk - who will leave a job she's held for 14 years in April - agrees the new Legislature is the biggest challenge for local governments.
"There are dozens and dozens of important lines in the state budget that dramatically affect local government," says Falk, citing revenue sharing, social services, police and fire, and the environmental stewardship fund. "There are so many that are critical not only to Dane County but communities across the state."
In the time she has remaining, Falk plans to focus on improving the Regional Planning Commission.
"I've been very disappointed that it hasn't fulfilled its charter to protect the water quality," she says. "I think it calls into question the county taxpayers funding an agency $700,000 that's not doing its job."
Edgewater challenges remain
Expansion of the Edgewater Hotel was by far Madison's most contentious project last year, winning approval from the Common Council after an all-night meeting in May. But there are still some unresolved issues, including an ongoing lawsuit challenging the council's overturning of a Landmarks Commission ruling.
"It's kind of just wait and see," says Fred Mohs, who filed it. "The judge is I'm sure digesting all the briefs."
While no one has enjoined the Edgewater from beginning construction, project supporters say the lawsuit is having this effect. "Will lenders go forward with a project that has a lawsuit over it?" asks Ald. Bridget Maniaci. "Probably not."
Madison City Attorney Michael May raises the same concern: "You should talk to Hammes Company. They say there is a financing impediment so long as the suit is pending."
Hammes Company president Bob Dunn did not return calls from Isthmus.
On Jan. 10, the Plan Commission will hash out the project's "public access management agreement" - that is, which areas will be open to the public and when and how they will be managed. These include outdoor terraces and lakefront access, hours of operation, and rules for using the facility.
Mohs' goal is to stop the project, but should it go through, he wants neighbors to have some say in how it operates. He thinks fashioning rules to address neighborhood concerns "should be easy."
Sandi Torkildson is not averse to using a shovel. The owner of A Room of One's Own bookstore is in her 60s, but when the snow falls, she'll clear a path for her customers.
But the thing is, it isn't Torkildson's job. In the downtown area, workers from the city's Parks Division are responsible for clearing sidewalks. And after the snowstorm that hit the city the weekend of Dec. 11, the city was flooded with complaints over how it cleared - or rather, didn't clear - sidewalks the following week.
The city's lackadaisical effort was especially galling because it came right at the heart of the holiday shopping season. Torkildson was among those who eventually took matters into their own hands. "I got my sidewalk cleared," she says. "I got it so it was walkable. It felt to me like [city workers] shrugged and gave up."
Parks spokeswoman Laura Whitmore blames a shortage of staff. Many workers were on vacation, and others didn't respond to the voluntary call for overtime, she says.
Parks Superintendent Kevin Briski reviewed the complaints and the division's snow removal procedures, but no adjustments are planned. "The protocol actually works pretty well," says Whitmore.
Torkildson agrees the city usually does a good job but thinks breakdowns like this should not occur. "It's not rocket science," she says. "People have been removing snow in Wisconsin for hundreds of years."