Several Dane County supervisors are fed up with the county's Equal Opportunity Commission, labeling it 'dysfunctional' and 'inactive.'
'It's a body that doesn't do much,' grouses Supv. Kyle Richmond, who resigned in frustration from the EOC in 2003, after only a year. 'It feels dormant ' that's the polite way to put it.'
In the past year, the EOC has canceled four monthly meetings for lack of a quorum. And, at its July meeting, the commission referred nearly every agenda item to its next meeting, which, due to cancellations, didn't occur until October.
'We haven't done the work we need to do,' says Supv. Barb Vedder, who joined the EOC this year. 'We really have to do more than the commission has done in the past.' She cites a town meeting in Sun Prairie this October as the only significant activity the EOC has sponsored this year.
EOC director Isadore Knox Jr. defends the commission's work, noting that it's met eight times in 2006. 'By and large, we've had good participation,' he says. 'I don't understand how elected officials could criticize a volunteer citizens committee.'
But Richmond points out that while Madison's Equal Opportunities Commission held a press conference this fall to oppose the state constitutional amendment banning civil unions, the county's EOC remained silent on the issue. And he's angry that Supv. Rich Brown, an EOC member, voted against a county resolution condemning the ban.
'We're supposed to be representing minorities and promoting equal opportunities,' says Richmond. 'And our EOC said nothing.'
Knox rejects comparing the county's EOC with Madison's, which takes more 'press-release positions' on issues. 'Our commission is more focused on making recommendations internally on how the county can improve services,' he says. 'Their job is to represent a broad constituency. Dane County is not as liberal as Madison is.'
Richmond also complains that, unlike other county commissions, the EOC does not give a formal presentation on its activities to the County Board every year.
Knox says this is because the board hasn't shown much interest. He recalls that a few years ago, the EOC made two presentations on its activities, once during the day and once at night, to make it easier for supervisors to attend. But only one supervisor showed up. If board members now want to play a larger oversight role, Knox says dryly, 'I look forward to their specific suggestions and recommendations.'
Vedder agrees board members need to be more involved, noting that the its two Sun Prairie reps ' Jeff Kostelic and Duane Gau ' missed the town hall meeting held in their city. And she has specific ideas for what the EOC can do, like following up on concerns raised at the Sun Prairie meeting and setting a strategic plan for the coming year. While she's on the board, says Vedder, 'I see my role as pushing them forward.'
The city of Madison is awaiting a bid to replace its seven bus shelters on the Capitol Square. The new shelters, which could cost as much as $70,000 each, will be equipped with electricity and plumbing, so cleaning crews can hook up machines. But some transit advocates think the high cost could mean not all of the shelters will be replaced.
'We just feel so frustrated right now,' says Laurie Wermter of the Madison Area Bus Advocates. 'We haven't been consulted at all.'
She worries that Ald. Mike Verveer, who represents downtown Madison, wants to tear down two of the shelters simply to appease restaurants with sidewalk cafes. 'Putting a shelter up would wreck these places,' says Wermter.
Verveer acknowledges that the Old Fashioned and Harvest don't want a shelter in front of their restaurants on Pinckney Street. But he says transit advocates have convinced him a shelter is needed, especially to serve low-income families from the YWCA. 'I will advocate for shelters,' he says. 'I absolutely support replacing them.'
The city has approved using tax-increment financing for four of the seven shelters, and may replace the remaining three if there's sufficient funding. Verveer says the shelters could be smaller, so there would be more room for sidewalk cafes. And they could have fewer extras ' like plumbing ' to keep costs down. 'I'm hoping we can make everyone happy through some sort of compromise.'
Alders to cops: Don't go!
Ald. Paul Skidmore, who on the decidedly left-of-center Madison Common Council counts as a conservative, has joined forces with liberals Alds. Brenda Konkel and Austin King on a resolution to keep three neighborhood police officers.
'I guess the apocalypse is here!' he jokes.
The Madison Police Department has proposed eliminating three of the city's 14 neighborhood officers, those serving Williamson Street, Truax Field and Todd Drive. The police say the neighborhoods have improved so much that the officers are no longer needed.
But Skidmore says eliminating the officers 'bothered me a lot,' so he's authored a pending resolution that instructs Chief Noble Wray to delay removing the officers until the department completes a staffing study next year. The resolution has ten sponsors so far.
Wray opposes the measure. 'The chief of police, and only the chief of police, can assign personnel,' says MPD spokesman Mike Hanson. 'So it wouldn't be prudent for the Common Council to start advising him where police resources are to be allocated.'
Hanson adds that police can't wait for the staffing study to be completed in 2007, because the department needs to reassign staff in January. 'Those resources are needed back on patrol and for implementing another community police team for the south side.'
Till less, earn more
In September, Jamie Derr's soybean and corn farm in the village of Marshall became the first in the state to join the Chicago Climate Exchange, a program that pays farmers for their conservation practices. Derr uses a 'no till' machine, which plants seeds without turning over the soil, as would a traditional plow.
'By not disturbing the soil, you're not releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,' says Derr.
Carbon dioxide is a pollutant that causes global warming. For every acre Derr does not till, he keeps about half a ton of carbon dioxide from escaping ' and earns $2 on the Chicago Climate Exchange.
The exchange is a voluntary program where corporations 'buy' credits from farmers like Derr to offset pollution from their manufacturing. The Chicago Climate Exchange recently invited farmers in southern Wisconsin to join. So far, 34 have signed up through the Wisconsin Farmers Union, which is coordinating the effort. Says Sue Beitlich, the union's president, 'It's a way they can be rewarded for good conservation practices.'
Save the Mic
Still mad about Clear Channel's decision to yank Air America programming off the air at the end of this year? Mic 92.1 listener Valerie Walasek has organized a rally at High Noon Saloon on Dec. 12, starting at 7 p.m., to support keeping the 'progressive talk' format on the local airwaves. And, since Clear Channel has said it's a financial decision to pull the plug, Walasek has lined up a dozen local businesses, including Dardanelles and Mad Cat, to speak at the rally.
'Clear Channel is a business, and they will go where the money is,' says Walasek. 'All of the money is not just with McDonald's and Wal-Mart. There are a lot of local businesses with advertising dollars too.'