CDA plays defense: When Madison Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway saw Isthmus' report on how the city's Community Development Authority was hiring outside contractors to replace city workers ("CDA Outsources Union Jobs," 9/20/07), she was appalled. She requested a meeting with housing division director Agustin Olvera, which finally took place in late November.
"The major theme," says Rhodes-Conway, "was that costs are going up, income from the federal government is going down and the population they're serving is poorer," meaning the agency makes less from its income-based rents. And so the CDA is using more contractors to save money, and because federal rules favor this approach.
Rhodes-Conway was given some numbers that seemed to document cost savings. But she questions "how much and how fast the work is getting done, and at what level of quality." Her preference is still for unionized city workers. And now that the CDA board, in response to Isthmus' story, has directed the agency to follow the city's living wage ordinance, "It's entirely possible they won't see the same level of savings."
Isthmus also found that the CDA has entered long-term, no-bid contracts ("The CDA's No-Bid Contracts," 10/11/07), in apparent violation of its own rules. Rhodes-Conway says Olvera admitted that his agency has not done a good job in this area.
Janet Piraino, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's chief of staff, is conducting her own review of CDA practices. She's met with CDA brass and reports "making progress." Stay tuned.
Walden Homes scandal sparks reform: In January, a county subcommittee will release its report on youth group homes, launched in response to Isthmus' reporting on two local facilities at which nearly a dozen boys were sexually molested by staff ("Predators at Work," 1/18/07, "Overseers Step Up Abuse Probe," 2/2/07 and "Was Enough Done to Stop Abuse?," 2/15/07).
Supv. David Worzala, chair of the county's Health and Human Needs Committee, lists four main reforms: 1) human service agencies with whom the county contracts now provide background-check information on employees; 2) the state promptly gives the county complaints on youth group homes; 3) the county has "reconfigured" staff to increase facility oversight; and 4) the committee is routinely notified of incidents of concern.
"We came to the conclusion that the state was not going to yank their license," says Worzala, referring to Walden Homes, the nonprofit provider that runs the two facilities. That left only one option - "to increase oversight."
Policing the police: By year's end, Madison police officer Mike Grogan will have gotten $258,269 in salary and benefits since being placed on leave in January 2005, after he drove his car into a ditch and broke into a neighbor's home, apparently intoxicated, thinking it was his own. This summer, the MPD's vigorously contested effort to terminate Grogan ("Accused Cop Returns Fire," 4/26/07) went to a hearing examiner, former judge Moria Krueger. The Police and Fire Commission is now giving attorneys for Grogan and the city until Jan. 10 to weigh in on her report, which recommends that Grogan be fired.
Meanwhile, the MPD is still suppressing information regarding allegations that an officer sexually assaulted another cop's partner at a wedding in 2006 ("You Read It Here First, Maybe Last," 9/20/07), saying the matter is under investigation. Lt. Kristen Roman, the MPD's head of internal affairs, says releasing records "would disclose sensitive investigative strategies" and "could impede the cooperativeness of witnesses," several of whom have purportedly cited media coverage for their reluctance to talk.
Finally, former Madison police officer Laura Walker is still facing two felony and three misdemeanor charges for allegedly attacking her lover's ex-husband, who, Isthmus reported, was earlier charged with attacking his wife ("Alleged Victim is Alleged Abuser", 5/11/07). The final pre-trial hearing is set for Jan. 18.
'Pay-by-space' in first place: Madison transit staff have picked a winner from this summer's trials of two kinds of multi-space parking ("Which Way Should We Park?," 9/20/07). It's "pay-by-space," where parkers enter their stall numbers into the pay-station terminal.
"I thought the trial was good," says city parking czar Bill Knobeloch. "We learned an awful lot of things."
There were mechanical problems with the other system, where parkers "pay and display" a receipt on their dash. Plus pay-by-space terminals are cheaper, about $7,000 each.
The choice now goes to the Parking and Transit Committee on Jan. 15. Then the Common Council will be asked to authorize spending up to $1 million over the next four years. That should buy 100-125 new terminals, which will replace 1,000 of the city's 1,600 existing meters. If all goes well, installation will begin in mid-2008.
Will trail derail be iced? A proposal to develop 337 acres on land being eyed as a potential interpretative site for the national Ice Age Trail ("Trailblazing in the Town of Cross Plains," 9/7/07) remains in play, but continues to generate considerable opposition.
A recent survey of town of Cross Plains residents showed that 70% oppose deviating from the current rule disallowing more than one house per 35 acres, and 92% urged maintaining the town's "rural character." Developer Janice Faga, who has rebuffed purchase offers from Ice Age Trail proponents, is seeking a map amendment to build 66 new unsewered homes on two-acre lots.
A hearing on the proposal is set for Jan. 23 at the town center, 7:30 p.m. See townofcrossplains.info.
Service-animal rule bites man: James Dailey, the owner of Buck's Madison Square Garden, ended up paying big money over the treatment afforded a patron who uses two service dogs for emotional problems ("Dogged Pursuit, 4/26/07).
Matt Fleming, Dailey's attorney, confirms his client paid between $28,000 and $29,000 to settle a Madison Equal Opportunities Commission complaint brought by Michael Nichols, who was booted from the bar by an off-duty sheriff's deputy in February 2003. This went for Nichols' attorneys fees and his $5,500 EOC award.
Dailey also paid $2,500 over a May 2006 incident in which Nichols and his dogs were again ejected. These sums do not include Dailey's own legal costs.
"Clearly, it's a cautionary tale for everyone to make sure they're aware of the range of uses of service animals," says Fleming, who still disagrees with punishing Dailey for the deputy's actions. "They should err toward granting accommodations whenever possible."
Nichols remains angry, saying he fights such cases on behalf of other people with disabilities who "get harassed" for having service animals.
Bambi in limbo: The state Department of Natural Resources has taken no further action against a rural Columbus couple who successfully fought to keep it from killing the state's most famous orphaned deer. As Isthmus reported ("Bambi Not Out of Woods Yet," 1/26/07), the DNR threatened enforcement action, saying the accommodations provided by Michael and Ilene Smith, who have raised Bambi since 2003, were not up to code.
Michael Smith hired an expert to refute the DNR's claims, and asked the agency to reimburse this cost; the DNR declined. Says Smith, "We haven't heard a word since."
DNR attorney Michael Lutz says the matter remains unresolved: "The court settlement said they had to follow the state's standards. They still haven't. We've given them a lot of time."
Bambi, relates Smith, is "just as lovable as always. She stands up and gives me kisses in the morning."
Court backs UW in records clash: Robert Stone, a former UW-Madison Survey Center employee, recently lost his appeal of a lawsuit filed against the UW-Madison for destroying documents ("A Classic Case of Bullying," 03/29/07).
Stone's attorney, Aaron Halstead, says the appeals court ruled there was no evidence to counter the UW's claim that the destroyed documents were copies of ones provided -- a task made obviously harder when the documents were destroyed.
The records issue was somewhat tangential to Isthmus' story, which reported that, in emails which were released, a Survey Center supervisor gloated about giving Stone a hard time and a co-worker joked about having "a big party when we get rid of him."
Rock on: Florida resident John Christian Saxer Jr.'s offer to give the UW-Madison a stone he's convinced is an "ark anchor from ancient Atlantis" ("Alum Seeks to Rock UW's World," 6/21/07) was politely declined in a July 16 letter from UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley.
"At this time, we do no have sufficient resources available to authenticate your discovery," Wiley wrote. "Moreover, we don't believe a sufficient nexus exists between the university's history and traditions and an artifact such as an ark anchor."
But Saxer is undeterred. "I'm going to put it on Bascom Hill whether the chancellor wants it or not," he says. "The information's so important to the rest of the world that it's beyond the chancellor."
Paying to make it stop: In the end, it cost state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen $620 to end the defamation lawsuit he filed on the eve of last year's election, in which he faced Dane County Exec Kathleen Falk.
As Isthmus reported in an online post ("Group Wants Van Hollen to Pay to Walk Away," 12/27/06), Falk readily agreed to Van Hollen's post-election offer to dismiss the suit, over ads he said defamed him. But Falk's co-defendant, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, insisted that Van Hollen pay a share of its defense costs.
This fall, after lawyers rang up many times the disputed amount in additional wrangling, Van Hollen agreed to pay to make the matter go away. His attorney said he did so to avoid the distraction of ongoing litigation.
Lights out, battle's on: Last month, a Dane County court commissioner ruled against Jacob Davis, the Madison man who has lived without electricity in his apartment for more than a year ("Off the Grid, But Still Being Billed," 11/15/07), ordering him to pay a $617 judgment.
Davis balked at paying (although some of his bill traced back to when he was still using juice), saying he never asked for electric service. But even after he went cold turkey, MGE continued to add a monthly "customer charge" for use of an electric meter, plus a late fee.
A local biofuel entrepreneur, Davis says he's not giving up: "I am definitely not planning on paying, and if jail time is a requirement, I welcome the opportunity."
Try, try again: The city of Madison intends to reapply for a state permit for a shoreline restoration project at Olbrich Park ("DNR Confounds City Shoreline Project," 01/18/07, incidentally the first time that longtime city engineer Larry Nelson's photo has appeared in print.)
Lisa Coleman, an engineer with the city, says the DNR agreed to suspend one of the three concerns that prompted Madison to put the project on hold, and the city thinks it can address the other two concerns. Madison might also submit plans for a restoration project at nearby Hudson Beach. If all goes well, and the DNR permits are forthcoming, construction could begin next winter.
Not moving forward: Plans to sell the state Department of Administration building on East Wilson Street ("DOA Building Sale Draws Fire," 2/23/07) are "on hold," says spokeswoman Linda Barth. "We're not moving forward with it at this time."
The Isthmus article raised concerns about the commission that the state agreed to pay the Chicago-based Equis consulting firm, which one expert said was "two or three times higher than it should be." The deal collapsed after an Equis official Larry Lupton was criminally charged with seeking a $75,000 kickback from a potential buyer. Lupton's case is pending, with a March 17 trial date; the state, says Barth, has "ended our contract with Equis."
Taking a break: Former Wisconsin State Journal publisher Jim Hopson, whose cross-country trek by foot to visit the nation's small newspapers was reported in Isthmus ("Hopson Takes a Hike, 5/3/07) before the State Journal cottoned to it (!), knocked off for the year on Oct. 9 in Kansas City. Hopson, who has more than 1,100 miles under his belt, plans to resume walking this spring. View his posts at Poynter.org.
Happy ending: Things turned out okay for "Mercedes," the Madison resident who found herself in a bind after losing her driver's license ("No More Licenses for You!," 8/24/07). An undocumented Mexican immigrant, Mercedes was confounded by a new state law requiring motor vehicle authorities to verify immigration status. But with the help of a local lawyer, she returned to Mexico and applied for U.S. residency. Now she's a legal resident - with a new license.
Still waiting: Roselind Johnson, the Madison single mom who has been trying to land a job since April, despite being a college student with a proven work history ("Why Can't This Woman Get Hired?," 10/04/07), is still out of work. "Everything's pretty much the same," says Johnson. "I just got laid off from my seasonal job." Foolish us, thinking our story might open some doors....