In his 23 years as Madison's bicycle-pedestrian safety coordinator, Arthur Ross has impressed a lot of people and made a lot of friends. So it's not surprising that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's move to dump him via city budgeting is prompting an angry reaction.
"It's pretty horrifying on a basic human resources management level," says Mike Barrett, a prominent local bike advocate. "You don't just throw someone out of a job using an underhanded budgeting trick like that."
Ald. Bridget Maniaci agrees, noting that the mayor is using the budget to go after a mid-level worker: "I think there are a lot of city employees worrying about what this means for their positions."
The budget, as approved by the Common Council, calls for axing Ross' job in mid-2011, while creating a new management-level position with interdepartmental authority. The move is supported by the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation and others who hope to elevate the city's commitment to bikes.
While Ross, 58, would be eligible to apply for the new position, at a slightly lower salary, he and others believe the mayor intends to bring in fresh blood. "It's obvious there's some reason the mayor wants me out," says Ross, "but since the mayor hasn't talked to me at all, I don't know what that reason is."
Cieslewicz declines to explain, saying, "I've had a longstanding policy of not discussing personnel issues."
Maniaci, who introduced a failed budget amendment to keep Ross' job (the council deadlocked 10-10, and Cieslewicz cast the deciding nay vote), has her suspicions: "I think there were some individuals who had problems with Arthur and saw this as an opportunity to get him out of the way."
For her part, Maniaci has had only positive interactions with Ross, whom she calls "a nationally regarded expert in the field." She believes, as does Barrett, that any performance concerns should have been addressed by setting clear expectations and goals.
Cieslewicz insists this did occur, in a meeting last year with Ross' supervisor David Dryer, head of the city's department of traffic engineering. "My expectations for the position were strongly conveyed," he says. "Those changes didn't happen. They weren't forthcoming."
Ross doesn't know what Cieslewicz is referring to, saying the mayor's comments to Isthmus are the first time he's been made aware of any performance issues. Dryer, contacted for comment, also seemed less than sure what the mayor strongly conveyed, saying he'd "have to go back and look at my notes from that meeting" and also check with human resources regarding what he could discuss. Apparently nothing, as he did not call back.
But Dryer, himself the object of mayoral displeasure via a shortened renewed contract with stipulated improvement goals, confirms he was unaware of any plan to use his department's budget to change the bike coordinator job until late in the process.
Cieslewicz expresses exasperation at this, saying he sometimes feels as though he's expected "to create a new dimension of time where people learn of something before the first time they learn of it."
According to the mayor, the reconstituted position "springs from the Platinum [Bicycling Committee] report, which calls for exactly this kind of change," and will help the city reach its goal of having 20% of local trips done by bike by 2020.
In fact, the committee's report, released in April 2008, does not call for a reconstituted bike position and never mentions the 20/20 goal.
Ross says he doesn't even know "what direction the mayor wants to go with respect to cycling," since the two have never discussed this. "There's really been a total lack of communication from his office to me and to bodies that deal with these issues for the city."
Finally, both Ross and Maniaci doubt the new hire, still in traffic engineering, will have the authority to coordinate between departments, as the mayor wants.
Cieslewicz shrugs off such concerns. "This is a job with a higher classification and a specific job description," he argues. "That is a message I'll convey."
In other words, the success of this new position will hinge on Cieslewicz's ability to clearly communicate with underlings - which is, when you think about it, more than a little ironic.
Grothman on snow job: 'Mission accomplished'
State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) raised a fuss last December when, displeased with the difficulty of his post-blizzard commute, he announced plans to have the state set policy for plowing and salting Madison streets. His proposed legislation was never actually introduced, and of course had no chance of passing - not just because it was insane, but also because Democrats were in charge.
Now that Republicans run everything, will Grothman again try to seize control of city plows and salt trucks?
"No," he answers, saying there is too much else to attend to. Besides, "I think I accomplished our mission."
According to Grothman, the city has since altered its snowstorm approach: "They salt it more. They might deny it but they salt it more, so I consider that a success."
Madison streets superintendent Al Schumacher says the city is not applying more salt. Indeed, it recently added four new trucks that spray main arteries with a liquid salt solution before storms to reduce overall salt use.
What happened last December, says Schumacher, was a "perfect storm" of bad weather, coupled with a decision to pull equipment off main streets to tend to side streets, for which the mayor later apologized. These events, says Schumacher, are not likely to recur.
And if they do, Glenn Grothman is standing by, lawmaking power in hand.
Thoreau argued that he learned more from the young than from his elders, since "age...has not profited so much as it has lost." Jim Hickey, the principal of McFarland High School, has been sounding a similar theme for years.
A couple years back, he railed against an educational DVD being touted by the state treasurer that used football to teach financial concepts. "Trust me," he advised, "our students are more astute."
But Hickey's favorite target has been a state Senate program that offers to pull high school kids out of class for a week so they can spend time with lawmakers, absorbing wisdom. Here's what he scrawled last week on the latest letter from the office of the state Sergeant at Arms, seeking student participants:
"I have a better idea: Have the senators join our high school students for a day. I suspect they might learn some lessons in getting along and working toward a common good, not being immature and petty! I could easily accommodate 1/3 of the Senate at [McFarland High School]. How about it?"
Time to update
From the homepage of the Dogged pursuit Email from a longtime reader, who just acquired a copy of Watchdog: 25 Years of Muckraking and Rabblerousing, by the guy who writes Isthmus' popular Watchdog column: "Do you have any readings left so I can bring it to you to sign?" The answer, unfortunately, is no. But the book is available at Isthmus (as well as from any bookstore or Amazon.com), and the author will gladly sign copies on request. Even without a John Hancock, which in this case looks more like a Biii Luuuuueeeeeee, it's still the best holiday gift a body could want.
Email from a longtime reader, who just acquired a copy of Watchdog: 25 Years of Muckraking and Rabblerousing, by the guy who writes Isthmus' popular Watchdog column: "Do you have any readings left so I can bring it to you to sign?"
The answer, unfortunately, is no. But the book is available at Isthmus (as well as from any bookstore or Amazon.com), and the author will gladly sign copies on request. Even without a John Hancock, which in this case looks more like a Biii Luuuuueeeeeee, it's still the best holiday gift a body could want.