Last week, as Madison endured its first major winter storm, Daniel Knoetke stood outside the west-side Wal-Mart, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.
"It was the night all the snow dropped," says Knoetke, a Madison resident. "Hardly anyone was out there. The wind was blowing like hell."
Bitterly cold after just a few minutes, Knoetke went inside the store to ask if he could move his Salvation Army kettle to the vestibule, where it was warmer.
"They said no - company policy," says Knoetke. "I was a little amazed at that. It's winter, geez!"
He went back outside and rang the bell for another half hour. But the cold eventually forced him to leave. "I'm hardy," he says, "but there was a limit."
The store manager for the west-side Wal-Mart directed Isthmus to corporate headquarters, which did not return calls.
Ruth Ann Schoer, the Salvation Army's development director, says some companies are worried about liability if bell ringers stand inside. Of the Salvation Army's 73 kettle locations around Dane County, half a dozen require bell ringers to stay outside. Bell ringers can choose either an inside or outside location, says Schoer.
"Often people want to go outside," she says. "They like getting the sympathy vote."
While the kettle location at Wal-Mart is in a windy spot, Schoer says "they're usually pretty good about offering people out there hot chocolate and stuff. It's better than Costco, which won't even let us ring there."
Schoer believes Wal-Mart is also looking out for its employees. The store's configuration means that if the bell ringers stand inside, they would be right next to the checkout lanes. "We have to be considerate of the people who work there," she says. "If you had to hear those bells for 12 hours...."
Knoetke believes Wal-Mart should be more flexible, especially since donations to the Salvation Army go to help the poor: "For a store that pretty much survives on the backs of struggling people, this corporate policy seems kind of cruel."
Council comings and goings
It's official: Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer plans to run for re-election next spring.
"I've just been really flattered and overwhelmed by the number of folks who've asked me to consider serving one more term," says Verveer, who has been on the council for 14 years. "It's been very heartwarming. It just got to me."
Verveer has struggled to balance his job as a Dane County assistant district attorney with his aldermanic duties, but in the end decided he couldn't yet leave the council.
"The downtown is still in a somewhat fragile state," he says. "We've done a lot of positive things over the years, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
Meanwhile, Ald. Robbie Webber is calling it quits. "There are other things I want to do," says Webber, mentioning her interest in starting a pedestrian/bicycle advocacy group. "There's been good bicycle advocacy, but pedestrians are the core of a good transportation system."
Three other council incumbents - Eli Judge, Libby Monson and Tim Gruber - are also not seeking reelection.
Meanwhile, Ald. Brenda Konkel, who has been unopposed in the last two elections, faces at least two challengers: perennial candidate Dennis Denure, who last ran for County Board, and Adam Walsh, a 26-year-old attorney originally from Milwaukee. Both have filed papers with the city clerk.
"One of the big roles of an alder is to make sure everything in the district is going well," says Walsh, who faults Konkel for ignoring businesses, including the shops along East Johnson Street. "You can't just look solely at your pet projects."
Walsh also criticizes Konkel for her recent proposal to stop Madison police from fining the homeless for urinating in public. "We need to look at the issue reasonably and not so sensationally," says Walsh.
Konkel says she has made sure to involve district businesses "whenever big things are happening. To me the businesses [on East Johnson] are pretty self-sufficient."
And she says her proposed ordinance on public urination is part of a nationwide movement to decriminalize the homeless. "Those people have a hard enough time the way it is," she says. "We don't really need to be adding to their problems."
Fitchburg Mayor Tom Clauder's recent announcement that he will not seek re-election in April sparked immediate speculation that he'll take on Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. But Clauder is not running against Falk, either.
"At this point, I don't feel the timing is right," he says.
Clauder notes that Falk supported him as Fitchburg mayor. If she had decided not to run again, "I was probably going to consider it."
Former school board member Nancy Mistele has already announced her intention to challenge Falk. Clauder won't say who he's supporting in the race, because "I want to see who else is running."
It won't be Verona Mayor Jon Hochkammer, who this week confirmed that he won't be challenging Falk either.
Heads may roll
Following the Madison Transit and Parking Commission's recent vote against his proposal to raise cash bus fares 50 cents, to $2, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz sent out a memo listing steps Metro must now take, such as identifying service cuts.
One bus advocate, writing on a listserv, joked about a to-do item the mayor left out: "Prepare an enemies list."
Before the vote, Cieslewicz had threatened not to reappoint members who opposed his fare increase. Seven of the commission's nine members voted against it. So is Cieslewicz going to give them the ax?
"I might, but I don't want to dwell on that," says the mayor. "I'd rather not go there if I don't have to. The main task is to get Metro's budget in balance."
Without the fare increase, Metro faces a budget deficit of $682,000 in 2009. Cieslewicz wants the commission to reconsider its decision at its Jan. 13 meeting. If members don't approve a fare increase then, Cieslewicz will appeal the decision to the Common Council.
Cieslewicz insists the city council has the ultimate authority over Metro's budget, not the commission. And the council voted last fall not to give Metro any more money, instead supporting a fare increase. Says Cieslewicz, "The commission really should have accepted that decision."
Giving up the power
The UW-Madison has decided not to file as an intervenor in American Transmission Company's request to build a 345-kilovolt power line across Dane County. Being an intervenor would allow the UW to be more involved with the Public Service Commission's decision-making process. But the UW says its concerns are already being addressed.
"We feel like at this time, we're having our issues heard," says UW spokeswoman Dawn Crim. She notes that the PSC required ATC to evaluate burying the line underground, if the route chosen would go along the Beltline, past the UW Arboretum.
"Everyone involved understands the unique circumstances the Arboretum is in," says Crim. "No one wants to have any negative impact on the Arboretum."
The city of Madison did become an intervenor. City Attorney Mike May, who has been involved in dozens of cases before the PSC, says being an intervenor has more impact than simply speaking at public hearings.
"My experience is these cases are often decided on a technical matter as much as on the information supplied by the general public," says May. "If you don't present your viewpoints [this way], then the commission doesn't really hear it."