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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 56.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Madison's Dean Health uses coach-speak in layoffs
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I started to understand the concept of pre-emptive dishonesty during Mike Holmgren's tenure as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Whether it was injuries to marquee players like Brian Williams or Robert Brooks, or the reasons for releasing the least well known free agents, Holmgren seemed never to tell the truth, at least not right away. Truth was his default position, after other options had failed.

So it was with Dean Health System's recent layoffs of 90 Madison employees. CEO Craig Samitt said, "We're taking these actions not because we are in poor financial health, but to prepare us well for the future." He also said something about "better care at lower cost."

If there used to be enough work for 90 people to do and now there isn't, then of course the reason is financial. And if you are laying them off even though there is plenty of work to go around, then the reasons are both financial and desperate.

Still, I suppose the reporters who wrote down Samitt's words will feel grateful a couple months from now when Samitt says, yeah, we made those layoffs in April because we were going broke. It will almost seem like candor.

But don't believe him then either.

Thanks, Brenda

I find that I most appreciate the uncompromising, stubborn, enlightened leadership of local elected officials like Brenda Konkel when I am jogging alongside Madison's lakes and throughout its old neighborhoods.

I've been running (slowly) in Madison for 22 years, and in the last few years that I've taken up marathon training. So instead of maxing out at five or six miles I will sometimes run up to 20 at a time, stringing together several of the paths I've run since 1987. I'll take the South Beltline bike path to the Lakeshore dorm path past the Memorial Union Terrace, continue along the shore of Lake Mendota, up Sherman Avenue on the way to Warner Park, and so on.

All of these tracks are virtually unchanged in the time since I started using them. That's a good thing.

I'm reminded of the other kind of local leadership when I visit my parents' house in rural Rock County, where my old running paths are interrupted or closed off by highway re-directions, newly privatized public land, closed bridges, poorly placed cul de sacs, and toxic Mclawns decorated with sparkling new "Keep Out" signs.

I know the local leaders down there didn't mean to ruin my enjoyment of the land when they decided to sell it off or commercialize its use, piece by piece, but they did. Now when I visit my parents, I no longer pack running shoes. 

Konkel was criticized for her inflexibility and zest for confrontation. I hope her replacement on the Madison Common Council, Bridget Maniaci, shares these qualities. It will give me something to think about when I've run 14 miles and still have six to go.

News flash

I will not be the first opinion writer to lament the dearth of coverage of local and statewide elections in daily newspapers and local news broadcasts. This regression has been happening for more than 20 years, and it has accelerated in the last two or three election cycles.

When editors and news directors are asked why they have abandoned their fundamental duty, they typically say two things: 1) We're going broke, and 2) Nobody cares about local and statewide elections.

Fine, but why then do we get saturation coverage whenever elected officials like Assembly Rep. Jeff Wood and former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager get drunk and crash cars? If no one cares about elections then why would they care about the personal failures of the people who win those elections?

I would like to use this space to lobby the researchers in the La Follette School of Public Affairs or the UW School of Journalism to undertake a content analysis comparing the number of column inches in Wisconsin's daily papers devoted to coverage of local elections to the amount of space allocated to personal scandals. My money's on the DUIs. And who doesn't love a good content analysis?

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