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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
The Daily
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Paul Soglin's beef with the Overture purchase
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Paul Soglin on why he opposes the city's plan to purchase the Overture and allow a non-profit, 201 State, to run it:

First, the cost of owning the building is beyond the resources of the city. Secondly, the controlling entity that operated the building must have a sound management plan, the confidence of the public, and an appreciation for transparency.
...The building is too expensive for the city to own. Overture was designed and constructed with no regard for public ownership. This is evidenced by the soft floor tiles that were meant for walls, not the pressure of high heel shoes. There are 700 different style lamps (think light bulbs), many of which are not available 'at retail' and which are lacking in energy efficiency.
...Finally, the published cost of the building is incorrect. The facility did not cost $205 million. For the last five years, I used the figure of over $250 million. It is clear that I was wrong. The cost of Overture is closer to $300 million.
...Perhaps someone should ask why the city of Madison should provide a public subsidy of over $2.5 million a year to this 'vendor' without competitive bid. There may well be other qualified operators, both public and private, interested in running Overture, if there is a guarantee of city subsidy combined with assurance of the city's contractual obligations to maintain the building.

This is another issue that has arisen in the debate over how to save Overture. While some on the Council are preoccupied with concerns over worker protections, especially for union members, administration gurus like Soglin have raised their eyebrows at the confidence the city will need to invest in one non-profit organization.

In all fairness, however, 201 State is not just any non-profit. It is one that exists for the express purpose of preserving the Overture. According to Robert Chappell, an Overture spokesman, "it is the organization that currently exists that is best-suited for the job."

Chappell also suggested it would be more likely that a contract with another private entity or non-profit would result in the replacement of existing employees with new workers. "Our employees here have to be considered," he said.

I'm not a contract expert, but it seems to me that if the city is determined to protect the jobs of Overture workers, it can make those demands clear in any contract negotiation with any vendor, whether non-profit or for-profit. Just as the city has rules requiring it to favor vendors who abide by certain wage standards, it can certainly demand that an incoming contractor not fire city employees under its management. And given that there has been such protests from unions and their elected advocates, it would likely be politically unfeasible to contract with a vendor who would lay off scores of city workers.

The issue of Overture opulence will certainly be another favorite topic in the coming months for critics of the plan. Chappell contends that Overture has increased its energy efficiency significantly in recent years.

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