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Sunday, March 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 18.0° F  Overcast
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Citizen Dave: Who needs to get the credit for cleaner lakes?
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Credit:John McLaughlin

There's an old saying in politics: "You can get anything done as long as you're willing to give someone else the credit." They don't tell you about the codicil. That goes something like this: "You can get anything done as long as you make sure the right people get the credit."

I wrote a cover story forIsthmus on the state of the Madison lakes that was published a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty much an upbeat piece about recent science, federal and state regulations, and a new burst of energy from the business community all coming together to give us new hope for noticeable improvement in a relatively short time.

But after the story appeared, I heard from local officials who were less than happy about the angle I took in it. A fair summary of their concerns is that they felt ignored. They had been hard at work on this issue for years, making real progress and getting little credit for it, while the brand new Clean Lakes Alliance had done little of anything, and yet was being touted as the new savior of the lakes.

On strictly technical grounds, the local officials were wrong. I could point to specific parts of the story that clearly stated that local government had done a lot and that scientifically measurable progress had been made. The story was also clear that the Clean Lakes Alliance was proposing spending over $100 million on various projects and hadn't committed to funding any of them itself.

So let me be defensive for a moment before I turn conciliatory. My story was accurate and I also think it was correct to emphasize the Clean Lakes Alliance in it. That's because the Alliance is relatively new, it represents the first time that the business community has really gotten organized behind the effort to clean the lakes, and now for the first time we have a blueprint to follow (which itself was funded by the group). So, no apologies or corrections are needed.

But here's the thing. On the gist of it, the local officials had a point. Having been in their shoes, I understand how they feel. You do good things. You take hard votes on increasing taxes and regulation to create programs that actually do yield measurable success. And you get scant credit or thanks. Then a new organization sweeps in with lots of marketing punch and seems to steal all your thunder.

It's not just whining on their part. Keep in mind that about $80 million of the Clean Lakes Alliance plan is intended to come from government. If we fail to give them proper credit, the chances that officials will take the hard votes to produce that funding are slim.

It's probably true that the public couldn't care less about who gets the credit. They just want noticeable results. But the people with the power to make it happen need and deserve to be recognized in order for progress to be made.

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