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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  A Few Clouds
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'Caught in the crossfire'
New rules spell cuts for citywide groups serving UW students
Brenda Konkel says the funders 'got more strict with the rules.'
Brenda Konkel says the funders 'got more strict with the rules.'

The Tenant Resource Center is not closing its doors. Ald. Brenda Konkel, who is the nonprofit's executive director, calls a TV news report that raised this as a possibility "exaggerated."

But Konkel says that, after losing nearly one-third of its $350,000 annual budget, her group's finances are "not good." The center has temporarily closed its toll-free statewide hotline, and reduced its office hours.

The center lost $55,000 in UW-Madison student fees this year, on top of a $41,000 cut in federal funds. Konkel blames a lawsuit against the university by the Roman Catholic Foundation, which wanted a share of student fees and accused the UW of religious discrimination. The UW settled the suit for $253,000, but now all organizations that receive funding must be student-led.

"When the Roman Catholic Foundation started messing around, we got caught in the crossfire," says Konkel. "The UW decided to be hard-assed about only funding student organizations."

The Associated Students of Madison, the UW's student government, instituted the change last year. The Tenant Resource Center had students on its board, but Konkel says that when ASM "got more strict with the rules," that wasn't enough.

Next year, the Rape Crisis Center will also lose about $50,000 in funding from the UW because it's not a student-led organization. Kelly Anderson, the center's executive director, says student fees had helped fund her group for many years.

The money is used to help pay for a 24-hour crisis line and for advocates to accompany rape victims to the hospital. Anderson says about 15% of the center's clients are students: "There's a huge overlap between the student population and sexual-assault issues."

The crisis line will stay open, Anderson promises. But the budget cut is "not inconsequential. It's definitely going to make an impact."

Alex Gallagher, who chairs ASM's student services finance committee, denies the cuts are related to the Roman Catholic Foundation's lawsuit.

"There are a set of system policies we have to follow," he says. "They outline what's an appropriate expenditure."

Gallagher says the Rape Crisis Center was receiving the funding through a separate student-led group. "You could see why that's a problem," he says. "We're appropriating funding for one group, and they're giving the funds to a second group."

But Gallagher says ASM values the center's services and is looking for a way to legitimately fund it, possibly using health-care dollars instead. And he says a student-led tenant center is forming on campus. "We really feel like we're still trying to provide those services to students."

By the numbers

It pays to be a white male working as a manager for the city of Madison. An average of $71,282, to be exact.

Last week, the Department of Civil Rights presented its findings on the city's wages and hiring practices. The results did not surprise Ald. Konkel, who requested the study.

"Across the board, women are making less and so are minorities," she says. Overall, white males are making about $4,000 more as managers than women or minorities. And the gap widens even more for agency heads, where the median salary is $120,267 for men and just $96,541 for women. "That's a huge difference," says Konkel.

But Civil Rights Director Lucia Nuñez cautions against reading too much into the numbers. She notes that newly hired managers make less than those on the job for years. And Nuñez says it's not fair to compare the salary of the fire chief against that of someone who heads a much smaller department: "You need to compare the fire chief with other fire chiefs."

The study also found that plenty of women and minorities apply for management positions: From June 2006 through May 2007, more than 1,000 women and 400 minorities applied - for 44 open positions. But most of the applicants didn't pass the initial screening. Women ended up getting 18 of the 44 jobs, while minorities took six.

"I thought the problem was going to show up in recruitment," says Konkel. "But the [study] shows people are applying. So now we need to look at our hiring process and see if things are skewing it one way or another."

Who wants a new library?

Ald. Zach Brandon may be the first alder in Madison history to ask the city not to build a library in his district. Brandon sponsored a budget amendment at the Board of Estimates last month that removed $437,000 from the 2008 capital budget for a new library on the west side.

"Our budget is literally out of control," says Brandon. "Although the library would certainly be wanted by some people, I didn't think it rose to the level of highest priority."

Brandon notes that Verona just built a "huge" library last year, within a mile of Madison's target site area. "It just didn't seem rational to put a Madison library that close to it."

If Brandon doesn't want the money, then Ald. Joe Clausius will take it. Clausius wants to build a new library on the far east side by 2009 - two years earlier than planned.

"The closest library we have is Hawthorne, way down on East Washington," says Clausius. "I don't think people in the new subdivisions would even know where that is."

Clausius hopes to get $500,000 for planning and site acquisition.

But Brandon doesn't want his budget sacrifice used for an east-side library. "It sends a message that you don't take things off the table, because people will come and take it."

Junket, debunk it

Mayor Cieslewicz is back from his week in Israel, where he attended the Jerusalem Conference of Mayors. But some activists are criticizing the mayor for taking the trip, whose $3,800 cost was paid for by the American Jewish Congress.

The trip shows Cieslewicz is "totally beholden to the Israeli lobby here in town," says Jennifer Loewenstein, who founded the Madison-Rafah Sister City project.

Loewenstein criticizes Cieslewicz for failing to meet with Palestinian leaders while in Israel, and for being quoted in an Israeli newspaper praising the country's biotech industry, which she says could be involved in weapons production. "Some of that stuff's pretty questionable."

Mayoral aide George Twigg says Cieslewicz is concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "but that was not the purpose of the trip. It was not about making a political statement."

Conservatives in decline

WIBA radio host Vicki McKenna and Republican strategist Brian Schimming may be the last guests ever at the Dane County Public Affairs Council. The conservative group, which meets monthly to discuss current events, is voting this week on whether it should disband after its Nov. 28 meeting.

"[W]e have struggled with an increasingly strong pattern of declining attendance at our member meetings," says a statement from the group. "This has made it more and more difficult to attract quality speakers and has, on occasion, caused embarrassment because of the small number of members attending a given meeting."

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