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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 29.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Alder: Mayor's pick is a Plant
Cieslewicz appoints own aide to public safety committee
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Skidmore: 'Joel Plant is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.'
Skidmore: 'Joel Plant is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.'

Madison Ald. Paul Skidmore has been adamant that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz can name whomever he wants to city committees. As he told Isthmus regarding a recent dust-up (Madison.gov, 5/22/09), "I'm not comfortable with someone saying you can't appoint this person or you can't take this person off. I think that's wrong."

But one of the mayor's newest appointments "really disturbs me." He likes Joel Plant, whom the mayor tapped to be on the Public Safety Review Committee, on which Skidmore also serves. But he's bothered because Plant's day job is working on the mayor's staff as neighborhood liaison.

Skidmore says that Plant dominated the first meeting he attended, in July, taking over the discussion. In the past, Plant would routinely go to Public Safety meetings as the mayor's representative. Now he has a vote.

"Joel Plant is the 800-pound gorilla in the room," Skidmore says. "He's very intelligent, but he's also the mayor's representative."

Skidmore says he came to the meeting prepared to talk about the capital planning budget for police and fire. But Plant had other ideas. "He said, 'We're not ready for that, so we'll deal with it later.' He basically dismissed it."

Plant declined comment but Cieslewicz, who has taken heat over public safety issues in the past, says he made the appointment because he "couldn't find anybody better."

Plant, the mayor says, "is well respected by everybody in the community. I don't think you'll find anybody unhappy to have him involved in any issue. And it's his expertise."

But Skidmore fears Plant could squelch debate. "Do you think it's going to influence other votes [for Plant] to say, 'this is what the mayor wants'? That's the part that bothers me," Skidmore says. "The mayor's office has an incredible amount of power. Why do you need to squeeze even harder to get someone to vote a certain way?"

Former Mayor Paul Soglin is also critical: "From a technical standpoint, there's nothing wrong with it. Would I have done it? Probably not. Traditionally, that kind of appointment is envisioned as a citizen appointment and not a staff appointment."

Demolition fever

Weeks after unveiling plans for a $100 million downtown hotel project, Apex Enterprises is seeking demolition permits for several houses on the one-acre site at Henry and Wilson streets.

One of those is the Sayle Flats, 151 W. Wilson St., which the Madison Trust wants to designate as a landmark.

The three-story home was built in 1911 by George Sayle, Madison's mayor from 1916 to 1920. According to the Madison Trust nomination, it blends elements of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival and "retains good or better integrity than any other [such dwelling] in Madison right now."

Shortly after the house was nominated, Apex replaced the two front columns with ones that are not historic. But the trust still considers it a significant structure.

And some wonder if it's too soon to bring out the wrecking balls, since the project is nowhere near approval. "Under no circumstances can I see the demolition permit being granted, prior to the other approvals being granted," says Ald. Mike Verveer. "We just don't operate that way in city hall."

Bruce Bosben, Apex chairman, says the permits are required before plans can be approved. But, he assures, "We would not demolish anything until we are ready to start construction. And I'm anticipating construction wouldn't start for a couple of years."

If the hotel project goes through, the Madison Trust hopes Apex will move the Sayle house. Bosben is open to the idea. "We have a site at Gorham Street we're hoping to be able to move it onto," he says. "It's a huge house. It's probably going to have to be cut in half."

A boarding house at 315 S. Henry St. is also slated for demolition as part of the project. Owned by Porchlight, the house is being swapped for two others that Apex bought and renovated, says Steven Schooler, Porchlight executive director.

"We wouldn't have done this," he says, "if we couldn't have gotten replacement units."

Lakes made of stone

The city of Madison has quietly unveiled its latest piece of public art.

Called "Four Lakes," the $230,000 sculpture sits on the pedestrian section of Frances Street on the south side of State Street (next to State Street Brats). The final piece of the State Street redevelopment project, it was paid for with a combination of tax incremental financing and a federal grant.

The sculpture was created by Andrea Myklebust and Stanton Gray Sears of Stockholm, Wis. It consists of four large pieces of granite, representing the area's major lakes (Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa), with a fountain down the middle. At one end is a badger with her offspring, carved out of bronze.

"It was such a challenging piece," says Karin Wolf, Madison's arts program administrator. "They had to leave an 11-foot clearance for emergency vehicles. They couldn't move any of the light poles."

Ald. Verveer, who pushed for inclusion of public art on State Street, is pleased with the sculpture. "I've seen a number of people enjoying it, particularly kids," he says. "That was the intention behind it."

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