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Thursday, July 10, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 80.0° F  A Few Clouds
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WATCHDOG

Old house rouses old grouch
Columnist blasts seemingly endless project then learns better

510 E. Mifflin St., on moving day, in April 2008.
510 E. Mifflin St., on moving day, in April 2008.
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For years, Bill Lueders has been fielding tips from disgruntled citizens, then reporting on them in an entertaining and informative way. Now he's taking on his own grievance, concerning the transported house at 510 E. Mifflin St.

"I mean, they've been working on this thing for more than a year and a half and it's still not done," says Lueders, who writes Isthmus' popular Watchdog column. "Seriously, what's taking so long?"

Lueders recalls the day in April 2008 when the three-story residence was delivered to the site, from 1022 W. Johnson St. Work crews buzzed about for many months and, even now, after tenants have moved in, the house is in dire need of repainting.

"They could have built the thing quicker from scratch," says Lueders, who passes by on his way to work. "But by the time it's painted, it will have been a couple of years."

Why does Lueders care? It's just a house, for pity's sake.

"I've always been inquisitive," says the longtime reporter. "When I have questions, I like answers. You got a problem with that?"

Why is he so argumentative? "Why are you?" he responds.

Lueders called neighborhood resident Brenda Konkel, hoping she would grouse about the house, which city records show was acquired in June 2008 - shortly after the move - by Renaissance Property Group. She mostly let him down.

Konkel speculates that Renaissance owner Michael Matty got sidetracked by his involvement in a $20 million new housing and redevelopment project in the 600 block of East Gorham and Johnson streets (he's doing the redevelopment). She's not a huge fan of this project, but as a neighbor she applauds Matty for the work he's doing to fix up three other Renaissance properties on Franklin Street, adjacent to the Mifflin Street house.

"I don't think you're wrong," was the best the noted gadfly could come up with regarding Lueders' concern. "He did take way too long."

George Hank, head of the city's building inspection unit, looked into the matter and calls the failure to flag the property for its need of paint an oversight: "We should have included a notice to tell the owner to paint it. Obviously, we'll be doing that now." Renaissance will have until next summer to complete the job.

In addition, Hank says, "we're taking steps to ensure that when a house is moved, follow-up notices are issued." In other words, Lueders' inquiry has prompted a change in city policy. Yikes.

Matty, in an interview, seems to be a conscientious property owner doing his best with limited resources and a project whose demands have spiraled out of control.

"It's a massive job," says Matty. "It was much more work than we ever thought it would take, and I would never do it again."

Matty estimates that more than $800,000 has gone into moving and refurbishing the building, by the former owner and himself. The building was sliced into chunks and pieced back together. The roof was repatched and the interior gutted. Attention was paid to preserving original and historic features. The old aluminum siding was removed, hence the need for new clapboard and paint.

"We can only do so much," says Matty, who agrees his other project was a factor. But now, the Mifflin house is completely refurbished, with all four units occupied, including by a family with two kids. "We have to finish painting the outside, and that's pretty much it."

The three properties on Franklin were among 36 properties acquired by Renaissance that once belonged to Bill Kozak, the subject of a 1993 Isthmus article entitled "The Landlord from Hell." Matty says they were all badly neglected and needed extensive work.

All in all, Matty notes that he's done exactly the sort of infill development Madison says it wants. Sighs Matty, "I wish people would look at it and say, 'Wow.'"

Lueders, apprised of this, agrees Matty has a point. "It's a much more ambitious and commendable undertaking than I realized," he says. "Wow."

Death be not ashamed

One of the lessons of Jesus Christ, immortalized in the film Dead Man Walking, is that "every human being is worth more than the worst thing they've ever done." That's worth remembering in assessing the obituary that ran last week for Tyrone Michael Adair.

The obit praised Adair as someone "who was always there for others," and mentioned that he was "preceded in death" by two "beloved daughters." Not mentioned is that Adair murdered these little girls, both 2, as well as their mothers, before taking his own life.

Pete Gunderson, a third-generation funeral director in Madison, doesn't think obituaries are the proper place "for any of that."

Gunderson, who had nothing to do with the Adair obit but was the only one of several funeral directors to respond to our inquiries, says the decision about what to include is up to family members "as part of the healing process." It's appropriate, he says, for them to be mindful of a person's entire life story, not just "that snapshot" of behavior that others might focus on.

As he puts it, "A person can be very caring and still rob a bank." Or worse.

Mayor for life?

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, whose second four-year stint as mayor will end in April 2011, says he'll "probably" seek a third term: "I guess I'd surprise myself if I didn't."

Cieslewicz dropped this bombshell during the December edition of The Mayor's Report on City Channel 12. But the disclosure, despite repeated airings, has apparently gone unnoticed.

The mayor, being a politician, was careful not to commit. He said he'd make his decision in concert with his wife, based on the circumstances of the moment: "I can say right now, nine months before I have to decide, 'Gee, yeah, I want to do it again.' But really it depends on how things are looking after Labor Day. I may look around and find there's a 20% approval rating."

If Cieslewicz does win and serve out a third term, he would top James R. Law (1932-43) as the city's longest-serving mayor in consecutive terms. Paul Soglin served 14 years as mayor, but in two stints, 1973-79 and 1989-97.

Beam us all up, Scotty

From an unsigned letter to Isthmus: "Maybe someone will LEGALIZE POT, it would create jobs and then a lot of hypocrites who smoke the shit and vote no because they think that's what the big guys want.... How about the police officer that buys pot and cocaine for his personal use and arrests others that are smoking a little pot or the lawyer that snorts more coke in a day than most people could afford in a month and then becomes a judge and sends others to prison for smoking or selling a little pot? I guess I would just like to know what kind of a world is this. And who do you have to know for the mothership to pick you up off this messed up world?"

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