The coming year will be a busy one for local governments, as they tackle everything from land use to mental health issues for prisoners.
In 2007, Dane County supervisors will make final plans to build a new Badger Prairie nursing home. And they'll likely have to find a new site for a proposed 448-bed Huber Treatment Facility. A county subcommittee recently recommended that the work-release jail be built on Fish Hatchery Road, but a huge public outcry from the south-side neighborhood and opposition from Madison officials means 'we're probably going to start over, frankly,' says Supv. Carousel Bayrd.
Meantime, supervisors will form a study committee to discuss creating a mental health court, which would operate much like a drug court, emphasizing treatment over incarceration. 'The idea is to reduce the population in the jail,' says Supv. Paul Rusk, chair of the county's Public Protection and Judiciary Committee.
About 18% of those in the county jail system have mental health problems. With a mental health court, says Rusk, 'not only do you get people out of jail, but you can also turn around those lives.'
Supervisors on the Health and Human Needs Committee will also begin discussing ways to help poorer residents find work, says chair David Worzala. He notes that the county helps people get on W-2 or apply for food stamps, but 'what are we doing to help people get jobs? It's something we ought to look at.'
One way to help single mothers, suggests Worzala, is to set up a distance learning program so they can attend classes and earn a college degree without having to find childcare. 'They do it that way in New Jersey,' he says. 'Clearly, we ought to be able to help, too.'
City of Madison officials, meanwhile, will be discussing the opportunities and challenges posed by the Royster-Clark property on the east side. The fertilizer plant shut down earlier this year, and its 26 acres are for sale.
'It's almost twice as large as Union Corners,' says Ald. Larry Palm, adding that while no development has been proposed for the site, the city will draft a neighborhood plan for the area by June. 'We're working with people so that when Royster does sell, we'll have a plan in place.'
The city will also discuss expanding Madison Metro and possibly forming a regional transit system. Now that Chuck Kamp has taken over as Metro's head, says Palm, 'It's time for him to lay out where he wants to lead Metro.'
But much of this hinges on next April's city council elections. More than half of the 20-member council could turn over. There are nine open seats (including that of Ald. Austin King, who announced last week that he will not seek reelection), and three incumbents ' including Palm ' are being challenged.
And this year, for the first time, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce will be endorsing council candidates. Explains chamber president Jennifer Alexander, 'The city council makes a lot of decisions, and it affects a lot of people.'
Alexander worries that the next council could revive a proposal, defeated earlier this year, to require employers to offer paid sick leave. 'We're hoping people pay more attention to this election.'
Fitchburg wants it
While Madison's south-side residents don't want Dane County to build its new work-release jail in their neighborhood, Fitchburg Mayor Tom Clauder would welcome the facility in his city. He's asking the county to consider building its new Huber center next door to Oakhill, the state prison on County M.
'It's not by houses, it's not by businesses,' he says. 'It's not in anybody's backyard.'
Clauder notes that Oakhill has ample land available, although there's no public transportation to the site. Many prisoners at Huber are allowed to leave during the day for jobs or appointments, and rely on the bus. 'They'd have to have a county van' to transport prisoners, says Clauder.
But Supv. Bayrd, who sits on the subcommittee that picked the south-side location, says public transportation was one of the top criteria for choosing a new site. 'You can't just do a shuttle,' she says. 'You're taking about 100 people, and everyone's going in a different direction.'
Bayrd says the subcommittee did ask Madison Metro about adding service if the jail were built outside of the city. 'They said, 'You've got to be kidding ' we can't add services, we're cutting services,'' she says. So the county was forced to choose a site on Madison bus lines. 'It's not a work-release center if you can't get to work.'
Allen's little helpers
Madison mayoral candidate Ray Allen, whose campaign thus far is funded mainly by contributions from himself and his wife, last week held a fund-raiser at the Hilton.
The event, for which guests were asked to contribute between $100 and $500, was organized by Gateway Ventures, a firm with strong Republican ties. The company is also organizing multiple fund-raisers for Attorney General-elect J.B. Van Hollen, as well as an inauguration party for him and the GOP members of the state Legislature.
When Allen announced his candidacy for mayor this summer, he downplayed his Republican ties. 'My values are mainstream,' he said at the time.
Allen's campaign manager, Semmi Pasha, says Gateway is one of several fund-raisers the campaign is using and says questions about Allen's political affiliations show 'contempt of the very real issues facing Madison.' Pasha, who is a Democrat, adds, 'There are Democrats, Republicans, independents and Libertarians who share in Ray's vision for Madison.'
In all of 2006, Supv. Rusk did not miss a single meeting of either the Dane County Board or the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. But, when asked about his perfect attendance, Rusk laughs. 'I'm going to lose my record because I'm missing the meeting on Jan. 4!' He'll be in San Francisco, visiting his sister.
Rusk thinks most supervisors are good at attending County Board meetings but admits, 'Attendance at committee meetings can be a challenge. It's embarrassing when people aren't there, and you have a roomful of county staff and you're waiting for quorum.'
The County Board member with the year's worst attendance record is Ruth Ann Schoer. She missed just four of the board's 20 meetings in 2006, but nearly half of the Public Works Committee's 24 meetings.
Schoer says she skipped a couple of committee meetings because they were tours of county facilities, including the landfill. 'I've already had two tours of the landfill.'
Schoer also noted that family illness and her job at the Salvation Army made it difficult for her to attend meetings. Committees usually meet twice a month. 'You just kind of get meetinged to death sometimes.'
What's up, Dave?
Former congressional candidate Dave Magnum still has not filed anything with the Federal Election Commission explaining where he got $525,000 in personal funds to loan his campaign last fall. Magnum, who failed to unseat Rep. Tammy Baldwin, has not paid state income taxes since 2002 because his broadcasting company has not been profitable. He purportedly borrowed the money to lend to his campaign. The FEC requires him to disclose the source of the money.
Magnum has said his 'compliance consultant' is looking into it (Madison.gov, 12/15/06). He did not respond to a question about what the consultant found out.