Norm Stockwell remembers when the Mifflin Street Block Party was about more than getting hammered.
When Stockwell worked for the old Mifflin Street Co-op, which sponsored the party in the '80s and '90s, he helped organize it. Each year had a different political theme: the environmental effects of pesticides, U.S. military intervention in Latin America. Between bands, speakers would address these topics. Proceeds from beer and food sales went to the co-op, community organizations and charities.
"The party in its great times was more than just a party," says Stockwell, now operations manager for WORT radio. "It was about getting out a message."
Ironically, stricter city regulations in the early '90s - the need for more insurance and plastic beer-garden fencing - made the event too expensive for the Mifflin Co-op to keep sponsoring. The themes were lost and the party became an informal drinking bash. That led to a riot in 1996, and this year, two stabbings, police injuries and scores people being arrested or hauled off to detox.
At a news conference Monday, Mayor Paul Soglin said the party needs to end or be greatly curtailed for safety and financial reasons: "Every dollar spent on police overtime is going to come out of some other program."
But Soglin offered few specifics about what could be done, other than to say, "My goal is to make it as uninviting as possible to people."
It's been tried before. Ald. Mike Verveer, who represents the Mifflin area, said that after the 1996 riot police changed tactics to "make the event less popular for a few years." This included making sure the sidewalks and streets were not obstructed, making it harder for people to congregate.
Soglin said he has no interest in making the Mifflin Party more like the Halloween festival Freakfest on State Street. He said he's always been opposed to gating public streets and thinks it's even less appropriate on Mifflin, a residential neighborhood.
But other Madison street festivals could be affected by some of the changes Soglin seeks, like requiring the Common Council to give final approval in issuing beer permits for block parties, especially for large parties. Currently these permits are issued by city administrators.
Council approval might not be a big deal, but Verveer says some organizers are worried about extra costs and requirements that could come with increased oversight. "I've already heard from event sponsors that are concerned this could have negative consequences on their event."
Isthmus associate publisher Linda Baldwin is worried about the impact on other street fests, like Art Fair on the Square, Taste of Madison, the Willy Street Fair and the Isthmus Block Party.
"It's important we learn from Mifflin," she says. "[But] I'm concerned we don't have a knee-jerk reaction and stop having the kinds of events that have been good for downtown."
Library back on schedule
After raising a concern that the Central Library renovation wouldn't have enough private funds to proceed, Mayor Paul Soglin now says he's confident the city can bid the project this fall.
With some changes, the project can proceed with just $4 million in private funds, half the total amount. The Library Foundation has already raised $1.5 million, and has until Labor Day to snare another $2.5 million. If it succeeds, says Soglin, the project can go to bid.
"Our goal is to get the library under construction on schedule and make sure when we go out to bid, we have sufficient funds to pay for it," he says.
Tripp Wilder, president of the Library Board, says getting the project started soon is important, because the library is in bad shape and the board has been putting off maintenance. "We would have had to spend significant dollars just to keep it open, which would have been money wasted."
An ethics complaint against former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will likely be dismissed, because he is no longer in office.
Davin Pickell, an Overture employee, filed an ethics complaint against the former mayor for, among other things, allowing Overture executive director Tom Carto to continue working as staff to the Madison Cultural Arts District Board and 201 State Foundation, even though the two entities were negotiating with each other over the Overture Center's future. He quotes a city rule against employees working for outside agencies "when such employment or service would impair or reasonably appear to impair her or his independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties."
Assistant City Attorney Steven Brist says "we no longer have jurisdiction" over Cieslewicz. But the Ethics Board, which meets Thursday, must formally dismiss the complaint.
Pickell calls this explanation "a crock": "These people break rules all the time and just hope nobody catches them, because the rules are so complicated, who bothers to sit down and read this stuff?"
Cieslewicz says he's never even read the complaint: "I don't take it seriously."