Nobody chooses his words more carefully than Ludell Swenson. That's because, to communicate, the 47-year-old Madison man, who suffers (yes, that's the right word) from cerebral palsy has to summon all of his strength, between bouts of phlegmatic coughing, to direct his twisted left hand to words and letters on a wheelchair-mounted placard.
'This. Has. To. S-T-O-P. Now.'
As ironic as it sounds for someone who needs help to eat, dress, get into and out of bed, and take care of bodily functions, Swenson values his independence. He lives alone in an small efficiency apartment on West Main Street, from which he recently piloted his electric wheelchair, by himself, to the offices of Isthmus.
There, he used his placard to convey urgent messages about the impact of past and impending county budget cuts.
'Have. To. Have. R-O-O-M-A-T-E. W-H-I-C-H. Is. Very. S-T-U-P-I-D.'
'I. Can. Not. Go. S-H-O-P-I-N-G. With. My. Van. B-E-C-A-U-S-E. Of. The. C-U-T-S.'
'They.R.E. Is. No. T-I-M-E. To. Do. F-U-N. T-H-I-N-G-S.'
Swenson's care attendant, Robby Hull, explains later that Swenson has been urged to consider living with another disabled person to save costs. That would mean giving up his apartment and perhaps no longer being downtown. Already, according to Swenson, the number of hours of assistance he receives has been cut in recent years from 'nine or 10' per day to six. This makes it harder for him to schedule shopping and recreation.
'He likes to go out and be active, just like all of us,' says Hull.
Lynn Green, Dane County's director of human services, says overall spending on county programs for people with developmental disabilities is set to increase next year by about $800,000, to a total of $75.5 million, and that the county has managed to increase caseloads and reduce waiting lists. But she concedes that the county's share toward these programs will decline, from $17 million this year to $15.9 million in 2007. The hunt is now on to find new revenue or savings to close a projected 3.25% budget gap.
Kim Turner, executive director of Options in Community Living, says shortfalls in funding for programs serving the developmentally disabled have mandated 'lots of changes for individuals,' including that many now have one or more roommates. Mike Bachhuber of Access to Independence agrees that as the county struggles with rising costs, more people are being asked to 'double up.' And the county's 2007 budget, says Green, includes money to 'study options for congregate living arrangements.'
Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney with Disability Rights Wisconsin, sees a 'definite trend toward mini-institutionalization' in the push for roommate and group-home living arrangements. He says most adults past their college years do not share living space with strangers and marvels that this is becoming expected of people with disabilities.
For now, no one is forcing Swenson to accept a roommate. But that day may come, especially under a new state program called Family Care. This program, which could begin in Dane County in 2009, calls for eliminating waiting lists without providing significant additional revenue.
'We're concerned about the funding of Family Care and what it would mean for our system,' says Green. 'We anticipate that funding to consumers will need to go down and that in some cases consumers will need to choose less costly service options, such as congregate living.' Which, from Swenson's point of view, is just plain 'S-T-U-P-I-D.'
A few years back, Steve Puntillo was invited to a neighborhood meeting where residents overwhelmingly rejected traffic islands near Regent Street. Now two such islands are being put in, without further opportunities for him to object. He thinks the rules for approving these islands, which 'are popping up all over,' have changed. He's right.
David Dryer, Madison's traffic engineer, says the approval threshold is still 60%, but current notification rules aim 'to give people who live on the street the largest say,' as opposed to 'people who live blocks away.'
Puntillo, who thinks everyone should have a say, has created a flier to hand out door-to-door and to motorists as they drive past these new islands. It says traffic islands 'make it harder for emergency vehicles' to pass, increase the risk of accidents, and 'waste automotive fuel by causing unnecessary braking and acceleration.' The flier (see this story at TheDailyPage.com) includes a form to clip and send to Madison's mayor.
The Waunakee-based National Motorists Association, which helped create the flier, opposes traffic-calming measures. 'We don't feel they work,' says spokesman Eric Skrum, explaining that they disrupt traffic flow, making streets less safe.
Dryer counters that traffic-calming measures have been shown to reduce accidents, are carefully designed so as to not impede emergency vehicles, and have little impact on fuel use. Some critics, he complains, 'think they have a right to go as fast as they want, whenever they want.'
Scandal? What scandal?
David Blaska smells a rat. The former-Capital Times-writer-turned-thorn-in-its-side notes with interest that the paper's Oct. 18 report about a letter of reprimand received last year by Det. Dave Mahoney, a candidate for Dane County sheriff, mentioned that it had earlier obtained his entire personnel file, including this document. 'Why did [the Capital Times] wait until after the State Journal...broke the story of Mahoney's reprimand?' he wonders. Could it be that the paper 'tried to protect Mahoney,' a Democrat, for as long as it could?
This rings a little false. Most reporters would trample their grandmas to break a juicy scandal. Perhaps the real issue is that no one thought Mahoney's reprimand ' over his failure to disclose his tie to the victim of a crime he investigated 'was especially scandalous.
Reporter Steven Elbow says he got Mahoney's file in May but set it aside, ultimately letting it get buried on his desk: 'There was no intent to withhold anything, I just forgot about it.'
By the way, the Sheriff's Office confirms that Mahoney's personnel file was made available to the State Journal on Sept. 18. But the paper did not report the reprimand until its story last week, after the issue was raised by a backer of GOP sheriff candidate Mike Hanson. Apparently, that's what made it a story, not the reprimand itself.
Those unable to attend Sunday's standing-room-only Wisconsin Book Fest panel discussion of a certain Isthmus writer's new book at A Room of One's Own can catch the whole show on City Channel 12. (The panel included former Madison Police Chief David Couper, former Capt. Cheri Maples, Kelly Anderson of the Rape Crisis Center and the book's heroine, Patty, with a cameo appearance by Police Chief Noble Wray.) It will air Saturday, Nov. 4, noon and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 5, 10 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 11, 9:30 a.m. And, of course, oodles of info on the book and the response it's generated is at cryrapebook.com.