Marcie Malszycki is conflicted. She doesn't want to badmouth Lake Point Condominiums, where she bought a home last year. But she also doesn't want things to continue as they've been.
"I put money into this place as my future," she says. "It's a big investment."
Malszycki is one of 14 condo residents -- a majority -- who signed a recent letter to the Madison Community Development Authority. The signers pegged the project as being "in a crisis state" and getting worse "due to the inept, incompetent mismanagement of the developer, Mr. Jeff Rodman."
The letter (see the related downloads at right) itemizes grievances against Rodman, of Milwaukee, ranging from neglecting maintenance, to poor marketing of unsold units, to misrepresentation. It says Rodman "dooms this project to failure, hindering its success at every turn."
Veteran Madison Ald. Tim Bruer, a CDA commissioner, shares these concerns: "Of all of the projects I've been involved with in all my years on the council, this is one of my greatest disappointments."
Bruer thinks Lake Point, like Monona Shores and Winona Woods before it, had "all the markings for success." But on those other projects, the CDA served as the developer; for this one it tapped Rodman, in late 2003, to rehab 24 existing units and build 26 more. CDA city staff adviser Percy Brown says the agency facilitated a $2 million loan, to be paid back from initial condo sales; Rodman has put in about $400,000 in equity.
To date, just 17 of the 50 units have been sold, and some are not yet completed. (Prices range from $75,000 to $170,000.) Rodman has been making his interest payments on time. He was supposed to have paid off the loan by last December, but the CDA granted a one-year extension.
Rodman says finding buyers has been difficult, despite extensive efforts; some sales have fallen through for want of financing, "even prior to the nationwide housing and credit issues." But he's still trying.
Brown suggests the CDA as a whole is inclined to give Rodman more time, to see if he can turn things around. (Until 50% of the units are sold, the city's ability to intrude in the process is limited.) But Bruer says his dealings with Rodman and company have left him with "no confidence in their competence or their ability to develop this project on schedule."
Residents say problems have gone unattended. Some of the cement siding on the new units is already chipped and cracking. Grading slopes toward some garages, resulting in flooding. Much of the grass is dead. Resident Abbey Chriske says she had a fire caused by an improperly installed furnace: "It seems like this whole project was rushed, and not enough attention paid to anything."
Malszycki sounds a common theme when she says the CDA has been too quick to accept Rodman's assurances: "He's says 'I'm making progress,' and nobody checks on that. He's not making progress. He's telling them, 'I'm fixing it,' and he never does."
Rodman calls maintenance "an ongoing process," but assures, "There are no issues that are not being addressed."
One major grievance is the recent posting of "No Parking" signs on the roadway through the complex. Since the project is on Lake Point Drive (formerly Simpson Street), which bars on-street parking, some units now have no parking and others not enough to accommodate guests.
Rodman says he learned "this past winter" that parking along this driveway would not be allowed, due to fire regulations. But Madison fire prevention officer Michael Schroeder, in response to a query from resident Carey O'Connor, wrote: "The contractor was notified to put up signs 2/2006 when addresses were approved." This was before O'Connor and her husband bought their condo, with assurances of available parking. Residents were even given parking passes for guests, which O'Connor says are "just kind of a joke now."
In the end, Bruer thinks "the CDA is going to end up with this project," after Rodman stops making interest payments or defaults on his loan at year's end. He'd like to hurry that process along: "It's in everybody's best interest to negotiate a transfer of ownership to the CDA."
Rodman declines to comment on a possible takeover, saying neither the CDA nor Bruer have mentioned this possibility to him.
Brother, can you spare some DNA?
Stacy Harbaugh, who heads the ACLU's Madison office, has been "hearing a lot of rumors" about Madison police rounding up individuals and asking them to consent to give samples for DNA testing, presumably in connection with the recent unsolved murders of Joel Marino and Brittany Zimmermann. Linda Ketchum of Madison Urban Ministries has heard the same, "from various provider agencies working with people who have mental illness or are homeless."
Both wonder if people are being picked up without probable cause and if their DNA is ending up in some law enforcement databank. And Harbaugh feels the notion of consent is illusory: "Most people don't know that they can say no."
Lt. Joe Balles of the Madison Police Department confirms that DNA is being collected, although he won't say on which investigations or from whom. "It's just a part of the investigative process, if we have some reason, to ask somebody to voluntarily provide their DNA."
But Balles adds that "the collection of DNA is the ultimate search of one's person," one police would not undertake without legitimate investigative reasons. He isn't sure what the State Crime Lab does with DNA samples it receives in connection with particular investigations.
State Justice Department spokesman Kevin St. John says DNA profiles from convicted felons are entered into a federal databank, as is unmatched DNA from unsolved crimes. But DNA profiles taken from individuals as part of a given investigation are considered "elimination samples"; if they do not match the suspect profile, the biological material is destroyed, and the DNA profile is not uploaded into any databank.
Shooting video kept secret
The caller was anonymous, but seemed to know things. He said there's more to the story about the Dane County Sheriff's deputy who got trapped in an underground passageway in early February and tried to shoot his way out, blasting more than 20 rounds into a bulletproof window.
"Bullets ricocheted everywhere," the caller said. "It is a miracle this guy was not shot."
How did the caller know this? He said his information came from people who had seen a videotape of the incident.
A what? The whole thing was caught on tape? Holy open records request!
But the Sheriff's Office is balking. "The material you have requested contains confidential information related to building security," writes Gordon Bahler, on behalf of Sheriff Dave Mahoney. "I have concluded that the possible harm to the population or staff of the jail by releasing the security video outweighs any benefit to the requester or to the public interest in allowing [this]."
Bahler also claimed releasing the video "could interfere with law enforcement's ability to conduct thorough and confidential internal investigations" and discourage victims and witnesses from providing information. Huh?
Mahoney, after an internal review of the incident, instituted policies to prevent a recurrence but decided that the deputy, Dave Hafeman, should not face discipline.
Hafeman says the videotape would show that he "took every precaution" to ensure he was not hit, such as standing at an angle and using his vest as a shield. But he supports the decision to not release it, saying "if prisoners saw that, it would probably give them some pretty good ideas."
Was Ralph Armstrong framed?
New court filings say a Dane County prosecutor suppressed another man's confession in a horrific Madison murder case. Read the story here.