Since the Madison Common Council already spent one full evening - and then some - debating the Edgewater Hotel project, it's not surprising that Ald. Michael Schumacher would draw flak for asking the council to take the matter up again.
On Dec. 15, Schumacher missed the council meeting that ran past 5 a.m. Since he had an excused absence (for a business trip to Las Vegas), Schumacher asked the council to reconsider its decision not to overrule the Landmarks Commission's rejection of the Edgewater proposal. On Tuesday, the council agreed to reconsider the decision. But then it decided to put this off until its Feb. 23 meeting, giving the Plan and Urban Design commissions time to make recommendations.
Ald. Julia Kerr (the lone no vote for reconsideration) chided Schumacher during the meeting, saying his request was a "substantial abuse of reconsideration." (Schumacher cheekily wore a kitschy Las Vegas tie to the meeting.)
One of Schumacher's former colleagues, Brenda Konkel, called out Schumacher on her blog, not just for missing the Dec. 15 council meeting, but by her count for being absent from the city for 65 days between May 1 and Dec. 20. She said these numbers, from "a couple helpful staff people and an interested citizen or two," show that Schumacher had twice as many absences as any other council member.
Schumacher bristles at this criticism. "The number that Brenda quoted was absolutely inflated," he says. "I know for a fact I wasn't out of town for 65 days - that's two months."
A professional management consultant, Schumacher estimates he was actually out of town "10, 15, maybe 18 business days." He says Konkel's estimates include weekends and holidays and times when he was out of town doing work for the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.
"She's trying to make this point as if I don't have this moral or ethical right to ask for reconsideration," Schumacher says. "In my district, I bet you most people don't even know who she is. It's somebody opining who has a very strong agenda and will push that agenda at any cost.... No wonder Ms. Konkel is no longer an alder."
Under city ordinance, alders must notify the Common Council office whenever they're out of town for five days or more. Schumacher says he gives notice even for shorter periods. The office says Schumacher reported being absent for 45 days in 2009 (including weekends and holidays). All these absences were between August and December.
Schumacher says Dec. 15-16 was the only full council meeting he's missed since his election in 2007. And this only because the wrong meeting date was posted on the city's website when he made his travel plans.
"I did miss some committee meetings this year, but I'm on so many committees," he says (nine in all). "In this age with cell phones and email, I'm always accessible. I conduct aldermanic work no matter where I'm at."
The other council meeting
Tuesday's Common Council meeting was over by 9 p.m. in part because five council members met with Edgewater developer Bob Dunn for six hours on Monday night in his office to discuss the project.
The council members - Bridget Maniaci, Lauren Cnare, Mike Verveer, Marsha Rummel and Shiva Bidar-Sielaff - checked with City Attorney Michael May to see how many alders could be at the meeting without violating public meeting laws; the limit was five.
"We had a lot of conversation about putting the project back on track," says Bidar-Sielaff. Dunn agreed that referral was a good option, and the five council members got their colleagues on board; the vote for referral was unanimous.
Cnare made a similar motion last month, which was voted down. The main difference, she deadpans, is that "more people voted for it this time."
The developer ordered pizza at Monday's meeting but "we paid them for it," says Cnare. She adds, in the spirit of full disclosure, "I had two pieces of the vegetarian from Ian's. And a diet Pepsi."
When news broke before the holidays of a proposal to develop the vacant Union Corners property into a Ho-Chunk museum, with a health care center, housing, gas station and retail, many people were thrilled that something might finally happen with the 15-acre vacant parcel on East Washington Avenue.
While a casino is improbable, might the property be taken off the tax rolls, or become a presumably high-traffic destination for people seeking cheaper cigarettes?
Anne Thundercloud, a spokeswoman for the Ho-Chunk Nation, says speculation about the project is premature. While a Nation member, James Green, has pitched the idea of buying the site, the Ho-Chunk leadership has not taken it up.
"I guess we're not closed to the idea," she says. "But these are the preliminary plans of an individual."
Madison City Attorney Michael May says merely selling the parcel to the tribe would not make it tax-exempt. "Generally speaking, unless it's put into the federal trust, which I don't think it would qualify for that, it would remain on the tax rolls."
Convenience stores on tribal land, including near the Ho-Chunk casino in Wisconsin Dells, sell cigarettes for lower prices due to tax-break agreements.