Clear: What's at stake this time is not so much a hotel project, but a test of our civic leadership.
One of the key qualities of leadership is decision-making. Bold decisions are what take companies from good to great, and the same is true of governments. Inaction and indecision lead to quagmires of uncertainty and, eventually, failure.
That's why I am disappointed and frustrated by Mayor Paul Soglin's attempt to revisit the Common Council's decision, 18 long months ago, to approve the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment.
It's not just that I supported the decision that was made back in May 2010. It's also that I supported that a decision had been made at all, bringing a long, distracting, circus-like process to a close.
Now the circus is back in town. Bringing this project back to the arena of civic discussion has resurrected all of the same arguments for and against the project. I will not repeat any of them here, because no facts have changed and there is nothing new on the table. The circus has added no new acts since last year. The council is once again besieged with emails and calls. Doing this again is a complete waste of our precious and limited civic capacity, at a time when we can ill afford to waste it. The public is weary of the endless discussion, and it makes our city government look dysfunctional.
What's at stake this time is not so much a hotel project, but a test of our civic leadership. Are we able to make a decision and live it out? Do we just say that we're progressive, or do we actually make progress? Can we, as a city, put two bricks together? Is our word worth something -- does yes mean yes, or only maybe? And most importantly, do we know when to stop talking and actually take action?
This "opportunity" for déjà vu all over again should never have happened. The project should have been well underway by now, and our tradespeople should be hard at work. Instead, we had a lawsuit against the city, arguing that the council made the "wrong decision." When the suit failed, there was an appeal. After more than a year in court, the appeal was finally denied just a few weeks ago.
The long delay of the lawsuit and the arbitrary fact that we're near the end of a calendar year now give the mayor a chance to do what the courts wouldn't -- kill the project through delay, defunding and more circus. (The analogy works in the British sense, too -- think driving in a circle and never getting anywhere.)
Distrust and dissatisfaction with government are at an all-time high in this country, not so much because of partisanship, but because people see too much bickering and too little progress. For the most part, local government, especially in Madison, has not been infected by that disease. Surely my colleagues and I talk a bit too much now and then, but usually we get the people's business done expediently and collegially. The Edgewater process was a serious exception that created bitterness and divisiveness -- and, in its wake, a year-long soul-searching review of the city's development approval procedures.
It's time to take down the tents, get the clowns back in the car, send the circus on its way and move our city forward.
Alder Mark Clear represents the 19th District on Madison's west side, and was Common Council president when the Edgewater project was approved.