Thursday, April 17, marks the one-year anniversary of an effort by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz to circumvent the Madison Parks Commission. After the commission thrice unanimously rejected his call to sell some city parkland ("Lincoln School Land Sale Proves Contentious," 2/17/06), Cieslewicz created the James Madison Park Property Planning Committee to revisit the issue.
"My opinion is that the mayor stacked the ad hoc committee with people he knew would vote [for the sale]," says Ald. Paul Skidmore, a long-term Parks Commission member whom Cieslewicz decided not to reappoint last year. Skidmore says he asked if this was because he refused to back the land sale.
"Absolutely," Skidmore recalls Cieslewicz saying, adding, "I need to have somebody who'll be open to what I want."
At issue is just under a half-acre of land beneath Lincoln School. Urban Land Interests has offered to buy it from the city for at least $600,000, to convert the building to condos. But the Parks Commission balked.
"For those of us who are parks enthusiasts, that is probably one of the best pieces of land in the city of Madison," says Skidmore. "It's not surplus. It's a jewel."
In forming the ad hoc committee, Cieslewicz neglected to include the Park Commission's chosen rep, Bill Barker, a leading opponent of the sale. The committee now consists of four alders and three public members.
Ald. Michael Schumacher, appointed last fall, says the mayor did not make willingness to approve the sale "a litmus test" but "wanted me to have an open mind."
The Parks Commission was concerned enough about the mayor's end run to ask the city attorney if the city could overrule the commission's opposition. City Attorney Michael May concluded it could: "The statutory power to dispose of parklands is held by the Common Council and not the City Park Commission."
Despite all this greasing of the skids, the ad hoc committee has never met. Not once.
Mayoral aide George Twigg says that's about to change: "The mayor is eager for this committee to start meeting. His goal is to get recommendations in time for consideration as part of the 2009 capital budget."
Barker, the Park Commission chair, is still opposed: "Selling our parkland to pay for temporary shortfalls is a dangerous precedent."
But it's the city's decision to make, not his.