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Monday, July 13, 2009

Janesville City Council Developing Their Own Agenda

At the last Janesville city council meeting (June 22), a local small business owner approached the city for a $15,000 loan to start a new business recycling laser printer cartridges for office supply businesses. The council approved of the loan, but two council members objected to it based on fundamental free market principles - it would seem.
JG Excerpt:
"I don't understand why this would have to be forgivable," Perrotto said. "If he went to a bank, he'd certainly have to repay his loan."
Council members Kathy Voskuil and Frank Perrotto voted no.

As a regular council watcher I was very surprised by the two council members position, particularly Voskuil's, who in the past has developed a steady record in support of trading away taxpayer dollars and other perks to convince or accommodate wealthy entrepreneurs and other business elites into expanding their fortunes under the guise of public/private partnerships. I can only hope that this new and welcome position (against city funded business welfare) was justified at least by a new grasp on the reality of our current state of declining tax revenues and not by this particular businessman's rather modest request. (Was he denied by banks?) Let alone the damage these "incentives" have done to free market capitalism. But what was even more interesting was a short exchange of statements that followed from other council members explaining their support for the hand-outs.
JG Excerpt:
Steeber said it is not uncommon for the city to help businesses starting up or relocating. McDonald said the city has given out forgivable loans in the past and mentioned a large company that just got a TIF loan. That company could have gone to a bank, too. The city should help the little guys as well as the big guys, he said.
One council member implied that because the $15,000 came from TIF funds, it would not reflect on tax bills. Hey - free money! These hand-outs are just like Jays potato chips, you "can't stop eat'n em."

But now it seems that someone is bothered by this kind of healthy verbal exchange between council members. The truth is, these ideological differences among council members pose an internal conflict within Janesville's form of government. Some council members are beginning to think for themselves and on behalf of their constituents, and that's not a good sign.

So the council developed a list of goals at a recent retreat and will consider adopting them at today's meeting. To put this another way, certain council members must have felt the "at-large" council was being unintentionally challenged by one of their peers. So let's create "goals" to keep us speaking with one voice.
JG Goals Excerpt:
-- Initiate long-term economic/community development strategies for job growth. Do this by supporting the central business district, downtown/riverfront plans, public/private partnerships; continuing revitalization of central city neighborhoods; planning for new redevelopment projects such as the Monterey Hotel and parking structures, including buying property; looking for small/medium investment opportunities.
This strategy is not new and because Janesville's economy is very different than it was one year ago, the way forward will be determined by the city's ability to adapt to economic conditions that are changing by the day, not to rigidly adhere to rules extrapolated from now defunct conditions. Yet they are giving an order on how council members should stay the course with ..."do this by." This sets the stage to keep all council members in between the rails. These aren't just broad statements to form a consensus. THIS is an agenda, and it appears designed to help pre-determine the direction of council debates and the outcome of votes. The "main" goal of course is to make sure all council members are in lockstep when it comes time to vote.

But wait a second. Should a city council develop a set of goals or guidelines at all? Doesn't this run contrary to their purpose to represent the people's wishes and not their own personal, political or moral "agenda" no matter how well intentioned they sound? Should council members conform to the wishes of other council members?How will committee goals fit in? Or the administration?

It appears to me, the last thing they want is for individual council members to represent the residents wishes of their district...oops, I almost forgot, Janesville city council is not a district representative form of government. It therefore poses a moral and institutional conflict if one council member's vote reflects something other than the vote of their council peers. How could one council member vote any different than another? Each council member (there are seven) represents the same constituency, the same district - the district of Janesville. So all vote tallies should be unanimous. These "goals" appear to help maintain that control. The question then becomes: Who is running the city council?

People can brag about the benefits of government speaking as one voice, but that is not what democratic representation stands for or means. But if that is the city council's goal, why should Janesville have seven council members when just one will do.


In Janesville, less leadership is more

Growth plans flexibility tested - fails


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Once again Lou, you offer a perspective on Janesville city government that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Given your outline, the council's list of "goals" sounds like it was written by J.P. Cullen and the politico's at Forward Janesville. In that case, Janesville government is a sham.

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