Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food Fight!

When I picked the Herald Independent today it felt positively warm to the touch. Turning to the OP Ed pages revealed a food fight in progress between Sunny Schubert on the one hand and alders Wiswell and Veserat on the other.

The cause of the hoo-raw, the contretemps, the uproar?

Sunny's column from last week wherein she made some choice observations about the relationship - OK, she called it a feud - between Monona Mayor Robb Kahl and alder Jeff Wiswell, Sr.

"More evidence of the ongoing feud between Mayor Robb Kahl and Ald. Jeff Wiswell surfaced in the list of amendments to the city’s capital budget, but you have to be able to read between the lines to spot it." Sunny theorized that the amendment to remove $25,000 in funding from the capital budget for speed tables was evidence of the feud.

This week alders Mike Veserat and Wiswell fired back. In Alder Wiswell's response, he wrote "So Sunny comes to the insane conclusion that the mayor and I are in some kind of crazy mano-a-mano 'head butting feud' because I proposed cutting $25,000 from his 2010-11 capital budget that was to be used for speed bumps on the south end of Winnequah in her neighborhood."

In his letter to the editor, Alder Veserat calls the column "venomous". (Unfortunately, alder Veserat's letter is not available online yet.)

Sunny's column in this week's paper does not respond to Wiswell or Veserat (her column may well have been put to bed before the alders missives arrived at the Herald). She does quote from alder Jim Busse's email to her regarding the budget amendment in question and from Mayor Kahl defending his decision to test some rubberized speed cushions last fall.

Alder Busse is correct that the ultimate amendment just moved the speed hump money from the police budget to the public works budget. However, as alder Dennis Kugle noted during the meeting he (Kugle) originally sought to take the money out of the budget completely. That led to discussions with the mayor and the subsequent replacement of his original amendment with the budget transfer. Anyway, my impression was that alder Kugle was moving party behind that amendment.

So Sunny was in error to view the capital budget amendment as a Wiswell swipe at the mayor, but her surmise of friction - not just policy disagreement - between the Mayor and alder Wiswell is pretty accurate from what I've observed. And like Sunny, I've also heard that some committee members are unhappy with alder Wiswell - probably as much or more over style than policy.

(There are certainly people in town who wished I'd never run for city council. I have an anonymous hand-written message hanging in my office stating that the author would not vote for me if I was the only candidate running and that they would 'probably move' instead! No word on whether they made good on that threat - or promise depending on one's point of view.).

The Monona city council  - it's no love fest, but I will say personal relationships have improved since the days five or six years ago when former alder Tom Stolper informed me that the council meetings were known around town as the Monday Night Fights! - not that alder Stolper himself was ever confused with a wallflower. I'm not sure any of it rises to the level of a feud, or insanity, or venom.

You get a group of strong-willed, strong-minded people together to make decisions about something they care deeply about and there's bound to be friction. Just for fun, throw them together for a four or five hour public meeting on camera. Those stoic faces (blank stares?) could just be covering up an urge to press the bullsh*t button. And then you remind yourself that everyone at the table was elected by the voters.

But mightn't it be fun if we each had our own BS buttons for just one meeting.....


  1. I was confused by Sunny's column. It seemed to me much ado about nothing. Wiswell does not have to love the mayor and vice versa.

    I agree with you about the Stopler/Lisa Nelson- Monday night fights-they were classic.

  2. "Monday night fights-they were classic."

    Actually though, Tom was referring to council meetings after his time when Lisa Nelson, Peter McKeever, Jeff Wiswell, Kathy Thomas, Mike Meulemans, and I were serving during Robb's first term as Mayor Kahl. It was a more outspokenly partisan group. Several of us were very interested in making a point and that led to others making a counterpoint. Rinse, Wash, Repeat.

    And with a new mayor and three new alders, we were barely beginning to figure out how to work together.