Council member has a bee in his bonnet

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Whitewater Common Council member James Allen tried Tuesday to light a fire beneath his colleagues, urging them to act on several issues that he believes have been minimized or ignored in recent months.

Allen, the council’s unofficial gadfly, said he was “a little bit agitated” that items he had asked to be considered weren’t added to the council agenda in a timely fashion. To discuss the items Tuesday, the council first had to waive its transparency ordinance, which requires agenda items to be posted 72 hours in advance.

The state open meetings law, by contrast, requires items to be listed just 24 hours in advance. City staff members scrambled Monday to include Allen’s agenda items in time to meet that restriction.

In the end, the council did not discuss any of the items at great length, but Allen’s pique with his fellow lawmakers and city staff was more than clear. The tension ran both ways, as votes to waive the transparency ordinance for each item were not always unanimous.

Allen said he would not “publicly shame anyone by name.” He also said he would save his complaints about City Manager Cameron Clapper for a job performance evaluation in a closed meeting at the end of the night.

Specifically, Allen called the council’s attention to:

  • Enforcement of zoning codes by the Neighborhood Services Department. Allen wants an update on training of neighborhood service officers, who inspect properties and issue citations for unmowed lawns, junk vehicles and other violations of the zoning codes. The NSOs are unsworn officers, typically college students in law enforcement majors. Clapper promised to put the item on the council agenda for March 1.
  • The need for special equipment from Charter Communications (Spectrum) to allow the city to stream its meetings live on cable TV. Allen said numerous communities have complained of not getting the equipment as required under public-access TV laws. The council voted to direct city staff to draft a letter to Charter that could be used by Whitewater and other communities to get the necessary technology.
  •  The transparency ordinance itself. “We have a transparency ordinance that we are violating more often than not” because city staff does not get items posted to the council agenda in time, Allen said. Clapper acknowledged some “miscommunication” on postings and promised to study possible improvements.
  • The YouthBuild apprenticeship program, under which high school students in vocational training build houses. At present, YouthBuild enrolls at-risk students from the Elkhorn Area School District, who take classes in the morning and report to a job site in the afternoon. Allen and others, including Whitewater developer Larry Kachel, applauded the program but cautioned that they did not want Whitewater students to have to transfer to the Elkhorn district to join the program. Clapper agreed, saying, “We don’t want to be encouraging our students to be leaving our district.”
  • A 36-unit apartment complex under construction on the west side of North Tratt Street at Walton Drive. Aimed at UW-Whitewater students, the complex will offer apartments ranging from studios to three bedrooms. Fall occupancy is expected. “I want this item to be discussed in public” because some contractors have complained about unequal treatment by the city, Allen said.

Clapper’s report

In his regular update to the council, Clapper noted that dredging at Cravath and Trippe Lakes has been delayed somewhat by warmer weather. Crews are working at night, when colder temperatures allow them to drive heavy equipment onto the lake beds without sinking into the muck.

Clapper also updated council members on construction of a new city water tower near the Highway 12 bypass. Sections of the tower base are being welded into place, and periodic photos will show progress on the tower on the city website, www.whitewater-wi.gov.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Agreed to waive a contract provision requiring Tyr Energy Inc. to provide an updated estimate of costs for decommissioning the LS Power cogeneration plant. Decommissioning would involve shutting down the power plant, removing the buildings and equipment, and cleaning up the site. City Attorney Wallace McDonell said a sale of the plant for $72 million is pending, so the value of the plant far exceeds the potential decommissioning cost of about $2.8 million, which must be covered by a bond from the owner. Powered by natural gas, the plant generates 280 megawatts of electricity and provides steam to an adjacent greenhouse and the UW-Whitewater campus. The plant paid about $350,000 to the city in 2021 under the state utility tax.
  • Postponed approval of an agreement for replacement of the roof at the wastewater treatment plant digester building. The city received two proposals but must open the process to competitive bidding. 

About katesj

I'm an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I joined the faculty here in August 2007. I have more than a quarter-century of experience in the newspaper business in Milwaukee and Philadelphia. My book, "Planning a Wilderness: Regenerating the Great Lakes Cutover Region," was published in 2001 by the University of Minnesota Press.
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