Maybe it is harder than we know to be mayor of a small municipality in the social media age. Perhaps, we should acknowledge that. However, even if we score differently because of the times, the Mielke administration gets a failing grade, and continues to fail on an almost weekly basis. Hardly a week goes by without Mielke and his senior staff making a mistake.
When Mayor Mielke took office, the staff was in disarray. This was not a secret. There was a lot — a LOT — of anger in City Hall internally, and that was spilling out into the public. The whole community could see it.
The ship needed to be righted, and Mayor Mielke pledged to do so. I guess we should have asked how he planned to right the ship.
Mayor Robert Mielke is a people-pleaser. He can, in all earnestness, agree with whoever is in front of him at any given time because he wants so much to be liked. It is an instinct that makes him a formidable politician. Unfortunately, that is not a trait that makes for good a manager or effective leader.
Mielke’s two strategies for calming things down at city hall appear to have been: (1) withdraw all restraint on spending and give departments whatever they want and (2) heap praise — and raises — on his direct reports regardless of their performance. Just throw accountability out the window.
Of course, some staff seem happier these days. But now the rest of things have fallen off the rails.
I hate to return to old chestnuts, but I made a list of points to ponder in 2018, and in 2019 I expanded on it, and in 2020 I am going to expand on it some more.
- Joe Gehin. Joe Gehin is a member of the Becher Hoppe staff. Joe is a member of the Wausau Water Works Commission. Becher Hoppe was awarded the new water treatment plant here in Wausau. Now of course if you go through the voting of the Commission, you will surely see that Mr. Gehin has not voted to give his employer business. But, it is fair to point out that no other consultants were members of the sitting committee that made the recommendation to award the contract. The mayor sat on this Commission, apparently unaware or unmoved by the fact that this is a clear ethical problem for him and his administration.
- Eric Lindman lied. Or misled. Or withheld. Making him the second employee to be caught by the media doing so. This remains a trend under Mayor Mielke
- Economic Development Director Chris Schock. The director’s difficulties in Wausau have been well documented throughout his tenure. The Urban Street Bistro debacle numbers one, two, three, four and five on the list, followed by the Riverlife project developer change, the Liberty Mutual decision to change course on a planned $50 million Wausau facility no longer in the works, plus additional issues listed below. Now, some city staffers and local contractors are concerned that he is rarely in his office and difficult to reach. Working remotely is commonplace in today’s world, but as the head of one of Wausau’s most critical departments, that seems unwise.
- Lying about prosecuting homeless people. Both Council President Lisa Rasmussen and Deputy Chief Matt Barnes said directly and publicly, before changing course, that the ordinance was about homeless people. So did Council Members Dawn Herbst and Dennis Smith. You can just go to the 42-minute mark in the public video here to see it. And you can see the Council President gaslight the public here. Don’t forget that the mayor and Council pledged that plans were underway to work on this problem, and NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE.
- The disturbing and yet unresolved Mary Thao incident. Council Member Mary Thao was targeted by Council Members and City Staff who she said were bullying and ignoring her. Again, Council President chose to minimize a serious allegation by a fellow council member, and Mayor Mielke chose to bury his head in the sand. And now the City will lose her as a council member.
- Mayor Mielke asked a sex offender to join his Welcoming and Inclusivity Council, and then when confronted by it the mayor minimizes it, resulting in the person being asked to not be a part of the group. The mayor chose to pass over the council’s only person of color and any of the competent women who serve. Instead, the only council member appointed to that committee is a white man.
And now let us return to some of the old gems, just to be sure no one forgets.
- Thomas Street. Which has rolled Riverside Park into it now.
- Liberty Mutual. Touched on in the Chris Schock section above, this is a huge loss for the city.
- The Mall. The Mall deal is not signed. Even though private foundations have stepped in to act as a savior, the City of Wausau is still inserted in the middle of this, and their role seems intractable. What’s more, citizens not been informed about potential changes in the development agreement.
- The Movie Theatre/Sears. The taxpayers still own this, years later, despite many promises.
- The Riverlife Project. What can we say about this debacle that has not been said?
- Misdirection of Mall Grant funds to Riverlife Road Monies
- Lower Bond Rating
- Growing Long Term Debt
- The WEDC Grant (On its face, this seems like it is not a big story, but I think it is a HUGE story and should be considered.)
- Continued Pseudo Transparency
It is time to say it out loud: Mayor Mielke is responsible for everything on this list.
These are his failures, or questionable actions. The staff members are supervised by the mayor; he is the Chief Executive of our employee flow chart. The Mayor oversees the Council. The Mayor approves committee membership. The Mayor sets (or in this case fails to) set the agenda for the City. The Mayor sets the tone (or in this case fails to) set a response to public criticism. This is a list of actions taken by or not taken by our Mayor.
Mentors have taught me that it is not enough to come forward and point to a problem. You need to come forward and being an idea for solving that problem. I understand that. But honestly, I have no idea. People in this community have been asking for solutions of many kinds for a long time, and Mayor Mielke has done nothing.
I wish I had a solution to offer, but I do not. I had suggestions in 2018 and 2019, but Mayor Mielke ignored them. So, in 2020 I am just going to be a crank writing a letter pointing out problems, I just hope the City does not ‘go after’ me for bringing criticism.
I acknowledge that as a resident of Weston some of these issues are not as important as one might think. But, Wausau is the economic driving force for central Wisconsin. So to watch this administration falter has been excruciating no matter where we live.
As one boat sinks, we all sink.
Dino Corvino, Weston
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