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I am running for City Council in Wausau’s District 4 for the first time because I believe I have the skills, experience, and insight to represent the best interests of the people of District 4.
My past work and volunteer experience is based in wide-ranging volunteering, including working with the organization that created our first women’s shelter here and serving at the Humane Society. I worked for nine years at the Health Care Center on both our first dementia unit, specializing in Alzherimer’s disease care, and emergency services where I worked with a team to address crises of a psychiatric nature and networked with emergency medical personnel, city and court police, group home and nursing home personnel from Wausau all the way up to Ashland and Bayfield. This valuable history refined and broadened my understanding of significant social problems that seriously affect individuals and families, ranging from homelessness to issues of mental health. This part of my past has given me the comprehension and compassion to make realistic, workable judgments about the broad social problems facing our community.
I later decided on a career turn that led to working with M&I Bank as a personal banker and later with Morgan Stanley and AbbyBank in financial advising. This background gives me the financial knowledge and critical analytical skills to ask questions that are not now being asked about business development proposals, debt load, and diligent risk assessment.
Readers of the Wausau Pilot and Review issue of April 1 can find more specific information on my views and thoughts on the many challenges facing us now.
Here, I wish to discuss a few notable characteristics of my opponent’s terms in office and his representation of the residents of District 4. I felt these points deserved examination separately from the Council Q&A.
The homelessness issue
Mr. Neal represents himself as a “liberal voice” on Council, yet he votedin favorof the city ordinance that would fine people found lingering and/or sleeping in city parking ramps. This is hardly what I would expect from a ‘liberal voice.” While one on Council tried to claim that the homeless in question somehow “‘all” received monthly checks of one kind or another, as anyone who is living solely on Social Security or other forms of aid will tell you, that’s a tough row to hoe and taking the fine money from them would probably endanger their ability to survive.
Do not misunderstand. I am not expecting employers and employees who work downtown and use the parking ramps to walk over sleeping bodies, tolerate unsolicited pleas for money, or find ways to navigate their way through human waste. Believe me, I endured many a 7:30 a.m. ride down Highway 29 to Abbotsford trying to avoid further impacting the bloody and scattered remains of deer to ask that of anyone.
But the sad state of current affairs is that the very valuable warming center has only 35 beds and The Salvation Army Shelter is often full. Our winter weather can be dangerously cold for humans left too long outside, and homeless citizens are sleeping or lingering in the parking ramps because the ramps provide heat. I find the idea of fining people in those circumstances both offensive and useless. Punishing someone without a home for that situation solves nothing.
After I had raised the idea of perhaps having a judge issue an order for community service as one alternative approach that could possibly lead to new contacts and/or job training, our police chief maintained that “no judge is going to assess the fine. They’ll just give community service.”
One must ask, if that is the truth, then why did we enact an ordinance that no one intends to follow? And why did Mr. Neal vote for it?
Mr. Neal has also decided, as temporary chairman of the Inclusivity and Diversity Committee, now on its third revision of its name, to state that “We will continue to investigate and address the homelessness issue in this committee” after a visit from the leader of the Housing Coalition, implying that the homeless population is largely ethnic. Not true. The homeless here are overwhelmingly comprised of older white men, and as Mr. Neal should surely be aware from his six years on Council, this issue most appropriately belongs on the Public Health and Safety Committee agenda.
Further, under Mr, Neal’s reportedly reluctant leadership, it was only recently that another chairperson was elected while no mission, no stated goals, no operating plan, no definition of what problems should be addressed or how has yet occurred. It was only very recently that one, and only one, of the local organizations concerned with the issues of inequity was invited to one meeting.
And the suggestion that Council members undergo diversity/cultural sensitivity training was certainlynot Mr. Neal’s idea.
Questions even arose from the group members within their last two meetings about their relationship to the city and to Council. The group had no idea if they were simply advisory or had some specific authorities within city government. This definition of their position within city infrastructure should certainly have been explained in an initial orientation. It is hard to move forward when you don’t know what you are actually empowered to do.
These are not the actions of a leader.
The dispute with Mary Thao
This issue was a sharp thorn in the city’s side and rightly so. It continues to be an item of controversy and alienation, something the general public may not be aware of as the issue has gone silent at Council.
Despite many comments from the public at large and offers from several area nonprofits to help address the conflict between Ms. Thao and the Council, Council and the mayor steadfastly refused to confront the problem, the mayor even denying that any problem existed. For quite some time, the tension in Council Chambers was palpable from audience perspective whenever Council fully convened.
As the matter continued without any effective attempt at resolution, people continued to comment and vehement discussions erupted on Facebook and other local social media sites. Council seemed largely oblivious to the simmering concerns that later erupted again regarding former Mayor Linda Lawrence’s past behavior.
At the Diversity Committee’s meeting with the Housing Coalition, Mr. Xiong of the Hmong American Center also attended at the request of the mayor to address the question of why there had been such difficulty getting a member of the Hmong community to join this committee. Mr. Xiong informed the mayor that the Hmong community had been deeply suspicious of the city since the Dylan Yang controversy and until and unless the conflict with Mary Thao was resolved, no Hmong person would join the committee. The mayor insisted all appropriate efforts had been made, but Mr. Xiong stood his ground. During this discussion, Mr. Neal was silent, offering no alternative solutions or routes to resolution of the problem, seeming in his silence to agree with the mayor that all efforts had been made and had failed.
While Mr. Neal later embraced the idea of having Council members undergo diversity training, an idea not his own, he never made any attempt to address a problem that caused evident tension on Council and provoked strong protest from citizens.
Again, these are not the actions of a leader.
The West Side Battery project
Mr. Neal is chairman of the Economic Development Committee and, as such, convened the committee to entertain the request of the owner of Urban Bistro for a loan in second position from the city to redo West Side Battery into a 90-seat restaurant and bar with outside terrace.
After a brief interchange, Deb Ryan took the (microphone) to ask if the committee had Urban Bistro’s tax statements, profit and loss statements, credit rating, and all the other documentation a bank would typically ask for. Mr. Neal answered her that, “We do our due diligence and we don’t need all that. The bank has done all that.” This would have been a justifiable stance if the first position loan was approved. The bank would have done all that and given a positive risk assessment of that larger loan.
I spoke next, saying that mine was a question for Mr. Schultz, asking him if he was saying that there was an approved loan in first position, typically the loan that is the largest. He answered, “Yes, by AbbyBank.”
I took my seat because the next logical question was not mine to ask. I was not a committee member. To my great surprise, no one asked, “Do you have the letter of approval and may we have a copy, please?” No, they simply took this man’s word that an approved loan existed and with absolutely no proof whatsoever voted for approval of the city taking on the second-position loan.
It soon after came to light that Mr. Schultz’s loan request was denied by the bank and he was arrested for shoplifting. I maintain that, had he not been arrested, he would have returned to ask the city for more money. And he probably would have gotten it.
Under Mr. Neal’s leadership, this committee has been trained to ask nothing, question nothing, demand proof of nothing, and they are making recommendations for spending large sums of public money.
What kind of leadership is this?
The Wausau Mall project
This matter began with two rushed, emergency meetings about a proposal by a local group, populated by members of a some of the local heritage foundations, to make a bid on the mall in the hope of making it profitable again. The rush ostensibly occurred because this “corporation” had to have a bid on the table within 30 days or they were out of luck.
They asked for $2 million from the city, a matter that was addressed by our chief financial officer with an amazing explanation that we had $2 million sitting in Tax Incremental District (TID) 8 (If I remember the district numbers correctly.) that we would move into TID 12 so we could ship it out the door to rescue the mall. Dennis Smith, in voting against this proposal, most aptly referred to this strategy as “voodoo economics.”
The vote was to approve this plan and give the money to what was soon afterward revealed to be a not-yet-incorporated corporation. It took several months for their bid on the mall to go through. It also was revealed that the city would be giving them more than another $1 million in a series of payments over the next seven years … .
The urgency of this deal was not urgent and the full details of the resulting agreement were not disclosed to the taxpayers.
Mr. Neal’s enthusiasm for this plan is profound, vocal, and ongoing.
He claims in his Q&A answers here that “We are now on the right path” with this mall plan underway and, as he has done three campaigns in a row, says he has been working toward resolution of the mall dilemma and will “See it through.” He has been in office for six years, raising this mall issue in each campaign, yet he has done nothing in that time to promote a solution of any kind. And this solution was certainly not his idea.
Once again, these are not the actions of a leader.
I feel that I can think outside the box and am not afraid to look for creative solutions. My work and volunteer experiences have honed the analytical skills needed to assure we exercise sound financial judgment and responsibility to spend public monies wisely and well.
My history in social service gives me the understanding and compassion to effectively represent those who often go unheard.
For these reasons, I ask the residents of District 4 for their vote by April 7.
Judith Miller of Wausau