Newly elected Monona City Council member Kristie Schilling is finding out just how unpleasant politics can be, even on the local level.
Consider the May 4 council meeting, when Parks Director Jake Anderson said Ahuska Park would be ready for the Monona Farmers Market to open on May 31. The five veteran council members voted in favor.
Schilling voted against.
Schilling actually wanted the market to open this past Sunday, May 17.
She argued that the small farmers who sell at the market are in a world of hurt and would lose substantial income with a May 31 opening.
Schilling said market organizers said they had a “social distancing” plan to help protect both sellers and vendors from COVID-19 and were ready to go.
But Parks Director Anderson said the bathrooms at Ahuska Park were not open and would need to be continually sanitized during the market hours, so May 31 was the earliest he could get that done.
The City Council rarely argues with Anderson, and this was no exception.
But, after the 6-1 vote in favor of the May 31 opening, Schilling said she received calls from people who accused her of voting against the farmers market – when the exact opposite was true.
The new alderoid took to social media to explain that she was in favor of an earlier opening date and that it shouldn’t take the parks department four weeks to open and clean two bathrooms, especially since all other city parks remain closed because of coronavirus.
Several people then contacted Mayor Mary O’Connor, who promised to look into the matter.
And lo and behold, the mayor decided the market could indeed open last Sunday.
Of course, O’Connor gave no credit to Schilling for pushing the matter, and neither did Mother Nature: Sunday’s market was rained out.
Charlie Brown and Lucy
The recent argument between the village of Cottage Grove and the Monona Grove School Board over who should pay for street improvements near the new Cottage Grove elementary school, reminded me of the old “Peanuts” cartoon strip.
You remember how Charlie Brown would take a run at a football, and Lucy would yank it away at the last minute – over and over again?
In this case, Charlie Brown represents the taxpayers and students of the school district, while the village is Lucy.
A village official said as much, when presenting the district with a surprise $1.7 million bill for street improvements. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like, “I don’t know why they’re so surprised – we did the same thing to them when they built Glacial Drumlin Middle School.”
The “same thing” is waiting until after plans are drawn up and a referendum sold to the taxpayers to suddenly up the ante by expecting the district to pay for street expansions unrelated to the school itself.
Unfortunately, no current members were on the board back in 2008, when the Glacial Drumlin fiasco occurred, and the school superintendent has changed as well.
And if anyone did remember that last time the village yanked the ball away, maybe they thought it better not to put it in the 2018 referendum on the new elementary school, lest Monona-based taxpayers say, “Wait a minute! They expect us to pay over a million dollars for roads we will probably never drive on, by a school none of our children will ever attend?”
I contacted the three senior members of the school board – Peter Sobol, Susan Manning and Susan Fox, all from Monona – and all three said they had no idea the village had done this before, and were truly shocked this time around.
They had budgeted $600,000 for a turning lane and traffic signal on Buss Road, and were astounded when the village announced it expected the district to pay for turning the road into four-lane boulevard with bike lanes – not to mention extending a nearby road that has nothing to do with the operation of the school.
The village says it’s treating the district just like any other developer. But the school district is a nonprofit and a new school is not a subdivision: The $1.7 million can’t be passed along to the customers.
It can and will be taken away from the children the district serves.
And what’s up with the two-year time lag? This school was not a secret.
Couldn’t the village have tried a “good neighbor” approach and informed the district earlier of their expectations?
Nah, that’s no fun – when you’re playing the evil Lucy.
Got something Sunny Schubert should know? Call her at 222-1604 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.