Mayor's Remarks at Annual Downtown Madison Rotary Appearance

April 27, 2006

Madison - Mayor Dave Cieslewicz spoke at today’s Downtown Madison Rotary meeting. The mayor speaks to the group each year on the anniversary of his taking office. The following is the prepared text:

This is my third appearance before Rotary as mayor. I like to mark another year in office with a visit here because it gives me the opportunity to talk about our City - where it is and where we're going - before the largest weekly gathering of local leaders in business, government, non-profits and foundations.

I do want to express my sadness at the loss of Rotarian Gerd Zoeller. Gerd served on the board of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin when I was their executive director. He was a great board member and a rare person. He will be missed.

Before I get started, I should note that I was asked - actually I was ordered - by your program chair Jim Ruhly to not make this a campaign speech, to refrain from reciting my accomplishments. So, I'm not going to talk about the first new fire station in 25 years, or the first new ambulance in 15 years, or the successful new recycling program that has cut costs while increasing recycling by 37%, or the kudos from Forbes Magazine about our business climate, or the tax increases that have been below average for three years running, or the fact that we have the lowest unemployment rate in the entire state. No, not me. I won't mention any of that.

What I would like to talk about is our City's - and our region's - future. This is our sesquicentennial, our 150th anniversary, as a City. It gives us a good reason to relearn our history, take stock of the advantages and challenges we have today, and plan for our future.

This is also an opportunity for me to be very serious about the policy directions I want us to take over the course of the next year. I know that in much of this speech I’m going to make Alan Greenspan look like an exciting guy. Luckily, I know Rotarians. So I know that many of you actually think Alan Greenspan was an exciting guy.

The biggest challenge and opportunity the Madison area faces is growth. If predictions and trends hold, we can expect about 150,000 more residents, 75,000 new housing units and 100,000 more vehicles in Dane County by 2031. The City of Madison will probably capture not quite half of that growth. Growth will put pressure on our natural resources and our transportation system, but if we can shape that growth, we can use it to our advantage to make our community more diverse, more interesting and even more healthy and prosperous.

We are also growing in ways that make us a more diverse community. In 2006, about 20% of Madisonians are African American, Hispanic or Asian. By 2031, we will be one-third people of color. This is a trend that we must embrace as a community.

How do we respond to the challenges and opportunities that our growth as a City presents? I would like to offer my thoughts on the direction we should take in ten policy areas.

1. We need to find ways to flourish in an era of severely limited budgets. We can do that by pursuing two strategies: constantly become more efficient, and work with the State to make our overall tax system more fair and better for our economy.

In the area of efficiency, we need to focus on the nuts and bolts of government. The new automated recycling system, for example, picks up almost 700 households per truck per day, while the old system picked up 450. Largely as a result of that efficiency, the total number of City employees is actually down from last year, even as our population grows. Next month we’ll take delivery on two new automated road-patching trucks that will reduce the number of workers necessary on a road repair crew from four to one. This summer we’ll be trying out a new way of fixing sidewalks that will allow us to repair them for less than half the cost of the traditional system, and we’ll pilot a project to extend the life of our streets at a cost that is 75% less than the current practices. And in 2007 we’ll extend the same automated system that has been successful for recycling to trash collection.

In the area of reforms to state programs intended to provide property tax relief, we’re not just opposing the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights. I appreciate the principled and courageous stance against TABOR taken by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. But the Chamber and I agree that, while TABOR is a smoke screen, we do need to find constructive solutions to high property taxes. We need to change the century-old Shared Revenue Program to refocus it on basic services like police, fire and streets. Legislators understandably don’t want to increase a program that provides general, unrestricted aid to local governments, but they might be interested in increasing support for popular, basic services. We should also look to reinvigorate the State’s already successful Expenditure Restraint Program under which Madison has restrained its spending in return for fiscal incentives from the State.

2. We need to continue to become more regional in our approach. But the nature of what regionalism will look like is evolving. And what is evolving is not the big metropolitan government kinds of models that were popular in the 1970’s. We have made great strides in cooperation between the City and Dane County, most recently with the merger of our health departments. But more and more, regionalism is about Madison working better with its close-in municipal neighbors. The new face of regionalism is Madison working with Middleton and Fitchburg and Monona and Sun Prairie and all of our neighbors in a cooperative manner. For the first time in anyone’s memory, Madison has joined the Dane County Cities and Villages Association. We had always seen ourselves as having separate interests from our suburban neighbors. Now we see ourselves as being a member of a bigger regional family with common regional interests.

We should also look to how other communities throughout the nation cooperate. During my recent trip to Denver with the Collaboration Council, for instance, we learned a great deal about how that area uses regional transit and arts districts to support regional resources that drive local economic development.

And very often this new level of cooperation is not about big, sweeping initiatives, but about being more efficient at the daily tasks of government. We have at least 113 inter-governmental agreements with our neighboring communities. For example, our Streets Department has cooperative snow plowing agreements with the Towns of Madison, Middleton, Blooming Grove and Burke. Our Motor Vehicle Division helps fix vehicles owned by the Madison School District. When you pull up to the stop light at the corner of Main Street and Second Street in downtown Mount Horeb, that light is maintained by our Traffic Engineering Department, as are 38 others throughout Dane County. We also process tax payments for 9 different municipalities. It’s an entrepreneurial view of government: smaller communities can get many services from Madison at a lower cost than providing them for themselves, and Madison can profit from providing these services. Regionalism is happening, literally, one traffic light at a time.

Finally, we also need to look even beyond our immediate neighbors and build a stronger working relationship with Milwaukee. For too long the State’s capitol and the State’s financial center have, at best, ignored each other and, at worst, been antagonistic. That era is over and it’s time to work together. Mayor Tom Barrett and I will be speaking together in Madison next month and we hope to have some exciting new initiatives to talk about. Certainly one of them will be a push for high speed rail to better connect our cities.

3. We need to become more energy efficient. In the Mayor’s Office we choose to look at problems not as insurmountable headaches, but as opportunities to turn adversity into advantage. One of my favorite phrases is “Let’s make lemonade out of those lemons ... and then find someone else whose life has given them vodka.” High energy prices, with gas now approaching $3 a gallon, are a major problem for City government just as they are for families and businesses. But they’re also spurring us to become more efficient. I’ve asked for a plan to reduce our vehicle fuel consumption by 5% this year; we’ll be one of the first cities to buy diesel-electric hybrid busses; we’ve set aside $100,000 a year for the next five years to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings; Monona Terrace will soon be the first convention center in the nation to be certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program; and we’re planning to step up our purchases of clean wind energy. All of this is being done under our Green Capital City Plan and under the oversight of our new Committee on Sustainability. But it’s not just City government making strides in this regard. Just this past Monday, I had the privilege of attending the grand opening of the new Home Savings Bank Branch on East Washington Avenue. It’s going to be the first LEED-certified bank in the entire state, and I’m happy that Home Savings Bank President and Rotarian Jim Bradley is showing such leadership on this issue.

I also want to commend Gary Wolter and the rest of the MGE team for their visionary plan to eliminate coal burning at their Blount Street Plant; but as they note, this plan will only work if we can save more energy and expand the use of alternative energy, most notably wind power.

In addition to being as efficient as we can be, we also have to face up to the potential for more power lines through Dane County. First, it is not unreasonable to ask for a review of the need for these lines. Taking another few months to make sure that power lines that will be in place, perhaps permanently, are really needed is the prudent thing to do. But if we assume for the moment that these lines are needed, then we need to site them carefully. The City of Madison intends to be a constructive partner in that effort, but we also need to look after the best interests of the City and its citizens. A route that would follow the Beltline would have a significant impact on City neighborhoods, on the economic renaissance that is just starting on the south side, on environmental justice concerns, on the world renowned UW-Arboretum, and on the expandability of that vital transportation corridor. I will emphasize to the Public Service Commission the point that, if needed, these power lines are regional facilities that are of no more usefulness to the City of Madison than they are to the most isolated rural homestead. We will work toward a solution, but we will not accept an answer that loads the costs disproportionately on Madison for a project that benefits the entire region.

4. We need to take bold steps in transportation. Here again our ideas are evolving as we learn more about the various proposals. I believe that we need to do four things. First, attend to the basics. We need to continue to rebuild and maintain City streets and we need to continue to invest in our exceptional bus system. In fact, in the last three years we have increased City general fund support for the bus system by 22%. And last year alone, we invested $1.7 million in street repairs and $13 million in street construction. Second, we need to continue to build up the older parts of the City through infill projects like Capitol West, Union Corners and many others, and we need to build more mixed use, compact, walkable new neighborhoods on the periphery like Grandview Commons. These land use patterns are amenable to public transportation.

Third, we need to work with Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, the State DOT and our Federal representatives in Congress to get high speed rail linking our cities together.

And fourth, we need to develop a local rail system that makes sense from a transportation, land use and economic development perspective. In this regard, I continue to believe that electric streetcars are the most promising technology. While heavy, diesel commuter rail is not a good fit for us, I hope that we can arrive at a solution that works both within the City and the broader region.

5. We need to continue our efforts to clean our lakes. Increases in street sweeping, bans on phosphorous fertilizer and our program to construct 1,000 rain gardens in the City will all help. But we also need a paradigm shift in two ways. First, we should realize that 98% of the phosphorous that enters Lake Mendota comes from outside the City of Madison. This has to be a regional effort. Second, we need to understand that this is a long-term project. It took us a century and a half to get into this situation and it will take us decades to turn it around. What we do today we are doing not so much for ourselves or even our children, but for our grandchildren.

Recognizing that we need to commit ourselves to this effort for the long haul, the City Council last week adopted a Clean Lakes Plan that provides a roadmap for us to improve the quality of our lakes in the decades to come.

6. We need to continue to build on a strong economy. Efforts like the newly formed Collaboration Council are vital to our long-term economic future. The UW’s exciting Institute for Discovery and the new University Research Park on the far west side will stoke the economic development engine that is high tech research. Our primary job at the City level is to facilitate and encourage projects like these. We are also working with the private sector on redevelopment of the Park Street Corridor, on the Todd Drive area, in the East Isthmus and on perhaps a half dozen smaller redevelopments around the City.
Providing the solid infrastructure and the quality public services that underpin these efforts is economic development.

Along those lines, I also view affordable, workforce housing as economic development. That is why we created the inclusionary zoning program two years ago, and that’s why I will continue to work hard to make sure it works as intended.

7. We need to redefine the proper role of the city in social activism. I know many local businesses have been concerned about various regulatory initiatives coming from the City Council. I understand those concerns. By the same token, these initiatives are the direct result of the lack of action at the state and federal level.

There is much that the City already does in the area of social issues that we can build on. We have just created a new, more effective, Department of Civil Rights, which I believe is the only department of its kind in the country. We provide three million dollars a year for about four dozen community service programs, we provide over a half million dollars a year in City support for child care, and we run a nationally-recognized child care facility certification program, and we allocate about $12.4 million in Community Development Block Grant resources. Our bus system is an important workforce transportation program, and it is also a lifeline for the working poor.

What I ask is the business community’s support in bolstering these programs and growing the City’s commitment to social justice as an alternative to some of the business regulation proposals that are before us or that may be yet to come. In many cases, the business community already partners with the public and non-profit sectors on programs like these. This includes major programs such as United Way’s “Agenda for Change,” as well as important individual programs. For instance, the “Schools of Hope” initiative is helping close the achievement gap for minority children in our schools. And the “Madison Street Team” Program, a partnership between the City and Spectrum, is putting young people to work keeping Madison clean. I applaud all these efforts, and the many others like them.

There is a strong, enduring and laudable impulse in our City for social justice. That impulse will find its expression in some form. Let’s find a way to make its expression something that the business community can whole-heartedly support.

8. We need to work more seamlessly to maintain our excellent public school system. Our public schools have recently been ranked the third best in the nation. Yet, they face unprecedented challenges as they work to educate more children that come from impoverished families and more children with special needs. I am very aware that we elect a school board to make these decisions and it is not my intent to overstep my authority, but I do recognize that good schools are vital ingredients in healthy neighborhoods. We will renew our efforts to work with the school district, with parents and with teachers to make sure that City government and the schools are pulling together. For instance, the decisions the City makes regarding new housing development have a significant impact on school attendance and boundary issues. Our recently adopted Comprehensive Plan notes the importance of City and school planning staff working together.

9. We need to keep building the city. Last year, I initiated a list of building projects called Imagine Madison. Each year now in my capital budget I review those goals as a way of keeping on track. Over the course of the next several years we need to build a new Central Library and several refurbished or new branch libraries; we need to clear our backlog of neighborhood parks on the far east and west sides of the City; we should move the exciting Central Park project forward but on more realistic terms and in phases; we need to build new fire stations on the far west and far east sides; we should build a second pool at Warner Park, we should save and refurbish the historic Garver Feed Mill. And it’s my hope that if we can bid successfully on 20% of the units on Allied Drive which are currently in receivership, we will take a major step forward in transforming that neighborhood as we have done at Lakepointe, the former Broadway-Simpson neighborhood.

10. We need to build on our tradition of civic engagement, but do it in a new way that emphasizes accomplishment and civility. Recently, we’ve started to shed our image for not being able to put two bricks together. Bricks have come together brilliantly at the Overture Center thanks to Jerry Frautschi, Pleasant Rowland, Caesar Pelli and George Austin. Bricks are coming together at our first municipal pool thanks to Irwin and Bob Goodman and over 1,000 others. Bricks are in place at the new Boys & Girls Club in the Allied neighborhood thanks to Juan Lopez, Mary Burke and others. The Villager Mall is about to undergo a major transformation and we are committed to keeping the Harambee partnership there alive.

And we are putting figurative bricks together as well. We have combined health departments with the County, worked out a life-saving sharing of paramedic services with our neighbors, and signed an unprecedented number of cooperative boundary agreements with our neighbors.

I hope we have also started to change the tone of civic debate, to give each other the benefit of a doubt, to try to work our differences out and, when we need to disagree, to disagree more agreeably.

Almost 100 years ago, John Nolen observed that “From the beginning the population of Madison was somewhat unusual and might have been expected to express itself in unusual ways of city making.” And Donald Miller, in his excellent history of Chicago, noted that a successful city “specializes in the making and remaking of interesting human beings.”

We have had - and we still have today - more than our share of interesting human beings. By that measure we have been phenomenally successful.

Chief Blackhawk, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert La Follette, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O’Keefe and Gaylord Nelson have all spent time here, had at least part of their lives shaped here, and some have made history here.

For virtually everyone who has lived even a small part of their lives here, Madison has meant a place to dream of better things. Not just personal advancement, but progress for the broader community. More beautiful buildings, a cleaner environment, a more just society, cures for diseases, more perfect art – all of these things were dreamed of in Madison and created and given to the world.

Above everything else, above the lively debates and the sometimes seemingly high strife, Madison is at heart an optimistic City. We are people who believe that problems can be solved and who are sometimes impatient to solve them. No one who falls in love with this City can help but inherit its optimism.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Jairus Fairchild, Madison’s first mayor, said, “We commence our city under most favorable circumstances… and we challenge the world to produce a location for a city whose position embraces so many practical advantages.”

One hundred and fifty years and 51 mayors later I can echo Fairchild. We still enjoy “most favorable circumstances.” We have been given much as a community: a stunning natural setting, abundant farmlands surrounding us, a world-class university, the seat of state government. It is our challenge – and our opportunity – to do something that has not been done much in America: to not grow ungainly, ugly and unmanageable but instead to grow better, healthier, more fair, and more welcoming to everyone.

Contact:
  • George Twigg, 608-266-4611