Opinion Archives for 2017-12

Letter to the Editor: The Granary and Historic Preservation

By Betty Parsons


Miller Art Museum volunteers have the opportunity to collect and share stories from visitors.  My favorite is about a twelve-year-old boy, who asked the volunteer to show him a master's painting, his favorite being Rembrandt.  The volunteer said she was sorry to disappoint him, but the museum didn't have any Rembrandts.  Before she could say anything else, he said, "Well then, a Van Gogh will do".  Who can't love the enthusiasm and the value of art history education, as evidenced by this child?!


Our local classrooms visit the Miller, so one thinks about a restored granary and envisions classes touring it, as well as the Michigan Street Bridge, the waterfront, and the Maritime Museum.


History is all around us and presents itself in many ways. Our town and families include components of a variety of history.  The more variety, the richer we are as individuals and community, and historic preservation is known to draw visitors.


The County and Sturgeon Bay market our museums, which collect and preserve objects of cultural importance for educational purposes.  We are fortunate to have our Historic Third Avenue, Maritime Museum, Door County Historical Museum and Miller Art Museum.  Remove these collections of the past and what are we left with?  Surely, we are diminished.


After the coop buildings were removed and the granary remained, it became a principal part of the city's first waterfront redevelopment plan.   


Why then, has the granary become an object of controversy and fierce rejection? Why can't an idea morph and move beyond its original plan?  Across the US, projects have encountered twists and turns, and with each reiteration, what emerges has value and is often more meaningful than the initial vision.


We know the granary raze order can be reversed, and/or other options explored, however, City Council steps related to the granary have been confusing and contradictory.  A partial list includes:  1. Information related to the raze order doesn't meet state statutes for such an order,  2. The anticipated plan to allow an engineering survey of the granary was reversed, which means no structural analysis and plan can be developed,   3. There is an eagerness to enact the raze order, despite a pending ruling on the Ordinary High Water Mark, which will influence the future of private development,  4. The city never put the pledged $1.25 million dollars for the granary, which is a plan, on the council agenda, nor, when requested, did it allow the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society to put their plan on the agenda,  5. There has been contradictory information regarding what role the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority plays in having requested items put on an agenda,  6.  The WI Department of Safety and Professional Services wants the city to have negotiations and to independently resolve this issue, but no opportunity has been provided for discussion,   


In our community, we have a gentleman, George Evenson, who spent his career in agriculture and public service, and has given his time and talents to history and preservation.  For Crossroads, he organized the moving and preservation of a church, school, grocery store and residential home. He was involved with the Belgian Heritage Center efforts and was president of the Door County Historical Museum for twenty-two years.  At a Council meeting, he spoke passionately for historic preservation of the granary, and said, "It would represent the city's strong agricultural roots, upon which our county was founded".   Additionally, the Visitor's Bureau and the city's Historic Preservation Committee are on record to save the granary.  


I think of the distant future, fifty, one hundred years from now, when the past is really the past and hope our grandchildren have the opportunity to become familiar with county history through as much authenticity as possible.  I understand not everyone is a history or preservation enthusiast.  However, most of us would agree that retaining our heritage is a worthwhile goal, as it offers connection and continuity to our past.


Unfortunately, the West Side Development waterfront history is messy.  My fervent wish is that each idea can be viewed objectively and on its own merits.  Remove, gone forever.  Save, possibilities remain.  We know the granary can be restored.  In fact, our Mayor stated such at a City Council meeting.


By its actions, the city administration seems determined to want to reject ideas by those who want to save our history, and this opens serious questions to their motivation.


I'm confident, if preserved at its current location, the granary would become a community icon and would be featured on the cover of a Door County magazine.   I hold onto hope.


Betty Parsons

Letter to the Editor: An open letter to Mayor Thad Birmingham

By Mike Orlock, Sturgeon Bay

Mayor Birmingham: I must confess that I don't really know you. I know who you are, of course, but I have no idea what you are like. Are you a good guy, a great family man, a helpful neighbor? If so, I have never seen that side of you in the months (make that years) that I have been coming to city council meetings, as the issue of the waterfront redevelopment has degenerated into an all out feud, with enough rancor and acrimony on both sides to fill the old granary on the west side several times over.


I like to imagine that, away from council meetings, you are sometimes besieged with second thoughts. If only you had bent a little when the west side hotel plans blew up on you like a chemistry experiment gone wrong, when you and Mr. Papke tried to push through a zoning variance to allow his building to be even larger. If you had sought to be inclusive and sensitive to the concerns voiced by many of your constituents, instead of being inflexible, intransigent, and sometimes insulting to the people you were elected to represent, maybe we wouldn't be in the position we are, dug in like ticks, lawyered up, and ready for war.


I get that you had a plan, that the Men's Majority on this council had a plan, maybe even a vision of what you think the west side waterfront should be. But obviously those plans were not communicated effectively, or—possibly—not the vision that a sizable faction in this city shared. Had you been more a politician and less an autocrat, had you done what some political leaders can effortlessly do, invite people of different backgrounds and opinions to buy into the process and find consensus, you probably would have gotten a big chunk of what you wanted, modified somewhat, but a lot better than what we have now on the waterfront—a demilitarized zone of scarred earth and diseased landscape.


You helped make this contest a zero sum game, much to the detriment of the city of Sturgeon Bay. You helped divide this city into three camps: those who are with you, those who are against you, and I suspect a considerable group that would like both those other groups to jump in the lake. Because of that lack of leadership skill, because of the actions and statements that you have made to help rip this community apart, I will wear a tee shirt to council meetings that reads "I've 'Thad' Enough." Frankly, we deserve better than you are capable of giving. We deserve new ideas and new direction to make Sturgeon Bay whole again.



Mike Orlock

Letter to the Editor: Sturgeon Bay Fire and Police Commission

By Don Freix, Fish Creek

With inquiries this past week, made to several members of the Sturgeon Bay Police and Fire Commission (SBPFC), I was attempting to discover two things.  First, what are the SBPFC's abilities to reprimand, advise, influence or control the behavior of City personnel under their statutory jurisdiction, and secondly,  getting a sense from any of these five members whether there were feelings or indications about a need to intervene with Fire Chief Dietman concerning his current official behavior regarding his raze order for the waterfront grain elevator and for what appears to be the forthcoming and clearly unnecessary, $60K price tag to city taxpayers.


Does Chief Dietman's now twice reported acknowledgement of advice from the WI Department of Safety and Professional Services, to (paraphrasing) solve this issue without involving the state, and his refusal thus far to compromise by allowing granary stabilization and repair using private funds, to address protection of public health and safety, does this constitute statutory, "good behavior," that will not affect his future employee evaluations by the SBPFC?  Would private industry allow an individual a, $60K, "appropriation," while ignoring or refusing to accept other effective resolutions?


One member of the SBPFC understood that official reprimand required a formal complaint filed with the City and a particular due process to be followed.  That was my understanding as well, for in the future, if there is follow up with an official complaint from an aggrieved party, for instance city taxpayers, pending eventual removal of the granary at taxpayer expense, while other solutions publicly announced were ignored, all I'm getting at is that I see the absolutely unambiguous potential to avoid several problems for everyone concerned.


The point I tried to make with the four SBPFC members I was able to contact was this.  Why are you as a Commission, not yet meeting and discussing the issue of what looks like an almost certain, unnecessary expense to city taxpayers and not yet advising the Fire Chief that the SBPFC would prefer or are directly requesting that he let others solve the public health and safety issue at their personal expense, fully accomplishing the same public protection goal?


The current raze order addresses only one issue under law, protection of public health and safety and not the questionable and presumed future financial success of a waterfront scheme for some private developer(s) as appears to be the motivation of the Mayoral majority, by gaining private control and access to public waterfront.  Short of potential reprimand after the fact, if the SBPFC wanted to take the bull by the horns and act responsibly, the SBPFC would be posting an agenda at noon today, and holding a meeting on Monday to decide the proper course of action on the only issue this current raze order is predicated upon, again, public health and safety.

Proposed Sturgeon Bay Sales Tax Deserves NO Vote

By Roger Utnehmer

Civil Discourse: An Occasional Attempt to Restore Civility to Our Civil Discourse

The proposed one-half percent sales tax to deal with crumbling Sturgeon Bay streets is a short-term solution to a long-term state-wide problem.

The Wisconsin legislature should increase the gas tax. Cities should not increase the tax burden on their most vulnerable citizens by imposing another regressive tax. Sales taxes hurt the poor and vulnerable most by taking a disproportionate share of their disposable income. Government services should be funded fairly.

A gas tax, on the other hand, raises money to maintain streets, roads and highways from the people who use them. Sturgeon Bay senior citizens who drive just a few thousand miles a year should not be penalized when purchasing products totally unrelated to transportation. Fair funding would charge the users of Wisconsin highways for the service government provides to them. A gas tax increase does that. It would also allow the state to capture tax revenue from visiting valuable tourists, the vast majority of whom drive to Wisconsin.

Sturgeon Bay City Council Member David Ward has done a commendable job studying the need to fund local streets. His Ad Hoc Committee has raised issues worthy of debate and discussion. However, picking on local consumers to pay for an unfair share of an unfair sales tax is not the solution voters should support.

A "NO" vote on the April sales tax referendum will send a message to state legislators that it is their responsibility to deal with crumbling streets, roads and highways as a state-wide, not just local, problem. The "No Tax Increase" pledge of our governor and many legislators is not responsible. It just pushes the tax burden on to local government while allowing them to shirk responsibility for political gain of sounding conservative.

And the gas tax should also be pegged to increases in the consumer price index. A slight increase in the gas tax as the economy expands is much better public policy than dealing with the delay and transportation fund deficit we face today.

A "NO" vote on a Sturgeon Bay sales tax will send a message in favor of fairness and legislative responsibility.

That's my opinion. I'd like to hear yours.

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