Opinion Archives for 2018-07

Editorial Comment: Before city settles lawsuit the public deserves to know who made promises to Papke

By Roger Utnehmer, DoorCountyDailyNews.com President and CEO

The Sturgeon Bay city council is soon to settle a pending lawsuit filed by developer Robert Papke for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before that settlement takes place, taxpayers who ultimately foot the payout bill are entitled to some answers.

How was Robert Papke misled and by whom? The answers to those questions are just as important as any provision in a settlement agreement with Papke.

He claims to have had rose petals thrown at his feet. If he was misled, lied to and kept in the dark about the ability to build the proposed Sawyer Hotel on the west-side waterfront, courts will probably rule against the city and in favor of Papke. Sturgeon Bay taxpayers will be footing the bill for those rose petals thrown at Papke's feet. The cost will be in a settlement for several hundreds of thousands of dollars and higher insurance premiums for the city's future coverage. Before the money flows questions should be answered.

Who in city government and the office of Door County Economic Development said what to Papke and when? As the city council continues to mull over settlement discussions in closed session after closed session one wonders if the names of those making promises to Papke will be disclosed with the same transparency as his incurred expenses for which he demands reimbursement.

The settlement talks are taking place behind closed doors in secret. The very least the public deserves when this is resolved is to know who in city government and the office of Door County Economic Development is responsible for another big dollar lawsuit and stain on the reputation of Sturgeon Bay. Who said what to Papke and when did they say it?

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

Letter to the Editor: What's the Problem?

By Don Freix      

Those who missed Sturgeon Bay's July 18 Plan Commission meeting or didn't watch long enough for public comment on non-agenda items should view and listen to District 2 Alder David Hayes as he spoke to the Plan Commission seeking support from those members for his effort to be named to the Plan Commission by the mayor, who has so far failed to respond to Mr Hayes' requests to be appointed to the Plan Commission.

Listen carefully to what supervisor Hayes describes as just a "snippet," of his career resume' in planning and project management which is far ranging in its scope, involving multi-million dollar projects on regional and federal levels and included assignments (his expertise being sought) with the White House, the National Parks Service and the US Department of Interior and the Army Corp.

Calmly expressing that his requests of the mayor to be appointed to the city plan commission have gone unanswered and that he hoped plan commission members individually might influence the mayor to allow him on board, one can't help but ask the mayor what kind of personal or partisan or simple disregard for Mr Hayes' generous offer of his extensive career experience to the city is behind the mayor's reasoning, to thus far not have graciously and eagerly welcomed Mr Hayes' generous offer to serve the city with an appointment to the city plan commission, where two seats remain unfilled.

During alderperson and plan commission member Laurel Hauser's introduction of a process to begin formulating new west waterfront development going forward, member Jeff Norland was concerned about keeping membership to an ad hoc replacement structure for the WRA, restricted to city residents.  Hauser's preliminary outline, in part, recommended two elected city council persons be members of an ad hoc group to be assigned to this particular and specifically proposed focus group. Potentially one of the most well versed planner/project managers imaginable, does reside in the city and desires to contribute to the efforts.  What's the problem Mayor Birmingham?

While Mayor Birmingham, at Tuesday evening's council meeting, droned on about big shoes to be filled when the current city administrator was hired, even as he had effectively disallowed the council to consider that employee position in closed session, with the city's pressing need to get something legal and which is publicly desired and economically successful initiated on the west waterfront and with the normal planning needs for the city on a number of issues, admittedly as an outside observer, I wonder if the mayor might be too busy polishing an electorally bruised ego or increasingly now his own virtual clown shoes, to be looking after the best interests of the city any longer.

Sturgeon Bay is on a track for progress

By Hans Christian

Sturgeon Bay has always been the stepchild in the family of communities in Door County. For years, visitors to our beautiful area were either bypassing it altogether or asking for directions to Door County as they stopped on Third Avenue. When people referred to the county they never mentioned its county seat, its only city, and its only year-round community. Well, the image and the dynamics around Sturgeon Bay are changing.

Starting with the removal of the dirt piles on the west side- a seemingly simple task: Get some heavy machinery for a few days and get the piles removed, right? Well, up until now this wasn't so easy. Handwringing, indecision, and possibly political intrigues were the modes of operation of previous councils. Now, the piles are being moved, re-seeded with native grasses, and a sore spot finally healed up.

And speaking of the west side waterfront: The Planning Commission, chaired by council member Laurel Hauser, just announced that they are preparing to put an ad-hoc committee together to discuss future plans for that particular location. This is another good idea that's coming from the new council.

 A truck route around downtown is in the planning stages with the assistance of police chief Arleigh Porter. Soon we will have a solution to reroute semi trucks away from downtown Third Avenue- another check mark!

 We can now walk our dogs in the parks, a long overdue adjustment so that we can bring our four legged best friends for a nice stroll. Thank you, council member Catarozoli for fighting for this!

At city hall, big changes are under way, too. Because of longstanding conflicts of interest, our long time city attorney has recently agreed to step aside and make room for new legal counsel. The city council is also considering replacing the current city administrator with a fresh face. Although some people may want to turn this into a personal drama, it is really quite common for a new council to consider such a change. Change is good! New ideas will emerge, a better future will be the result of such changes. I am optimistic that our city will get back on track with healthy, intelligent, and positive decisions.

Hans Christian, Sturgeon Bay WI

Letter to the Editor: Pledge to work with, not terminate VanLieshout

By Teri VanLieshout       

Dear Sturgeon Bay City Council and Personnel Committee,

I am writing with reference to the proposed action to terminate Josh VanLieshout's employment contract on Tuesday, 7/17/18, with the City of Sturgeon Bay. As a city resident, I have submitted my comments to my alderperson, Laurel Hauser.  I will share my thoughts with the rest of you via this letter. I am also Josh's wife.  I would respectfully ask that you take time to consider these thoughts before the weighty action on Tuesday. I thank you for your time and consideration.

  1. Is negligence or poor work performance the issue? Is there a good reason for this termination?
    While I know you can't discuss specifics, are there job performance issues in question? To my knowledge, from what Josh has said regarding the overwhelming support from his department heads, he's been doing a good job. People tell me how much they like having Josh work for the city—citizens and employees alike. What is the nature of the issues involved? Why do you need, "a new direction" with the city administrator? Consider this: his position is not supposed to be political. He is not elected. He's there to manage the city, not to make political statements or to "take sides." He serves the council, the mayor, and the City's interests. He's stuck between a rock and a hard place when citizens, the council, and the mayor don't get along.

  2. What will this accomplish?
    What do you think terminating Josh's employment with the City will accomplish? Do you have a person in mind to succeed him? What do you think he/she will do that Josh isn't doing as city administrator?

  3. Do you have a plan for next steps? What do you want in a city administrator?
    What will be your "litmus test(s)" for a new administrator? Are you looking for him/her to share your opinion on key issues? What are those issues? Can you only work with people who share your opinion or can you work with a diverse set of people?

  4. Have you considered how this action affects morale at the City?
    Do you know this action is prompting a mass exodus of talent? People who have been working for the City for years are actively seeking other employment. Many feel unsafe. People are demoralized by this proposed action. They are scared. They wonder who is next. Again, what will this accomplish? Is the talent and experience lost, in the meantime, worth it?

  5. Who is next?
    Are you going to terminate and re-hire all department heads? What are your criteria for terminating employment? Do you have criteria?

  6. Is this action open and transparent?
    Is this action proposed for Tuesday, July 17, 2018 an example of "open and transparent" government in action?  Why can't you tell the public what the main issues are (at least in general) before action is taken? You could say, for example, if there are work performance issues.  I thought with this new majority in place on the council, open and transparent government was going to be the way things were done. How is this transparent and open, in your eyes?

  7. How does this represent "a new spirit of cooperation?"
    The banner on the grainary reads, "A New Spirit of Cooperation."  How does this action represent cooperation? It looks to me like "adopt my political agenda or you'll be fired."

  8. This affects the life and trajectory of our family. Please take that into consideration.
    Finally, please consider our family. I do know the City employs a person and not a family, and it's not the City's job to worry about us as a family unit. Nonetheless, we are part of this community—all of us. We will not likely be able to stay in our home if this action is taken. We will likely have to find work elsewhere. I want you to really consider this before action is taken on Tuesday. We have two daughters, Arry (14) and June (10) who attend Sturgeon Bay Schools. They have attended schools here since pre-K. They love it here. They love their friends. They love their teachers. Arry is so excited to play in the Sturgeon Bay marching band this fall.  Josh has served as soccer coach and has been involved in our church life.  I have been involved in numerous activities within this city over our years here, from being involved with our church to leading our local Breastfeeding Support Group for many years. I was planning on working for Sturgeon Bay Schools in the fall. I love this school district—it is excellent. I want to continue my work here. We love our church. We love our friends. We love our community. Sturgeon Bay is our home. We hoped to close out our careers here and finish raising our family here. This is heartbreaking. While I understand you employ a person and not a family, I ask for you to have some compassion and empathy for how your actions will affect our family. Is this really necessary? Is it really worth it?

So many people have reached out to us and have said they are outraged and shocked at this action. They tell us they are so sorry and hope we don't have to leave. How do you think the public will react to this action? We are supported by many in the community.  Elections have consequences, and so do actions like this one. The people of Sturgeon Bay will remember this.

Please be thoughtful about this decision on Tuesday, as it is consequential and important. I would ask that you not terminate Josh's employment with the City, but rather pledge to work with him. I know he's willing to work with you.

Thank you for your time in considering these questions and comments. I appreciate it. If you have a chance to reply or talk to me in person, I would appreciate that also. My contact information is below my signature.


Teri VanLieshout
Sturgeon Bay, WI

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