Sunday, March 29, 2009

Paul Esslinger's NW Column

If you haven't had a moment to Read Paul Esslinger's column in the NW today, do so now. It tells you everything you need to know about Paul Esslinger and why he should never be Mayor.

As you're reading it, ask yourself this: who is the audience of this missive? The people of Oshkosh? Perhaps, but if they are we're merely an afterthought. All throughout the column a reader gets the impression that this is essentially a letter written in response to this week's endorsement of Frank Tower by the NW. Here are the two paragraphs from the endorsement that dealt with Esslinger:

After nine years on the Common Council, Esslinger should recognize that the time to chart out a comprehensive shift in public works projects isn't a "No" vote in November. It takes leadership in January, February and March to set goals and direct staff to begin planning to accomplish them.

The absence of an alternative, let alone an amendment, captures Esslinger's leadership style. "No" is a powerful word that has a proper place in government, but it cannot be the sole basis of the city's agenda.

All of Esslinger piece essentially deals with this criticism in one way or another. That's not unimportant because it gets straight to the core of how Esslinger functions as a public official: he reacts to things and that's pretty much it.

There's very little foresight when it come to Esslinger and next to no vision. Just take a look at his opening paragraph:

The role of an elected official is to make sound, responsible, common sense decisions consistent with the priorities of the citizens. Recently, a survey was sent out with the water bills of Oshkosh residents'. Many citizens responded with their high and low priorities. Issues of highest priority included: street repairs, flooding issues, garbage pickup, police protection and fire service. The issues of low priority: redevelopment, TIF programs and city purchase of land and buildings. This survey was an excellent and accurate way of obtaining public opinion, and should continue to be done annually.
Esslinger goes on to say that he will essentially take the survey advice and focus on the priorities outlined in the survey. If the people of Oshkosh wanted ice cream as our number one municipal priority, there's little doubt Esslinger would be promising a Baskin Robbins on every corner. He reacts, in this case to a survey, and that's about it.

Now look closely at those specific priorities, all are things that governments react to. Street repairs: can't fill a pothole until one shows up. Flooding issues: something that rarely happens around these parts, but is something folks are still smarting from last spring. Police and fire: not really a problem until someone gets mugged or has their house on fire.

Each of those "priorities" are things municipalities generally react to. When cities develop long term strategic plans or craft visions for future all these things are givens. Unfortunately, Esslinger thinks this is the entire job. For a moment I thought Esslinger was running for mayor of New Orleans when I read this paragraph:
The Oshkosh Northwestern's top story for 2008 was flooding. It featured a lady outside her home visibly upset because her basement was completely flooded, a tragedy she experienced more than once. We also heard of people who had basements collapse due to flooding. These weren't isolated incidents; there were hundreds if not thousands of people that had these problems. Had the council focused on flooding issues years ago, I believe many of these issues could have been greatly reduced or eliminated.
Again, reaction. I know there are quite a few people who are still struggling with flood damage, but fixing sewers is not going to help them a bit, not now in any event. It rarely floods in Oshkosh, especially to the extent that it did last year. That's hardly a reason to devote an entire term as mayor to sewers.

Esslinger is only capable if fighting last year's battles. He has absolutely ability to look forward and as a consequence he has no ability to lead. Oshkosh needs a mayor who will promote new and good ideas and not just acquiesce to the desires of a survey. Esslinger just doesn't comprehend this.

Making matters worse. Esslinger's priorities are entirely backwards. He wants to fix potholes first, then work on "economic development:"

Wouldn't it have been better if the Oshkosh Northwestern's top story for 2008 was "COMPANY 'X' LOCATES IN OSHKOSH?" And when you read the story, it told of hundreds of new, family-sustaining jobs coming to Oshkosh? This leads me to my next priority: economic development.

Too many times we've heard of businesses laying off people or, worse yet, leaving Oshkosh. In some instances this can't be stopped, but I believe we need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining jobs in Oshkosh. We need to have serious discussions and look into new ways to retain jobs in and recruit jobs to Oshkosh. If the leaders in Oshkosh don't focus on job creation, we will struggle to accomplish our infrastructure needs and never be able to accomplish the "quality of life" projects we all would like to get done without incurring further debt.

Pay close attention to the sentence in bold: notice the use of pronouns. Esslinger doesn't say, "As Mayor, I will do a better job of etc." He says "we," which sounds like that's a job he expects someone else to do -- and I'm not necessarily talking about some job he's going to delegate to someone else once he's elected. That sentence makes me believe he's just going to sit around and wait for someone else to do the job. It doesn't actually fill me with confidence. Maybe that's actually a good thing. Esslinger's bouts with unemployment are extensive. That's not a personal shot at him, just a fact. I'm pretty sure that he found work recently, but how is a man who clearly has trouble convincing a perspective employer to hire him (and then blames his unemployment on "political persecution") going to convince others to hire dozens, if not hundreds, of his fellow citizens?

Esslinger is a horrible council member. He brings absolutely nothing positive to the table and frequently sidetracks potentially productive discussion with nonsense issues. He's easily distracted and recently seems incapable of casting some votes without consulting Tony Palmeri first. He's a liability to derail a productive train of thought the moment he walks into council chambers.

We've said this before: Esslinger may be awful, but he does represent a constituency in Oshkosh that is not small and you can tell who those people are by reading Esslinger column. They're working and lower class folks who connect with Esslinger's style of "haves and have nots" populism. The problem s that these folks are better served by just about anyone else. These are the folks that are going feel the brunt of the recession and the people Esslinger does next to nothing for, except perhaps express his periodic anger at one nonsense issue or another.

That's hardly a substitute for effective leadership.

3 comments:

tony palmeri said...

Chief,

You say:

"Flooding issues: something that rarely happens around these parts . . . "

and:

"It rarely floods in Oshkosh, especially to the extent that it did last year."

Since 1990, Winnebago County has been the site of 5 presidential disaster declarations (1990, 1993, 2001, 2004, 2008), with Oshkosh sustaining serious flood damage. There have also been 4 "minor" flood events that did not rise to the level of presidential disaster declaration (1996, twice in 1999, and 2000).

The Department of Public Works, as part of its justification for coming forward with the Westhaven Golf Course plan, said that the city of Oshkosh "frequently experiences flooding during rain events."

I think that the DPW's "frequently" is much more accurante than your "rarely" when it comes to flooding in Oshkosh.

And no, I did not consult with anyone before posting ;-)

jody said...

Sorry Chief, One of your female friends asked me if I ever came to your blog and she says she likes ya. Thought I'd take a peek back here tonight. LOL --> and with TP as my warm-up act my timing seems REALLY auspicious.
To Paul or Not To Paul may be the question, but I won't answer that.

I just want to say (as a person who reads a lot of Blogs n' Bitchin' from a lot of places) Holy Cow, EVERYONE wants their elected officals to bring in NEW JOBS. Everyone, more than everyone, everyone PLUS everyone who will ever be born, or who has ever drawn breath in the past.

Now I dunno if you're Left, Right or Independent, but I don't think it's any one ideology that will say businesses are twitchy and indifferent, and have been for a long time now, they're preferring overseas locations for a lot of stuff and what business does stay in the US enjoys the same situation as an old man at a Home for the Aged.

everyone wants his ass

The issue being there are 9 million old ladies to each gent. Each old wrinklebag faces a vast smorgasbord of willing grannies. (now when I'm at the Home I'm not giving a tinker's cuss about some old dude, bleah. gimme the 20-something orderly or give me death)But every city council and "economic development corporation" in ever town in every state is trying to lure business with the same stuff. and there just is not nearly enough to go around. Or we would have seen action by now. Vacant business parks would not be vacant and TIFs would bring in lots of new jobs. Overall income would not have been falling in WI for many years etc. If youwant a literary example it's just a bunch of people Waiting For Godot. He never comes, the people keep waiting.

But people ALWAYS say that's what they want from leaders and really the local leaders can't do JACK about the global business trends we have now. So they do the same sad song and dance and have you noticed how many decades this refrain has been sung in town after town and NO SIGNIFICANT business ever comes? Everyone one my half of the state goes all ga-ga about New Job Creation at election time and has since at least 1990. No change. Business does not need us, does not want us. Eau Claire, Oshkosh, Podunk, doesn't matter. They are not investing in places like us and people like us.

The only other post of yours I ever read was old and kinda offensive - about some ugly douchebag who screws all the girls you wanna screw. or something. Maybe it was Gableman. Nasty post, tho' all the guys went flippy over it. pfft. But it was some unfulfilled desire theme. You an add New Job Creation to the list of Girls you didn't nail. Frank and Paul, neither can bring that to you. Just another fantasy.

marry said...

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