Sunday, March 28, 2010

Paul Esslinger's Greatest Hits

Shortly after Paul Esslinger was elected Mayor last year we predicted bad things:
After nine years on the city council Essingler has nothing to show for his tenure except a string of polarizing incidents that do little in terms of moving the city forward, but are a great way of getting one's name in the paper.
Of course, Esslinger has extended that practice to his tenure as Mayor. Here are some of Esslinger's greatest hits almost a year after being elected:
Although Councilman Bucholtz has turned out to be a dedicated public servant and something of a breath of fresh air on the council, the whole process was a belabored mess and not exactly a confidence-building exercise.
What he should have done was express his intentions to both Bowen and Maddox and seek their input on possible successors. Then when the time came to make the changes public, he should have released a statement thanking the two of them for their service. I'm not suggesting Esslinger give them the keys to the City, but a "thank you" was the very least he could have done ... and I mean the absolute minimum.
To Esslinger's credit, he did manage to pull an event together, but only after considerable hand-wringing during what was essentially a "no confidence" vote by the traditional sponsors of the event.
A flip-flop on a project shortly after Esslinger bought out the ownership of Screwballs bar. Left unsaid was the positive effect that project was going to have a several competing taverns downtown and if that was a factor in his decision to oppose the project.
The Deer Cull really wasn't so much about what Esslinger did do so much as he what he didn't do. Instead of providing much leadership on the matter, he actually went to Governor Doyle to see what he could about it:
There's absolutely no need for another committee to essentially resolve a single animal control issue and it's ridiculous that Esslinger has to waste political capital by meeting with the Governor over this issue. (I don't care who is in the office, but the Governor of Wisconsin has far more important things to worry about that a whether the City of Oshkosh can take control a few dozen deer.)
If there's one incident that embodies the Esslinger management style, it's this one. The sad thing is that this is the kind of project that, with a little forethought and advance notice, could have been net positive to the city. Arranging a price with the seller and asking him to put the truck on hold would have made raising private funds easier (even in this economy). Now no one's sure if the money's going to Esslinger, the city, the fire department, the seller... It's a bloody mess, it never had to be and it will likely be the thing most voters remember when they enter the voting booth next spring.
Pretty much an embarrassment to everyone in the city.
Ongoing ...

If we've missed any, feel free to jog our memories in the comments section below. In the past we've referred to ordeals such as the above as "distractions" -- nothing really corrupt or criminal, just the product of incredibly poor decision-making. The problem with these distractions is that they have a tendency to occupy the time and energy of a city council that could be working on other things. For example, we have been talking about buying an antique fire truck since early November of last year. Six months is a long time to worry about a fire truck that's not actually going to be putting out any fires.

But if you look at the way these distractions have unfolded -- they are listed above in chronological order -- a pattern starts to emerge. The first few were acts of thoughtlessness on his part, or political calculations that were made without regard to the optics. The more recent incidents, however, have veered into "conflict of interest" territory and appear to be evidence of a sense of entitlement that points down a trajectory that should worry the city.

When he ran for Mayor, Esslinger said he wanted his office to concentrate on four issues: public safety, sewage treatment, jobs and infrastructure. Instead, he's mostly devoted his attention to jukeboxes and firetrucks. God only knows what's next.

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