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Government service as a worthy calling PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 21:38

News media are devoting a lot of space and time these days to reporting on people who applauded Donald Trump’s attacks on government and voted to make him president but are now realizing with remorse that he plans to shrink or eliminate government programs that benefit them. 

Antipathy for government is an easily acquired over-the-counter palliative for what ails voters economically or socially. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” infested by government insiders, his right-hand man Steve Bannon’s pledge to “deconstruct the administrative state” and their use of the term “bureaucrat” as a pejorative dripping with contempt were dependable applause lines.

Yet when the cheering dies down, the reality that society can’t function without government remains—along with the reality that government can’t function without professionals to do the work of government.

This is true at the federal and state levels, but some of the most affirming examples of it can be found in local government, which brings us to Tom Meaux, who retired last week as the Ozaukee County administrator.

An undiscerning government critic judging Meaux from his resume might have called him a denizen of the swamp. He was, after all, a card-carrying member of the government class, a man who spent almost his entire working life in government, much of it as a paid government employee—a bureaucrat. 

That misjudgment is the kind of mistake that can be made when people carelessly accept cliches of bureaucratic dysfunction.

Meaux’s career of service and accountability to the public, marked by exceptional competence, is a perfect counter to those perceptions.

In his 17 years of work for Ozaukee County,  Meaux oversaw the honing of county government into an efficiently functioning institution that improved services while maintaining the lowest county tax rate in Wisconsin.

By the time he was hired by Ozaukee County, Meaux had served as a state legislator, a Milwaukee County Board member and the Milwaukee County treasurer. In his new job in the courthouse in Port Washington, he stepped into a county government that reflected an occasionally unruly grass-roots democracy in which policy was made by elected representatives serving constituencies as diverse as Mequon gentry and northern Ozaukee farmers and carried out by an overworked county clerk.

As expected, the new administrator streamlined administrative operations, but he also streamlined the workings of the County Board by building relationships and fostering compromise among members and then effectively executing their decisions.

Much was accomplished on Meaux’s watch, but perhaps his signature achievement was the salvation of Lasata, the county-owned nursing home in Cedarburg. In the face of intense pressure to abandon a publicly owned institution that was losing money, Meaux and County Board leaders crafted a bold plan that saved the nursing home by adding assisted-living units to the Lasata campus and using their profits to subsidize the nursing home services valued so dearly by county residents at no expense to taxpayers.

Some of his most valuable efforts on behalf of the people of Ozaukee County were not of the brick and mortar variety, but may be more lasting. These include his guidance of the restoration of the historic courthouse and the splendid public art in its boardroom and his part in the county’s participation in environmental-preservation partnerships, including the creation of the Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton.

Meaux’s success also serves as a lesson that ideological differences need not inhibit the efficient process of government, as is so often the case at the state and national levels. He was a big-city Democrat working with the conservative Republicans who dominated the County Board. Some of the latter sung Meaux’s praises in an article in last week’s Ozaukee Press.

Meaux told the author of the article, Press editor Bill Schanen IV, that he chose his career because he was “fascinated by government and the challenge of making it more effective and responsible to the people it served.”

He met that challenge and in the process demonstrated that government service is a worthy calling.

Do the right thing for the county’s harbor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 21:06

Nature has smiled on Ozaukee County by giving it 25 miles of Lake Michigan coastline. The gift provides natural beauty, recreation, high land values and the economic vigor that results from its appeal to tourists, new residents and businesses. An unfortunate vote by the Ozaukee County Board on March 15 suggests that some of its members are taking this gift for granted.

The vote denied the City of Port Washington’s request for a $150,000 contribution by the county toward a breakwater improvement project that will cost $8 million.

A majority of the board—16 members—voted in favor of the contribution. But because a two-thirds vote was required, the no votes of merely seven supervisors scuttled a funding measure that was in the best interests of county residents.

The rationale of the naysayers seemed to be that the county should not contribute because the project benefits only the City of Port Washington. This pinched and shortsighted view misses the obvious: The harbor that needs the breakwater improvements is as much Ozaukee County’s harbor as it is Port Washington’s. 

It is the only harbor on the county shore, and it benefits the thousands of residents of Ozaukee County who use it to launch or moor boats, go fishing on charter boats or from docks and breakwaters or visit it to enjoy the beauty of Lake Michigan, an enjoyment that will be enhanced by the improvements that will make the breakwater safer and easier to use by those who want to walk over the water on its half-mile length to the lighthouse.

The economic impact derived from the spending the harbor stimulates flows to the entire county, generating county sales tax revenue and supporting businesses and the taxes and jobs they produce.

The breakwater project is going to get done with or without county money, but the rejection of the city request for modest cost-sharing puts unnecessary pressure on the taxpayers of Port Washington to fund infrastructure in the which the county has a significant stake.

This should have been an easy decision for the County Board, an opportunity to support Port Washington in providing a turn-key benefit for county residents. 

The city government has done all of the heavy lifting for the project, persuading a reluctant federal government to rebuild the failing breakwater structure, winning grants for necessary safety and accessibility upgrades and appropriating roughly $1.5 million in city funds for the work. 

Refusing to make a contribution that amounts to less than 2% of the cost of the project was an unfriendly response, insensitive to the contributions to the county by the City of Port Washington and its taxpayers and unsupported by any evidence that it would have been irresponsible spending.

It also amounts to a rejection by the no-voters of county government policy toward the harbor at Port Washington. Ozaukee County has demonstrated it values its stake in the harbor by contributing $1 million to the building of the small-boat harbor in which the marina is located and funding the rescue boat that is an essential marina service.

This episode in the annals of the relationship between the county and its county-seat city deserves a happier ending, one that reflects the will of the County Board majority. That can be accomplished by reconsideration and the change of just two of the dissenting votes. The satisfaction of doing the right thing should be an adequate incentive to do that.

Congress must defend our lakes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 18:49

Everyone knew Donald Trump was no tree hugger or water worshipper. He made that perfectly clear when he told campaign audiences he would get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency. And he underlined it when he appointed an EPA chief who promptly announced that efforts to kill the agency were justified. 

Then why are people across the Great Lakes region—local and state government officials, members of Congress, business leaders, citizens whose quality of life is dependent in various ways on lakes—taken aback by the Trump budget proposal to end the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) by shutting off its funding?

They are more than surprised—they are shocked—because what Trump proposes is not just neglect of one the world’s most precious natural wonders; it is a reckless move that threatens the health and economic well being of millions of Americans. 

The president, a big fan of branding, has given his budget a name—the “America First Budget,” a catchy but misleading tag for a document drafted by politicians who seem unaware that the Great Lakes region, which is home to more than 10% of the U.S. population, is part of America.

The programs of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative have been working since 2010, with local partnerships and shared funding, to not just restore lakes grievously damaged by industrial pollution, but to prevent catastrophic degradation of the lakes’ water quality and ecosystems by out-of-control algae growth and invasive species. This work is a critical need.

The Great Lakes region, the largest freshwater system in the world, contains 95% of this country’s fresh water, provides drinking water for 35 million Americans, supports 1.5 million jobs in tourism, boating and fishing and contributes $5 trillion in gross domestic product annually to the nation’s economy—so much economic production that if the region were a country it would have the world’s third largest economy.

Evidence of ongoing threats to the lakes is plentiful. Algae blooms like those that poisoned Toledo’s Lake Erie drinking water threaten Lake Michigan, especially Green Bay. Monstrous Asian carp, likely to be the most destructive invaders to attack the lakes, capable of wiping out valuable native and stocked fish species, are at the threshold of Lake Michigan. The GLRI has been instrumental in addressing these threats, among many others.

The stakes in the elimination of federal Great Lakes funding are enormous for Ozaukee County, whose entire eastern border is the Lake Michigan shore. The lake is instrumental in powering the county’s prosperity, especially for Port Washington, which would be nothing like the vital, growing community it is without the tourism revenue generated by the lake. 

The city and the surrounding area are also in danger of losing the benefits of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shipwreck sanctuary planned for this shore, thanks to deep cuts in NOAA funding proposed by the Trump administration.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker knows that his state has a stake in the health of Lake Michigan. Describing the lake as an asset both “from a commercial standpoint” and in “terms of quality of life,” he promises to advocate for the restoration of GLRI funding with the Trump administration and Congress.

Walker gets it, and so does Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is part of a bipartisan group of members of Congress working to save federal funding for the lakes. Governors, senators and representatives of other Great Lakes states have been outspoken in their condemnation of the budget’s death threat to Great Lakes restoration programs.

Yet, except for Baldwin, Wisconsin’s congressional delegation has been shamefully silent. Does Sen. Ron Johnson care about the lakes? Do Reps. Glenn Grothman and Jim Sensenbrenner understand the consequences for the lakes in the Trump budget? What about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, who happens to represent a Great Lakes state?

It’s hard to know whether the America First Budget’s treatment of the lakes is just another manifestation of White House incompetence—maybe they really haven’t taken the trouble to find out what the Great Lakes region contributes to America—or an irrational element of the plan to destroy the EPA.

Either way, it must be blocked by Congress. 

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