Wednesday, September 6. Your Humble Squire came, he listened, he spoke, he went home and deadbolt-locked the doors.
It was the first of two budget listening sessions scheduled by Madison alders Matt Phair and Mo Cheeks, who operate as a duo. Kind of like Paul and Paula.
The second budget session is scheduled from 10 am to 12 noon on Saturday, September 9, at Sequoya Library, 4340 Tokay Blvd.
About 30 citizens occupied the a conference room in the remodeled Meadowood public library, located next door to the Meadowood Neighborhood Center. (Developers, forget about high-rise apartments for Epic employees — go into the neighborhood center construction business!)
This would not be like last year’s sessions, Blaska loudly announced. “This time, we talk, you listen.”
But one lady said she wanted to hear the alders PowerPoint show. Well of course. A lot of line charts; most prominently, one showing police funding increasing at a greater rate than fire protection. Give ‘em credit, PhairCheeks came prepared. I suggested the increase in common council funding would be even greater.
Only the day before, a youngster being walked to his first day of school by his mom discovered spent shell casings in the 5300 block of Tolman Terrace. (Report here.) That confirmed what the mother thought she heard shortly after midnight: gunshots. Police eventually located nine spent shells, a leafy neighborhood in the heart of heretofore untroubled Orchard Ridge four blocks (as the crow flies) from the Stately Manor and the Blaska Experimental Work Farm.
‘Startling and disturbing’
A neighbor took to the NextDoor social website to report:
I live in the [XXXX] block of Dorsett and was awake when the shots were fired. It was 12:35 am accordingly to my clock. There were 5 shots made in rapid succession (I presume on Tolman, given the casings that were found). There was then a slight pause and I then realized the sound of a car, and that the shots were moving closer (3 more shots). I quickly went to our upstairs window to hear 2 more shots and then as the car slowly passed directly in front of our house, 2 more shots were fired. The car was traveling east to west, came to the stop sign at Gilbert, crossed over and proceeded to travel towards Whitney Way. No additional shots were heard. I immediately called the police, was told that others had called and that squad cars were already in the area.
… It was a startling and disturbing experience to have gun shots fired in our neighborhood let alone directly in front of our house. The police called back approximately 10 minutes after I had called to say they would be walking the street looking for casings and minutes later, 2 cars were parked and officers were walking with flashlights. …
The Orchard Ridge gunfire occurred AFTER the police round-up of known bangers, which Chief Koval warned would offer only temporary relief. Indeed, he noted that shots fired are increasing again.
So the citizens were locked and loaded (if you’ll pardon the expression) for some city government accountability, especially for PhairCheeks, who:
- Voted to allow panhandlers to keep scamming the street median strips
- Spent $400,000 for a Berkeley, CA firm to search the police department for latent signs of racism/white privilege/impure thoughts
- To condemn the police for handcuffing Genele Laird at East Towne Mall after she resisted arrest for threatening mall employees with a large knife
- Have yet to speak out against the Black Lives Matter campaign to disrupt traffic and common council meetings and demand reparations.
That’s the record, but the PhairCheeks flavor of the week is (wait for it) Law Enforcement. Number One with a bullet (pardons, again) on their Budget To-Do List is more police. That is, if Madison gets a federal Department of Justice grant. Which Phair Wednesday night admitted is about as likely as Paul Soglin inviting the Daughters of the Confederacy to host his re-election campaign fund-raiser. (My analogy.)
If no grant, how many extra police?
Given that there’s no way Madison gets a federal grant for more police, an intrepid questioner (name rhymes with Alaska) interjected, how many extra police officers would the Common Council fund without a federal grant?
No answer was forthcoming, except that the alders said they would sit down with the chief for another polite meeting. “We don’t have a number,” Phair (or was it Cheeks?) said.
This non-answer displeased one resident of a crime-stricken neighborhood. “That’s why we’re all here.” About half the audience murmured their concurrence.
As a reminder that this is still Madison, one lady blamed guns. Kids are taught to solve problems with guns, she lectured. Let’s get rid of the guns. Yes, and let’s put on a play in the barn with Mickey and Judy. Your Squire must be an unlicensed antique. He grew up playing cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, shooting cap guns at siblings and the kids in the neighborhood. Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel. Sticks vaguely shaped like guns when we didn’t have the Mattel models.
Have yet to solve a problem with a gun (but will in self defense). Could it be the parenting, lady? Or lack thereof?
Gloria Meyer, neighborhood association president of the wealthy Greentree neighborhood west of Orchard Ridge, detailed the injustice of high rents and absentee landlords. Didn’t quite catch how this is causing shootings or how the struggling inhabitants wouldn’t be helped by getting the malefactors off the street. In due course, Republicans were blamed. The Policy Werkes director pointed out that the Republican legislature made it easier for landlords to evict troublemakers, negating some of the City of Madison “protected classes” engineered by Madame Brenda Konkel.
That’s another plank in the PhairCheeks program: more subsidized housing. The Squire, as impolitic as ever, translated so that even the deaf could be made to hear: “MORE FREE STUFF!”
PhairCheeks fairly took umbrage at this cheekiness. “It’s not free, it’s subsidized.” More murmering, this time from the liberal side of the room. And a mention of “code words.”
Another experiment instead of more police
PhairCheeks went on to yet another new initiative, a bright and shiny bauble called “the Office of Violence Prevention within the Department of Public Health.” Blaska then posed the second question of the evening: What, exactly, would the Office of Violence Prevention within the Department of Public Health actually, you know, DO?
Two other questioners posed the same query during the course of the two-hour session, no actual, you know, answer having been given. PhairCheeks wove elaborate word tapestries. I heard buzzing sounds like “equity” and “long-term vision.” Also, what amounted to “that’s why we have staff.”
Your Inquiring Squire took that to mean they create the Office, staff fills in the details. The closest to an actual answer was that the Office of Violence Prevention within the Department of Public Health would coordinate activities among all the service providers. For, PhairCheeks acknowledged, Madison is rich in services and the providers of same are multitudes. Many providers, all providing services.
Which was odd because, a few blocks down Raymond Road is an office of Joining Forces for Families — an operation that County Board Supervisor David Blaska helped start oh, 20 years ago or so. It is supposed to do the same thing: interact between the Dane County Human Services Department, Madison Police, the schools, et cetera.
One more bullet point (sorry) to add to the list above: PhairCheeks is/are the authors of the Focused Interruption gambit. It’s 15 points long. (The Policy Werkes distrusts any program with more points than Moses’ tablets.) It is budgeted for $400,000 but only $50,000 has been allocated. What Focused Interruption mainly boils down to (far as the white lab coats can determine) is a lot of mentoring. The City of Madison is going to hire mentors, send them forth into the streets of Meadowood, Allied Drive, Northport, Badger Road and watch a thousand flowers bloom.
Mentors are good. But the entire Focused Interruption process seems to be a power struggle between the city and the various would-be service providers.
Taking responsibility, not playing the victim
It was at this point that an African-American man wearing a brimless, crocheted white kufi cap commented, re: the Office of Office of Violence Prevention within the Department of Public Health — “Will never happen.”
So that is Tutkenhamun Assad! The founder of the Mellowhood Foundation. You won’t see his name in the news media very often because he does not rush after taxpayer funding; he does not blame “The System.” He does put kids to work on summer jobs.
Here is an excerpt from one Coach Assad essay the news media published in April:
A child walking home from school should not be worried. Senior citizens should be enjoying the outdoors safely. Mothers and fathers coming home from jobs should not be worried about “stray bullet syndrome.” …Black Madison, how have we allowed this to be a thing?
I have worried about speaking out against those who are destroying the community but get a pass because they look like me — but I can’t remain silent any longer. I worry about young people thinking I won’t keep their confidences. But most of the great youth of this community — guess what — want to be safe also!
If we won’t allow anybody from the outside to prey upon us, why are we harboring predators from within? It’s time we say to those who look like us that we will no longer allow the violence. Guess what community policing really means? It means everybody.
Back to Wednesday evening at Meadowridge library. A nice lady rose to speak. Said she was a substitute teacher at Orchard Ridge elementary school. Said she has watched the students blossom. Some nice warm fuzzies. But said the school twice had gone into lockdown last year over shots fired in the ‘hood. Not good.
I followed Assad outside to the parking lot of Meadowridge shopping center, where the hardware store used to be but is now occupied by the enlarged library and neighborhood center.
“Call me ‘Coach,’” he requested. Passersby called out to Coach Assad, including a black mother and a white police officer entering the library/community center.
Assad said, don’t believe the nice lady: Orchard Ridge is failing. He said the unseemly scramble over the Focused Interruption largesse was all about money, ego and power.
In the great debate between personal responsibility and victimhood, it is my impression that Assad comes down clearly for the former.
There is hope yet, but it does not reside at city hall.