Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tuesday 1-15

I spent last night trying to find the automatic renewal clause in my contract with the radio station. I didn't find it because it's not in there. I'd be willing to bet that most contract employees won't find such a clause in their deals--because no employer would tie themselves to a potential dud of an employee.

Yet that is exactly what the Oshkosh School Board has done with it Superintendent. Now I am not saying that Ron Heilmann is a dud of an employee--but does it really matter? No matter what he does in his job, that contract automatically rolls over--unless a majority of the school board thinks he stinks and then they have to make their case for ending the contract--and paying out a big severance package.

That brings up a very interesting question when it comes to public employee contracts: Should the workers bear the burden of proof that they are doing their jobs? Or should the government body that hires them have to prove they can't handle the position?

I can certainly see why the employee would want to have the security of rollover clauses or automatic renewals--but taxpayers need the protection against ineffective leadership. What City Councillor wants to run on a platform of "I'm going to fire the City Manager" or what school board member wants to put "Replacing the superintendent" on top of their priorities list. Okay, what candidates outside the Oshkosh area will go around saying that?

Administrators doing a good job should have little to fear without automatic rollovers in their contracts. Those running things into the ground???? Well they may want to rent instead of buy. But then again, the taxpayers end up winning there.

While I'm making insinuations about the Oshkosh School Board this morning, I also have a money saving suggestion for you. You want to hire a consulting firm to compare Doctor Heilmanns' contract with the deals signed by other superintendents in the area? You're in luck. All of those contracts are considered part of the public record and must be turned over by the district upon request. We have copies of a couple superintendents' deals right here in the Newsroom and we didn't have to pay anyone to get them. Each member take a district or two--put in your open records request with their clerks--get the contracts for free. Then make copies for everybody else on the board and compare them all side-by-side. You need a consultant for that??? Geez, no wonder we can barely afford Middle School Mandarin Chinese in this district.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday 1-14

On Friday night I witnessed everything that is great about sports. I had the call of the Oshkosh North--Oshkosh West basketball games from the Kolf Sports Center.

Several thousand fans turned out for the games--getting there early to make sure they had good seats. It's a good thing too--because the boys game turned out to be a classic. A great hard-fought battle between two evenly matched teams. The score see-sawed back and forth and it went into double overtime following one of those bolt of lightning moments that no "reality show" can match.

Everybody involved showed great sportsmanship. Was the officiating great--no--but the refs didn't have to run for their lives after the game was done. The kids on both teams learned some great lessons that night. That nothing is impossible if you try...that nothing is over until the clock runs out...that sometimes your best effort just isn't good enough...that winning is great, that losing sucks and despite what happened that night the sun still came up the next day--and life went on.

The positives went beyond just the game itself. Dance teams, bands and drumlines from the schools also got their time in the spotlight--showing everyone that talent in the high schools extend beyond just the athletic field. I'm sure there are some school board members wishing that kind of enthusiasm for school activities will extend to a potential referendum in the future. Maybe they should threaten to cut those programs--that usually gets people fired up.

My wife always gets on my case about being too "obsessed with sports". But is seems better than some other people's obsessions. Maybe if we could get militant Muslims to become sports fans--and decide their grudges on the field instead of blowing each other up in the streets--we might have a more peaceful world.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Friday 1/04

The death of Lee Dreyfus provides a chance to look back on a much simpler--and more innocent--time in Wisconsin politics.

Dreyfus was a true underdog when he ran for office in 1978. He had absolutely no political experience before making his run. He was just the chancellor at UW Stevens Point. He didn't raise a lot of money for his campaign--worrying that it would make him beholden to someone other than the voters. He toured the state in a dilapitated old school bus painted his signature red. His campaign fundraising theme was "keep gas in the bus". He also had an impromptu high school band accompany him on many of his stops.

Dreyfus was not the choice of the Republican party leaders. He didn't march to the party beat--he didn't "pay his dues" by serving in the Legislature and building favors from others in the party. He didn't want to raise big money for the party--didn't even want to run TV ads. Yet somehow he won the primary and eventually the general election over Patrick Lucey.

So how did Dreyfus win? Simple--he connected with the people. Lee had a very populist platform--and he made people feel good about themselves. If you think back to the late 70's, things flat out stunk. Inflation, gas lines, the hangover from Vietnam, layoffs, disco--there was a lot dragging us down. But Lee had a positive message about life in Wisconsin and how things could turn around. Oh yeah, he wsa going to cut taxes as well. In a way, it was a small scale precursor to the same success Ronald Reagan would have running for President in 1980. Less taxes, more good feelings about ourselves.

While most will remember Dreyfus for the red vest and returning the surplus to the taxpayers--and eventually putting the state in a hole--which keeps getting bigger to this day--I'll also remember him for the greatest summary of Wisconsin politics anyone has ever coined. "Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality".