Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
Maybe Mike Zimmerman knew when he proposed his Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a new minor league baseball park in Franklin. Maybe he didn’t.
What he did when he presented the city of Franklin with his MOU was provide nervous, skeptical aldermen all kinds of outs. The proposal was so loaded with question marks that any alderman fearing risk, innovation, or constituent backlash could easily wiggle out of a tough situation.
It’s one of the oldest political ploys in the book: playing both sides of the fence. Zimmerman’s MOU was certainly riddled with questionable suggestions. A no vote could be rationalized. Zimmerman didn’t make the decision difficult. He made it easy. Why it took two hours behind closed doors for the Common Council to reach its unanimous rejection, I can’t imagine.
Sure would have loved to have seen and heard those discussions out in the open. But since they weren’t, aldermen now have a strategic luxury. It goes like this:
“Gee, I would love to see a stadium come into Franklin and do wonders for our local economy. It’d be great for families and kids. But I had to vote the MOU down because it had too many unanswered questions. It was just too risky.”
An answer for the yes crowd. An answer for the no crowd. And at least for now, you’re off the hook.
The aldermen have instructed city staff to come up with a Plan B. Don’t hold your breath. Even if one surfaces, a certain percentage of Franklin residents will hate it without even seeing or reading it.
It might be too early to tell what happens next but I have some initial thoughts.
The city comes up with a viable, strong plan: Unlikely.
Mike Zimmerman quickly responds with another plan: More likely.
Zimmerman pitches his plan to another locale: Even more likely.
Why do I envision this ballpark opening somewhere else…and thriving?
And I fear once again that the message goes out that Franklin is not the greatest place to do business.
UPDATE @ 2:30 PM, 4/23/14: Kev, you drilled all kinds of holes in the MOU. The Common Council voted not to enter into the MOU. So, what were the aldermen to do?
I’ve been asked that, and it’s very fair. Here’s what I would have done if I was a member of the Common Council.
First, I would have objected to going into closed session. State statute allowed the aldermen to convene behind closed doors. I still would have objected.
Next, I would have advocated that no vote be taken on the MOU. There was no obligation. No one was painted into a corner with a gun to the head. I would have pushed that the council’s position be that it needed more time to examine the many complex provisions contained in the MOU. Happens all the time. Decisions (votes) are put off or delayed from meeting to meeting.
The council said there were too many “unknowns.” Rather than request city staff to come up with another plan, I would have specifically laid out all the problems we had with items in the MOU and asked Zimmerman to address each and every one by a designated future date.
But the council took the easy way out Zimmerman gave them and did what we always do in Franklin:
1) Say no.
2) Don’t offer an alternative or compromise.
We elect folks to make tough decisions, not just easy ones. I didn’t expect such a complex issue to be settled Tuesday night. But just once in a while, when it comes to economic development, I’d like to see our local officials do something big and bold instead of the usual nothing.