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.
The information contained in this blog is incredibly important to all Franklin residents. I would submit it’s more important than the current stadium debate because it pertains to potentially numerous plans/proposals. The problem is there is no simple, easy, concise way to impart that information. It needs to be explained and that will take some doing.
So please, take the time to read, digest, and consider thoughtfully and carefully. Let’s go.
In many states, including Wisconsin, laws allow a process called Direct Legislation. The State Bar of Wisconsin offers an excellent description:
Do you ever feel that your local city council or village board is tone deaf on an issue or so hopelessly divided that it can't or won't do what needs to be done, or that the city council or village board just does not want to take on an important matter? Nothing much can be done except wait for the next election, right? To the contrary, the statutes provide a potential avenue for relief: direct legislation by the electorate.
For almost a century, Wis. Stat. section 9.20 and its predecessors have provided Wisconsin voters direct democracy at the local level. The statute provides a procedure by which voters may compel a city common council or a village board to pass a proposed ordinance or resolution or put the proposed ordinance or resolution before the public for a popular vote.
In substantive part, Wis. Stat. section 9.20 provides that:
• A number of electors in a city or village equal to at least 15 percent of the votes cast for governor at the last general election in the city or village may sign and file a petition with the city or village clerk requesting that an attached proposed ordinance or resolution, without alteration, either be adopted by the common council or village board or be referred to a vote of the electors.
• The common council or village board shall, without altering the ordinance or resolution, either pass it within 30 days following the date of the clerk's final certificate, or submit it to the electors at the next spring or general election, "if the election is more than six weeks after the date of the council's or board's action on the petition or the expiration of the 30-day period, whichever first occurs." If there are six weeks or less before the election, the ordinance or resolution shall be voted on at the next election thereafter. The council or board may, by a three-fourths vote, order a special election to vote on the ordinance or resolution at any time before the next election, but not more than one special election for direct legislation may be ordered in any six-month period.
• If a majority of electors vote in favor of adoption, the proposed ordinance or resolution shall take effect on publication, which must be made within 10 days after the election.
In a nutshell, Wis. Stat. section 9.20 "permits local electors to submit a petition requesting that an attached proposed ordinance either be adopted by the municipality's governing body without alteration or be referred to a vote in the next election."
The direct legislative powers of the people "are often exercised when the electorate believes that their elected representatives are not acting in response to the public's will." Indeed, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has noted that direct legislation is an important and powerful right reserved to the people:
"Direct legislation is a potentially powerful limitation on governmental authority, a remedy available to the people when their representative government has become unresponsive or misrepresentative."
I agree with the court. Direct Legislation provides a powerful tool to the people. The concept here is not in question. What the petitioners are asking/seeking in each individual case is in question and open for debate/discussion.
This week, Franklin resident Bob Swendrowski officially filed a Petition for Direct Legislation at Franklin City Hall. Here is the exact wording of the petition Swendrowski and supporters are asking Franklin residents to sign. The wording is typical government-ese:
A CHARTER ORDINANCE ENACTED PURSUANT TO THE PROVISIONS OF S. 66.0101, WISCONSIN STATUTES, TO REQUIRE THAT CERTAIN MUNICIPAL PROJECTS CONSTRUCTED WITH FUNDS OF THE CITY OR A CITY CREATED ENTITY, I.E. ANY FORM OF TAX INCREMENTAL FINANCE BOARD, COMMITTEE OR COMMISSION SHALL BE SUBMITTED TO REFERENDUM PRIOR TO CONSTRUCTION
Prior to the start of any City of Franklin municipal project including any Tax Incremental Finance District financed (in whole or part) any said project or Tax Incremental Finance District requiring a capital expenditure by the City of Franklin, or any entity created by the City of Franklin, i.e. any form of Tax Incremental Finance Board, Committee or Commission of two million dollars or more, the City of Franklin Common Council shall submit to the electorate a binding referendum for approval of any municipal project including any Tax Incremental Finance District. As part of the charter ordinance, any City of Franklin municipal project including any Tax Incremental Finance District financed with a lesser amount of two million dollars shall require approval by a super majority vote of the City of Franklin Common Council. Failure of the binding referendum shall preclude the City of Franklin or City of Franklin created entity, i.e. any form of Tax Incremental Finance Board, Committee or Commission from proceeding with said municipal project including a Tax Incremental Finance District. The wording of any referendum shall provide the specific purpose, location and cost of the municipal project including the Tax Incremental Finance District and an estimate of operating costs which will be provided by the City of Franklin or City of Franklin created entity, i.e. any form of Tax Incremental Finance Board, Committee, or Commission. Nothing in this provision shall be construed to preclude the City of Franklin from exercising its role in the planning or design of such publicly financed projects.
This ordinance shall be in full force and effect upon passage and publication as provided by law.
What does that mean?
Any proposed economic development (building) project in Franklin that would involve the formation of a TIF district that totals $2 million or more must be approved by voters in a binding referendum.
Any proposed economic development (building) project in Franklin that would involve the formation of a TIF district that costs less than $2 million would require 5 of 6 Franklin Common Council members (aldermen) to vote yes, a super majority.
On the surface, the proposed ordinance might sound appealing. In reality it is flawed for many reasons.
1) Do you agree Northwestern Mutual Life has been good for Franklin? Do you agree that Wheaton Franciscan has been good for Franklin? Both projects might have been in jeopardy or rejected by this direct legislation.
2) The same could be said for our Business Park with an assessed value of $160 million.
3) There’s a consensus that Franklin needs commercial development in the Franklin school district. The new development potential is in the area of 76th and Ryan with no sewer. Putting sewer into that area would surely cost more than $2 million. Want to risk a referendum shooting down that development?
4) Visible from I-94, up on a hill is a spot that would be ideal say for a corporate headquarters near Wheaton Franciscan. No sewer. No water. The cost would far exceed $2 million. Think about it. Would a corporation wait for a referendum or just go across the street and leave Franklin behind?
5) Most would agree the fire station in the business park on 60th St. is important to the south side of Franklin. This petition would probably have killed it.
6) Ditto the fire station on Drexel and 49th Street. Anyone want to argue why we don’t need paramedics and firefighters on that side of town?
7) The radio system for the Police and Fire Departments is being changed by Milwaukee County (new standards, etc.) and will cost a few million dollars. We should put that up to a referendum? I’d think communication with other jurisdictions and mutual aid partners is kind of important.
8) No one is suggesting that elected officials are more important or smarter than the folks who put them in office. However, we have a representative democracy because each decision is and should be based on has a lot of information wrapped around it that the average citizen either doesn’t have or doesn’t care about. Ideally it’s the responsibility of the elected official to know the information before making a decision (the Rock financing) or subject themselves to the wrath of their constituents. The overwhelming majority of voters will not read a large document about a radio system, police station, or minor league stadium.
9) Franklin has a horrible reputation when it comes to economic development and progress in general. Just read social media these days. This direct legislation will only make matters worse, hampering and delaying the process even further, and essentially shutting down a good portion of city operations. Think economic development is slow now? Wait till less than nothing gets done under this idea.
10) It will cost $$$ to conduct additional elections with binding referenda.
11) I’m not a fan of government by petition. We elect folks to make tough decisions. If we don’t like what they do, we vote them out. Want city government dictated by petitions? Might as well replace the bodies at City Hall with robots or interns.
In the next 60 days, Bob Swendrowski and others will be circulating throughout Franklin, asking for signatures on their petition. Their spin will sound democratic. What they are proposing is dangerous and would send Franklin backwards.
They need 2,269 signatures. My sincere advice if you are approached:
1) Be respectful.
2) Don’t sign.
It’s for the good of Franklin you don’t.
PLEASE PASS THIS INFO ALONG TO A FELLOW FRIEND OR NEIGHBOR WHO MIGHT BE CONTACTED THIS WEEKEND AND NOT REALIZE WHAT THEY'RE SIGNING!