Monday, July 14, 2008

There's A Winner In SEWRPC Renaming Search

Not long ago, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission paid a public relations firm to craft a new name and logo - - ideas that went nowhere but, presumably, into paid invoices.

Details here, thanks to fellow blogger Gretchen Schuldt.

However, through serendipity and clever writing elsewhere, I think we have a winner in that name-game contest, but let me back up a bit, and explain:

I saw this headline - - "District lines may not be representative" - - on a Sunday Journal Sentinel column and I got giddy thinking someone else was seeing the light about SEWRPC's setup and was willing to take a few brickbats about undermining regional cooperation.

SEWRPC is made up of seven counties, some of which have less people than a handful of Milwaukee aldermanic districts, but the commission setup mandates no City of Milwaukee representation, and so on.

Then I read the first few lines of the column and all I could imagine was Julia Taylor over at the Greater Milwaukee Committee (context and links, here) pounding out a letter to the editor about these heresies:

"Dreamers and planners like to pretend the whole metropolitan area is just one, big, blissfully happy family.

"We’re not.

"The city has about as much in common with the suburbs, oftentimes, as a perch has with a pickle."

Writing like that is apt to make some people's hair catch fire or fall out.

Now, in fairness, I need to say that the column by Mike Nichols was not, after all, about SEWRPC, though Mike has beaten the drums pretty loudly for Germantown to remove itself from the regional technical college system, MATC, (he calls it the Milwaukee Area Taxing College), so there are times when he can find fault with these unrepresentative regional/taxing bodies.

Anyway: Mike's column was an analysis of the 8th State Senate District race between incumbent Republican Alberta Darling, from River Hills, and challenger Sheldon Wasserman, the Democratic State Representative from Milwaukee.

The District contains strongly Democratic and Republican territories.

SEWRPC, made up of Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha and Walworth Counties, was created by the state legislature in 1960.

But its name is so clunky, and identity so opaque, that SEWRPC paid a public relations firm with tax dollars to suggest a new name.

The suggestion - - Regional Planning Commission of Southeastern Wisconsin - - mercifully, was never implemented, but I think Nichols has provided an inspiration that SEWRPC can have for free:

The Perch and Pickle Planning Commission, or PPPC.

Doesn't that say it all about our so-called region, with a nice alliteration thrown in as a jargon-busting bonus?

I have been to countless meetings where people do not know what the acronym "SEWRPC" stands for, or what it does.

They confuse it with the sewerage commission (MMSD) or a political action committee (PAC).

It can even be confused with a political action committee representing sewage treatment companies.

SEWRPC is, simply, a publicly-financed planning and taxing district that has a distinctly-suburban orientation, but one where Milwaukee has no role in its governance - - except to fork over a few hundred thousand dollars in property tax dollars every year that gets spent against its interests.

The commission has avoided writing a regional study about affordable housing, with problem solving recommendations, since 1975 - - but has helped the state build more freeways across the region without equivalent transit.

That leaves hemmed-in city workers fewer transportation options to get to jobs that followed development on open land, and to fewer housing options also in the sprawling suburbs, too.

Can you say "Pabst Farms," for example?

On paper, the commission 'represents' Walworth County farmers, villages like Racine County's Elmwood Park (pop. 474), lakefront estate owners in Waukesha County's (and the state's) most upscale village of Chenequa (pop. 583) - - plus low-income trailer park occupants and hundreds of thousands of renters in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha of many colors and who speak many languages.

That diversity has no representation in SEWRPC thinking, daily management, commission direction, or in the makeup of nearly the entire agency's staff.

Nichols column reminds us that every resident has an equal voice in deciding who will represent them in the politically and economically-fragmented 8th District.

That's not the case at SEWRPC's Pewaukee headquarters, where an absence of representation on the commission's board, may I say, keeps Milwaukee in a powerless pickle.

And if I can extend Nichols' metaphor (as his former editor at the Milwaukee Journal, I feel I have the right to butcher his copy one more time), where the suburbs run things from their very comfortable Western Waukesha County perch.

The one that is not even on a bus line.

That's why I suggested in a June 8th Journal Sentinel Crossroads op-ed that Milwaukee, either the city, county, or both, withdraw from SEWRPC and use the hundreds of thousands of property tax dollars they transfer annually to SEWRPC, er, the PPPC, and establish an urban-friendly planning commission.

It can have a simple name that underscores what it does and where it is:

The Milwaukee-Area Planning Commission.


Jim Bouman said...

"...regional cooperation in the Milwaukee area will require facing difficult issues, considering both existing and future needs and reaching compromises. If we don’t do this through technically sound, cooperative regional planning, and if we instead listen to the shrill voices insisting on no compromises and ignoring and distorting key facts and future needs, then this region will never achieve the greatness it deserves".

This pompous gas-bag pronouncement from the M7 bunch about "deserved greatness" says it all.

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

These were Gandhi's thoughts on the stages of a campaign of the dispossessed facing down the holders of power.

They are no longer ignoring you. They are addressing your critique with the gravity of those who know it is serious business, no laughing matter.

They are fighting back, which shows that they know what comes next.

Anonymous said...

What if they simply gave Milwaukee better representation and moved the headquarters here?

James Rowen said...

Some responses:

To Jim Bouman: thanks for the encouragement.

And to Anonymous: From the outside looking in, I would guess a proposal like that A) would be seriously received by the Milwaukee Common Council and County Board, and B) is very unlikely to be made.

But as I have said to anyone and everyone: every option should be considered except maintaining the status quo.