Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SEWRPC's Culture Of Indifference


That's what allowed the management at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's to wrap up their quarterly meeting two weeks ago and head over to The University Club and dine, at taxpayers' expense, on tenderloin, cordon bleu and truffle cake to the tune of $995.

In the middle of a severe recession.

In a community with harsh unemployment.

But routine for the agency, which said in the last five years these dinners had cost $5,299.


That's what permitted the sole planning agency in a region with a shortage of affordable housing, with media overwhelmed by stories about housing crises, to wait 34 years before beginning just this year to write a housing study and plan - - but to hold only three housing advisory committee meetings in 2009, and cancel its most recent, scheduled session.

Indifference is what allows management at SEWRPC to have routinely hired so few minority staffers in the agency's half-century of existence that civil rights advocates have had to file a formal federal complaint to try and bring the agency's workforce and vital committee structure into the 21st century.

Indifference is what permitted managers at the headquarters in Pewaukee to give away through an in-house raffle perfectly good computers to staffers when new machines with flat screens were delivered.

Or to give away used cars.

Or to hire outgoing senior managers as consultants through no-bid contracts.

Or to buy a $3+ million headquarters from a consulting company the agency often hires - - but without competing offers, or a search of other potential sites, or any public notice that SEWRPC wanted to buy a building.

Indifference allowed the agency to promote Ken Yunker, the Deputy Director last year to current Executive Director without a job search - - because that was how Phil Evenson, the outgoing Executive Director (post-retirement consulting agreement for 2009 secured) had been moved into the top spot years earlier.

Where he replaced Kurt Bauer, the agency's first Executive Director - - who has been working for years at SEWRPC as Emeritus Director, surveyor and consultant.

With a Ford Crown Victoria automobile.

And an invite to the 2009, end-of-year soiree at at The University Club.

There have only been three SEWRPC Executive Directors - - Bauer, Evenson and Yunker, selected, promoted, retained, recycled in a tight circle - - indifferent to how that might look, or to public agency common behaviors, but not indifferent to their own, and each other's wants and needs.

Indifference by SEWRPC senior management, and by the 21 appointed commissioners to the agency's essential reality - - that the entire annual $8 million agency budget comes from local, state or taxpayers - - drains confidence in agency performance, dilutes its credibility, and damages its message.

As a corporate culture, indifference is poison.

As a mission statement, in practice - - self-parody.

As an identity - - unacceptable.


Anonymous said...

You should copy and paste all of your posts on sewrpc and send them to your senator because there's nothing we can change by complaining to each other.

James Rowen said...

To Anonymous: I sometimes send these posts to legislators. Perhaps you could do that, too.

James Rowen said...

To Anonymous: I sometimes send these posts to legislators. Perhaps you could do that, too.