The time has come to place greater public scrutiny on some of the “less important” elements of local government. The City of Oshkosh has a number of advisory boards and commissions that for years served as mere sounding boards or rubber stamps for proposals that came out of city departments. But now, those board are taking a much more activist approach to governance–with little public notice, and no electoral accountability.
Three committees in particular–the Bicycle and Pedestrian, Sustainability and Traffic Review–are starting to have real impacts on residents’ lives. The “road diets” that have seen some of our main thoroughfares reduced to one lane of traffic in each direction? The idea for that came from those “advisory” committees. Adding seldom-used bike lanes to those very same streets? Also their idea. They also came up with the idea of “sharrows” for drivers to ignore on slightly-less-busy streets.
These committees are also hotbeds for “group think”. There is never disagreement about issues–except when someone thinks “more needs to be done” than might be in the original proposal. And the goal of those three appears to be to make traveling by private vehicle as difficult and inconvenient as possible until we all give up and try to ride out bikes to work in the middle of January.
In most cases, anything proposed by these committees has to be approved by the Oshkosh Common Council. And sometimes those on the Council think about the vast majority of residents and the put kibosh on things like parking restrictions or giving all kids free rides on GO Transit buses–even if they aren’t going to school. But now we are seeing the Sustainability Board go outside of city government for action.
As we told you this week, all Oshkosh School District Parents will be getting a letter telling them not to idle their cars while they wait for their kids to get out of class or after-school activities. The letter includes dubious claims about increased air pollution and the risk to kids breathing in those fumes–in an open air setting. Neither the Oshkosh Common Council, nor the Oshkosh School Board approved this letter–and it did not go to the Winnebago County Health Department for review. But put on official letterhead–it will no doubt lead some parents to believe that it carries the weight of “official policy”.
We had Sustainability Board member Vic Oliver on WOSH this week to discuss the “no idling” letter and she used the phrase “step one is education” in supporting it. Saying it’s “step one” leads you to believe that there are more “steps” in this process. You know that when the letter fails to result in everyone partaking in the “correct behavior”, “step two” will be regulation. A review of the video of the meeting where the idling letter was finalized finds that Sustainability Board members have already consulted “no idling” ordinance in a couple of other Wisconsin cities. And when “step two” fails to bring enough compliance then step three–enforcement–is put into place. That will mean Oshkosh Police squad cars idling outside of schools looking for moms keeping their cars running, “endangering their children’s health and well-being”.
So we are going to be keeping a much closer eye on these “advisory” committees from now on–letting you hear what these unelected activists are saying and what they are looking to force you to do–before their “recommendations” show up on Common Council agendas and it might be too late for you to put in your own Two Cents.