We were pleased to see the Cap Times editorial urging Fitchburg’s council and mayor to honor their financial contract with the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (B&GCDC). That particular club location exists in Fitchburg because the city itself requested they build a space to meet their need for a community center, which is exactly what B&GCDC did to the tune of millions in structure and staff. For this service, Fitchburg agreed to make an annual payment to B&GCDC. For the past two years, the council has tried to evade this responsibility, citing excuses that serve as distractions from their real problem: as both individuals and a group, they do not prioritize anything or anyone that will not, in turn, reward them with more power. Their moral and ethical problem is simply about an insatiable desire for power and the tactical use of discrimination to expand it.
Some elected and appointed officials might prioritize children within organizations they identify with while others prioritize none, blaming the parents of those children for their poverty and all that comes with it. These officials demonstrate zero interest in understanding the impact of poverty and its tight grip because to understand is to acknowledge their privilege, their power and their ethical responsibility to exercise both without discrimination.
Assistant Fire Chief Heberling demonstrated this blinkered mentality when he spoke at the Oct 10th budgetary hearing before the Fitchburg Council. He said, “As a taxpayer, I don’t feel it’s correct for the city to be spending my tax money for charities I didn’t choose.” He said he didn’t feel food and transportation could keep kids out of trouble, but better role models in the home could.
However, his concern about funding social services without his permission apparently only applies to those used by children of color. Not a word was mentioned about the city-funded Fitchburg Senior Center whose dependents take advantage of taxpayer dollars for food, transportation and programming and who are, by and large, white. In the 2018 budget, Fitchburg residents are, without their individual permission, giving $600,000 to the seniors for their center free of the competitive grant process and the public shaming that is spewed at tax-paying families of color with economic hardship.
No one is telling the seniors to use their free time to write their own grants. No one is shunning them for not saving enough over 50 years so they could pay their own way. No one is demanding to see their dividends and income statements.
No one would get elected if they did.
If Fitchburg’s mayor and alders treated Fitchburg seniors like they were a disposable burden due to their reliance on the city funding, they would lose their power in a single election cycle. Among the majority seated, electability is far more important than creating meaningful equity for those who haven’t got it or the resources to even try, like a living-wage job or transferable wealth from their relatives and spouses.
The electeds keep seniors happy because, among other things, it keeps them in power. It’s really that simple.
This became glaringly evident at a meeting we attended at Fitchburg City Hall in May of 2017. Mayor Jason Gonzalez, City Administrator Patrick Marsh, Alder Tony Hartman, Fire Chief Joe Pulvermacher, 2016 alder candidate Wanda Smith and the both of us were present. We asked the new mayor what he expected newly elected alder Anne Scott to do for black children in her district when she had no history of showing up or helping them. He said he didn’t put her on a committee that had too much impact because “frankly, I thought she was too frail to deal with divisiveness.”
The mayor might as well have just gone apartment to apartment, laughing in the face of any child of color in Fitchburg who is dependent on programming at B&GCDC or who is sitting in the rain during after-school care at Jamestown Park because they haven’t the resources to rent the shelter. Judging by the jokes he was cracking to the Fire Chief about funding for B&GCDC, he just might.
Furthermore, let’s not forget the promise he made to Greg Jones and the NAACP to make B&GCDC funding a line item, a promise that should have surprised no one because the relationship was always construed as a contractual agreement. But such obviousness was nonetheless delivered as if it were some sort of heroic and beneficent gesture and accepted in good faith as if the promisor were a person who honors agreements and whose word was his bond. In the end, the mayor appeared to have no intention of making good on the contract which is perhaps why he disguised it as a feel-good promise in the first place. Promises are made to be broken, as they say, and once he bamboozled the necessary votes to win, his promise evaporated as if it had never been made at all.
Mayor Gonzalez excused his crooked politicking by stating that he had no idea about the financial situation Fitchburg was in. Anyone who voted for him, who did any research on the man at all, should have immediately known that he was lying. Having served on the Fitchburg City Council for three terms, Jason helped create Fitchburg’s financial state and knew it as well as anyone else; his own votes made it what it is today. The truth is, Mayor Gonzalez is just wielding power no matter the cost because he can. As it turns out, he thinks this is funny, as demonstrated by the joke he made during a council meeting about taking funds from the Fitchburg Fire Department and giving them to B&GCDC.
If the mayor and council are to be trusted at all, any amendments introduced to Fitchburg’s 2018 budget must honor the former financial agreement with B&GCDC. The services haven’t stopped. In fact, they expand every year. In what generally accepted accounting universe does an entity get to pay the same annual fee for an ever-growing suite of services? Perhaps that is why Fitchburg is thumbing their noses at B&GCDC kids; they know they don’t have to pay, they know that even if they leave kids in the rain without a place to go, the B&GCDC never would.
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