By Brandi Makuski
A typically routine mayoral appointment on Monday again raised questions about Mayor Mike Wiza’s process in making choices for city commissions.
Councilwoman Tori Jennings (District 1) said she had concerns over Wiza’s appointment to an alternate seat on the bicycle and pedestrian street safety commission. The vacancy was created when the former alternate member moved out of the city two months ago.
Jennings said the council wasn’t aware Wiza had chosen his appointee, local bicycle enthusiast Nicholas Corbin, until after his decision was made. At the Dec. 17 city council meeting, she said another applicant would be a better choice, adding the process Wiza used in choosing appointees still wasn’t clear to her.
Jennings argued applicant Robin Rothfeder, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management at UW-Stevens Point, was a better choice for the seat.
“He’s a transportation planner, he’s trained at the University of Utah, and trained under one of the world’s foremost experts in transportation research. Sounds like pretty great credentials,” Jennings said.
Jennings asked if Wiza consulted with Kyle Kearns, who is the associate planner for the city and acts as a staff liaison to the BPSSC, or with the committee chair, Trevor Roark. Wiza said no.
“[The appointment process] affords me the opportunity to evaluate each of the applicants, and determine which one I think is probably the most useful on any given board or commission,” Wiza said. “My logic is simple: everybody comes with a different perspective. We’ve got a few people on there who are already academics and know certain areas of bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, but we still have gaps.”
Wiza said the commission has several transportation experts, but to create a “well-rounded” commission he wanted the input of regular bicycle user who could offer a different perspective on bicycle transportation than someone with a Ph.D. He also pointed out the alternate seat has no voting power unless another member is absent.
“If we have nothing but skateboarders on a commission, you’re going to get a skateboard perspective, but not someone who rides a bicycle or a scooter,” Wiza said. “My logic is just that. Nicholas Corbin had a different perspective than some of the people we have on the commission.”
“If you’re not consulting with the staff liaison…one of the reasons I advocated for the change in creating this commission, was increased transparency and accountability to staff,” Jennings said. “But you’re not consulting with staff.”
Jennings added she “wanted to remind [Wiza] and everyone that the ordinance does create a framework for the expertise that should be on [the commission].”
“Yep, and it’s pretty diverse,” Wiza said, to which Jennings shook her head in apparent disappointment.
It’s not the first dispute over mayoral appointees for the bicycle and pedestrian commission. In May, the council majority rejected an entire group of appointees to the new commission because Wiza chose a new group of members, rather than rolling over the existing membership of the former bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee. Jennings was central in writing the ordinance outlining BPSSC membership requirements, which Wiza argued were so specific they excluded otherwise qualified candidates. The ordinance has since been reworded to include applicants “should” have certain types of experience, rather than “must”.
Councilwoman Cathy Dugan (District 8) said she’s worked with Corbin before on bicycle-related issues, and remarked he’s been “easy to work with” and has a lot of experience as a bicyclist, adding he would be “valuable” to the commission.
The BPSSC was first proposed by Jennings in March and was almost immediately met with some resistance from Wiza, who said he saw no need for any change. Wiza, who created the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee in 2015, said the group he created was intended to be “advisory only” to the city plan commission.
In a follow-up interview with the Metro Wire, Wiza said his office was responsible for recommending appointments for all the city’s committees, commissions, and boards.
“I appreciate Alder Jennings voicing her concerns, but by her logic, I should consult the city treasurer before I make any appointments to the finance committee,” Wiza said Dec. 20. “Appointments are made to ensure every group has a variety of perspectives; this one is no different.”
Jennings on Dec. 17 ultimately voted in favor of accepting Wiza’s choice, along with the rest of the council.