They might be difficult to see, but those are Franklin’s leaders, behind their desks, cowering.
They are trying to avoid a confrontation over taxes tied to the new Ryan Creek interceptor sewer. Those taxes have made some people very angry, and they want an explanation for why they suddenly have to pay.
Instead, City Hall gives them a scripted response based on a memo from Mark Luberda, Franklin’s director of administration. The memo offers such double-talk nuggets as, “This action was outside the direct control of the City and was not approved by the City.”
Franklin’s leaders insist the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District chose to levy the tax. They say they never consented to it. They say they did not have the power to prevent it.
All three statements are truths with healthy doses of self-preserving misdirection.
The city chose to use a $27.56 million Clean Water Fund loan to build the 5-mile project. The city chose to sign a 2010 contract to sell that interceptor to the MMSD.
And the city absolutely knew such a sale was contingent on the MMSD’s taxing the 540 households that, up until that point, were in the only sections of Franklin outside the district’s authority.
Franklin’s leaders saw the controversy coming and planned an escape route.
“They said, ‘OK, fine, let us have some political cover by just saying we didn’t oppose it,’” said James Peterson, an attorney for MMSD.
That cover let Franklin avoid passing a resolution consenting to the tax, opting instead for the much more slippery no-contest plea. It let Luberda craft a memo and convince himself that it was the whole truth and nothing but. And it let the city sidestep the wrath of residents, some of whom are gathering forces for a class-action lawsuit to fight the MMSD tax.
Well, Peterson pretty much blew that cover.
Now, those city leaders need to stand up, look their constituents in the eyes and say what should have been said in the first place.
Franklin did what government does. The leaders met, they debated, and they decided the interceptor would improve their city. They understood such improvements never come cheap, and a decision to increase taxes or let others do so is never made lightly.
Smart leaders know that “political cover” is like political heroin: It feels good at first, but one shot inevitably leads to another and another until the users have to admit they have a problem.
Luberda’s evasive memo means Franklin’s leaders still are in denial, frantically covering for the original cover until they finally get to the only thing cowardly leaders really care about covering.