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by Dan Rylance
As autumn leaves turn into winter icicles, the renewal of the Cable Television franchise between the city of Oshkosh and Time Warner Cable remains frozen in executive session talks between the two parties in City Hall. The 17 year-old franchise ordinance ends on December 31, 2000 although failure to reach a settlement before that date will not terminate cable services in Oshkosh. Monthly bills won't end and Time Warner will continue its aggressive marketing efforts to get all subscribers to switch to digital cable which offers more channels and much higher fees.
In June, Mayor Jon Dell'Antonia said that he was going to get the best deal possible for the city in negotiations with Time Warner Cable. Saturday (November 19, 2000) at a town hall meeting at the New Blue Moon coffee shop, the mayor was more subdued. He and Councilmen Mark Harris and Paul Esslinger were participants Councilman Matt O'Malley's third and by far most successful town hall meeting. A meeting that was televised by Titan TV and moderated by professor Tony Palmeri and former Oshkosh Mayor Jim Mather. All four council members were mum on the negotiations, stating only that talks were moving slowly and that the city was holding out for another local channel.
The original franchise agreement was signed in March of 1987. The 73 page document is a standard legal document that can be found in many city archives throughout the nation. The original statement of intent and purpose reads that "the city intends, by the adoption of this Franchise, to bring about the continued development and operations of a System. Such a development can contribute significantly to meeting the communications needs and desires of many individuals, associations and institutions."
The 1987 exclusive franchise agreement seems dated in 2000. Led by a Republican controlled Congress and signed by a Democratic President, the whole telecommunications industry has recently been deregulated. That's right degregulated! No more exclusive franchises. Let the industry compete in the marketplace rather than hide behind signed monopolies. So the first question to ask is why should the city of Oshkosh even enter into a long time agreement again with Time Warner Cable when the national focus is moving the entire telecommunications industry away from those standard age old monopolies?
So the first question to ask is why should the city of Oshkosh even enter into a long time agreement again with Time Warner Cable when the national focus is moving the entire telecommunications industry away from those standard age old monopolies?
Then came the Dish satellite competitors. "Every time I pay the bill, I think, 'Bring on the satellite,'" said Wilfred C. Menard, a 79-year old military retiree in 1998. But Menard like many was reluctant to drop cable because the new competitor was not allowed to send him local channels. Federal legislation took this exclusive deal away from Cable also by allowing satellite companies to deliver local broadcast stations any customer. Someone in Oshkosh should come forward and explain how long it will take for Dish satellite companies to offer local broadcast stations in Oshkosh. That answer should come before the City signs another exclusive franchise with Time Warner Cable.
Another key issue is rising cable rates. In 1984, Congress deregulated from local control, the cable industry. The deregulation was a boon to the communications monolith with growing numbers of subscribers and huge subscriber price increases, over three times the inflation rate. So in 1992, at the end of President George Bush's term in office, Congress overrode the President and by doing so spoiled his perfect veto record. The bill entitled Cable Regulation (Senate 12, House Resolution 4850) sought to impose new rate and service regulations on the cable television industry. So another key public question to ask is what percent of profit has Time Warner Cable made off its Oshkosh subscribers, how many rate increases, and did the 1992 federal bill control prices and improve services?
Another important issue is the future of OCAT, the local access and cable station, channel 10 and Titan TV, channel 2. The original franchise stated that Time Warner Cable "shall provide to each of its subscribers who receive some or all of the services offered on the System reception on at least one specially designated public, educational and governmental (PEG) access channel and one specially designated access channel for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The specially designated PEG access channel may be used by the public on a first-come, first served, nondiscriminatory basis."
Several key questions emerge from the above:
1. Does only Channel 10 receive a subsidy from Time Warner Cable as part of the franchise agreement? What is the amount of the subsidy and doesn't it create an incestuous relationship between the city and Time Warner? To put it another way, the more money Time Warner gets from its Oshkosh subscribers, the more funds OCAT receives from Time Warner. How can the city negotiate a fair agreement with Time Warner, to keep rates down, when OCAT needs more funds from Time Warner? It sounds like the old Industrial Military Complex Catch 22 that the late President Dwight Eisenhower warned the American Public about just before leaving office in 1960.
2. How many Oshkosh Time Warner subscribers watch either Channel 10 of Channel 2? Do we have any data?
3. Why would our City fathers push for a third local access channel when local programs on channel 10 and channel 2 are only in their infancy? We need better local programming on the existing two channels, not another channel.
4. Are local public programs on Channel 10 really offered to the "public on a first-come, first served, nondiscriminatory basis?" Channel 10 offers two local programs to the Republican Party, "The GOP, You and Me" and "Vox Pop," a misleading public show that over the past year or two has degenerated into bitter, partisan presentations, racial stereotyping, and even anti-semitic opinions. Free speech is one matter, nondiscrimination another.
5. Channel 10 is increasingly becoming a public relations tool for Oshkosh city government. Some programs are informative and some are not. (Reading the Common Council Consent Agenda, for example). Is there a danger that Channel 10 will become political too?
There are some other concerns:
1. What does the Cable Television Advisory Committee do? How are they appointed? What records do they keep? When doe they meet? Is this just another public board that pushes no agenda and only keeps the status quo (like the Police and Fire Commission)? Can the Board identify 5 issues brought to it over the past few years that have resulted in any improvements in better services or lower rates?
2. Why doesn't Time Warner Cable have a 30 day billing period for its Oshkosh customers which coincides with the end of the month?
3. Where are the annual reports filed by Time Warner with the city of Oshkosh?
4. How many rate changes since 1987?
5. Why aren't prices for Digital Cable promulgated on the Time Warner information cable channel? In fact, why aren't there any rates shown at all?
6. How many subscribers to Time Warner are there?
Let's hope that executive sessions between Oshkosh City officials and executives of Time Warner won't produce another long-term franchise before there are public hearings. Let in some sunshine first.
Dan Rylance is a former editoral page editor for Knight Ridder newspapers who now resides in Oshkosh. He may be reached at (920) 231-7597.
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25 November 2000
Mr. Kevin J. Kennedy, Executive Director Wisconsin Elections Board P.O. Box 2873 Madison, WI 53701 - 2973 Dear Mr. Kennedy:
I'm interested in doing an interview with you (Q & A) to contrast and compare Florida and Wisconsin Election laws. I work as a volunteer for a public affairs program in Oshkosh, produced by UWO Titan TV, called Commentary. I also write for their website. So this information would be used to educate Wisconsin citizens about their state's election laws at a time when interest on the subject is quite high.
I would like to start with a hypothetical, an essay question if you like. If George Bush would have narrowly defeated defeated Al Gore in Wisconsin for the state's 11 electoral votes which would have determined the 43rd President of the United States, what would have transpired?
Some specific questions:
1. Does Wisconsin have an automatic recount in close elections? If not, what are the procedures?
Kennedy Response: Wisconsin does not have a provision for an automatic recount. Only a candidate, usually the losing, candidate may petition for recount. If the difference is less than .5%, there is no fee. If the difference is larger, the petitioner must pay $5 per ward that is recounted. There are more than 6, 000 wards in the state. The petition must allege a mistake was made in the counting of the ballots or specify any particular defect or irregularity that the candidate wants reviewed. A copy of our recount manual is posted on our web site: elections.state.wi.us.
2. Who approves Wisconsin's ballots (state or local) and how fair and clear are they?
Kennedy Response: The State Elections prepares a manual for county and local election officials to use for ballot design. All ballots for state and federal offices are required to be submitted to the Elections Board by county clerks for review before printing.
3. How many different kinds of election machines are used in Wisconsin? (the three most common by percentage)
Kennedy Response: Wisconsin has 5 types of voting systems. They are listed below along with the estimated 5 of the state totals votes cast in November of this year.
Optical Scan 803 municipalities 80% of all votes
Paper Ballots 961 municipalities 10% of all votes
Punch Card 74 municipalities 7% of all votes
Lever Machines 18 municipalities 3% of all votes
Direct Record 1 municipality N/A
4. Does Wisconsin have county canvassing boards? What are their powers?
Kennedy Response: Each county a has a county board of canvassers. Their responsibility is to receive and review the tally sheets, voter lists and inspectors' statements form the municipalities. The county boards of canvassers combine the results into county totals for each county, state and federal office. The totals for state and federal offices are sent to the State Elections Board to canvass and certify the results.
5. Does the hand counting of ballots in a recount have any relevance in Wisconsin? If so, where? If not, what would be the procedures for a recount? All done by machines?
Kennedy Response: I recommend that you review the recount manual. During a recount the candidates have right to see each ballot and object to its counting.
6. How many days after the Nov. 7 election do Wisconsin counties have to certify election results and mail them to your office?
Kennedy Response: County boards of canvassers are required to deliver or transmit the county canvass to the State Elections Board within 10 days following the election.
7. Does the law provide for an extension of time for counties to recount election returns?
Kennedy Response: If a recount is ordered by the State Elections Board it must be completed within 13 days. There is no provision for an extension.. I assume that a court could grant an extension for good cause.
8. When must the state Elections Board certify state election results?
Kennedy Response: The State Elections Board must certify its results by December 1st following the November election.
9. Is the date of December 12 applicable to Wisconsin to certify electors and does the Legislature have the authority to pick electors as in Florida in case that deadline is not met?
Kennedy Response: I do not know where the December 12th date came from in Florida. In Wisconsin we would have to make a decision how we would handle an election contest that threatened to delay our certification and jeopardize meeting the December 18th meeting of the presidential electors. I am not aware of any state law that permits the legislature to choose the electors, but there may be some roots in the US Constitution that I have not researched.
10. Are Wisconsin electors bound by law to vote for their party's candidate? If not, are there any penalties for not doing so?
Kennedy Response: The Wisconsin presidential electors are required to vote for the candidate that they represent. There is no specified penalty if they do not.
11. What are Wisconsin's laws regarding military absentee ballots? Have you encountered any problems in the past or this election with counting them?
Kennedy Response: All absentee ballots, including those from military and overseas electors must be received and delivered to the polling place before 8 p.m.on election day.
12. Can you identify any Wisconsin contested elections which were appealed to a District court or appealed to the state supreme court? If you don't know, can you suggest someone who might be able to answer the question?
Kennedy Response: There have been several contested elections that have been appealed to the court of appeals and state supreme court.
Olson v. Lindberg, 2 Wis. 2d 229, 85 N.W. 2d 775 (1957)
Kaufmann v. La Crosse City Bd. of Canvassers, 8 Wis. 2d 182, 98 N.W. 2d 422 (1959)
Petition of Anderson, 12 Wis. 2d 530, 107 N.W. 2d 496 (1961)
Schmidt v. City of West Bend Board of Canvassers, 18 Wis. 2d 316, 118 N.W. 2d 154 (1962)
Clapp v. Joint School District 1, 21 Wis. 2d 473, 124 N.W. 2d 678 (1963)
State ex.rel. Elfers v. Olson, 26 Wis. 2d 422, 132 N.W. 2d 526 (1965)
Lanser v. Koconis, 62 Wis. 2d 86, 214 N.W. 2d 425 (1974)
McNally v. Tollander, 97 Wis. 2d 583, 294 N.W. 2d 660 (Ct. App. 1980)
McNally v. Tollander, 100 Wis. 2d 490, 302 N.W. 2d 440 (1981
Appeal From Recount in Election Contest, 105 Wis. 2d 468, 313 N.W. 2d 869 (Ct. App. 1981)
In Matter of Ferrel v. Gaddis, 135 Wis. 2d 515, 400 N.W. 2d 517(Ct. App. 1986)
Ripley v. Brown, 141 Wis. 2d 447, 415 N.W. 2d 550 (Ct. App. 1987)
Clifford v. Colby School District, 143 Wis. 2d 581, 421 N.W. 2d 852 (Ct. App. 1988)
Ripley v. Brown, 143 Wis. 2d 686, 422 N.W. 2d 608 (1988)
Town of Nasewapee v. Sturgeon Bay, 146 Wis. 2d 492, 431 N.W. 2d(Ct. App. 1988) RECOUNT
In Re Appeal of Board of Canvassers, (Hackbarth v. Erickson, City of Bayfield) 147 Wis. 2d 467, 433 N.W. 2d 266 (Ct. App. 1988)
Logerquist v. Nasewaupee Board of Canvassers, 150 Wis. 2d 907, 442 N.W. 2d 551 (Ct. App. 1989)
Sturgis v. Neenah Board of Canvassers, 153 Wis. 2d 193, 450 N.W. 2d 481 (Ct. App. 1989)
State ex. rel. Shroble v. Prusener et.al., 177 Wis. 2d 656, 503 N.W. 2d 301 (Ct. App. 1993)
State ex. rel. Schroble v. Prusener et. al., 185 Wis. 2d 103 (1994)
13. What is the most famous (controversial) close election for a major office in Wisconsin?
Kennedy Response: That is probably a matter of opinion. I can not speculate on that one. It depends on who is commenting on it. I find many of these cases fascinating and would not single out one over another.
14. What are the most common complaints you receive about about Wisconsin's elections procedures?
Kennedy Response: The most common complaints are where do I vote, the polls do not open early enough, it is too hard to register, it is too easy to register, the lines are too long, I made a mistake but the poll worker could not help me. I am sick of all these ads.
15. Will events in Florida lead to election law changes in Wisconsin? What do you think are the most likely changes that will be proposed?
Kennedy Response: Yes. I think that all voters will be required to show identification at the polls. There will be a statewide voter registration list.
16. Philosophically what is your opinion about increasing voter turnout as being more important than restricting voter rules?
Kennedy response: I think that is a balancing act. Historically we have made it very difficult for people to vote. it is only in this century that minorities, women and person under 21 were able to vote in all elections without having to pay a poll tax. I favor facilitating voter participation and vigorously investigating and prosecuting election fraud.
17. Do you see technology changing dramatically how Wisconsin will vote, say, in the next 10 years? What might those changes be?
Kennedy Response: In ten years we may be ready for internet voting.
18. Why is the sample ballot printed in the local newspapers so close to the election? Is this a choice of the newspapers or of law? Why not publish them twice, say two weeks and one week before the election?
Kennedy Response: The law requires publication on the day before the election. As a cost cuting measure in the early 80's the second publication was eliminated.
Thank you for your attention to this request. I don't have an absolute deadline but I need it before the issue is no longer at hand. In this case, of course, it might be a long time.
Dan Rylance 602 East Parkway Oshkosh, WI 54901
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published in the Oshkosh Northwestern, Dec. 24, 2000
There were many exciting events that occurred in Oshkosh during the past year. Now it's time to hand out awards to some of the newsmakers.
All these awards are made in the spirit of good fun and humor. All the awards also come wrapped with sincere wishes of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Regrettably, however, tight time schedules and lack of sufficient funds will prevent me from making any public presentations or distributing monetary awards. Remember, though, it's the spirit that counts!
Here are the 200 year award winners in non-alphabetical order:
Harry Houdini Award: This year's winner for a stellar magical trick is state Sen. Carol Roessler, R-Oshkosh. She would make Houdini proud for residing in two places at once and getting elected in the one she lived in the least. Some trick. Who said Republicans aren't tricky?
Nit-picker of the Year: The unanimous choice is Oshkosh school board member Patrick Kogutkiewicz. Kogutkiewicz, who is completing his first term, took nit-picking to a new galaxy. His persistent, no his overly persistent, no his overly, overly persistent nit-picking on everything monopolized board meetings ad nauseum.
Vince Lombardi Coach of the Year Award: Steve Jorgensen, Oshkosh North High School football coach, is this year's winner. The Spartan's won it all this year, proving that nice guys like Jorgensen don't finish last.
Click and Clack Award: University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Communication Professor Tony Palmeri and former Mayor Jim Mather don't give advice on automobiles (thank goodness), but their public affairs show "Commentary" on Titan TV retunes a lot of popular thinking about a lot of issues that truly need retuning.
Benedict Arnold Award: Winnebago County Executive Jane Van De Hey, for being a political traitor to the Republican Party this fall. She did the unforgivable by suppporting Oshkosh Common Councilor Melanie Bloechl's unsuccessful challenge to upset Rep. Gregg Underheim in the September primary for the state Assembly. Van De Hey's political trial is set for April when she seeks a second term.
CQI Merit Award: Although not nominated by Dr. Ronald Heilmann, Oshkosh Superintendent of Schools, Jim Fitzhenry, editorial page editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern, is nevertheless this year's recipient of the CQI Merit Award. Fitzhenry worked overtime to criticize the use of CQI in Oshkosh public schools and did it so forcefully that repeated responses by his critics demonstrated that they understood CQI less than he did.
"(The) Al Gore Sore Loser Award: The winner is former Oshkosh Common Councilor Larry Spanbauer, who still cannot accept his 1999 defeat for re-election."
Katherine Harris Public Service Award: Pam Ubrig, Oshkosh City Clerk, and Penny Clark, deputy city clerk, who together administered the complicated Nov. 7 presidential election in Oshkosh with no recounts, are co-winners of the Katherine Harris Public Service Award. This award, the first of its kind, probably will be more important in the years ahead, as Harris warms to a spot in the Bush administration. Ubrig also was successful in lobbying the frugal gourmet, City Manager Richard Wollangk, to feed the election clerks as well. That was no easy task, either.
Perry Mason Attorney of the Year Award: Last spring, Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus dispatched the advisory verdict of using excessive force against six Oshkosh police officers in the death of Walter Pagel to a Milwaukee district attorney for further investigation. Now, nine months later and still no response makes one wonder whether there will ever be any closure. The long delay is painfully unfair to the police officers and their families as well as to members of the Pagel family.
Winnebago Whiners: There are a lot of whiners in Winnebago County, so this particular award proved to be a very difficult choice. In fact, we refused to accept more than 100 nominations. But when the chaff and dimples were discarded, two Winnebago County supervisors were declared the winners. They are both from Oshkosh, which by the way, has a proportionately high percentage of Winnebago County whiners. The winners are Supervisors Bill Wingren and Julie Pung Leschke. They continually whine about abuses in Winnebago County government, but never come up with any successful remedies to change whatever they are whining about.
Al Gore Sore Loser Award: The winner is former Oshkosh Common Councilor Larry Spanbauer, who still cannot accept his 1999 defeat for re-election. As Oshkosh tries to move forward, Spanbauer continues his efforts to divide the city between young and old, property taxpayers and tenants.
Martha Stewart Hospitality Award: Todd Cummings and Mark Schultz, owners of Oblio's Bar in Oshkosh, are co-winners this prestigious hospitality award. Oblio's consistently is ranked among Wisconsin's best 100 bars and Cummings and Schultz know their customers while providing a European ambiance that places emphasis on good conversation rather than loud music.
Tax Spender of the Year Award: There are almost as many tax spenders as whiners in Winnebago County. In the end, however, Karen Bowen, vice president of the Oshkosh School Board emerged as this year's winner. Last year, she was quoted on the "Commentary" program that a school board member should approve district spending "unless it is really doing something shady." For her consistency in doing just that, she gets the 2000 tax spender award.
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