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Editorial

Hey, Joe, you don’t sue your neighbor. Oh, I forgot, Attorney Joseph Kaye isn’t a neighbor, or neighborly for that matter. When I met him about a year ago he came to me fishing for a story in the Riverwest Currents about how unfair it was that Julilly Kohler was getting the opportunity to develop some land along the river and he wasn’t. He also stressed that he was a good guy and deserving of support. I remember he led me to believe he was a resident of the East Village. He isn’t. (Kohler is, hmmm.) He is a city property owner. He is not eligible to vote for elected officials in the City of Milwaukee including the Third Aldermanic District where the alleged injustice occurred. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have rights, but it is interesting to hear how he and some others think matters should be decided in our fair city. Back then I basically told him to get lost because the city and the neighbors had good reason to pick Kohler’s plan. Kaye is back, and he is suing the City of Milwaukee and 3rd District Alderman Mike D’Amato for $7.4 million dollars because, in his view, successful developer Julilly Kohler and other successful developers were given an unfair advantage in the process of determining best development use of city-owned lands. He claims the deals are corrupt and the officials involved are corrupt. I am sure if he won the money, the bucks would soothe this perceived injustice for Mr. Kaye. However this suit will do nothing to help the City of Milwaukee deal with a myriad of other issues. Nor will it aid taxpayers in the City of Milwaukee. It will not hurt taxpayers in the suburb where Kaye lives and he will have plenty of money, should he win, to pay the share that would fall on his Milwaukee property. What really gets me angry is the fact that Kaye included in his suit two long-term members of the East Village Association. I have a bias in this case, but sometimes it does help to make judgments if you actually know and have worked with the people involved in a controversy. Disclosure: Tess Reiss, the Riverwest Currents advertising manager, started the East Village Association in 1994 as a block club. I was doing neighborhood planning for Riverwest and the Lower East Side in 1999 and worked with the East Village Association and met the members. I worked with the group to develop a renovation plan for Pulaski Playground. The plan was implemented and my name is on the plaque in the park along with a who’s who of activists in the area, including Shirley Ferguson and Lisa Christopherson, EVA board members named in Kaye’s suit. Joseph Kaye’s name is not on the plaque. Wolski’s Tavern, located immediately next to the park, is listed. Julilly Kohler’s name is on the plaque, up at the top of the list of donors just after the foundations, construction sponsor, and government sponsors. Isn’t Kohler shameless in her goal to curry favor with the people and their elected representatives by giving money to good causes? Shame on you, Joseph Kaye, and anyone supporting you for besmirching the good names of hard-working volunteers of the East Village Association. They do not deserve to be named in a lawsuit under the RICO act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). And shame on Wolski’s Tavern owner Bernie Bondar if he does not publicly repudiate these actions against good neighbors who have improved the neighborhood including the park right next to his bar. This is mean-spirited stuff that does not belong in public discourse. You can disagree with policy, but you don’t go after folks and try to hurt them. There is injustice here, but it is being perpetrated against long time EVA members by johnny-come-lately, single-issue joiners of the organization. The Real Conspiracy Bondar claims that conspiracy occurred during an election process for EVA. Of course he doesn’t mention that the EVA had a clear consensus for years on the Conservation Overlay District, the issue he does not like. Those in opposition to the Overlay District conspired to take over the EVA. This is of course strictly legal by the bylaws (which nobody had read too closely), but it is tragically disheartening to those who have worked long and hard to form an effective group. That group fought back as best they could. It is better if groups of citizens who have differing goals and perspectives on the best course of civic action form separate organizations that meet the mission of the members. Bondar and friends should form their own group and stay out of the EVA. All this name-calling among neighbors will not lead to any positive results. The spirit of justice will not be found by examining bylaws of neighborhood groups. In Their Own Words Thanks to the excellent efforts of cover story writer Nik Kovac, who I believe successfully remained neutral as he talked to both sides in this tempest in a neighborhood, we have some of the key players speaking in their own words. Ginger Duiven: “Bernie (Bondar) is upset that the new guidelines (Overlay District rules) might affect property values, because they might scare developers away. But for ten years we (the EVA) were affecting his property values, and in a positive way. He was happy to sit back and laugh and drink beer while he became a millionaire, but now he’s upset?” Thanks, Ginger, but don’t forget Kaye’s “evil developer,” Julilly Kohler, she must have had some effect on property values by investing millions and developing scores of properties along Brady Street. I am sure those improvements added much value to Bondar’s and Kaye’s properties. Joseph Kaye: “Who pays taxes, that’s who should speak for a neighborhood,” and that was followed by some blather about what a great guy he is for fixing up a building and his justification for absentee landlords. Wouldn’t you think a lawyer from Glendale would know how it works? You have to live in a neighborhood to vote for the elected officials that speak for the neighborhood. Besides, we all pay taxes. Unless he allows people to live in his building for free, Joe is using his tenants’ money to pay his taxes. Here’s an idea, move Wolski’s to Glendale. I’m sure there are no oppressive rules made by busybodies that would disallow such use in the suburbs. I hear they even allow black people to live in the suburbs now. Bernie Bondar: “I pay nine times the taxes, why shouldn’t I have a say in how this neighborhood is run?” Bernie also talked about how voting in EVA should be by property owner (9 votes for Bernie, 1 vote for a couple with one property). I guess I like the old rule for democracy: one man, one vote. Of course, some fool liberals have expanded that to include women and even poor people who don’t own property. I started publishing this paper because I wanted to bring neighborhood issues forward for public discourse. I also wanted to enfranchise city residents of all means, poor and rich, to play a larger role in their government. The East Village debate brings several suggestions to mind. There may be a need to reconsider how the City of Milwaukee accepts plans for development of city-owned parcels. At the least, the process should be publicly transparent. Community groups need to pay better attention to their bylaws to assure that members share a common cause and vision. In general, resident-based groups need to limit voting memberships to residents and not have open membership. Business and property owner groups need to form separate associations. Their goals can often be at odds with residents. And last but not least, respect your neighbor and engage in civil discourse. Don’t sue your neighbor over political disagreements. There. And I hardly even mentioned Alderman D’Amato. He may be the real target of some of this huffing and puffing. If you don’t like him, work to get a new alderman elected, but don’t use slander and lies and ally yourself with groups (like CRG, Citizens for Responsible Government) that don’t even come close to representing the constituencies of the east side of Milwaukee.