Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely baby daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
Bloggers have been writing about it for weeks (I’ve more or less stayed out of it) and now the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today writes about a Franklin development issue that has become downright ugly. Since the big daily has now gotten involved, I’ll share my thoughts on this fiasco. Realizing many of this blog’s readers don’t live in Franklin or really care about our provincial matters, I can assure them this is quite interesting. You’ll need some background, so here are pertinent details, in my view, in a chronological fashion:
1972: Leonard and Verna Fox open a multi-faceted business at their home at 5510 W. Rawson Avenue in Franklin, known today as Castle Concrete Products and Franklin Storage.
UNKNOWN: The Foxes allegedly violated city of Franklin ordinances. At what point they may have begun violating the ordinances is unclear, but it may have been as long ago as the first day they opened their business. Who knows?
APRIL 2003: Lyle Sohns defeats an incumbent to win a seat on the Franklin Common Council. That was over 5 years ago.
2006: Developer David Hintzman of Equitable Development purchases land just west of the Foxes’ property at 5610 W. Rawson to build Fountains of Franklin, an 80,000-square-foot retail and office complex.
SOMETIME THEREAFTER: According to today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Developers began wooing the elderly couple (The Foxes) -- one even approached the city about having their property condemned--but they resisted."
EARLY 2007: I begin my blog on FranklinNOW. I had met Hintzman and offered my support in any way possible toward his project. When the project is plagued by inactivity, I begin to chide Fountains of Franklin on my blog. This year, I became more critical, raising the issue of lost tax revenue the longer the project is delayed.
JUNE 2007: According to today’s Journal Sentinel, “An attorney filed a complaint with the city’s Planning Department on behalf of an unnamed neighbor — Hintzman won’t say if it was him — alleging violations (by the Foxes).”
UNKNOWN: Alderman Sohns, whom I actually like and respect, but tends to pull some questionable things every now and then (keep reading), has a “grandstanding” transplant performed. The exact date is uncertain, but it probably came after….
MARCH 2008: In a meeting with me, Franklin blogger Fred Keller, Franklin citizen Scott Thinnes and Franklin Alderman Steve Olson, Sohns glares at me as he informs Fred and I that he will not sign a pledge to promise to keep the next city of Franklin budget tax levy increase to a maximum of 3%. Sohns makes it emphatically clear that he believes he understands budgets and knows how to put them together and resents the charge that Franklin taxes and spends too much (Sorry, Lyle, it does) and offers one excuse after another why Franklin can’t toe the line.
Still glaring, Sohns tosses onto the table charts containing the property tax records of every Franklin blogger and Common Council member.
MAY 20, 2008: Sohns produces the same charts that he did at the private meeting in March and brandishes them at a Franklin Common Council meeting.
MEANWHILE: There is little, if any activity or progress whatsoever at Hintzman’s Fountains of Franklin site. No tenants have been procured.
JULY 2008: Hintzman takes pictures of a Cadillac owned by well-known hometown Franklin developer Mark Carstensen parked at the Foxes’ property/business. Hintzman supplies the photos to Franklin blogger Greg Kowalski, knowing full well Kowalski will write blogs critical of Carstensen, whom Hintzman regards as a competitor (competition is good, by the way) suggesting a conspiracy that Carstensen is working in concert with the Foxes. Or maybe Carstensen was just paying a friendly visit.
The seed is planted that the Foxes have violated city ordinances. The paper today reports the city has been working with the Foxes since February on compliance.
UNKNOWN: The light bulb goes on and Alderman Sohns, a Common Council member since 2003, realizes that not only does Franklin have ordinances, but they’re not being enforced. Earth to Lyle: Franklin also has running water, stop signs, and a McDonald’s.
AUGUST 2008: Sohns (Remember, he likes to grandstand) issues a letter to Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor suggesting he may have broken state law by suppressing complaints about ordinance violations against the Foxes. Sohns does so without consulting the Mayor first. Was a courtesy call in order? Sohns says he’s received e-mails and phone calls complaining that ordinances aren’t being enforced.
In unison, other Franklin aldermen like sheep, nod their heads and say we must enforce ordinances. We must enforce ordinances. We must enforce ordinances.
The issue is raised at the next Franklin Common Council meeting and Mayor Taylor comes out guns a blazing. Taylor responds, “I believe that unless Alderman Sohns can substantiate his claims and explain his actions that he should resign immediately.” Taylor says he, too, is getting correspondences from city residents worried that the city is forcing the Foxes out of their property.
SEPTEMBER 2, 2008: Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Again, there are no heroes in this mess.
If you want to blame the Foxes, they certainly haven’t exercised criminal intent. And if they’ve been in violation for over three decades, my goodness, where has the city been?
David Hintzman surely knew the lay of the land when he made his purchase and proposed the Fountains of Franklin. The Foxes were entrenched, he knew it, and now is crying foul. It’s like the guy who moves into a house along the expressway and then complains he can’t sleep at night.
Hintzman told my wife and me at the VIP party for Sendik’s last October that he never failed in one of his endeavors and wasn’t about to now. He can’t so much as get a dandelion to pop up on his site and it’s the Foxes' fault. Hintzman wants us to believe he’s not behind the complaint filed against the elderly couple. Sure. And he didn’t take those pictures of Carstensen’s car either and feed them to a blogger he knew would aid his cause.
Hintzman, not an expert in PR, didn’t do himself any favors in today’s article discussing the Foxes, both in their 70’s, one who is now having chest pains over this ordeal.
Hintzman said, “I love these people. I go to church with them. It isn’t about us and them. This is not the kind of business retailers want to be next to. Am I saying shut them down? Not necessarily directly. But indirectly? Maybe.”
What’s that old expression? With friends like these….
I’m not sure what political dance Alderman Sohns is doing. I think he just set the Guinness World Record for fence-sitting. The paper says Sohns isn’t “carrying water for anyone” — not Hintzman, not the Foxes, not Carstensen. He wants ordinances enforced, yet he feels for the Foxes. Paging Alderman Sohns and his true motivation, please!
Finally, for a guy who told me he never fails, he’s now willing to possibly file complaints against a relatively harmless pair of octogenarians because he can’t get a hamburger joint to sign a contract.
So there are plenty of players, not a single hero.
The old saying goes that politics is the art of compromise. That never occurred in this case, so no one’s happy, and the issue may not be resolved for a long, long time. That’s a shame.