Economic development to be debated by council tonight

July 28, 2009

Putting together an economic development advisory committee may seem like a mundane activity, but for Wauwatosa the process has grown contentious.

Supporters of forming such a committee it say would allow the city to tap into the business acumen of its residents, while opponents voiced concern that more action is needed during the committee's last meeting. A proposed ordinance to create an advisory group received support with a 6-2 vote.

The ordinance would charge the committee of local business people with assisting the mayor and council in facilitating the development of a healthy, diversified economy that will generate and sustain opportunities for development. The committee would evaluate economic condition and recommend appropriate policies, programs and projects in response.

Creating new ordinances require two rounds of discussion before they can be approved. The Common Council's Community Development Committee will continue to debate the issue Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Alderman Robert Dennik voiced support for creating the committee, saying the time is right.

"It's a good first step to get the ball rolling," he said. "We've got lost of problems here, but we find some great solutions."

During a depressed economy, municipalities have more time to think though development strategies and a committee of experts could provide direction, Dennik said.

One of aldermen against establishing an advisory committee was Jerry Stepaniak, who railed against the lack of momentum since a consultant made recommendations this spring on how to restructure the city's economic development structure so it could take a more aggressive approach to redevelopment.

Wauwatosa already had a private-public partnership in the Wauwatosa Economic Development Corp., but the council took away its funding in June and has done little else, he said. Stepaniak argued an advisory committee would likely duplicate the WEDC and lead to too much talk and not enough action.

"What is before us is absolutely nothing and shows a total lack of leadership," Stepaniak said.

Alderman Peter Donegan headed up a transition team that oversaw the end of the WEDC and proposed the ordinance to create the committee.

He said he has heard little feedback from council members until now about the results of the consultant's report. From his standpoint, he sees some of the other recommendations, such as hiring additional staff, as "expensive and risky."

Forming an advisory committee allows the city to move ahead with one of the suggestions with little investment, he said.


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