By James Rowen Special to Published Dec 11, 2009 at 3:09 PM

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It's been quite a week for environmental issues, the agencies that deal with them on our behalf and for we taxpayers in these here parts.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors delayed for about a week its consideration at the committee level of a plan to preserve sensitive Monarch butterfly habitat and other open space on the County Grounds in Wauwatosa.

This matter was the subject of last week's posting here at, all designed to help concerned citizens who felt the County was rushing the plan forward without enough detail.

Call it a lesson in Civic Pressure 101, and also in backwards planning, as the County had already approved selling a big parcel on the County Grounds to UWM for a new engineering and business complex -- but then had to work backwards to get a land and habitat preservation in place.

Then you have the opposite of agency attention to the public by a tone-deaf and self-centered Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission as it held its quarterly board meeting.

There they accepted a few routine reports, heard from the feds that it would get another four years of federal spending power -- the subject of an earlier posting -- during which the regional agency was reminded to make a better effort at communication and outreach to its low-income constituents (an endemic, systemic and institutional flaw) -- and then dashed off to an annual dinner ... at the taxpayers' expense.

Recession? Not for these officials; they were on their way to a freebie.

In fact, it explained why the commission chose to meet at the War Memorial, as dinner was just across the bluff at The University Club. How convenient for the 14 commissioners and three staffers who ate on our dime.

Total bill: $995.47.

Question:  Is this a good message for taxpayers who pour money into the agency every year -- $840,000 alone from Milwaukee County, the same agency that couldn't get its planning house in order to preserve habitat before selling land to UWM for buildings and roads?

Answer: It's a horrible message. I'm waiting for some commissioners or staffers with fully-developed consciences to send refunds to the office. 

James Rowen Special to
James Rowen is a Milwaukee writer and consultant who blogs at He worked as a reporter and assistant metro editor at The Milwaukee Journal and Journal Sentinel, and held several positions with Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, including Chief of Staff. Rowen is on the board of the Institute for One Wisconsin Now, and receives funding from The Brico Fund; neither organization has control over his writing and blogging.