By Doug Hissom Special to Published Sep 19, 2007 at 5:12 AM

Some city officials still seem to like Midwest Fiber Networks, despite its failure to get Milwaukee’s wireless fiber network going as promised. However, that number may be dwindling.

A city panel gave its nod to a substantial cut in rental fees for its conduit, the tubes used to carry utility and fiber optic lines across rivers and bridges. And since Midwest Fiber uses 82 percent of the city’s bridge conduit space, it’s a substantial cut in cost to one business, a point acknowledged by Midwest Fiber owner Donna Raffaelli, who told the committee, “I would not be able to afford to pay (the fees) for four more years (the length of its current contract, signed in 2006).”

Midwest has asked for lower rates since the fees were increased in 2003. The new deal would cost the city $150,000 a year, while Midwest currently pays the city about $280,000 a year to lease conduit space. The rate decreases in some cases amount to 400 percent.

The arrangement led to Ald. Willie Wade’s comment, “I wish I could get some drops on some of my bills like this.”

Other aldermen were dubious, as well, noting that supply and demand issues, as well as location, should determine rates so that more popular routes would pay more than less-used ones.

Raffaelli responded that Midwest Fiber could find some other way to cross rivers and roads by rerouting the cables instead of paying the city any fees at all.

Some aldermen wanted to know how the new rates were picked and in general remained dubious.

Another part of the deal -- which caused the most consternation amongst the aldermen hearing the request -- is that Midwest Fiber wants the rate reduction retroactive to Dec. 20, 2006, leading Ald. Bob Bauman to interject, “I don’t know about this retroactivity question.”

Added Ald. Terry Witkowski, “I don’t know if government passes anything retroactively.”

The city attorney’s office said the city can’t make the deal retroactive.

The committee reluctantly approved the rate cut and it will be heard by the full Common Council on Sept. 25.

Rack ‘em Up, Almost: Milwaukee County Transit System officials have long opposed the pragmatic addition of bike racks on bus exteriors. Opponents said it would create parking problems when storing the buses. Perhaps that now the bus system has drastically reduced its routes -- and the number of buses it needs -- there must be room in the barn.

Transit officials testified in front of the County Board Transportation Committee that they were amenable to the idea. The committee approved 5-1 the idea of putting racks on buses but specifically directed that no money be spent on the plan. At least the mindset has changed.

Meanwhile it looks like the budget proposed by County Exec Scott Walker will feature a fare increase to $2 from $1.75, continuing Milwaukee’s status of having one of the most expensive bus fares in the country. Unlike previous trial balloons tested earlier this summer, the county exec promises no service cuts.

Candidates Joined at the Hip: In one of the odder campaign strategies seen in these parts lately, Jim Burkee and Jeff Walz have declared themselves co-candidates in a race against Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. Their latest gimmick saw them signing a “Pact With the People,” a pledge to vote against deficit spending, serve no more than three terms and to refuse lobbyist money.

The two have gotten some national press for their novel act, but that will likely be about it. Reality, however, portends that Burkee, a Republican, and Walz, a Democrat, will not be afforded the luxury of one line on the ballot, which, of course, will render their fan base insignificant. They do have a Web site, however:

Hamilton Becomes Chairman for a Day: Ald. Ashanti Hamilton seemed a tad rattled and distracted filling in as chair at the Common Council’s Judiciary Committee this week. Perhaps it was a show of support by Chairman Ald. Mike D’Amato after Hamilton, the vice chair, received a disorderly conduct ticket following a complaint made by his opponent in the spring election.

Hamilton’s colleagues seemed to circle the wagons Monday after reports of the incident came out Monday. Common Council President Ald. Willie Hines, who was at the event where Hamilton was ticketed, called the complaint, “political shenanigans.”

Hamilton said in a statement he didn’t assault C. Orlando Owens physically or verbally, “but I courteously accepted the citation I was issued ... and intend to offer a vigorous defense.” he declined further comment.

In 2004, when Hamilton was first elected, Owens took last in a five-way primary, despite being labeled a “promising” candidate in a Journal Sentinel editorial.

It could be easily argued that D’Amato’s deference to Hamilton wasn’t exactly Christmas in September. Chairing the Judiciary Committee, however, can be akin to stabbing oneself in the eyes, given the number of irate citizens that come before the panel insisting they were wronged by the city. Most walk away still angry.

Union Labeling at the Airport:
Be reassured that there are some strong union types on the County Board these days, despite the fact that County Exec Scott Walker gets most of the headlines and he’s certainly no fan of organized labor. The airport is getting ready to send out bids for the food service concessions at Mitchell Field and the County Board has mandated that any bidder be required to state that it will “retain the union under contract” in any future plans. 

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.