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Groups seeks records behind DOT rejection of Oconomowoc rail station

Requests for discussion between Doyle, DOT

Sept. 8, 2010

City of Oconomowoc — A Wisconsin think tank has filed an open records request seeking answers behind the recent elimination of the Oconomowoc high-speed rail stop.

Brian Fraley, communications director for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy said the group is interested in documented communications that might give more insight as to why the Oconomowoc stop was pulled.

"Was there an e-mail saying 'they don't care' or indication that maybe the Madison station cost more?" Fraley asked. "But we don't know, so rather than make accusations, let's get some facts just like Mayor (Jim) Daley and city leaders asked for."

Information about the request was posted on the institute's website, maciverinstitute.com, on Sept. 2, reporting that the request was filed with Gov. Doyle and Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi on Aug. 19, a day after the city made public the DOT's decision.

"We have not heard anything yet," Fraley said. He said Wisconsin Open Records requests have no deadline for response. "They are to take practical and reasonable amount of time" for the request, he said. If time continues to drag on, Fraley said the request could go to court, but he was quick to add that he hopes it doesn't come to that.

"Officials in Oconomowoc began asking legitimate questions regarding the costs local taxpayers would incur to construct and maintain a train station and rather than answer those questions, the state scraps the planned station altogether," said Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute. "We want to know why, and there is no excuse to deny these simple requests for the truth."

The request asks for documented e-mails and records of phone calls from Doyle and Busalacchi and members of their staff "regarding the logistics, design, development and approval of a train station in Oconomowoc," the online report reads.

"Local government officials, and the taxpayers they represent, have a right to ask legitimate questions regarding an expensive federal and state project that will also require significant local tax expenditures," said Healy. "There are a lot of questions surrounding this project, and DOT and the governor's office should quit stonewalling and provide some answers."

City residents and officials continued to express their frustrations and concerns over the station's elimination at Tuesday's Common Council meeting. Several residents shared their opinion during public comment at the beginning of the meeting.

"We are here because of the train tracks," said Ken Herro, a real estate agent and developer in the city. The longtime resident said that Oconomowoc's historic success was in part because of the wealthy from Chicago taking the train to the area and building vacation homes here. "In my 12 years as an elected official, I've never seen Oconomowoc put its head in the sand," Herro said, referring to his tenure as a county supervisor.

He said the community is inhabited by "free spirits" and creative thinkers. Herro said he hoped the "tyranny of the minority" didn't influence the DOT's decision, referring to those who spoke against the rail stop at an early August public hearing at Nature Hill Intermediate School. The DOT said the public's reaction at that meeting - as well from city officials - were determiners in their decision to eliminate the stop.

Residents who spoke Tuesday night said it's not too late for the city and that officials should be earnest in contacting the DOT for more discussion and to hopefully reinitiate the stop.

"I behoove the community to humbly go to the DOT, even sit on their doorstep until they are available," said resident and developer Peter Schwabe.

Mayor Jim Daley said his efforts to contact the DOT since the decision have been unsuccessful. "There is zero interest (on their part), so we will continue to explore routes to best serve the city," Daley said.

Alderwoman Cathleen Slattery said she feels the way Madison has handled the situation concerning the news of the elimination of the rail stop is "outrageous and not the way government should operate."

She also said she's frustrated that several citizens are now coming to speak in support of the rail when she didn't see them at previous opportunities. "I feel this is a learning experience. If you feel passionately about something, speak your piece," she said.

Alderman and Council President James Larsen also pushed for contact with the DOT and pointed out the short time frame between the Nature Hill meeting and the DOT's decision to pull the stop.

"We were still on their maps. We nee to get answers as to why we were dropped," he said.

Related story: http://www.livinglakecountry.com/lakecountryreporter/102478344.html

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