Mayor John Dickert isn't interested in the small stuff. If asked, he'd probably put that a little differently. He'd say there are so many big issues and projects before the city that he doesn't have time for small-time local issues like CAR25 contracts.
It's a sympathetic argument (really), but it's also the source of his problems. Ignoring local issues, or at least not giving them his full attention, has allowed them to blossom into ready-made attacks for political opponents. If the mayor is going to turn things around, he needs to take the "small stuff" seriously.
A good example is the weeks-long fight over a $40,000 no-bid contract to revamp CAR25. The mayor did a couple of things well. He was right in recognizing CAR25, being the only Racine-centric TV station on the planet, could be a significant source of local information and entertainment. And, he was right in identifying Sandy Petrykowski, with her extensive background in national and international TV journalism, as the person to do it.
Where Dickert went wrong was how he approached the Cable Commission and City Council. Instead of laying out what Petrykowski would do if awarded the contract, he simply said she should get the deal and she'll work out the details later. It's a classic "cart-before-the-horse" situation.
If Dickert and Petrykowski made a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation to the Cable Commission and Finance Committee laying out what, exactly, they intended to do to improve CAR25, I have little doubt the contract would have passed easily. But they left the specifics a mystery, which left committee and commission members to fill in the blanks. The result: Petrykowski had to withdraw her name, Dickert racked up an unnecessary political loss and CAR25 doesn't have its $40,000 investment.
Then there's the collateral damage from this "small" issue. Dickert gaveled down Alderman Mike Shields at a City Council meeting, which turned into a major issue because it was recorded on video. Shields, president of the local NAACP, used the video to attack the mayor for silencing critics. (Nevermind that Shields was speaking out of turn, it's the gaveling everyone will remember.)
The mayor also opened the door for a review of all of the city's no-bid contracts. City ordinances now give an exemption for professional services contracts, and at least one alderman has requested a study of removing that exemption. In other words, the CAR25 contract isn't going away. Hopefully the mayor learns from this. Spending a couple of hours on the front side will save weeks, even months, of aggravation on the backside.
Another example is, after getting elected, Dickert put together a support team that, while talented in many areas, couldn't write a press release. That left the city struggling to communicate with the public and required the need to hire a public information officer. (The PIO will do more than write press releases, but Mark Eickhorst will fill a glaring need in the Mayor's office.) It seems like a small detail, but the mayor has struggled to communicate with the public since taking office. He should have considered that early after taking office.
The PIO issue has metastasized into questions about Dickert's efforts to hire friends and supporters into city jobs. Tom Friedel, the city administrator, is a family member; Greg Bach, his assistant, was a campaign manager; Eickhorst is a long-time friend; and Petrykowski was a friend. All together Dickert spent, or tried to spend, over $200,000 in city money on people close to him. Every person hired is qualified for their job, but it doesn't take much imagination to envision the criticism.
Lost in all of these small issues is Dickert is trying to do some good things. He's working to create an international freshwater research lab in Racine, he's working on a deal to attract Chinese investors to the city, and he seems to realize job creation is a top priority. But his inattention to detail, and the local political landscape, is burying his larger efforts and making him look out of touch.
Sure, in the scheme of things, a small contract for a cable-access TV station is a dumb local issue. But CAR25 means something to the people involved, and it's the mayor's job to honor their commitment to this one part of the city by being open and honest with them from the beginning. The same goes for all aspects of the city. The mayor can't ignore anything.
Fortunately for Dickert, he's got a year to turn things around. Talking with city political insiders, he could help himself by reaching out to the City Council and other officials for help. But that's a challenge because:
1.) Dickert really isn't interested in the small issues; he's working for something bigger. (Kinda like the power-hitter in baseball that will gladly strike out three times to hit one home run.)
2.) Dickert doesn't know who's planning to run against him next April. The race could easily see two or three City Council members and other local officials jumping in to contend for the four-year term. It's tough to reach out when there's so many potential opponents.
3.) He's dug a deep hole. There may not be that many people willing to help him out.