Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


County executive debate lacks substance, focus

Was that a debate?

No. I looked at the signs on the way out and realized it was dubbed an “executive forum.” Fair enough, I suppose. There will be plenty of time for Kathleen Falk and Nancy Mistele to substantively debate each other on policy. But as an opening salvo from both camps, there wasn’t really a winner here: Mistele certainly lost, but Falk didn’t exactly win.

Nancy Mistele, to only slightly paraphrase Joe Biden, only mentions three things in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 911. Nearly everything revolved around the 911 Center. You’re concerned about drunken driving? Well, who cares about that when the 911 Center is being left in pieces? You want to save the wetlands? Well, forget those swamps, where’s the money for our 911 Center? You want radios so you can directly communicate effectively with other jurisdictions? You’re right! And that’s the problem with the 911 Center!


There was her opportunity to point to another measure Falk might drop the ball on. She could point and yell, “She’s putting it off again!” since it’s the only thing she does effectively. But instead, she completely missed the point of the radios and went on about how the 911 Center needs to have better communication and response to emergencies.

What Mistele has essentially done during her campaign is run onto a battlefield without a gun. You want to reform the 911 Center? Explain how. All I hear is “new leadership.” Unless you plan on taking the position of 911 Center director yourself and keep watch over the dispatchers at night, I suggest you pick a new topic.

Like roadways. A third of the questions came from people complaining about county roadways with constant congestion or poor upkeep. I could only nod vigorously when one resident asked why nothing has been done to fix University Avenue — which has unplanned speed bumps every three feet and will probably result in many ruined tires.

Falk’s response: We have increased the budget for public roads. We have made improvements to the County M road — traffic lights and turn lanes have been installed!

Falk seemed to brush off concerns of congestion and focus on working toward commuter rail.

Strangely enough, she didn’t seem to answer their questions. Instead, the typical responses went something like this:

  • That’s always been a priority for Dane County.
  • We increased funding on (insert general item of importance here) and will continue to maintain funding.
  • Mistele doesn’t know anything about that because she’s never worked on a budget.

OK, the last one might have some merit. But Falk almost always dodged complaints from the audience about her leadership, as if increases in funding mean the problem is being handled. A commuter rail isn’t going to change the fact that roads aren’t being fixed. Come on, I thought you were on board with Obama’s whole infrastructure boom?

But Falk’s dodging responses fell especially short when the 911 Center was brought up again. Even though Mistele’s parroting of the “catastrophe” cited in the 2004 audit of the 911 Center was tiring, Falk did an awful job countering it. She tried to assure the audience, just as she did with the Herald editorial board, that she implemented all of the recommendations of the report and went beyond that.

Well, not really. She did everything she thought the report got right, rejected other suggestions.

But that wasn’t the most misleading statement about the 911 Center. When a young resident asked if Falk would resign if the found negligent in the lawsuit filed against her and the county by the Zimmermann family, Falk skirted responsibility.

“The lawsuit by the Zimmermanns is against Dane County. I took responsibility on behalf of Dane County.”

Falk is named both individually and as a Dane County executive. She is being held directly responsible for the Zimmermann situation and the failures of the 911 Center. Mistele may be off-base in suggesting Falk is responsible for Zimmermann’s death, but Falk cannot simply say she put forth a budget, no one offered any amendments to that budget and assume that’s a reasonable justification. Just because no one else inserted other budget amendments doesn’t mean you were right — it just means the entire County Board dropped the ball on that issue.

So what did we end up with? A Public Safety Cockatoo with a no concern for environmentalism — she answered one question about preservation of a nature path by saying she didn’t think it needed to be part of the conversation right now — and an incumbent PR manager whose current duty seems to be telling the public what a great job she’s doing.

Really makes you wish we had a primary race, doesn’t it?

Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and history.

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