Friday, January 25, 2019

Terms of foundation, university agreement include new name for campus alumni center

This campus building is expected to be renamed the Culver Family Welcome Center.

By Miles Maguire

The awkwardly titled Alumni Welcome and Conference Center would be named after the family that started Wisconsin’s favorite fast-food chain under the terms of an agreement that has been signed by the UW Oshkosh Foundation and the UW System Board of Regents.

The $6.3 million agreement, which includes the naming rights for the Culver Family Welcome Center, is intended to wrap up eight legal disputes that have been underway in state and federal courts. The lawsuits developed after UW Oshkosh refused to make good on promises to back real estate projects that its nonprofit foundation started to support the school.

Almost exactly two years after it asserted that the foundation had engaged in “illegal financial transfers” with university officials, the UW System has accepted terms under which it will pay off the bank debt on the welcome center and on a biodigester that is close to the UW Oshkosh campus.

In exchange for the payments the system will take title to the 40,000-square-foot welcome center, which overlooks the Fox River at the intersection of Wisconsin Street and Pearl Avenue, and to the biodigester, which is next to the school’s facilities management offices on Witzel Avenue.

The UW System said that it would make the required payments out of federal grant overhead that is has accrued. "Federal funds are designated for administrative costs, among other things, for which the settlement is an appropriate use," the system said. "No state general funds or tuition dollars were utilized in this settlement."

The UW Oshkosh campus will be on the hook for at least $3.8 million and have to pay the system almost $200,000 a year for each of the next 20 years, according to settlement documents.

“The most significant part is that our intent, which has always been there, to see the state have the welcome center and ultimately the Witzel biodigester as an asset of the state” will be accomplished, said foundation chairman Tim Mulloy. “The state will get the assets the foundation always intended them to have.”

UW Oshkosh has also agreed to close down a new rival fundraising operation and to allow the foundation to retain about $2 million in pledges from major donors, a sum that will largely cover legal costs the foundation has incurred in its battle with the university.

The largest of the outstanding pledges is from Craig Culver, a 1973 graduate of UW Oshkosh who went on to found, along with his parents and his wife, the highly successful Culver’s restaurant chain, famous for its frozen custard, cheese curds and butterburgers. Culver serves on the board of directors of UWO’s foundation.

In return for a total gift of $2 million, some of which has already been paid, “naming rights shall be granted in perpetuity to the existing building, which shall be known as Culver Family Welcome Center or a similar designation as approved by Craig Culver,” the newly signed agreement states.

Other outstanding pledges are expected to come in from J.J. Keller, the Neenah-based company that specializes in safety and regulatory compliance, and Sodexo, the campus food service contractor.

The broad outline of the agreement was announced Dec. 21, but details were not released, pending final settlement on the details by all the parties, which include Wells Fargo Bank, Bank First National, First Business Bank, UW Oshkosh, the UW regents and the UW Oshkosh Foundation.

Under the agreement Wells Fargo will get $1.7 million and Bank First National $5.1 million. The reported net cost of the agreement was reached by factoring in $500,000 that First Business Bank has agreed to return to UW Oshkosh. The bank had originally seized $1.2 million from the university but has already returned some of that money.

The agreement is a vindication of the position staked out by the foundation--that the transfers were not illegal, that it had been acting on behalf of the university and that it had relied on assurances, either implied or expressly stated, that UWO and the UW System would provide financial backup if necessary.

The wording of the agreement allows for some face-saving, describing the settlement as a “compromise” that cannot “be construed as an admission of liability.” The foundation and the UW System “deny liability or wrongdoing and intend merely to avoid litigation and buy their peace.”

One point that the foundation has prevailed on is whether it makes sense for the school to have more than one fundraising entity. Under the agreement the UW Oshkosh Foundation is recognized as “the legacy foundation” for the school, “having been the first, largest and most effective in raising funds to provide assistance to the university for more than 30 years.”

Accordingly the parties “will work together to work toward a single foundational entity serving the university.” The goal of upcoming negotiations is “establishing the [UW Oshkosh] Foundation as the sole entity with governance provided from the larger group of foundations.”

The plan is to combine the UW Oshkosh Foundation and the new Titan Alumni Foundation with the older organization maintaining its campus presence in offices at the welcome center.

Going forward the UW Oshkosh Foundation will be headed by a CEO hired and compensated by its board of directors. The previous foundation heads had been university employees.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Oshkosh area leaders putting together plan for outdoor sports complex to support teams, draw tournaments

A recent study recommended this general plan for a new sports complex serving the Oshkosh community.

By Joseph Schulz

Local community leaders are in the preliminary stages of planning a multiuse outdoor sports complex to address needs illustrated in a joint study between the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau and Rettler Corp.

According to the Oshkosh Sports Facilities Feasibility Study, the city’s current facilities are functional but need improvements to lighting, concessions, restrooms and bleachers.

“Although functioning as facilities for scheduled games, the condition and standalone amenities at each field are below average or not present,” the study said. “The capacity to run tournaments is impossible or very limited due to lack of multifield facilities.”

The study rated all the sports fields in Oshkosh, giving football and soccer fields an average rating of 2.13 and giving baseball and softball fields an average rating of 1.97.

“According to the assessment, a score of two is defined as ‘Below Average Condition: field is playable but in need of significant upgrading’ and a score of one indicates the need for complete renovation or replacement,” the study said.

The study recommended building a multi-use outdoor sports complex as a solution to the problems addressed.

“Creating a year-round athletic hub in the city of Oshkosh will allow the city to host large sports events, making Oshkosh a premier destination for sports and leisure groups all over the area and benefiting local business,” the study said.

According to city officials, the biggest obstacles for the project moving forward are funding and management of the facility.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh airs dirty laundry as it fends off former official's discrimination allegation

The former head of enrollment management at UW Oshkosh was recently hired into a similar role at Cabrini University.
By Miles Maguire

UW Oshkosh has won the initial round in a legal battle with its former chief of student recruitment, but to do so it had to air some dirty laundry, including allegations that the onetime head of enrollment management had “distributed pictures of his genitals over the internet to members of the Fox Valley community.”

On Dec. 10 the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development determined there was no probable cause to pursue a discrimination complaint filed by Brandon B.A. Miller. Miller, the former associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at UW Oshkosh, was fired in January 2018.

Miller argued that he had been denied a promotion because of his race, color and sex and that he was fired because of these factors, his homosexuality and his reporting of discrimination.

But Gregory Straub, chief of the Civil Rights Section for the workforce agency, disagreed. He said Miller had never formally applied for the promotion that he wanted, which means UWO “could not have discriminated against him when it hired” someone else.

“The available facts demonstrate [UW Oshkosh] probably terminated Miller’s employment for rudeness and unsatisfactory performance,” Straub said. “There are no facts to suggest Miller’s race, color, sex or sexual orientation motivated his termination.”

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Oshkosh child death in September came after 13 reports to county Human Services Department

Source: Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (2017)
By Miles Maguire

Reports are mandated by law in cases of “child death, serious injury or egregious incident” that may be tied to maltreatment. But a review of these records for Winnebago County shows just how tricky it can be to evaluate instances of suspected child abuse.

Sometimes the appearance of child abuse can be deceiving, the reports show, while in other cases a fatal tragedy has occurred after repeated warnings and assessments.

Last April an 8-month-old Hispanic male was found dead at his home, which he shared with his mother, father and 2-year-old brother. A criminal investigation was opened, and the Winnebago County Department of Human Services determined initially that the 2-year-old was at risk and needed to be placed under a “protective plan,” according to state records.

But the medical examiner found “no signs of maltreatment or trauma to the infant,” state records show. The criminal case was closed, and the county “determined the infant’s 2-year-old brother to be safe, and he remained with his parents.”

Five months later a 1-year-old African-American male was taken to the hospital with multiple injuries and later died. Since the fatality, the county has removed the infant’s two siblings, a 2-year-old brother and a 5-year-old sister, and placed them “in a nonrelative foster home.”

But concerns about the family date back to May 2014, when the first of 13 child abuse reports were received, state records show.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

City redesigns website with goals of improving transparency and encouraging citizen input

By Joseph Schulz

The recent redesign of the city website has improved transparency and led to a significant increase in citizen contacts, Oshkosh officials said.

The city launched its redesigned website Nov. 9. According to city IT Director Anthony Neumann, the site was designed to be easier to navigate and more responsive to mobile devices. It also incorporates more video and makes it easier for new residents to understand city policies such as parking restrictions, he said. 

The previous version of the site dated to 2006.

Having a responsive and easy to use website is important because most people get their information on the internet, Neumann said.

“If you don’t have a good web presence you get left behind, and the city of Oshkosh does not want to be left behind,” he said. “We want to attract business and citizens, we want to attract anyone and everyone we can, we are event city and this helps promote that.”

Developers improved navigation by creating badge icons that bring users to the most visited areas and made it easier for residents to provide feedback, Neumann said.

“We did the analytics report and the traffic is comparable or larger than what we had with the old city website,” Neumann said. “The department contacts, the way people can actually contact all the division and department heads has increased. We used to get three to four citizen inputs a week. Now we are actually at about three or four an hour.”

Friday, January 4, 2019

Oshkosh leaders look for root causes, preventive measures following deaths of three local children

A 2016 study called the "State of the Fox Valley Child: Birth to Five," highlighted census tracts in Oshkosh with "vulnerable populations," where incomes are low (orange), adult educational attainment is low (purple) or where both conditions exist (maroon). Superimposed red boxes show the approximate locations of recent child deaths.

By Miles Maguire
When officers arrested a 34-year-old Oshkosh man Dec. 17 in connection with the death of a third young child in less than two weeks, the police department issued a statement in an apparent attempt to calm concerns about this shocking string of tragedies.

“None of the recent deaths of children in Oshkosh are connected in any way,” the police said in a press release.

But child advocates and health officials know better.

The police may be right from a purely criminal perspective, but the social and economic predictors of childhood trauma in Oshkosh are readily apparent to those who are looking. Unfortunately, these predictors--especially low income and lack of education--are also reflected in actual statistics on child abuse in the community.

According to the most recent state data, Winnebago County’s Child Welfare Division received 1,366 reports of child abuse and neglect in calendar year 2016. This number translates into a rate of 38.8 reports per 1,000 children, compared to a statewide rate of 33.1.

In the Fox Valley, defined in a recent study as communities in Winnebago, Outagamie and Calumet counties, Oshkosh stands out when it comes to child welfare indicators. Almost half of the children in the city live in single-parent households, 8.1 percent of all residents lack health insurance and more than one-fifth of the population earns only between $10,000 and $25,000 a year.

“Rates of certain preventable childhood injuries related to emergency department visits are higher in the Fox Valley than in the state,” according to the authors of the study, a group called the Fox Valley Early Childhood Coalition. This category included falls and “blunt injuries” resulting from getting hit “by or against an object or person.”

The 2016 study went so far as to identify high-risk census tracts in the major population centers of the Fox Valley. Two of these tracts in Oshkosh, one north of the Fox River and one south, were the sites of recent infant deaths that have resulted in murder charges against male residents of the homes where the children died.