Friday, January 31, 2020

Winnebago Catch-a-Ride program catching on as a tool to fight poverty and get workers to jobs

Photo by Joseph Schulz
Deb Martin, who has been volunteering since March,  says more drivers are needed to expand the program. 
By Joseph Schulz
After helping workers get to their jobs more than 1,000 times in 2019, the Winnebago County Catch-a-Ride Program is seeking more drivers to help fill gaps in transportation and reduce employment barriers.

Currently the program only has seven active drivers, causing new rider applicants to be placed on a waitlist, according to Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. CEO Jason White.

In early January, GO-EDC received a grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership, a collaboration between U.S. Venture Fund and other organizations aimed at eliminating poverty. White said the grant funds will extend the program for another three years and fund a workforce facilitator position to recruit drivers.

He added the new position will support the program by recruiting drivers, employers and riders as well as by coordinating between GO-EDC and its partners in the program.

“We're really excited about this,” White said. “This could be a real success story about how a midsized metropolitan city can create partnerships to boost workforce development and enhance the quality of life and income prospects of people that want to work.”

Currently riders pay 25 cents a mile for car service, while drivers are reimbursed at the rate of 58 cents a mile.

The need to fill transportation gaps became apparent to White shortly after GO-EDC's inception, when human resource managers began telling him they had open positions that couldn't be filled because qualified candidates lacked reliable transportation to and from work.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Oshkosh computer outage at City Hall could be ransomware attack; no demands received yet

Colored signs posted on the doors to City Hall direct property owners to local banks to pay their tax bills.

By Miles Maguire
The computer outage at City Hall may be part of a wave of ransomware cyberattacks that have been hitting local governments across the country.

"From what the experts have told us, yes, this can be categorized that way," said City Manager Mark Rohloff. "However we have received no demands."

Just last month Pensacola, Florida; New Orleans; Galt, California; and St. Lucie, Florida, were hit with ransomware attacks, according to CBS News.

The pattern of such attacks is that after computer systems are knocked offline, officials receive a letter demanding payment in bitcoins or a similar digital currency in return for an electronic key that will unlock the infected system. 

Whether ransom is paid or not, the cost of recovery from such an attack can be enormous. Baltimore, for example, ended up spending $18 million, according to news reports.  

In 2019 nearly 1,000 government agencies, healthcare providers and schools were hit with ransomware attacks, according to Emsisoft, a cybersecurity consulting firm. It estimated the potential cost at more than $7.5 billion.

A report it issued in December included statistics indicating that an average ransomware attack costs $8.1 million and takes 287 days to recover from. Smaller cities are unlikely to face such high costs, the consulting firm said.

Emsisoft said a key reason why government entities are hit with cyberattacks is that the public sector doesn't pay enough attention to computer security. One underlying factor may be budget constraints that force other expenses to take priority, the consultants said.

Rohloff said he did not have an estimate of costs or recovery time as of Wednesday morning.

A Facebook post from the city Tuesday afternoon provided an outline of the situation, saying that it was investigating the cause as well as working to rebuild its computer network and recover data. 

"Information stored in databases, such as payroll and billing information, has not been compromised," the city said. "No personal credit card information is stored in city systems."

City services were continuing to operate, including 911, garbage pickup and the bus system. 

The city noted that tax bills could be paid at Associated Bank (10 W. Murdock Ave. and 444 N. Sawyer St.), Community First Credit Union (2424 Westowne Ave. and 1492 W. South Park Ave.) Payments can be mailed to City Hall at P.O. Box 1128, Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54903. 

Since the city's website and email were not available, citizens were directed to used the phone to communicate with city staff. Here are some frequently used numbers:
  • Police nonemergency: (920) 236-5700
  • Fire nonemergency: (920) 236 5240
  • City Hall: (920) 236-5000
The city has been posting updates on social media:

Monday, January 27, 2020

Winnebago County board seeks funding to boost broadband access in rural communities

Wisconsin Public Service Commission
The light blue areas above are underserved with broadband access and the dark blue areas are unserved. 

By Joseph Schulz
The Winnebago County Industrial Development Board voted Jan. 23 to enter a public-private partnership that aims to expand broadband access in rural communities.
The partnership with US Internet, a Minnesota based telecommunications company, has the potential to benefit the dairy and tourism industries and is contingent upon the company being awarded a broadband extension grant from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
In September 2019, the Public Service Commission announced that it would provide $24 million in grant funding to increase high-speed internet access to areas deemed unserved or underserved.
US Internet applied for an approximately $3.7 million broadband extension grant in December to deploy an active fiber network to Omro, Poygan, Winneconne and Butte des Morts.
The grant funds will account for 36.75% of the project costs, as the total cost of the project is about $10.16 million, according to the grant application.
The application says US Internet will fund roughly $6.4 Million, Winnebago County will fund $25,000, the town of Omro will fund $2,680, the town of Poygan will fund $1,480, the village of Winneconne will fund $1,000 and the town of Winneconne will fund $1,000.
The funds would be used for the first phase of US Internet's "Light the Lake" project, which the application states will deploy 140 miles of new fiber optic cable to 806 unserved homes and businesses and 3,078 underserved homes and businesses.
If the grant is approved, the application says the company will commit to building phase two, which will provide another mile of infrastructure to an additional 1,456 underserved homes and businesses.
In total, the project would serve 5,418 unserved or underserved locations, according to US Internet.
Phase one of the project will begin when the grant is approved and is expected to be completed after 24 months, the application stated.
The first two months will consist of engineering and environmental work. Months two through four will be spent on permitting and material ordering, while months five through 23 will focus on mainline construction, customer acquisition and activation.
US Internet's Wisconsin Operations Manager Dan Kesselmayer said there were about 140 applications for broadband expansion grants submitted around the state, and of those applications, only about 40 meet all the criteria to receive money.
Of the applications meeting the criteria, Kesselmayer said US Internet has one of the strongest because its project would serve "five to 10 times more people" than other applicants.
The company will feed fiber optic strands through pipes underground, which Kesselmayer said will limit reconstruction and create lasting infrastructure.
The grant application says the fiber optic infrastructure will far exceed the demands of customers, building a network set up for future generations.
"We're putting infrastructure in the ground to be able to turn these towns into 5G networks," Kesselmayer said.
County Executive Mark Harris said reduced access to high-speed internet hampers business in rural areas. For example, he said dairy farms have to file payroll taxes online, and many have a difficult time because they don't have access to high-speed internet.
Some farmers even have to drive to a location with Wi-Fi to submit payroll because they don't have access to internet on their farms, he added.
"It would help business all over the county if we could extend Wi-Fi further," Harris said.
Beyond helping farmers, the grant application says current internet speeds hurt tourism in the lakeshore towns of Poygan, Winneconne and Omro as visitors cut their stays short because they can't work remotely.
Aside from boosting tourism, the application added that US Internet would hire and train 15-20 new staff members for fiber optic technician positions in Wisconsin.
"We want to hire local people because we want to be able to train those local people for high paying future-proof jobs," Kesselmayer said. "We want to be able to be able to pay a good wage to anybody that's in the area that's willing to learn."
The company would send local employees to fiber optic technician training, where they will learn a trade that will "be around for a long time and offer a lot of flexibility," Kesselmayer added.
Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. Director of Strategic Initiatives Art Rathjen attended meetings between US Internet and the townships that would benefit from the grant's approval, finding that "everybody agrees they could use better internet services."
While Oshkosh is one of the communities with faster internet speeds in the state, Rathjen said there's a void in nearby rural communities. He added that rural communities are home to businesses and professional services that have the same internet needs as those in cities.
"Internet is your 4th utility, and 20 years from now, no one will see it as any different than water, electric or sewage," he said.
Kesselmayer said the Public Service Commission will live-stream their discussion about how broadband expansion funds will be dispersed on March 5. By March 6, he hopes to know whether or not US Internet received a grant.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Former UW Oshkosh officials plead guilty, agree to pay fine, restitution to settle foundation case

Judge John A. Jorgensen presides over sentencing hearing for two former UW Oshkosh officials. 

By Miles Maguire
The former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and one of his top aides pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single count of felony misconduct in office with each accepting a $5,000 fine and promising to pay $70,000 apiece in restitution to settle the criminal case against them.

Former Chancellor Richard H. Wells, 72, and former Vice Chancellor Thomas G. Sonnleitner, 79,  had faced a total of five felony counts that could have netted them $50,000 in fines and nearly 18 years in prison.

They were accused of illegally providing loan guarantees from the university to the UW Oshkosh foundation to support five real estate projects. The one count they pleaded guilty to was related to the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel and Convention Center, which has been a financial success for the foundation.

In accepting the plea agreement, Winnebago County Circuit Judge John A. Jorgensen expressed sympathy for the legal arguments advanced by the defendants.

Campus leaders at the time of the misdeeds in this case were forced to look for creative responses to budget cutbacks, he said. He also noted that the UW System’s universities and related foundations often worked very closely together and that what the two Oshkosh officials did “seemed to be a practice throughout the state.”

He referred to a defense memorandum that described 2,000 transactions from UW System schools to their foundations betweeen 2011 and 2016 that came to $25 million. Campuses that passed money to their foundations include UW Madison, UW Milwaukee, UW Platteville and UW Superior, the memo shows. These figures undercut the prosecution's consistent argument that state money can never flow outward to a private foundation.

Neither Wells nor Sonnleitner was ever accused of putting any money into their own pockets. Assistant Attorney General W. Richard Chiapete said the two men were motivated by a “zeal for public recognition and personal achievement rather than that of a personal gain or personal greed.”

He said the felony conviction meant “a significant stain on the reputation of both of these men.”

Raymond M. Dall’Osto, the former chancellor’s attorney, said he wanted to take the case to trial but was overruled by his client. One factor was the rising cost of legal services, already “in the six figures,” Dall’Osto said.

Wells was also reluctant to mount a full-throated defense, Dall’Osto told the court, because the former chancellor did not want to speak out against UW Oshkosh or its officials.

“A directive by Mr. Wells to me throughout this case in interacting with the press was never to talk against the people at the university [or UW System] because they’re doing their jobs,” Dall’Osto said. “His loyalty to the University of [Wisconsin] Oshkosh and to the Oshkosh community is great.”

UW System officials were not as gracious in their description of the former Oshkosh officials. In a victim impact statement, the president of the system’s board of regents, Andrew S. Petersen, said “the criminal acts of these former administrators” had resulted in significant adversity for the school.

“For the last several years, the institution’s financial future, strategic planning, recruitment efforts and public persona has [sic] been impeded and impugned by an institutional legacy of ‘unethical behavior and bad acts,’” Petersen said.

He identified eight specific impacts that resulted from the criminal case, including “in excess of 250 media and public record requests for information,” a threat to the school’s accreditation status, a disruption in fundraising, staff turnover and “the loss of the chancellor’s residence.”

Although the state said Wells and Sonnleitner transferred about $30 million between the university and the foundation, their lawyers argued that this exaggerated the effect of their actions and that this amount of money was never at risk. 

On one occasion the two men "improperly forgave a foundation loan in the amount of $289,362," a defense memo states. But in the same time period, the foundation forwarded $5.6 million to the university." Thus, without the forgiveness, the foundation could have easily repaid the $289,362 and still donated $5.3 million."

Despite the criminal case against them, Wells and Sonnleitner continue to enjoy considerable support among the school’s major backers, including restaurant chain founder Craig Culver and Bill Wyman, chairman of the Oshksoh Area Community Foundation, both of whom put their names on letters that were included in the court file.

As part of his sentencing memo, Wells also included reference letters from two former chancellors, Petra Roter, who served on an interim basis, and Edward Penson, for whom one of the school’s major teaching awards is named.

In addition to the hotel, the other projects that were part of the criminal case were two biodigesters, a stadium complex and a conference/welcome center.

Restitution will go to UW System, with half the money due by the end of this year and half due at the end of 2021.

“Defendant Sonnleitner, living on fixed income, will need to gut or otherwise seriously impair his retirement account to satisfy this debt,” a defense memo said. “The state has reviewed the defendant's sworn financial statement and agrees with this characterization.”

At the end of the hour-long hearing Wednesday, the state attempted to extend the length of time that Wells and Sonnleitner will be without their right to vote due to their felony conviction. “It is the only hook we have” to make sure restitution is paid, Chiapete said.

After Sonnleitner’s attorney, Steven M. Biskupic objected, noting the strong character references both defendants had received, Jorgensen rejected the state’s request and said their voting rights will be restored as soon as their fines are paid.

Much of the commentary after the hearing focused on the need to move beyond the foundation saga.

“Today’s guilty pleas are the result of a three-year process to bring about public accountability, while affording UW Oshkosh the ability to renew its focus on its students and mission,” regent Petersen said in a prepared statement. “We are gratified that DOJ and UW System’s efforts resulted in restitution and acknowledgment of misconduct in office by former UW Oshkosh officials.”

“Today marks the end of a long, difficult chapter for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh,” said Chancellor Andrew J. Leavitt. “Everyone is moving forward.”

“I’m glad they can put this in the past,” said UW Oshkosh Foundation Chairman Timothy Mulloy, referring to Wells and Sonnleitner. “It’s time to look to the future.”

Monday, January 13, 2020

Dedicated UW Oshkosh professor left $1.9 million for international studies program he built over 5 decades

UW Oshkosh photo
Kenneth Grieb, far right middle row, poses with students at Model United Nations competition in 2016.

This post has been updated to add detail about the Grieb bequest.

By Miles Maguire
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Foundation has received a $1.9 million bequest from the estate of the longtime director of the school’s International Studies Program, Kenneth J. Grieb.

Grieb, who died in 2018, headed international studies for more than 50 years and was especially successful in advising students who participated in the National Model UN program. For more than 30 years in a row, Oshkosh teams under his direction were recognized as outstanding delegations, the top award in the competition.

The Grieb bequest was one of three major gifts the university foundation received last year, according to a letter to donors that was sent last week. The other donations were:

  • $150,000 from the estate of former Chancellor John Kerrigan to be used for faculty awards and a student scholarship fund.
  • $1 million from the Culver Family Foundation, which was used to complete a naming rights agreement for the university’s riverfront welcome center.
These gifts “demonstrate our donor community’s commitment to the UWO Foundation and support our passion to living out our mission as a proactive leader in helping shape and refine the vision of excellence of the university,” said foundation Chairman Timothy Mulloy.

“As we look ahead to 2020, we are entering the next decade full of optimism and a renewed vigor to living out our mission,” Mulloy told donors.

The donations to the foundation contrast with an otherwise bleak financial picture for the university. Falling enrollment and a reduced level of state support are crimping the school’s budget and contributing to a shortfall that could be more than $4 million next year.

The foundation is legally distinct from the university and only recently emerged from bankrupcty. These court proceedings resulted from a dispute over certain real estate investments that were initiated by former Chancellor Richard Wells, including the showpiece Culver Family Welcome Center.

Wells and a former top lieutenant are due in court on Wednesday to enter plea agreements that are expected to wrap up civil and criminal cases against them.

According to Mulloy, the foundation is close to signing a new agreement with the university. “We have also been working diligently on major improvements within our organization, including enhancements to our bylaws,” he said.

During the bankruptcy, the foundation was able to continue certain support programs, but money for scholarships to recruit new students was reduced. Chancellor Andrew Leavitt has said the lack of recuitment scholarships has been a factor in the enrollment decline.

Mulloy’s letter said the Grieb gift would be used “for a permanent endowment to support research and course development” for international studies.

A press release from the foundation provided additional detail about how the money will be used based on Grieb's vision for international studies at UW Oshkosh.
This gift is a permanent endowment meant to facilitate professional scholarship through the support of research, including research-related travel, research assistance, reproduction costs and other related expenses.
[Grieb] spent the majority of his career engaging students interested in the study of political, economic, social and cultural issues from an interdisciplinary, global perspective.
Recognizing there will always be a need for graduates, as well as faculty who can teach this content with a special focus on helping to prepare leaders who are well equipped to lead in today’s global economy, this professorship was created to offer a continuum of financial support.
The aim of this fund is to support research and course development within the International Studies Program’s topical emphasis including African, Asian and Latin Studies. This fund also serves as a catalyst to continue to support the tradition of excellence and the legacy of lifelong learning.
University officials were not immediately available to provide additional details about the use of the money, which will be overseen by a donor advisory board at the foundation. 

The school is conducting a national search for a new director of international studies. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Wells, Sonnleitner agree to enter pleas to resolve criminal charges from UW Oshkosh Foundation case

Richard Wells, flanked by Thomas Sonnleitner, right, and Sonnleitner's lawyer, Steven Biskupic.
By Miles Maguire
Two former UW Oshkosh officials have agreed to enter pleas to resolve criminal charges they face in connection with real estate investments that the school backed through its foundation.

Former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner were accused in April 2018 of misconduct in office and exceeding their legal authority. The criminal complaint against them included five counts that carried penalties of up to $50,000 in fines and nearly 18 years in prison.

The two men had pleaded not guilty and were due in court next week to hear an oral ruling in the case that might have meant dismissal. But they were also fighting a related civil case in Dane County that could have kept them tied up in court for years.

The state signaled this week that both cases were being settled.

In the criminal case “the parties have resolved these matters,” said Assistant Attorney General W. Richard Chiapete in a Jan. 7 letter to Winnebago County Circuit Judge John A. Jorgensen.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Oshkosh unveils its vision for 'Sawdust District,' a plan to turn south side into entertainment, housing magnet

This rendering shows how the Sawdust District neighborhood would be subdivided for planning purposes.

By Miles Maguire

The city has unveiled a master plan for development of the Sawdust District on the city’s south side that calls for constructing new townhouses, maintaining landmark buildings, relocating some industrial businesses and putting Main Street on a road diet.

The area once hummed with economic activity--especially involving lumber products and beer--but is now a patchwork of new development, vacant land, historic structures, single-family homes, small commercial businesses and a handful of industrial sites. The master plan is an attempt to jumpstart the redevelopment process by describing what the future could hold.

“This is an opportunity to redevelop this area so that it helps attract more investment into Oshkosh as well as more residents and workforce,” said Allen Davis, the city’s community development director. “The plan creates a walkable area with entertainment, office, retail, housing and greenspace, making it attractive for many complementary uses for the future.”

The term Sawdust District, which is only about three years old, refers to the slice of the city that runs along Lake Winnebago from the Fox River to 17th Avenue. Its western boundary includes a couple of doglegs and is defined mostly by Nebraska, Main and Doty streets.

“The Sawdust District is the place to watch,” said Mayor Lori Palmeri. “Oshosh is on the move, and the Sawdust District is a key piece of it.” She believes the area has the potential to rival Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward as a magnet for entertainment, business and residential opportunities.

If the plan is fully enacted, the resulting neigborhood will be a “pedestrian-friendly environment … enhanced by thoughtful streetscaping and roadway design,” according to a vision statement that is part of the master plan.

In this forecast, “People choose to live in the district due to the great quality of life supported by a diversity of housing options and convenient proximity to amenities, including shopping, lake and riverfront open spaces, trail connections and a unique industrial heritage.”

“The Sawdust District plan will direct growth, development and infrastructure investment by providing guidance through recommendations, strategies and policies with an ultimate goal of redeveloping the neighborhood,” said City Manager Mark Rohloff. 

The plan is built on four “guiding principles”:
  • Encourage new options for housing and office space that will attract people to support stores and restaurants, what is known in real estate terms as “mixed use” development.
  • Create a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, especially along South Main Street.
  • Preserve historic structures that contribute to the “eclectic character” of the district.
  • “Embrace the waterfront” to establish the area as a “lively and valuable community gathering space.”
“I think it’s a compelling plan. I think it’s very ambitious,” said John Casper, president of the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce. “It provides a good guide for the community to show a kind of a vision to anyone who is looking to invest in that district.”

The plan divides the neighborhood into six subareas. In each, specific proposals are organized under the headings of land use, transportation, design and public spaces.

A major new direction for land use would be an emphasis on residential housing, especially townhouses and apartments. The plan envisions “siginificant opportunity” for multifamily housing, “including in new lakefront development areas near the [Pioneer Island] marina, on either side of 10th Avenue and at the south end of the district.”

Especially to the north, waterfront-oriented housing “should be developed at a variety of price points in rental and condo configurations to serve young professionals, senior residents and workforce residents,” the plan states.

The area’s manufacturing heritage will be largely erased, a process that has already begun with the construction of the Menominee Nation Arena at the site of the old Buckstaff factory. “The existing industrial character is somewhat out of place with the surrounding Oshkosh neighborhoods, and many of the existing land uses are not of the highest quality,” the plan states.

“Certain industrial businesses will need to be voluntarily relocated to designated industrial parks,” according to the plan. But the city is encouraged to consolidate some land to support expansion of Blended Waxes Inc. at the south end of the district. 

General design guidance is included for each subarea, describing, for example, the height of buildings and the nature of their facades. "For the district to be successful, attention must be given to the built form and design of future development and its relationship to other structures and spaces," the plan says.

The document raises some potentially tricky transportation issues. One is the 20-trains-a-day right of way owned by the Canadian National Railway. “With no grade-separated railroad crossings, the rail line threatens connectivity between Pioneer Island and the rest of the Sawdust District,” the plan notes.

Increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic could mean more safety risks that will have to be addressed. Another problem is that rail yards can be an eyesore. “Beautification elements, such as landscaping, decorative street lights or new railroad gates, should be incorporated to decrease the relatively industrial character and improve the overall appearance of the corridor,” according to the plan.

An element that may provoke some debate is a plan to shift the emphasis on Main Street away from its traditional use as a high-volume corridor for vehicles.

“Within the next two to three years, the city should restripe South Main Street to designate on-street parking, two travel lanes and a central turning lane,” the plan says. The long-term recommendation is to acquire land to the east to allow for wider sidewalks and tree plantings between Eighth Avenue and South Park.

Ultimately the city is looking for a makeover of the neighborhood, creating a distinctive sense of place through new lighting, signage and public spaces.

“Places where people can gather to eat, chat or people-watch should be developed to bring people together and contribute to the liveliness of the district,” the plan says. “The district’s flagship plaza-style public gathering space should be on the southeast corner of Pioneer Island, oriented toward visitors and residents alike.”

Implementation of the plan will depend on a variety of factors, including citizen reception, approval of public spending on infrastructure and incentives, economic conditions and the cost of remediating environmental hazards from previous industrial uses.

But officials are optimistic about the prospects for the Sawdust District. “Redevelopment takes a lot of time,” said Jason White, president of the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp.

In the case of the Sawdust District, he said, many property owners and developers have been involved in the planning so that they are closer to moving ahead with specific projects. They “have been waiting for some kind of plan to emerge so they can plan their futures,” White said.

“The good news is that [redevelopment] will happen sooner as the result of having a lot of these folks engaged already.”

The public will get a chance to provide feedback at an open house on Jan. 29. The plan will then go to the Plan Commission Feb. 18 and the Common Council Feb. 25.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Oshkosh students jump on new 'UWO Go' ride-hailing service, alternative way to get home safe

UW Oshkosh photo
Enrolled UW Oshkosh students can use an app to get free transportation around much of the city.
By Joseph Schulz
UWO Go, a local transportation service for UW Oshkosh students that was launched late last year, has exploded in popularity and already provided more than 2,000 rides.

The service, which is app-based and similar to Uber or Lyft, replaced a program called Saferide.

“Technology-wise, it’s where people want to be,” said University Police Capt. Chris Tarmann. “Looking back at the years when we’ve done Saferide, I don’t think we’ve ever done more than 1,000 [rides] a year.”

UWO Go launched Nov. 1 and is free to any UW Oshkosh student with a campus ID.

To get a ride, students must download the UWO Mobile app, select the Oshkosh campus and select UWO Go to schedule a ride.

Once a ride is scheduled, community service officers will pick up students and take them to their destination, no questions asked.

Tarmann added that one reason for the program’s success is that students don’t have to communicate with an officer over the phone verbally.

The program runs seven days a week during the school year, starting at 4 p.m. It runs till midnight on Sundays and Mondays and until 2:30 a.m. the rest of the week.

The service area is roughly from Sawyer Street to Main Street and from Murdock Avenue to the north and the Fox River to the south.

The service allows students to run errands to a grocery store and a pharmacy, but it also gives them easy access to other kinds of establishments in town.

The program isn’t a bar hopping service, Tarmann said. It’s a service designed to ensure that students are getting wherever they need to go safely, he said.

Students using UWO Go cannot get a ride from one bar to another; one of the destinations must be somewhere that is not a bar.

Given that the university has earned the nickname UW Sloshkosh and has found itself on the list of top party schools, the need to get folks home safe from a night of bar hopping has become a priority.

While UWO Go may not be a bar hopping service, the Oshkosh Jewelers Nightlife Bus is. The bus began giving patrons rides in 2017 as the OshkoshBars’ Bus but recently changed its name and route.

Bus owner Barry LaVaque said the route changed to include a stop near the UW Oshkosh campus and to condense the route time to approximately 30 minutes.

“After two years, we realized we needed to make some changes,” LaVaque said, adding that he sees the new name and route as a chance for a fresh start.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Oshkosh voters, many of them students, face 1 in 10 chance of legal challenge to registration status

The Wisconsin Election Commission has sent mailings to almost 3,500 Oshkosh voters.

By Miles Maguire

The Wisconsin Election Commission has sent mailings to almost 3,500 Oshkosh voters questioning their eligibility to vote based on official address records, and it has taken another 229 citizens off the rolls because they have registered to vote in another state.

The questioned voters represent 10% of the city’s total registrations as of last April’s election, according to the city’s website.

That percentage figure is inflated by the fact that many of those voters are university students, said Pamela Ubrig, Oshkosh city clerk. Under current law students are required to reregister every time they move--even if it is just across the hall in the same dormitory.

Because Oshkosh is home to a major state university with many students who rarely stay in the same place for their entire undergraduate careers, it is also home to many registered voters whose polling addresses regularly go out of date.

The letters from the WEC, which went out in August, were based on information it received from a multistate organization that flags disrepancies in address records given to various government agencies. The letters included instructions for voters to rectify the situation, either by confirming their current addresses or by reregistering at a new address.

According to the WEC, the discrepancies may arise for a variety of reasons. Many of them are likely the result of a voter moving to a new address, but some occur when, for example, a car owner registers a vehicle in a different jurisdiction to avoid a local wheel tax.

Across the state, the letters went to 232,579 voters whose address records had been called into question. For almost 75 percent of the mailings,169,491 to be precise, election officials received no response.

The post office returned 60,676 as undeliverable, and 2,412 voters requested continuation at their commission-listed address. These numbers are based on data released Dec. 20 by the WEC.

Last year the mailings became the subject of a lawsuit by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative nonprofit organization that frequently aligns itself with Republican policy initiatives.

WILL has won a court ruling that the state must remove voters from the election rolls based on the results of the August mailing. But the state has appealed, arguing that the provision of law at issue applies to local clerks and not the election commission.

The WEC has six commissioners, three Republicans and three Democrats. Because of this split, it has not passed a motion on how to proceed on what is known as the “movers mailing list.”

The case is expected to end up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In the meantime, the city clerk is collecting information from the mailing but not removing anyone from the rolls.

“Because the election commission has not decided what to do with those voters, what we’re doing is just documenting the action of it,” Ubrig said. “We’re going to wait to hear from the election commission what action we need to follow.”

City-level figures are not available, but for all of Winnebago County, the WEC said 6,956 letters went out, 36 came back with requests for continuation on the voting rolls and 846 were deemed undelivarable. There was no response for the other 6,095 mailings.

Republicans have been accused of engaging in voter suppression by pushing for the elimination of voters from the official rolls. But party officials say they are not trying to discourage anyone from voting.

 “We should encourage more people to vote, and they should actually live in the municipality they’re voting in,” said Joann Borlee, campaign chairman for the Winnebago County Republic Party. “I don’t know why there are so many names on the rolls of people who can’t vote here. But those names should be removed.”

The League of Women Voters, which has filed a federal lawsuit to block the removal of voters based on the movers mailing list, argues that the process the commission used has significant flaws.

Margy Davey, president of the league’s Winnebago County chapter, said a big problem is the use of the postal service to contact voters at a time when many people rely on electronic communications and pay little attention to the mail.

Young people in particular “might look in [their mailbox] once a week and then throw half of the stuff away,” she said. “Simply sending a letter to a person’s last known address may not be the best and only way to verify that is still their abode.”

She pointed to the widespread use of social media and other alternatives for sending messages. “There are so many ways to communicate there is no way to know what is the best way to communicate with any single individual.”

The league is about to embark on a public education campaign through the county’s library systems to encourage voters to verify their registration status.

Similarly Ubrig said that voters who are not sure about whether they are registered to vote should feel free to contact her office. “Voters can go out on the state website to see if they are registered,” she said. “Or they can call our office. We are more than happy to quick punch their name into the system to see where they’re at.”

The state website for checking voter registration is

The city clerk’s telephone number is (920) 236-5011.