Update on MENA/UWM Collaboration (April 2014)

It has been about 18 months since UWM signed on to the MENA / UWM Collaborative Framework and Process for Addressing Quality of Life on the East Side alongside six east side Neighborhood Associations (commonly referred to collectively as MENA – Milwaukee East Side Neighborhood Associations), including Murray Hill Neighborhood Association (MHNA).

This collaboration was an outgrowth of negotiations regarding the rezoning process for converting the former Columbia St. Mary’s hospital complex to institutional zoning that would accommodate UWM’s needs. The purpose of the collaboration was to develop a successful working relationship between UWM and the adjacent neighborhoods in order to improve the quality of life on the East Side. The entire framework document can be read here, but the key principles that signatories agreed upon were these:

1. Formal Communication: Community stakeholders must communicate, within some effective structure, to solve problems and MENA’s Leadership must be part of the process.

2. Best Practices: The resources and expertise of UWM should be used to identify, assess and recommend unique, creative, and applicable approaches to reach desired outcomes. Best practices research should be conducted before a program is developed and deployed.

3. Methodology: A proven methodology will be used to create the roadmap that will be used to identify, develop, deploy and monitor all programs in order to assess the program’s ability to reach a desired goal.

4. Accountability: Stakeholders need to establish, coordinate, and keep current a continuing flow of up-to-date, complete information to all residents.

This collaborative process was conducted via a series of internal meetings attended by MENA leaders, UWM representatives, and other individuals as necessary (MPD officers, Alderman Kovak, etc.). MHNA representatives remained committed to the process until it became clear that the key principles were no longer guiding the process. While MHNA representatives are willing to commit time, energy, and resources to improving our neighborhood, this volunteer organization cannot waste time participating in efforts that repeat or mirror unsatisfactory past efforts, particularly those that did not rely on best practices, measurable outcomes, and accountable processes.

This summary is intended to provide neighbors with an explanation of the events related to this collaborative process.

Northwest Quadrant (NWQ) Rezoning Process (March 2011 – May 2012): Common Council File #101472

The rezoning request first came to the Zoning and Neighborhood Development (ZND) Committee of the Common Council for a hearing in May 2011. Due in large part to specific concerns related to future use of the Northwest Quadrant raised by Mariner Neighborhood Association (NA), this item was held at the May 17, 2011 ZND meeting and again at the June 7, 2011 ZND meeting. On June 21, 2011, MHNA also registered opposition to the NWQ rezoning request with the ZND committee on the broader basis that unchecked growth of the UWM campus and population over the past decade has played a major role in degrading the quality of life for adjacent residential neighborhoods. The official letter of opposition is available here. UWM leadership did not reach out to MHNA representatives regarding the concerns raised in the June 21, 2011 letter until May 2012. MHNA understood that during the 11-month interim period, UWM had meetings with Mariner NA and also participated in a task force convened by the Mayor regarding East Side quality of life issues. The task force did not include any representation by neighborhood residents.

On May 10, 2012, only 5 days prior to the rescheduled hearing, UWM met with NA presidents including MHNA to discuss the quality of life concerns raised in the letter. At the meeting, UWM agreed to join with MENA leadership to form a collaborative working group to address these concerns, and NA presidents agreed to withdraw opposition to the rezoning request. At the May 15, 2012 hearing, ZND committee members approved the rezoning request (4:1) after hearing testimony from MHNA and Mariners NA that both explained the quality of life concerns and described the verbal agreement reached at the May 10, 2012 meeting. During the summer of 2012, MENA assigned MHNA president Steve Klebar as MENA liaison to help complete the Collaborative Framework which was finalized and signed by all parties in September 2012. Video of the ZND committee meeting is available here.

Collaboration Sessions (November 2012 – August 2013)

The first collaboration session with UWM and MENA leadership as a “large group” was held on November 14, 2012. The target date for roll-out of the first set of strategies was the start of the fall 2013 semester. Large group meetings were held eight times between November 2012 and August 2013. The large group meetings were coordinated by a UWM facilitator and focused on problem definition and brainstorming solutions. On January 31, 2013, MHNA president Steve Klebar participated in the first “small group” focus meeting on quality of  life issues. More than 10 quality of life small group meetings were held between January and August 2013. During these sessions, MHNA participated in good faith and publicly supported the collaborative effort at the semi-annual community meeting sponsored by Alderman Kovak at Riverside High School on May 15, 2013. As the start of the fall semester drew near over the summer, Klebar raised concerns that the strategies and methods for measurement were not going to be ready for the fall semester roll-out. At a July 24, 2013 meeting focused on developing strategies with UWM and Milwaukee Police Departments, it became clear that UWM had not yet engaged MPD in this collaborative initiative. On  August 13, 2013, Klebar presented the quality of life small group candidate strategies to the large group. A week later at the August 22, 2013 meeting, UWM deviated from the plan presented and set a new direction without collaborative input – not representing the work of the past nine months, not based on best practices, and with no plan to measure results. MHNA held an emergency board meeting and subsequently drafted a letter to Vice-Chancellor Laliberte outlining these concerns that was sent on August 27, 2013.

MHNA Dismissed from Collaboration (August 2013 – Present)

Vice-Chancellor Laliberte responded to MHNA’s letter of concern by uninviting MHNA (and Mariners NA) to the August 28, 2013 meeting scheduled with MPD. Laliberte further stated that he would be in touch when they (UWM) were prepared to meet again. MHNA has received no further correspondence from Vice-Chancellor Laliberte or other UWM representatives regarding the collaboration. UWM resumed periodic meetings and correspondence with other MENA representatives, but as of mid-March, 2014, UWM has failed to reengage MHNA. On January 16, 2014, the MHNA Board reached out to Tim Gordon, UWM Dean of Students, inviting him to meet informally with the MHNA Board. Gordon declined the meeting, citing a preference “to meet with MENA representatives as part of the working group established”, but that he is willing to make a presentation to the entire association at a spring general membership meeting, which has been confirmed for Tuesday, April 22,2014.

Future Direction

The MHNA board is frustrated and disappointed with the outcome of the collaborative working sessions with UWM. We remain committed to improving the quality of life in our community and would be pleased to resume the working sessions with UWM if the collaboration leadership refocuses on the principles outlined in the original agreement.  Until that time, we will continue our work with our other partners including MPD, City departments, other NAs, and local business associations. As always, we welcome questions, suggestions, or any other comments from our residents.

Thank you for your support.