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home : opinions : opinions January 18, 2017

12/31/2016 7:29:00 AM
A chance for a new start at the DOT

A few years back, this newspaper called upon Gov. Scott Walker to fire DOT secretary Mark Gottlieb.

It took him a long time, but it appears that Walker has gotten around to doing so. We can only ask, what in the world took so long?

We don't know for sure whether Gottlieb was canned or not, of course. The governor said he submitted his resignation, but that's often the case when officials are fired. And in announcing the new DOT secretary, Walker studiously avoided any praise of Gottlieb's service at the agency.

What's more, state Sen. Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee, among others, said the transportation chief was "sacked."

If Walker did pull the trigger, we are hardly surprised. It was less than a month ago that Gottlieb went to the Capitol to testify about the governor's transportation plan, and gave him only back-handed support.

The governor's plan was a good one, even if it would cause the state's roads to crumble in the coming years, Gottlieb essentially said. With friends like that ....

Gottlieb had also clashed with Walker on ways to raise revenue, being far more willing to embrace tax and fee hikes than Walker, and more aggressive in saying new agency funding was needed, rather than looking for waste and other ways to cut spending.

Gottlieb's tenure at the agency has long been that of a bureaucrat who might have been appointed by a liberal Democrat. For instance, during a time when the governor was trying to cut the size of government, Gottlieb was headed in the other direction.

His agency proposed cutting back on the use of private-sector engineers on a project and contract basis and hiring 180 full-time engineers, whose benefits and salaries the state will be strapped with for a long time. Somehow Gottlieb managed to talk the governor and the Legislature into this hare-brained scheme.

That's another story in and of itself, but suffice it to say Gottlieb was a friend of the bureaucrat and of government power, and he was an enemy of local communities and small businesses.

He never flinched when it came to embracing federal one-size-fits-all "guidelines" for highway construction projects, even when it meant eliminating highway accesses that local businesses vitally needed.

Gottlieb refused to engage the department in any serious public input and insisted on producing dog-and-pony shows about planned highway projects - absurd spectacles in which officials would appear at 'open houses' to tout the latest DOT plan but would refuse to answer serious questions raised by the public.

Did Gottlieb care about what local communities wanted? Never.

Here's how the Lakeland Times put it in 2012 in reporting Gottlieb's answer to local officials about the Minocqua highway reconstruction project: "DOT to Minocqua: Lose the accesses or lose the money. After meeting with Minocqua officials and town residents in an effort to be 'responsive' to the community's wishes, state Department of Transportation secretary Mark Gottlieb has offered up to the town his proposal: Either accept the DOT's scheme to reconstruct Hwy. 51 largely as it is, or lose most of the money and enhancements planned for the project."

It is not our intention to beat a dead horse but to offer a word of caution for incoming DOT secretary Dave Ross. His job is going to be a lot tougher because of the way Gottlieb handled his.

Which is to say, Ross needs not only to please the governor but to please the people. Out in the countryside, anger at the agency is reaching a boiling point, much like the old days in the DNR.

Out-of-control bureaucrats need to be reined in and the people listened to, two things that Gottlieb refused to do. Gottlieb may have run afoul of the governor before he ran afoul of lawmakers tired of hearing complaints about the DOT from their constituents, but no doubt that, too, was just a matter of time.

At the beginning of a new DOT era, now would be a good time to tamp down the bureaucrats and bring back local control and public participation in transportation decision-making. Ross may get a bit of a honeymoon, but if the agency continues in its present direction, it won't be a long one.



Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017
Article comment by: John McConnell

In it's normal, ham handed style the editorial board puts forth a one sided screed, with no real facts involved. For instance, Gottlieb is referred to as only a bureaucrat. No mention that he previously was a Republican legislator and prior to that he was a civil engineer. The type of engineer who understands things like life expectancy of bridges, roads, etc. and like most people in science or engineering is not willing to lie to support some politician, particularly where lives and the economy are at stake.
Nope, the editors come down firmly on the side of our governor, the guy who dropped out of college to take a job as a tele marketer for the Red Cross. That is surely the background needed to know what is best for long term investment in infrastructure. Not a civil engineering degree.


Posted: Monday, January 2, 2017
Article comment by: Merlin Van Buren

In this article you call for local control of road decisions, but for set-back regulations on lakes local control is wrong. You're a bunch of flip-floppers. I guess it's whatever constituency you are pandering too. This paper is worse than the politicians.

As for the paper being "right" on calling for Gottlieb to leave and it actually happening: "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while".

Merlin Van Buren




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