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Mayor Schmitt breaks 6-6 tie; traffic signals will be used instead
Green Bay Press-Gazette
By Paul Srubas
March 3, 2009
Opponents of roundabouts on Military Avenue emerged victorious early this morning at the meeting of the Green Bay City Council.
The vote was 6-6, and Mayor Jim Schmitt broke the tie, meaning the city will use traffic signals only when Military Avenue is reconstructed.
City Council President Chris Wery, who had favored a series of six roundabouts and who later proposed a compromise, switched sides and moved for signalized intersections only for the 1½ mile commercial stretch due for reconstruction in 2010.
Those voting for a compromise plan calling for roundabouts at Sixth and Ninths streets were Tom Weber, Jerry Wiezbiskie, Dan Piton, Amy Kocha, Celestine Jeffreys and Tony Theisen. Wery, John Vander Leest, Tom De Wane, Guy Zima, Andy Nicholson and Steve Deneys voted against it.
After Schmitt broke the tie, a vote for the four-lane plane with signalized intersections won 10-2, with Theisen and Weber as the only holdouts. Earlier, members of the public, incensed when one member accused the others of being a “lynch mob,” reacted in anger prompting Schmitt to call a short, abrupt recess to the City Council meeting.
It was just one of the moments that reached a high emotional pitch in the ongoing debate over a proposal to build six roundabouts on Military Avenue.
The council listened to about 90 minutes of public testimony before launching into its own debate.
The meeting began at 7 p.m. Tuesday, but the council didn’t take up the roundabout issue until 9 p.m. It took just minutes for the council members to agree to consider rescinding its earlier decision to rescind a plan to install six roundabouts on Military Avenue. Aldermen Tom Weber, Tony Theisen and Dan Piton voted against the consideration.
Moments after it passed, Wery moved to remove all roundabouts from the plan. Wery said the matter clearly had not been discussed enough, and additional conversations he had with constituents and business owners prompted him to change his mind.
His motion clearly came as a surprise to members of the public, who appeared to have taken encouragement and praised him for it.
Without making a decision, the council opened the floor to the public, most of whom spoke against roundabouts.
Taku Ronsman, who has spoken at previous meetings in favor of roundabouts, expressed disappointment at Wery’s change of heart. She said she was disappointed that council, which previously had held fast against public opposition, seemed prepared to cave under public pressure that Ronsman said was generated by a handful of elected officials.
“You’re not listening to the people, you’re listening to a lynch mob,” Ronsman said.
The crowd responded angrily, murmuring protests. Schmitt gaveled for order, then called a recess. He reopened the meeting 10 minutes later after trying to calm the crowd, saying, “We want to get this done in an orderly fashion.”
Before Wery’s motion, at least two options were on the table, both of which involve eliminating all but two of the proposed roundabouts. One option would put two on the southern end of the 1½-mile business corridor; the other would put one on each end.
Schmitt and Wery proposed the compromise following public outcry over the council’s 7-5 vote to build a series of six roundabouts.
Opponents had promised to launch a federal lawsuit over Americans With Disabilities Act issues.
Aldermen John Vander Leest, Steve Deneys, Tom De Wane, Guy Zima and Andy Nicholson originally voted against the six-roundabouts plan last month. Some of them, along with Brown County Supervisor Pat Evans, have been working with Michigan lawyer and activist Richard Bernstein and local lawyer Rob Miller on a possible lawsuit. Bernstein, who is blind, said roundabouts present an unfair obstacle for blind and other disabled pedestrians.
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