Sunday, November 26, 2006
As one of many who has come to know and love Cargo and her energetic efforts to help Oak Creek, I have been deeply disturbed by the drama now taking place.
I watched from afar the amazing projects Cargo helped put in motion-the Ice Rink, the Old Town Hall renovations, the upcoming upgrades to our Sewer Plant, Sewer lines and Downtown improvements. Knowing how much work this was, some of us started trying to get more involved to help see these projects through. We began coming frequently to Town Board meetings.
I was surprised at how quickly Cargo became defensive and confrontational to anyone questioning the details, particularly financial details, of these projects. At first, we thought she was simply overworked. Then the news of the town's enormous financial deficit became known. At first Cargo claimed she was surprised, but later we learned that the independent auditor called in to review Oak Creek's books had been warning her about this for months. Few Oak Creek residents are aware that we started this year, the beginning of Cargo's third term as mayor, with a budget deficit of $193,000.
It turns out the initial cause of this staggering debt is the very Ice Rink project we're all proud of. Cargo had assured the Town Board when she originally proposed the project that the town's share was only $10,000. We all know what a challenge it was - steel price increases etc. Nonetheless, the town was left holding the bag for over $110,000 in project costs. This pushed the town budget into the red by over $100,000. We still don't have a final County approval of the Ice Rink structure because much of the basic building safety review and approval process was circumvented.
Add to this the commitments Cargo made to match other upcoming projects and the $24,000 annual contract she secured as town grant writer, and we end up in our current mess.
The petition now being signed at the local grocery store and other local businesses gives one the impression that Cargo is somehow being wrongly pushed out. Cargo has asserted that those who have raised concerns-town employees, Town Board members, a county commissioner, other residents-have never talked to her directly. This isn't true. I and a number of others have met with Cargo personally on a variety of occasions to encourage her to ask for help with these and other problems. Cargo seems unable to hear anything but her version. Any other version is called "lies".
Unfortunately, as many of us in Oak Creek know, Cargo has frequently created a court of public opinion, loudly denouncing those who have questioned her. Along with her campaign manager Maynard Short, Cargo has viciously questioned the moral and social character of anyone courageous enough to challenge her. Short recently used a Town Board meeting to read what he proudly described as satire entitled "The KLU KLUX KLAN Returns to Oak Creek (The lynching of the Mayor by the Town Council)." These ugly intimidation tactics are deeply damaging in our community. As citizens, we are responsible for bringing them to an end.
The fundamental issue here is not whether we love Cargo - most of us do. It is about whether Cargo has gotten in over her head and is now trying to cover her mistakes by turning this into a referendum about our affection for her. Our town is in serious financial trouble. Rather than a personality contest, we need to have all of the facts presented so we can make an informed decision about what we must now do. Until the facts are presented, we can't know what to do.
A series of meetings are now planned in which these various financial issues will be discussed. I hope the many people now signing petitions will take the time to come and hear the facts of this situation for themselves. If you really love this Town, help create a public process in which all of the facts can be presented. It is time for Oak Creek residents to stop sitting on the sidelines and get to work sorting out this mess.