Madison blogosphere neighbor John Nelson expresses his hope that the promotion of Julie Gross from Chamber of Commerce director to Lake Area Improvement Corporation director means better things for Madison.
I want to be generous and look for signs that Gross's appointment signals positive change. The press-release language surrounding her appointment at least suggests a repudiation of the Dwaine Chapel regime. The first time I met him, previous LAIC director Chapel told me he was brought here to "fix" Madison. He didn't. He grew up in Spearfish. He lived in Brookings. But he never carried the lessons of those two successful communities to his work in Madison. Contrary to the delightful hyperbole of a 2007 newsletter, Chapel never "immersed" himself in Madison. He never even moved here, maintaining his residence in Brookings, where he finally landed a better job after six years stuck in the Madison depot.
Chapel's depot office mate Gross is talking up and being talked up for her longtime commitment to and residence in Lake County. I can't help getting the feeling that their bad experience with bringing in outsider Chapel solidified our local leader's commitment to rejecting outside perspectives and hiring locally this time. I hope that Gross's proven commitment to the community will bring a more committed quest for economic development that builds on Lake County's strengths.
But is hiring Julie Gross really a change, or is it simply an affirmation of the status quo? (Remember, status quoÂ is Latin for stuck in the mud.) Gross may have more perspective on boosting local retail. But her record doesn't show a great deal of success in promoting retail from the Chamber perspective. The Chamber's signature event, Crazy Days, has steadily declined over the past several years, and Gross has not found the magic formula to reverse that decline or the magic event to replace it.
Gross also shows little more appreciation for public input and participation than Chapel did. When I proposed hosting a "Speaker's Corner" event during Crazy Days, Gross nixed the idea, expressing alarm that in such an uncontrolled setting, people might get up and say anything. And we sure as heck don't want people saying anything in Madison.
Madison needs new ideas. I respect the idea of local wisdom being able to recognize local problems and come up with new ideas. But Julie Gross is a creature of the local establishment. And the local establishment has a poor record of receptivity to new ideas.
Hope for the best. Expect the worst.