Cooperative programs provide win-win approach to problems

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

Former Wisconsin legislatures and governors have long encouraged cooperation between the state’s universities and technical schools, private industry and non-profits groups. So it was a surprise, some would say a shock, when the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee stripped the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism of its cooperative agreement/relationship with the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

As background, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism was developed as a not-forprofit group to insure investigative reporting continues as newspapers around the state cut back on their staff, and to provide an outlet for the smaller papers.

In agreement with the UWMadison campus, two rooms were provided to the group. In return, journalist students would be hired ($10/hour) to work on investigating projects. It seemed like a perfect fit and supported by newspapers around the state, including The Review. You might say it was a win-win program for everyone until someone on the Joint Finance Committee added a provision in this year’s state budget to end that cooperation. It raises a “red flag” and questions about why this was done.

Sheboygan County has long worked toward cooperative programs. One program, The Nature

Conservancy, has provided a funding grant and a staff person to study the Otter and Fischer Creek watersheds. The goal is to understand and better manage erosion and nutrients going into these waterways. The county’s Planning and Conservation Department provides a workplace/desk from which the researcher can work. There are agreements in place that meets the needs of both parties - it is good cooperative program that benefits the county, helps landowners, and protects the environment. A win-win program.

Another program where the county has provided a workplace/ desk for a staff working with a non-profit group (R. C. & D) that has a federal grant to develop an Aquatic Invasive Species-

Strategic for Sheboygan County. Last year alone, a volunteer group was formed helped inspect 18,000 boats and contacted 39,000 people on how to control the spread of invasive species.

During this time, volunteer groups were also formed to control invasive species in and along our Sheboygan County waters. Again, it was a win-win program for Sheboygan County, landownersand its citizens.

Sheboygan County has worked in other cooperative ways. The Sheboygan County Museum, a county owned facility, has allowed and promoted a non-profit group to run the facility, raise private monies, and has worked together for the betterment to improve the knowledge of its history and historical artifacts. Its been a major saving to the taxpayer, a win-win for everyone and keeps the museum open to the public. There are any number of other examples one could provide.

But why, late (6 p.m.) on June 5th, would an amendment to the budget be added to stop the cooperation between the University of Wisconsin - Madison, student journalists, and the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting? All done with no public hearing. You might say, almost in the dead of night. It’s certainly not good democracy and a bit on the scary side.

Newspapers and other news outlets have begun to raise the question on why? It is a policy item that has very little financial impact. Students gain by the experience and money earned. Freedom of the press is strengthened. Newspapers around the state were able to request its services. Why would the Republicans, who control the Joint Finance Committee, what to stop this type of cooperation? Freedom of the press, I thought, should be protected and supported.

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