Chamber of Commerce on Homelessness

Posted February 14th, 2014 @ 8:01 AM by

When you can’t win on the issues, argue the process . . . he didn’t really talk about homelessness til the end, in fact, seemed to avoid it. Instead he threatened pre-emption.

Zach Brandon, Chamber President, spoke with the Equal Opportunities Commission yesterday. I couldn’t make it, so I gave my recorder to Ed Kuharski who taped this for me, Thanks Ed! Missed a bit of the beginning, but not much.

Here’s what Zach had to say . . . a little garbled and quiet at first . . . .

Zach Brandon says . . . former Mayor Cieslewicz came to me and said, I’d like to make you the alder on the EOC and I was known for budget and Economic Development Committee and had a background in business and when I started to think about why I wanted to serve on this commission which was, maybe what you would think normally or maybe what you wouldn’t think was about protecting the process, the process was important and I didn’t sit on this, and I don’t know many of you, maybe John, but I sat on this commission when there was truly titans of social justice, it’s not that, many of you might fit that same role, but I can tell you that having served with people like Bert Zipperer and Vicky Selkowe and Steve Morrison, people who had spent decades on this commission, it was educational but also we found a way to address and deliver many of the concerns that you are facing now. What is the role of EOC? What is the role and legacy of the law that has been a shining star for accomplishment and something we should all be proud of. Your service here, and my service then honors those that came before us and pushed for the law to address those issues. When I work with companies, I always ask the company, a new company, is what problem are you solving? So I think that is what we have to start with, the idea of how can the Equal Opportunities Commission address the issue of homelessness? What problem can you solve? And how will you solve it? And again, not to say that homelessness is not a priority, that it doesn’t need solutions, but the question for you is this the best place to have those solutions. One of the conflicts he saw on this commission, maybe you have solved this, but maybe this is something that is said or not said, but some people think the role of being on this commission is to protect people, and he would argue the role is to protect process. Because process protects people. That is coloring the rest of my discussion. At no point do I feel that we should not be helping people, but I think the specific role of this commission is to protect the process. That is what we do here, through protecting the process of equal opportunities we will help solve the issue of discrimination and equal opportunity for all.

He sees two issues when it comes to the process. One is, and he won’t spend a lot of time on this, but its about the business community. How do you engage the business community in this. Obviously a number of complaints that are filed have relation to the business community. When I sat on the commission, those were the complaints I dealt with. They were complaints against the business. And so, understanding that you have a friend, and friends, in the business community, who want to be helpful to you as you work through the process, but we want to be free to be participants and engage in the process. The last go around with the protected class on unemployment, I can say, that is not how we felt. It’s no one’s specific fault, he’s not here to cry over spilled milk, he is not here to ask for redress, but more to learn from it. I know you have subcommittees comprised of people from the business community and I hope you will value them and use them for what they are here for and intended for is to use them to give feedback as you have to make tough decisions. I have said the same things to people who appoint them, as business owners and as business leaders, there is a responsibility to attend, to participate and to bring back what is said, so it just doesn’t stop with that person. That is all he’ll say about that, other than I hope that you will accept it as an open hand and that we want to engage with you and as you think through future decisions, we want to be part of that process.

The second piece he wants to talk to them about is the historical and holistic approach to how you tackle issues. 50 years ago when the process was created it was decided we were going to protect the process. It was created to address real and tangible discrimination. And that discrimination continues today, its not as if we have solved that problem. But over time, we have started to look at what other issues can this commission be used to be solved. So there have been a number of protected classes that have grown. What was once the model as far as forcing the country to acknowledge the need for this type of ordinance is almost taken for granted now. Of course, the other federal and state governments have equal opportunities ordinances. It was taken for granted, we were a leader in that and that is a legacy that you continue. But those problems that were addressable were very identifiable. You could tell discrimination by the color of someone’s skin, we could tell discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation, based on gender and we have moved over the years to things that are more nebulous, things that are tougher to define, and I think that actually puts a strain on not just this commission, but certainly on hearing officers and the quasi-judicial process, it creates some strain and it also creates some external pressure that he wants to be candid about. There is twofold activity or twofold discussion happening in the community, separate from the social justice side of the community. And one is a little bit of a feeling of ridiculousness, that what was once an ordinance that was to be honored and championed and to be celebrated has morphed into something that is designed to protect everyone and has lost its way and the risk is there that the people we want to be stakeholders have stopped taking it serious and I’ve heard this comment saying there are x number, 26, I forget how many protected classes there are in the City of Madison, but its a lot. And there are a number of protected classes that are not protected at any other level of government. And the bigger concerns for him is not necessarily the sneer, because there were probably sneers 50 years ago, but the feeling of its getting out of hand and that maybe a pre-emptive measure is necessary. And that would be the travesty of all this. Is that if the ordinance that was created 50 years ago to do so much good, and has done amazing things, and has the potential to do good in the future, gets morphed in a way that it no longer serves its core mission and the feeling of other stakeholders, regardless of what side you think the business community is on, they are stakeholders in this process, they also want to protect the process. Businesses are protected by the process just like an individual is protected by the process. When the process works, everyone is equal, everyone is treated equal, and everyone gets a fair hearing. But we live in a day and age when pre-emption is not that hard. WE have a Republican controlled legislature, we have a Republican governor, I mean there is a bill introduced that will pre-empt some of the wage laws that was just introduced. Things that we fought hard for. Prevailing wage, things that even I as a member of the business community fought hard for as an alder, are in jeopardy now. I don’t say that as any way or shape or form as a threat, but more as information. There are consequences. When I sat on the commission we had discussions (he says he won’t disclose anything from closed session, not mention names or businessess) there was an issue where she clearly felt injured by the process and there was a feeling by some of the commissioners that we had to do something for her. And people expected me to say no, that is not what this process was for, but it was the type of people who protect social justice who said that is not what this is about, the Vicky Selkowe’s that said this is not about delivering solutions for one person because she had been put out, she had been injured but not in a way that was illegal, And so he wants them to think about that, its hard for me to sit here and tell you not to solve problems, especially when you will have someone sitting here before or after me that will say I need you to solve my problems, I need you to help me and that is a tough thing to say no to. And I’ve sat in your seat, and I know how hard that can be but I do ask you think about that, that it all gets brought back to what was decided 50 years ago, which was lets develop process and protect it. And when you think back to that process, I can’t say that in any shape or form, that we have not solved the problem from 50 years ago, we have not solved the problem from 20 years ago. And that in many ways he would argue that if you look at reports like the race to equity, regardless of what you think about that data, the point that you see is that the reasons why the equal opportunities ordinance was created, we are struggling in. And when people talk about an achievement gap in schools, yes, there is an achievement gap, but what we are addressing the wrong issue – we have fallen in love with a solution instead of falling in love with a problem, and the problem isn’t achievement, the problem is opportunity, which is the mission of this organization. To focus on how do we create equal opportunity for everyone and what I ask that you think about, as you have very tough decisions ahead of you, is that when people come and ask you for redress or to change the law in a way that makes it feel like maybe you can do something to help them, that you ask yourself, how much do you move the needle, how much are you actually addressing the problem of homelessness by protecting it. Is homelessness really a protected class? Is it a status in life? Is it a protected class? Those are the things you will have to grapple with, and the city council has to grapple with. But, we should also expect those people who are responsible for solving the problem, we know the solutions to homelessness, there’s no panacea, it not easily done, but we know it is jobs, which is where the businesses come in, to create opportunities for jobs. We know it is housing, it is education, we know it is alcohol and drug intervention services, that’s where we can really address the issue so he would ask that you, as you think about amending the ordinance, that you reflect back at 50 years ago and the commitment that we made to truly protected classes and not lose fact of the sight that we have not solved those colossal problems. In fact, I would argue that in this community we have gone the other direction. We are widening the gap between those who we set up the process for equal opportunities for 50 years ago. He doesn’t know if that is what they were hoping from him, but he wanted to shine a little light on his reflection on his time on the commission, working with people who he admires who sat on the commission with him and shedding some light on the risks of why you should be care what you do with it, because there are some legislative risks, but more importantly the bigger risk to him is that we lose sight of what we set out to do 50 years ago.

These are more summarized as opposed to transcribed.

John Quinlan says he appreciates not bringing up the past but he asks how the unemployment ordinance reflects poorly on them. He has heard the perception that the business community was left out of the process, and that is a bad precedent, can you be clear about where we are at?

Brandon says he wants to be clear he is not here to ask for redress, he accepts it as law and his members will deal with it, he says he’s president of the greater Madison area Chamber of Commerce, he represents all of Dane County. He says there were break downs in the process all the way around, but they were taken aback that it didn’t go to the Economic Development Commission. He makes it clear the alders should have referred to it, not the commission. He says that unemployment is a protected class that evaporates the minute you get hired and he wonders how you would prove it. They will track it and see what happens. He says the break down was all over the place, how things show up on the agendas and legistar and there is no one thing to be fixed.

Quinlan asks what he would fix?

Brandon says that he would find a way to engage with the subcommittee. (There were a lot of words, but that was what it boiled down to that I could hear)

Quinlan asks if there is a role the commission could play in homelessness.

Brandon says the more voices in the choir the louder it is. Don’t turn a deaf ear or blind eye to it, acknowledge it is a problem, but also acknowledge that there are services and millions of dollars go to it. This debate has been raging for years, is it the city or county or who’s problem is it, it is all of our problem.

Quinlan asks if he was in their shoes what would he do?

Brandon says that the letterhead that comes with the commission has strong value and each of you are individuals and you are residents of the state, county, city etc. and there is a growing frustration that our leaders have to stop bickering about who is responsible for it and start to solve the problem. He says everyone is pointing the finger and nothing is happening. He says we get so in love with the solution – homelessness as a protected class – a perceived solution, and everyone falls in love with it and we forget about the problem. He is almost certain that if they pass a protected class of homelessness, you’re not going to solve the problem of homelessness.

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