Madison, the third week of August, 1969
Madison’s mass transit system teeters on the verge of chaos as the shareholders of the Madison Bus Co. vote to dissolve the company and go out of business on November 10 – the same day the ongoing city subsidy runs out. Although the company can’t shut down until the Public Service Commission gives it permission, the vote complicates an already confused situation. A majority of the common council wants the city to buy the bus company and operate the system itself – exactly what voters called for by approving two referenda in April, 1968. The council directs Dyke to seek the necessary federal funds, but he refuses to do so, preferring to continue the city subsidy to the private company instead. And the clock is ticking, with no resolution in sight.
Bus controversies are even affecting school children, as parents on the far east side announce plans to boycott the bus company rather than pay a new thirty cent charge for each trip to and from La Follette high school. Students at La Follette used to ride at no cost, under the school board policy of providing free transportation where public bus service is unavailable and students live more than a mile and a half from the school. But in late July, the Madison Bus Co. announced it would start a special bus service route for the school, for a fee which works out to $54 dollars a year per child. Now the neighborhood association is proposing that parents form car pools to ferry pupils to and from the school.
Some startling testimony from the officer in charge at the Mifflin Street Block Party riot earlier this year. Yes, there was excessive police reaction, Lt. Donald Mickelson says, revealing that he reprimanded several officers during the disorders which rocked downtown the first weekend in May. Mickelson also tells the special three-man committee Mayor Dyke appointed to investigate the disturbance that he’s had second thoughts about the police response. “I have thought that if we had packed up and got out, nobody would have gotten hurt and they could have had their dance.” But police chief Wilbur Emery disagrees. “If we had let them have their dance, then what?” he asks the committee. “What’s next?” Emery also cites the riot that broke out during the demonstration against the Dow Chemical Company in October 1967 to defend the use of a large force, decked out in riot gear, to respond to a noise complaint. “I learned a very strong lesson” from Dow, he testifies. “To be sure I had enough men to carry out my mission.” And he flatly rejects the notion that such an overwhelming police presence might provoke, rather than deter, a confrontation. “An honest, law-abiding citizen should have no fear, but feel pleased, if there are 100 policemen standing out there instead of one,” he says. The committee hasn’t set a schedule for writing its report, but chairman George Currie hints it will not find the police without blame. The former Supreme Court Chief Justice says it appears some officers taunted and provoked the partygoers, “and hit back in a way not proper for policemen to act.”
The Police and Fire Commission hits back at a favorite target, the Rev. James Wright, director of the Equal Opportunities Commission, over comments commissioners mistakenly claim he’s made about two African-American applicants to the police department. PFC President Stuart Becker and commissioner Edwina Miller say they heard Wright tell a WISM radio interviewer that the police department finally got two African-American applicants, and that they were “highly qualified.” “This premature announcement from Rev. Wright is exactly the kind of report that causes differences and distrust,” Commissioner Richard Lent says as the PFC formally directs Becker to tell Wright of the commission’s “concern.” They also want Wright to meet with them, “in an attempt to prevent future premature reports and unqualified rumors.” But Becker and Miller are mistaken – it wasn’t Wright who used the phrase “highly qualified,” it was an announcer on WISM. All Wright said was that the applicants had been military policemen, which he said “gives them experience to go into police work with the proper police training.”
Police with proper training may be needed next week when former Secretary of State Dean Rusk comes to campus. Radical activists are calling for a large turnout to “rout Rusk,” whom they call “a war criminal and political murderer who should be treated as such” when he speaks to a conference put on by the Graduate School of Banking.
City department heads are not happy at the new directive from Mayor Dyke to grade the job performance of all employees on a 5-point scale, ranging from unacceptable to excellent. A recent report by a city task force recommended the city adopt a “formalized system of management by objective,” including an assessment of how city managers were managing their jobs. But Dyke wants that extended to all employees, and the managers are pushing back. Public works director Edwin Duszynski complains the written forms “don’t clearly specify the objectives of the system.” And city attorney Edwin Conrad has legal concerns, waning that the new form “might well be slanderous,” and will likely lead to lawsuits.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For the award-winning WORT News team, I’m Stu Levitan.