Kuester accused of micromanagement, false press releases
By Bert Lehman
After 22 years of operating the taxi service for the city of Clintonville, Dick Koeppen said the relationship has become strained.
Koeppen addressed the Clintonville City Council during the Citizens Forum portion of the council meeting on Feb. 9.
Koeppen told the council he agreed to be in charge of the city’s taxi service back in 1992 when the Parks and Recreation director at the time approached him about the opportunity. He said the service introduced was a shared ride taxi service which is different than regular taxi service.
The federal government pays a large portion of the subsidy for the shared ride service.
When the shared ride taxi service started in the state, there were 15 cities that had it. Now there are more than 50 cities, Koeppen said.
Since its beginnings, Koeppen said the service, Truck City Taxi, has served more than 230,000 riders in Clintonville. He added that in the early 1990s more riders used the service.
Koeppen told the council that Truck City Taxi receives a subsidy from the state and federal government. If the fares for the service and the subsidies don’t cover the cost of operating the service, the city of Clintonville makes up the difference. He said that has ranged from zero dollars in the beginning to around $18,000 now.
Discontinuing the entire ride share taxi service was discussed a few years ago, Koeppen said, but citizens did not want that to happen.
The vehicles used by Truck City Taxi are purchased with federal money. Eighty percent of the funds come from the federal government. Koeppen said the vehicles can’t always be purchased locally.
He also provided a word of caution to the council about the future of the taxi service. He said the federal government recommends that taxis that go over 100,000 miles should be replaced.
“We have two over 100,000 miles and one at 71,000,” Koeppen said.
Koeppen told the council the original purpose for the Transit Commission was to create a buffer between him and the city when he served on the council and as mayor.
“Now you don’t even need a Transit Commission anymore,” Koeppen said.
Koeppen said his working relationship with the Transit Commission changed when the chairperson of the commission told him where he had to buy fuel and where the taxis receive maintenance.
Koeppen didn’t use the chairperson’s name, but alderwoman Mary-Beth Kuester chairs the commission.
These requirements make running the taxi service difficult, Koeppen said.
He said sometimes the vehicles need to be serviced after 3 p.m. or on a Saturday, which is difficult if city personnel do that at the city garage.
Regarding fuel, Koeppen said he purchases fuel at different gas stations in an effort to support local businesses.
Koeppen was also upset about recent press releases that were sent to the media regarding the taxi service.
“I saw a press release today saying that taxis are now being fueled at gas stations downtown and also serviced at the city garage. What? That’s not true,” Koeppen said. “These press releases are getting to me because they are so false.”
Koeppen told the council he is open to the idea of having hours on Sunday morning if there is ample ridership. He said at one time Sunday morning service was offered. He said an audit by the state revealed there wasn’t enough ridership to support Sunday taxi service.
Despite that, he said he’d try Sunday taxi service again if that is what the council wanted, but it would take time to hire and train a driver.
To conclude his remarks, Koeppen said he brought the keys for the taxis with him, and the city could run the service if that’s what it wanted to do.
“You can find a building. You can find a staff. You can find a fulltime dispatcher. You can find a manager. I think you already got one. You can go,” Koeppen said. “It’s up to you. I’ll continue on if you want me, I’d be glad to. I’ll try Sundays. No problem. I love Clintonville. I hate to see micromanaging by anybody, especially a freshman alderperson. That just doesn’t work where I come from.”
The taxi service was also discussed at the Finance Committee the previous day. It was on the agenda to approve a Sunday taxi service pilot program.
At that meeting, how to pay for the pilot program was a concern to several committee members.
Council President and acting mayor Lois Bressette also stated that she didn’t feel there was a need for Sunday taxi service.
Bressette was also upset that Kuester sent information to the media stating the city was adding Sunday taxi service.
Committee Chairperson Jeannie Schley also wasn’t pleased that Kuester sent information to the media.
“I heard it on the radio and I just about jumped out of my car,” Schley said. “It’s like, when did this all happen because I didn’t know it was happening either.”
The committee ultimately sent the issue back to the Transit Commission for further review. The Transit Commission was scheduled to meet Tuesday, Feb. 16.