It's rather convenient for an editor when, having solicited nominations for an honor, those most-nominated all share a common ground for which they are being applauded.
While two stories are better for business than one, and four are better than two, Wauwatosa Patch has decided to gang up the three people who were most widely recognized, along with the beneficial public policy they all helped create, promote and expand: school zone safety.
Without further ado: The principal extra-good person of the year, in the view of Patch readers, is Sarah Lerand, a parent at McKinley Elementary School who gave over much of her time and energy to keeping Wauwatosa's children safe going to and from school.
Sarah Lerand: Caring about everyone's kids
Having laid the groundwork throughout 2011, Sarah Lerand continued to lead Wauwatosa forward in 2012 to make school zones more safe. Her efforts, while not single-handed, have been so roundly recognized as ground-breaking and game-changing, she deserves first place among those who have also picked up the torch.
Sarah began a little over two years ago a campaign to improve conditions for getting to and from McKinley. She started out with a petition, signed by more than 300 McKinley parents and teachers, asking the city to do more to ensure that difficult crossings of North Avenue and Swan Boulevard be improved and that congestion and unsafe conditions at the school be addressed.
Then-Mayor Jill Didier asked newly appointed Ald. Jeff Roznowski to work with Lerand, and a partnership was born.
What Lerand accomplished has already been written in story after story about her efforts, but it continues every day.
"Sarah has worked tirelessly to provide safe walking routes for Wauwatosa students," wrote Karla Baierl, among those nominating Lerand. "This has been a labor of love, writing grants, attending council meetings, meeting with politicians, to find ways to encourage walking."
In 2012, Lerand and Roznowski, having already won a couple of small Safe Routes to School grants, managed to land a big one, more than $200,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
What might be more important, though, her efforts have inspired others throughout Wauwatosa to call for better safety measures around all our schools – and Lerand, as she has from the beginning, has been generous in sharing her knowledge and resources to accomplish just that.
"Sarah Lerand has been a passionate, tireless and successful advocate for the children of McKinley School and for safety in general," Roznowski said. "She has been the leader and the face of the exceptional efforts of the McKinley Safe Routes to School initiative.
"In 2012, her leadership resulted in a national mini-grant and 2 of 17 statewide grants totally over $200,000. Her groundbreaking work in Walk to School Day, Walking School Bus and the Crossing Guard Ambassador Program have made our community safer for our children. She is a role model for everyone in Wauwatosa."
Alds. Roznowski and Tilleson: Public servants, serving
Well, he said that about Lerand, but the same could have been said about Ald. Jeff Roznowski himself – or about Ald. Joel Tilleson. Elected officials being called greatest citizens? Yep, readers said so. Both stepped forward not just to serve but to give extraordinary extra time and effort for the same cause – the safety of our kids – and for other causes as well.
Lerand did her community service entirely gratis, a total volunteer effort.
Roznowski and Tilleson get only high and honorable mention rather than first place because they do, after all, get paid – all of $4,200 a year, for as many hours as they care to devote to building a better Wauwatosa.
They cared, and they worked for far more than they were paid.
In this corner, representing the 6th District...
Roznowski leaped in to help Lerand with the issue of school safety as soon as he was appointed an alderman for the 6th District, and he has been just as tireless since.
Roznowski, an engineer by profession, added an element of expertise to Lerand's efforts by insisting on research and data to drive public policy toward better care of our kids.
Roznowski helped Lerand design measurement tools to prove that kids attending McKinley could be at risk – and the Wauwatosa Police Department pitched in with invaluable traffic data.
This year, Roznowski helped Lerand prepare that winning $200,000 grant proposal, and he's also been a proselytizer on the Common Council and with city staff to spread the word and the wealth to school zones other than McKinley.
As an alderman, Roznowski also jumped in to do everything he could to reduce the timeline and impact of the Meinecke Avenue Sewer Project as much as possible, both along residential North 90th Street and for the West North Avenue business district.
"From Day One, Jeff has been doing a great job representing us," wrote a grateful 6th District and McKinley constituent. "He teamed up with Sarah (Lerand) on school safety and helped take that to the next level.
"He also worked really hard to make the sewer work and the street detours less painful, not that they were painless, but I think a lot of people found that thanks to Jeff it was way better than it could have been."
And in this corner, representing the Fighting 5th...
Joel Tilleson, a young attorney, told Wauwatosa Patch that when he decided to run for alderman of the 5th District and started going door to door seeking support, he was surprised by the issue on everyone's minds.
It wasn't sewers, as he expected (the 5th is facing a whopping sewer rebuild in coming years, one that will dwarf the Meinecke Project). It wasn't the size of the Common Council or property taxes or city employee unions, or even crime, snow plowing and sanitation, those perennial favorite worries.
It was school zone safety. Specifically, safety around Longfellow Middle School, and particularly on Wauwatosa Avenue.
Tilleson decided to make that the focal issue of his first year in office – and was told by veterans on the Common Council he'd be lucky to get anything done in his entire first four-year term.
Tilleson, saying in retrospect that he meant no disrespect to anyone – he just didn't know any better – bypassed the entire city chain of command and, as a freshman, went directly to the director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Elected in April, Tilleson by June had the permission of the DOT for Wauwatosa to realign traffic patterns on Wauwatosa Avenue (which is also State Route 181), to restripe and add signage, even to rebuild it. The DOT even offered to pay for the work if Tilleson and the city could wait until it could be budgeted in 2013.
Tilleson couldn't wait, vowing instead to have the stretch of Wauwatosa Avenue from North Avenue to Center Street improved before school started in the fall.
With just $10,000 worth of paint and a little more for signs, the city implemented Tilleson's vision by that deadline.
At the same time, Tilleson was making himself known to business people on North Avenue and entrepreneurs interested in coming to The Avenue.
Said writer "taitertots," "Joel not only saw to it that Wauwatosa Ave. was re-striped and had other safety measures implemented before planned, but he is fully committed to and works tirelessly on implementing the North Avenue Plan."
"Pinewood1" added: "Ald. Tilleson appears to be enthusiastic about his East Tosa area and the City of Wauwatosa. In his short tenure he has already addressed the North Avenue traffic and safety issues and is working for further development and growth. He appears to represent where our City is heading and is a breath of fresh air."
Melanie Landgraf of Tosa Yoga, which moved and expanded within the district, said: "Joel has worked very hard in his first term serving as an alderman and has shown care and concern for small businesses in particular. He is very passionate about serving his community and it shows."
And finally, said David Lau: "Alderman Joel Tilleson impressed us when he came to our business and inquired what our concerns were regarding Wauwatosa. We expressed how dangerous West North Ave has become with speeding vehicles and that we witnessed four horrific accidents within two years in front of our store.
"We have given jackets and blankets to keep the bleeding victims from shock and trauma while waiting for ambulances, fire and police to arrive. We voiced how tragic (it would be) if the young students walking home from Longfellow and other schools were subject to accidents that can be prevented.
"Alderman Tilleson quickly brought the subject at hand to the Council and has since made progress for plans to add additional stop signs and a couple more traffic lights, and removing the zig-zagging racing cars that have turned into a proven liability for residents and businesses alike.
"Joel Tilleson, you're our hero for saving lives, and perhaps we can cross the street without holding on to our hats in terror. His insight will prove to make Tosa a friendlier walking environment for all of us.
"Why did this change take so long in the first place? Thank You Joel."
Public safety is our common interest
Indeed. Thank you Joel, Jeff and Sarah – and many others, too – for bringing this issue to the fore and making it our Public Policy Improvement of the Year for 2012. Keeping our children safe should always be our No. 1 priority.
With that in mind, Wauwatosa Patch reminds you that we have already named the Greatest Person of the Year 2012: The Police Officer, in honor of Patrol Officer Jennifer Sebena and every one of her fellow officers who have her watch, working to keep all of us safe day and night.
It takes regular citizens like Sarah Lerand and many others – devoted elected officials like Roznowski and Tilleson – and dedicated, caring public servants like Jen Sebena and her colleagues – all working together, to build a strong and safe community for all.