Quest for Transparency
I am writing you today with another update on my Quest for Transparency—my promise to the voters of District Two and the residents of Kewaunee.
The Swamp is not just in Washington. When the residents of Kewaunee elected four new council members, three with over 76% of the vote, you would think City Hall would get introspective. What could we do better? How should we change? But that is not what is happening. Instead, the council is dealing with a stone wall. We will break through, but I am a bit annoyed that this wall was erected in the first place. City Hall does not seem to think highly of this past election or the representatives who were elected.
The mayor told us at the last meeting that he regards the newly elected members as junior councilpersons. He went on to say that the new members would not be appointed to any committees. Yet the guy who could not muster even 25% of the vote in the last election was recommended by the mayor for an appointment. The former mayor of Kewaunee, who has 20 years of experience in city government, seems also to be considered “junior’. But the guy he beat in the last election is on two powerful committees. By this standard, I received way too many votes to ever hope to be appointed to a committee. It seems the mayor does not have much regard for the will of the people.
The governing legislative body in Kewaunee is the City Council. According to the Wisconsin League of Municipalities the council has legislative authority. The mayor does not, although he can vote to break a tie. We do not have individual powers in this regard—we govern by majority vote. The results of these votes lead to either an ordinance or a resolution. So, you could say that the residents of the city can evaluate their elected officials by reading the resolutions and ordinances. Others, like the city staff, act on these resolutions and ordinances. Ordinances and resolutions are very important.
But when I came into office back in April 2021, I could not find a listing of all the ordinances and resolutions. I was told that the knowledge of city ordinances was the most important homework item for a new council person. But the city’s website stopped updating ordinances back in May 2020, around the time the new mayor took office. I pointed this out, and within a week or so, we got ordinances posted up to November 9, 2020. This is an improvement, but not where we need to be. How can residents follow the laws if they aren’t posted?
Resolutions are different. These are often directives from the council to the staff. A resolution might allow money to be spent, or to instruct the staff to spend time on a project. These are also important. Yet, in the minutes of meetings from this year, I was able to find resolutions that were recorded incorrectly, some with virtually opposite meaning to the intended vote. Most of the resolutions were not available at all. Given that we were asked to act on some of these resolutions and that we are asked to approve minutes which contain resolutions from previous meetings, I went in pursuit of the database of previous resolutions. I had to fight through some obfuscation. There was some handwringing and gnashing of teeth, but within the week I found them. Now that I have them, I’d like to make some resolutions of my own. At the next meeting of the council, I will work towards these three resolutions.
That meeting notes be drawn up within 48 hours of each meeting, instead of the current 30 days. That the full verbiage of resolutions and ordinances be written out (no summaries) with 48 hours. Revisions can be made to the draft if necessary.
That all ordinances be available on the website as soon as they become active.
That all resolutions and not yet active ordinances be available to all council members within 48 hours of the vote.
This is not more work. It is timely and hopefully accurate work. If our resolutions are not accurately recorded, then the old adage of the tree falling in the woods applies. And the same could be said for the votes on Election Day. If you vote people into office who are not appointed to any committees, and their votes for ordinances and resolutions aren’t recorded accurately or in a timely way, does your vote really matter? My quest is to fix these issues and make sure that your vote does, in fact, matter.
Now this may not be popular in City Hall. People always like to do things as they have done them in the past. But as they say, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. So, in the next few weeks there may be some weeping and gnashing of teeth. But don’t worry—it’s just me, making your vote count by asking for a little Transparency within our government.
Thanks for listening,