From my sunroom window, I have a view to the east which allows me to track the sun. This morning it did not show itself until after 7am. And it disappeared well before 5pm. Soon Kewaunee will have less than nine hours of sunlight. We aren’t Alaska, but fifteen hours of darkness is enough to alter my life. In this dark winter season, we must steel ourselves from depression and ruts in behavior. I have to admit that I am more likely to have that extra glass of wine, spend another hour in front of the TV, or just go to bed another hour earlier than normal.
In order to keep my spirits up during these short days and long nights, I try to keep busy. Thanksgiving has now passed with all its joys and chores, but never fear—Christmas will keep me occupied. There are lots of Christmas festivities. I have five children coming back home. And I do carry out our Christmas traditions as though my children were still running downstairs in their onesie pajamas, rifling through their stockings and ripping open their presents under the tree. Now that they are adults, there is less chaos when they are opening presents, but there is a LOT more coffee consumption.
In Kewaunee government, December means more than just shorter days. It is the month when one must choose to run again or leave it to the next person. The term used is “pulling papers”, whereby anyone who wants to be considered for office needs to go to the City Clerk and fill out forms in order for your name to be included on the ballot. Along with an ID and proof of current residency, pulling papers includes several pages of signatures. Each candidate needs to get signatures for the ballot from people within his or her district. This is not too hard—two years ago I got around 40 signatures in about an hour or so. Only one person refused to sign my papers, but everyone else seemed happy to do so. And while I knew most of the people who signed, others were people I met for the first time. And I got to hear their concerns about City Hall. All in all, it was an informative adventure.
I mention this because anyone, or almost anyone, over the age of 18 and lives in the City of Kewaunee can run for office. Every two years half of the City Council seats stand for election—one from each of the four districts. You can run, and pulling papers is the first step. The City Clerk will happily give you an instruction packet with all the forms. You need to get those signatures in December, as they are due on January 3, 2023. And then your name will be on the ballot. Easy peasy.
But then what? You campaign. For me, I tried to meet as many people in my district as possible. I listened to their issues. I formed four campaign promises:
Be fiscally responsible with City money
Support our city’s first responders
Be transparent about my experience in city government—hence these blogs
Preserve the quality of life for my district and the city as a whole
If you win the election, then what? Well, then you are an alderperson. You will have three or four meetings a month and you’ll have a lot of reading to do. Your sole power is to be one vote out of eight. The Council sets the rules for the city government. There are other committees, boards and commissions like the Library Board, School Board and Fire and Police Commission to name a few. They set rules for their areas. The Wisconsin statutes set the overall framework for each board. I may not be normal, but I spend about 20 hours a month on council business—maybe six hours in actual meetings, eight hours researching, reading materials and preparing my binders for the meetings. I spend another six hours a month talking with the staff, mayor and other councilpersons about the issues which are coming up on the different meeting agendas.
My first year I spent more hours learning about my rights, Wisconsin statutes and how parliamentary procedure worked. That may have taken an extra ten hours a month. I was attacked straight away with a request for all my personal emails. All the new council members were forbidden to be on any important boards. Even a past mayor was not allowed on committees or boards. The expression “junior councilpersons” was bandied about by our former mayor. I could have just laid low and bided my time waiting to be accepted—but that is not why I ran for office. I ran because I wanted to serve the residents in my district and city.
I was trained as a child social worker. I worked with children who were at the end of the social service line. They had been rejected by numerous foster families and landed in the facility where I worked. My job was to advocate for those children that neither their parents or big government could manage. It’s not easy to fight an entrenched bureaucracy—but if you don’t fight, the people you are supposed to protect, will lose. As a councilperson, you fight for your residents—you are their voice and hopefully their champion.
I will be running again this year, and I encourage anyone else who is interested in the job of alderperson to run for council. It’s a fascinating experience and I have learned more than I could have imagined about how city government is run. And I like to think efforts from this past year have been beneficial to my district and to the city. In my experience it has been worth the work and effort. I highly recommend it—and it will give you something to do on those long Kewaunee winter nights.
Thanks for listening,