Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Given everything that is happening in council, I find that I often need to ground myself. I need to remember why I ran for council, and what we are trying to accomplish to make Kewaunee a better place.
This winter, kneeling in the snow, I and a few volunteers resorted to a screwdriver and a hammer to pound holes in the frozen ground so my yard signs would stand up in ten front yards throughout the 2nd District. It was well below zero and the wind was fierce. Over a hundred people came out in that weather to vote in the primary. A month later, more came out for the general election. These people came out of their homes, took time off work and stood in line to vote. All the election items were local. And people still cared.
I am not normally a pushy person. People who know me believe I like to get along, join the team. But motherhood has taught me that mother bear has to show up when others are depending on you. The people of the 2nd District did not come out twice in Kewaunee winter weather to vote for a ceremonial position. They were hoping their vote mattered. They voted overwhelmingly for change. And they wanted their vote and their representatives to make a difference.
The only actions of this city council are to research, discuss and vote. Yet the council should write laws—but does it? For a month or two I noticed that resolutions came pre-written to the council. We only learned of their existence each Friday at noon before a Monday night meeting. We had 12 work hours to access City Hall. In previous blogs, I explained that I spend much of the weekend researching and creating binders prior to each meeting. It’s clear that we were supposed to simply approve these resolutions and ordinances and contracts put before us. This seemed wrong to me . Where did these documents come from? Who wrote them? Many came without much explanation. Surely the residents of the 2nd District did not stand in line to vote so I can just rubber stamp everything put before me.
And so began my research into municipal policy and law. I studied Wisconsin statutes, Kewaunee ordinances, resolutions and purchasing policies. I strove to understand the documents, to understand the law, and to understand the real purpose of the council. I had to speak firmly with City Hall to get access to documents. I had to speak firmly to our lawyer to get access to legal questions. But I could not quite make the change that people voted for. When we questioned the contracts, they stopped sending them to us. The mayor just signed them anyway. Our lawyer said he could. Does it matter that we don’t know who is showing up at houses to inspect them? I’m talking about Doug the Inspector. We don’t even know his last name! We don’t know if he is certified. We don’t know if he is insured. And the contract never came to us. And our lawyer had no problem with it. He said he looked at the contract and added a few things “for the City’s protection”. Protection from what?!?
In reality, I have to thank the mayor and our city attorney for the many outrages that caused me to seek my own legal counsel, chief of which was the mayor’s request for all my personal emails. I came to learn that this was not the first time this administration caused city council members to get their own attorneys. It’s a thing. Dissenting council members must fight frivolous legal actions from their own city. This city attorney works for the Mayor and the City Administrator, not the council. That is not what Wisconsin statute says—that’s what our mayor, attorney and administrator say. And when confronted, our city attorney justified his actions saying that he had been told, “You are to answer to myself as mayor and to the city administrator”. Not a confidence builder, nor an excuse.
So I and other council members went searching for an attorney. We asked around. We asked other attorneys. We asked people from different Wisconsin towns. And we found someone who we think is perfect—Michael May. You don’t know him—neither did I. But almost every Wisconsin municipal lawyer does. Mike is arguably the most expert and the most respected municipal lawyer in the state. Amongst his list of accomplishments are:
He has 40 years practicing law mostly in his specialty, municipal law
He was the Madison City Attorney for 16 years and brings a wealth of experience dealing with politically charged issues while under public scrutiny.
Chair of his law firm’s municipal law practice (15 lawyers which represents over 60 cities, town and counties throughout the state of Wisconsin
He has been on the board of the Wisconsin Bar, and he has chaired the Administration and Local Government Law Section as well as the Government Lawyers Division.
I was impressed. And so we asked Mr. May if he would help our city council. And he has agreed.
Monday night, the Committee of the Whole (COW) debated on and passed a motion to send a resolution for final approval to the next Council meeting on September 13th. This resolution gives the council access to Mike May for city business. The motion passed 6 to 2. If the resolution passes in the next meeting, the council will have access to a man considered among the top municipal lawyers in the state of Wisconsin. Mike will not do what he is told. He will advise us of our rights, responsibilities and limitations. He will tell us what other cities have done when they have come across our legal issues. Mike May is change for our city. And I hope that all those who cared enough to fight our winter weather and vote will see there is a difference being made because of their efforts. Your vote represents our responsibility on council to do the best we can do.
Thanks for listening,