Quest for Transparency - People in the Shadows
People give me a lot of feedback on my blogs. A common response is that people think it’s dangerous or at least gutsy to bring up sensitive issues—to call out problems. Well, the short answer is that I have been chewed out for some of the blogs. And this blog will most likely get me chewed out again. But I am very mad and I’m willing to face the fight.
You see, there is an issue in Kewaunee. Things are not being maintained. Tennis courts, stairs, sidewalks, streets, the fish cleaning station, the Marsh Walk are all in disrepair. And some people say that they have talked to the city and all they hear is that we have no money. One person said the Council did not approve a sidewalk replacement that would have connected to the church stairs going down to Ellis. This question about the sidewalk was never brought to Council. I’d like to know who said no. Let me translate City Hall speak. When they say we don’t have money for a project, what they are actually saying is, “We don’t think it’s important. We don’t care enough to fix it.” And when I say “we”, I don’t mean the Council.
Let me explain. This Monday there is a council meeting. Residents were complaining about the fish cleaning station being closed and unusable. Other residents wanted a discussion on the stairs going up the hill on Ellis St. So a councilperson asked for those topics to be added to the agenda, which is his right. But no—the agenda came out and the councilperson’s request was ignored. A wall is being formed around the Council so it cannot take up issues that City Hall does not think are important.
And when I say City Hall, the agenda by Wisconsin statutes comes from the administrator and mayor. It seems that the Council can’t get through to add a discussion in our own meeting. This is a big problem. Kewaunee has a history of not maintaining its streets, sidewalks, marina, parks, to name a few. And as council members, we are told by City Hall that there is no money to fix these things. But this is not true—not true at all.
I say this because the city can get money to connect Scott Street and create housing on that property. Now I’m all for creating housing—but I worry about the plan. We took out a loan for $200K to put in infrastructure for new development. The landowners adjacent were supposed to get a special assessment to pay back the cost of the infrastructure, since with it, they would be able to develop the land. But as far as I’ve heard, there is no written agreement from these landowners to a special assessment, nor is there any written commitment to develop the land. And now there is a big rush to put the project out to bid and get the job done this year. Why are we doing this? Who is benefiting from this plan?
The problem here is that the residents of Kewaunee and the Kewaunee City Council can ask for their city to be maintained, but City Hall is not listening. There are people who City Hall does listen to—I don’t know who they are but they are very important. Our city administrator and mayor listen to only them. They can get hundreds of thousands of dollars out of our city budget. They can get something on the City Council agenda. I admit it—those people in the shadows are far more important and powerful than I am. I just don’t know who they are.
Our sidewalks and streets are a mess, the fish cleaning station is closed and there is talk of tearing down the stairway going up to the church. Who is putting forth these projects that get money while our city’s infrastructure is falling apart? And the Council can’t even get discussion for repairs on the agenda.
And there is one more thing—the budget. For months, the Council has been asking for a finance committee and information on the city finances. Council members have called around to other cities similar to Kewaunee. We have found that their city councils have been working for weeks on their budget. However, Kewaunee’s City Council has not yet seen our budget that we will be asked to pass very soon. To approve the budget, we will need to go line by line to determine the best course for our city’s finances. This is a very important process, because once an item is in the budget, it seems that money can be spent without coming back to council for any approval. If the Council doesn’t control the budget, then the Council is not controlling the city and your vote means nothing. We have a big job ahead of us, and not very much time to do it. I don’t want to have a $19,000 lawnmower in the budget again. I do want to fix streets and sidewalks, and repair fish cleaning stations. I don’t want to tear down the staircase up to the church, and I’d like to have the Council decide if the sidewalk by the staircase should have been repaired or removed. But it seems that the Council doesn’t get to decide these things. That job has been given to someone in the shadows—someone who the mayor and the administrator think is far more important than me or you.
Thanks for listening,