Quest for Transparency - Purpose & Teamwork
There is something about October in Kewaunee that gives purpose to life. Mothers and fathers are back in the routine of getting their children up and off to school. Skeletons, witches and spider decorations remind children that huge bags of Halloween candy are coming their way. Mums on porch steps join with maple trees to paint bright fall colors of red, orange and yellow. Gone are the pinks and purples of summer gardens. In October, you know that Kewaunee is as beautiful a place as the world has to offer. And so you don’t mind doing the fall clean up, raking leaves and cleaning windows. It’s a chance to spend one final warm day in the yard soaking up the beauty before winter.
In Kewaunee City Council, we too have a renewed sense of purpose. We have broken up into committees. All eight councilpersons are busy with four new committees that help manage the city. There are the Public Works and Public Property committees, as well as the two committees I am on— Personnel and Finance. I am the chair of the Finance committee.
Our mayor has set up these committees to bring purpose back to the council—and therein, to bring purpose back to the voters who elect their council. Yes, we are busier. We all have several meetings to attend each month. I have more binders to create, more documents to read and an agenda to create. The council members are engaged and working hard. Our new administrator and clerk/treasurer are engaged and working hard. Our Public Works and Marina guys are engaged and working hard. City Hall is engaged and working hard. Council and staff are developing into a cohesive body and it is so nice to feel the sense of teamwork across the board in City Hall.
Every member of the council is bringing their own experience and skills to each meeting. Some members grew up in Kewaunee. They can explain history and Kewaunee culture. Others have the gift of knowing virtually everyone in town. Still others bring professional knowledge like project management, construction or experience running a Kewaunee business. And then there are those that have been part of city or county government for a long time—they can explain past decisions that long ago councils decided.
My contributions are not in any of these areas. I am a voracious reader and my need for organization is almost neurotic. My husband sometimes questions the word “almost”. But when it comes to council meetings, I hope to provide whatever facts are hidden amid the various documents, so all members can come to informed decisions. Often other members debate based on their experience, and somewhere in the discussion they might ask if anyone knows, for example, what exactly our purchasing policy says about a particular topic. And I will say, “Well I happen to have that right here”. It’s my little quirk. My particular skill often helps the team and I do enjoy that.
When I was running for office, some folks complained to me about our permit fee schedule. Fees seemed random, and while some were quite small, others could cost hundreds of dollars. I got two complaints in particular. One was a several hundred dollar fee to replace siding. Another similarly-sized fee was to replace existing windows. Looking into it, the city had little reason to impose these fees. We did not even inspect the windows or siding. Neither of these were an upgrade to the house. Roofs, windows and siding get old and need to be replaced. It’s maintenance—and the city should encourage maintenance.
So my little quirk was activated. I searched out the city fee schedule (it’s accessible on the city website) and brought this schedule to the city departments. Our goal was to justify each fee—does the city have an interest? Does the city spend time or money on the subject of the fee? Do we inspect something or are we in some way regulating it? Enlarging driveways are important because the city manages, amongst other things, water runoff, so that fee will remain the same. But if you hire someone to just replace the existing concrete in your driveway, you’ll need a permit, but the fee will be greatly reduced. Siding, windows and roofing will also still have permits, because the city needs to know about these service providers. But the fees will be nominal and in line with the city’s effort.
Kewaunee’s Finance committee is working on amending the Fee Schedule right now. Each department in the city is currently assessing their fees either to justify or to remove each one. Some fees will be greatly reduced, but some will go up to pay for the city’s time or costs. Some will disappear altogether. But hopefully our new fee schedule will be valid and not just some revenue-generating hidden tax. Our fees will have a purpose. And best of all, this amending process has been a pleasure. All departments have taken this task seriously and are working as a team to create a Fee Schedule that makes sense and is reasonable for our residents. Our fees will be fair and justified.
Thanks for listening,