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Quest for Transparency - The Wisdom Chair

Kewaunee government is a difficult mine field of hard choices, trying realities and limited funds. Eight people sit on the council, plus a mayor. There are other committees and commissions with other people, and there are staff—people who come to work every day to keep the city running. There are statutes and ordinances, court rulings and federal laws. Anything done by the council can be looked at several ways and evaluated from different perspectives. When it comes to city government, right and wrong is not nearly as clear as your catechism teacher explained in second grade.

Fortunately, here in Kewaunee we have help. We don’t have to figure out everything on our own, because here in Kewaunee, we are home to the Chair of Wisdom. The Chair of Wisdom appears ordinary, but its power is great. We all watched the crowning of King Charles. With all his billions of dollars, diamonds and gold, he sat upon a wooden throne covered in graffiti that is over 700 years old. Henry the Eighth was crowned on that very chair, as was Elizabeth and Victoria and many other English monarchs. And even that throne was placed on top of a large stone which was carved over a thousand years ago as the throne for all Scottish kings. It’s called the Stone of Scone. These chairs don’t look like much, but the English and Scottish monarchies would fall without them. Why, in Scotland, they keep the Stone of Scone locked up with the Scottish Royal Jewels, including large pearls, diamonds, rubies and other hugely valuable gemstones. So clearly, a chair cannot be valued by its looks.

In Kewaunee, the Chair of Wisdom sits in the Fitness Center. Many of the citizens of Kewaunee know of its powers. Some come every morning just to sit near this chair. It is said that just being near the Chair of Wisdom can bestow long life. And this seems to be born out by the fact that many who come to bask in its glow every morning have already lived to a ripe old age—sometimes even without the exertions of exercise offered within the fitness center. If you wish to have a long life, you can do laps in the pool, take a yoga class, use the weight room, or merely drink coffee near the Chair of Wisdom. You can find people there who have lived long enough to remember the Great Depression and World Wars, or the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II sitting over the Stone of Scone.

As a member of council and the finance committee, I have been puzzling over a dilemma. You see, a financial company has recommended to council that we borrow a million dollars to help pay for things that need to be done around the city. People say that we have many, many projects that need to be done, and a million dollars would really help to pay for these things. There are many supporters of this potential loan and see it as an appealing solution to our funding issues. However, it’s likely that each person in our city government has a different idea of how this money will be spent.

The problem is that I am generally against borrowing money. I did borrow money for my house, and once I borrowed money for a car, but generally, I am leery. Our auditors say we are only at about half of our borrowing limit right now. So according to the financial company and our auditors, we would be in a good position to borrow this money. The city needs money to do important projects and our financial advisors say we are good to go.

Yet, there was just a sticking point that made me uncomfortable. And puzzling with this issue, I came out of my yoga class a few days ago, passing by the Chair of Wisdom. Often the chair is empty, but when it’s full it is often occupied by our town’s most storied soothsayer. You don’t get to be soothsayer without being old and wise, and you don’t get this old or this wise without doing time in the Chair of Wisdom. I did not have to tell the old soothsayer what troubled me—he already knew. That’s the work of the Chair. We talked about the town and borrowing money, looking at it from this side and that. Then he reached back into his wise old brain and delivered a pearl that I could not help but see the wisdom in.

Towns borrow money—we have snowplows, buildings and property because we borrowed. It’s called capital. And cities all borrow to buy capital. And this soothsayer said, “Capital? What are you actually buying with that million dollars? You have to tell me that before I see a reason to borrow money!” I could not agree with him more—and I wasn’t even sitting in the Chair! All our voters are wise, and they have a right to know why the city is borrowing money. It’s called transparency. We need to figure out how we want to spend the money before we decide to borrow money. So let’s do our homework first, and then talk about borrowing. We need to be straight with our voters and show them what we are buying with their money. Until then, I am not on board.

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