Quest for Transparency - Update on City Hall
It’s been a little while since I wrote a blog on my experiences at City Hall. There is a lot going on, but it’s behind the scenes and in the shadows. So, I can’t always give firsthand knowledge of the happenings. But I can tell you what I know.
Let’s start back last year when several people asked me to run for Council. It was explained to me that City Hall needed more adults in the room. And so I was convinced to put my hat in the ring and run for office. As I campaigned, people had complaints. Some people felt that the Marquette School property was not being handled legally. Others felt the building inspector was abusive. And others still, simply felt their taxes were too high.
By the time the election came around, City Hall employees were sending their resumes to other towns. And I heard about more than one occurrence of an abusive and toxic environment within the walls of City Hall—yelling, screaming and vile expletives could be heard on numerous occasions. I hadn’t even gotten 60 days into my term and two employees quit, and the Administrator was openly interviewing for other jobs. And then the Fire Chief and the Assistant Fire Chief retired—which they are very much allowed to do! Soon after, the Public Works Director resigned as well. The voters must have seen how toxic City Hall was, since they resoundingly voted out anyone who was said that City Hall was doing fine.
From the start, the new council members were treated as interlopers. We were not given any major committee assignments. We were not given pertinent information prior to packets being published. People should know that the packets, which are often well over 100 pages, include information on topics the mayor and administrator wish to publish before our council meetings. Most cities provide packets, but our city provides one less day for us to review the material and ask questions prior to the meeting. What’s one day you might ask? Well, when there is only one and a half workdays before the meeting, one day is a lot.
At first we asked that the mayor be reasonable. But we were maligned and information was withheld. And the Council was left out of major decisions that are lawfully within the domain of the Council. People were hired and contracts were signed without Council approval. This is in direct conflict with Wisconsin statutes. Additionally, land was purchased and sold without Council knowledge or approval, again in direct violation of Wisconsin statutes. The mayor tried to deny or limit our access to legal advice—and now the mayor is threatening to withhold payment of the Council attorney’s bill. Our attorney has sent a bill for about $1000. The mayor’s attorney racks up an average of $5000 every month, mostly the result of the mayor playing Chatty Cathy with the city attorney. I assume the attorney is spending a lot of time explaining time and again why the mayor can’t break the law…
Right now the mayor has excluded the Council from the hiring process for the Public Works Director. He, himself had formed a committee for hiring this position with council members on the committee. Then he reformed the committee without the council members. And this leaves me in the position that I will have to vote NO on any hiring in which the Council does not play a role. The mayor said that applications will remain secret, and only city staff would be able to review them. How can we be assured of hiring the best person if we can’t look at all the applications? So if you hear that I voted against confirming a public works director in the next meeting, it’s not because I’m against the candidate—it’s just that the hiring process should be transparent. I am against backroom deals, kickbacks, side deals and any other illegal doings. The mayor should follow the law—he should open up the process and allow the Council to have oversight in the hiring process.
That is true for outside contracts as well. There have been whisperings that an enormous contract for our city was put out to bid, and the city has come up with only one acceptable contractor. That seems to be par for the course in our city government lately. No matter how many contractors bid on a project, Council only sees one acceptable bid. So again, if this contract comes before Council with only one bid, I will vote NO. This is not a transparent process, and I will not tolerate a bidding process that is in the shadows, where side deals and kickbacks can occur.
I’d like to mention one more topic—December starts election season in Kewaunee. This year we have the mayor and four alderpersons up for election. We have some wonderful people running for office and I suggest you vote for the candidate you respect and trust. And vote for someone who will follow our laws. Then hopefully, after the election I can stop writing about all the city shenanigans and instead write a blog about all the progress being made in City Hall.
Thanks for listening,