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What is the difference between a commission and a committee in the City of Lake Geneva?
The answer would not seem to be particularly significant, but it has a huge impact on city operations. A commission is an independent operation, run by commission members, selected by commission members. A committee is a city-controlled and ruled operation, staffed by committee members, chosen by the city council. Commissions, like the current utility commission, only report back to the city from a distance and in a general way. They report results not process. They are accountable for results not process, and they remain unaudited with records not available to the city unless the chairman of the commission decides to give them up.

Lake Geneva’s utility commission was run by Dan Winkler, now retired. Winkler didn’t give up anything, and did whatever he wanted to with utility department money.   He built parks without city approval or inspection (the Bocce Ball court at the Catholic Church on Catholic Hill, where Winkler was a parishioner, was a classic example), and he did it with money that might have been better spent on infrastructure improvements and maintenance. This has all been discovered after Mr. Winkler left, because while he was there he didn’t have to submit plans or records, and so he didn’t tell the city anything at all. Just before he left he submitted a request for the largest increase in rates in city history. And even those hikes will not be enough to fix the mess Mr. Winkler left behind. But that’s all water under the Winkler bridge. So what did the city do about this systemic problem of having too little control over the utility department?

Utah Blaine, the city’s pretty damned terrific city administrator (replacing “Goofy” Jordon, the former administrator) created a plan to meld the commission into a committee so the whole fiefdom over there on the other side of the river could be brought into city council and city administrator oversight. The city council, the mayor and even Dan “small ball” Draper, seemed to be in agreement. Until it came time to vote. Spearheaded by “Cordite” Kordus, city councilman of bleak dark disdain, and supported by Dennis “Deep Thought” Lyons, the council voted to leave the utility department as it was in hopes of finding a new more benevolent dictator to take over. Sort of like the nation just did. Will the city, like the nation, have to sadly face up to the expression many created for the Obama administration but now seems much more appropriate to the current likely leaders. “How’s that working out for you”?

But the utility department problems, just revealed by a work/study group last week, are so severe that a referendum may be necessary to bring the whole mess out in the open enough for something to be done. Accountability would be the greatest and more important thing to be gained by such a referendum, as the current council seems broken in vital places, and frozen in others. Everyone knows the physical limitations of Mr. Draper, but his mind seems okay. Will this astute city attorney speak up about what it would mean for the city to have accountability and control, or will he do what he has usually done that earned him his nickname? One way or another, like the lyrics in the Leonard Cohen song, “democracy is coming to the USA“, and true democracy usually comes in on the edge of a razor or the tip of a burning torch.

Will the city act as it should, now that utility cards are face up on the table and they are all deuces and treys? Or will the people have to act and create a referendum? This is a game and it’s a big money game. The citizens, residents, visitors and taxpayers of Lake Geneva all deserve better. The utility department must become a committee appointed by the city council.

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