Looking on the Bright Side

The Meeting about meetings.
Held once a month, it’s called the Meeting of the Whole. Almost always, when new people become in charge, whether it is the new owners of a house or a new supervisor in a business, they will make changes and rearrange things. They have a vision of how to make things better, and they work energetically toward that vision. Whereas, when there is only a change of personnel but there is no change in authority, things remain roughly the same.

So the fact that new city council is looking at changing, rearranging, and combining the city’s committees and commissions reveals that the new city council/management team is attempting to pull in on the city’s reins and take control. The key to any successful change is to identify what is wrong and state it (the obvious is not obvious until stated simply), then assess the situation and take appropriate action to eliminate or reduce the problem. There was a lengthy discussion with diverse input at the last committee of the whole (COW) meeting. It was an excellent discussion about the scheduling and length of meetings, and the possible reorganization of them to minimize the interference and disruption that the meetings themselves can cause. Alderman Doug Skates was concerned, and rightly so, that a reduction in committees might reduce input from the residents. This is a real concern to residents, because citizen input has been reduced and under increasing threat for the last seven years.

The FLR Committee (Finance, License & Regulation Committee) permitted comments from the public on any city related issue until the Mayor Chesen debacle. Because of the outrageous actions of Mayor Chesen and the city administration at that time many citizens who spoke up at the FLR meetings became disruptive, so the FLR limited the citizen comments to agenda items. This move was the equivalent of putting duct tape over the mouths of citizens, rather than correcting the actions of Mayor Chesen and the city administration that caused the problem in the first place. This “muzzling” method of silencing the opposition rather than correcting the problem was again tried by the last city council. Their discussion was about reducing public comments from 5 minutes to 3 minutes, and limiting public comments to residents only. This would further limit input from local residents and ban local area non-residents from speaking on city issues that affect them. Fortunately, the attempt failed. Hearing the same or similar comments from one resident after another does not necessarily help the issue, but it does clarify the magnitude of the impact that the issue has on residents.

Considering that seventy-five percent of all humans have a fear of public speaking that means for everyone that is willing to speak up there are probably at least three more citizens in the audience who feel the same way but can’t speak up. In most cases when a large number of people speak up at meetings, it is because the city council is going against the wishes of the general public. There are rare issues that divide the city, like the $875,000 theater grant that will create a lot of public comments, but this is expected and it is what freedom is all about. Methods that improve citizen input and participation in government should be endorsed by the council as part of the committee reorganization.

When reviewing citizen input there are two distinct categories; the first are those individuals and families that are financially better off, including business owners, professionals and higher management personnel. The second group is made up of the less financially well off that generally speaks as workers for those in the first group. The greatest concern should be for this second group because the first group is well represented on committees, in the city council, and in the running of the city. The second group is almost without representation in the City of Lake Geneva. Lake Geneva’s median household income is $41,000 ($ 10,000 below Wisconsin Average.). This means that a substantial portion of the residents of Lake Geneva are in this underrepresented group.
Their views need to be included in city decisions, because city decisions can adversely affect them as much if not more than those that are more financially well off.

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