Editorial: Stevens Point Far Ahead of County, School District in Terms of Transparency
By Brandi Makuski
It’s not uncommon for residents to accuse the mayor or other city leaders of secret, back-room deals or withholding information from the Common Council and the public.
But when it comes to information availability, Stevens Point is leaps and bounds ahead Portage County and the school board.
Municipalities today typically take to the Internet for mass distribution of information and service availability. City, village or county websites can offer information ranging from simple calendars and “contact us” details to interactive features with polls, voting registration and video messages from local elected officials.
The City of Stevens Point (www.stevenspoint.com) website offers more easy- to- retrieve information than any municipal governing body inside Portage County. It includes all recent municipal news relating to street construction, the city pool and details on events like Riverfront Rendezvous. The site includes up-to-date staff directory and includes a search bar, archives minutes of city meetings and videos.
City meetings are somewhat formal, with committee and board members referring to each other as “Mr. Slowinski”, or “Alderperson Suomi” at all times, and members of the public are required to give their name and address before speaking during public meetings, so even a first- time attendee actually knows who is speaking.
Also, city meetings are almost always held after 4 PM so residents with day jobs typically can fit it into their schedule.
Portage County meetings are much different. Typically, board/committee members are referred to by a first name, though sometimes their name isn’t used at all. It’s much like a gathering of friends getting together for a chat. While the informality can be refreshing, it’s not very accommodating for citizens who don’t know all the board members.
The county website (http://www.co.portage.wi.us/index.shtm) is pretty user- friendly, but doesn’t always do the best job of keeping residents up to date because there’s no real consistency with updating the site. Archived meeting minutes are available but no video archive is kept by the county.
The site does offer a monthly calendar listing county meetings where you can print off a basic meeting agenda- though the website also notes some of the meetings are tentative and has no available agenda for public consumption.
Some county meetings- including board meetings related to finance or economic development- frequently meet at 7 AM, when very few members of the public are unable to attend because they either work and have no child care at that early hour.
School board meetings are nearly as unaccommodating. While board meetings typically start at a great time (6:30- 7 PM), it often hits the 4- hour mark and is not conducive to public comment.
The school district website (http://www.wisp.k12.wi.us/education/district/district.php?sectionid=1) is the most labor- intensive of all to maneuver. You have to know specifically where to look for information, and it’s not always in the most obvious place.
To attend any municipal meeting you should take with you a copy of the agenda- a list of all items scheduled to be discussed or voted on. Finding an agenda on city and county websites is fairly straightforward, but traversing the school district website for this information is about a confusing as hi-fi stereo instructions from 1975.
Step 1: On the district website home page, click “Board of Education” tab. A menu appears.
Step 2: Mistakenly click on “Board of Education Calendar” because it makes sense for the meeting agenda to be available when you click on the meeting time, just like the city and county sites offer.
Step 3: Realize your mistake. Clicking on the meeting time itself only brings up a new window in which you have the option to print a reminder of the meeting time.
Step 4: Go back to the “Board of Education” tab. Click on “Board of Education Packets”.
Step 5: Encounter redundant meeting notice and confusing folder list.
Step 6: Click “2012-13 Board Packets (19)”. Freak out over how many .pdf’s show up.
Step 7: Chose first .pdf on the list. Chose the option to “Download Now!”
Step 8: Finally, you have arrived at the school board agenda you’re after. If you’re interested in printing, make sure you’ve got enough ink and paper. This particular agenda is 140 pages long.
Proponents of city leadership ought to take note at how much information is provided to city residents and how easily is obtained. While things can always be improved upon, this amount of transparency-when compared with the county and school district- is directly related to city meetings being among the highest- attended of all municipalities.
County and school district leaders should follow suit.