Halverson to Address Communication Problems With Council in 2014
“We expect the alderpersons to take the initiative to get the information they need and ask the questions they want.”- Mayor Andrew Halverson
By Brandi Makuski
Mayor Andrew Halverson said he’s going to open the doors of communication with the City Council.
Responding to months of complaints from alderpersons that his office wasn’t communicating effectively, Halverson said the issue will now become part of the January agenda.
“I’m going to take some proactive steps in January. I’m wrong? Tell me how. How can I get better? Is it simply that you want to know about these things earlier, is it that you want more things in writing; do you want YouTube pieces that explain them from a conversational perspective? What would you like?” Halverson asked.
Halverson’s move may be more reactive than proactive. Council Members frequently complain of not being given enough information before being asked to vote, and have often stated they feel rushed in those votes. This Council historically has cited incomplete information and too many unanswered questions as some of the reasons behind turning down various projects, to include the recent proposals of a Division St. student rental development and Stevens Point municipal court.
Aldermen Roger Trzebiatowski and Mike Wiza have been the most verbal about the mayor’s communication style. Arguably one of the most vocal Council Members, Wiza has questioned Halverson on several items he felt weren’t explained thoroughly enough. Wiza even walked out of a meeting during a presentation of a proposed municipal court because he felt the mayor’s office hadn’t followed proper meeting procedure by not announcing the meeting to the public as required by state law. Trzebiatowski, along with Aldermen Mike Phillips and Jerry Moore, have regularly noted their concerns about last- minute memos, all-too-frequent special meetings and what they believe to be a lack of information provided to the Council prior to a vote.
Halverson says part of the responsibility to fix that falls to him.
“I’m not too proud to say I can’t change what I’m doing. Obviously the steps we’re taking are wrong,” Halverson said. “People still have ideas that projects are bad ideas, but when we do take so many steps to make sure the staff reports are on the website, the memos are out there, the minutes are out there- despite that core group of 5-7 people that show up to every meeting and tell us we’re hiding everything- we feel we are doing everything we can to get the Council and the public involved. A lot of other communities don’t do that- our website got a national award for transparency.”
Halverson said city residents will see a bigger push from his office to appease the Council and public, with an initiative from his office in January to address the communication issues. But he also said the Council’s expectations need to be very clear.
“I think there needs to be a proverbial ‘come to Jesus ‘ realization on what that means. When we try to hold special meetings, we get complaints that there are too many meanings,” he said. “But the very reason behind those special meetings is the sheer number of items needed to be discussed, or to allow for further discussion on an item. So I’ve tried to take those steps to get the council engaged earlier on, to do what we can do determine our negotiation strategy and have their approval on our strategies- only to have it turn 180 degrees around a month later.”
Halverson also said he believes it’s his personality that could be the basis for some of the complaints.
“It’s probably something to do with my aggressive communication style,” he said. “But things are getting way out of hand and people are getting violently emotional about things. We don’t need to turn into the school board where we need someone to come in and hold our hand. Shoot it down if you like, say it’s not a good idea, but for Pete’s sake don’t tell me you don’t have enough information.”
Halverson said his message to the Council will be clear: “Let’s just figure this out: what do you want, what format do you want it in, when do you want it, let’s put it in writing, let’s be specific and then let’s do it.”