County: Improper Communication Dots Municipal Court Talks
Left, the Lincoln Center on Water Street. (City-Times photo)
By Jacob Mathias
Depending on which county leader you ask, the process used to deny holding municipal court proceedings at the Lincoln Center was either an incompetent mistake or no big deal.
Leaders from the City of Stevens Point had approved the new municipal court, which would oversee ordinance violations, traffic citations and first offense OWI, with the impression it would be held inside the Lincoln Center. The building is owned by the city and leased to Portage County and is already home to city- level committee meetings throughout the month.
Allowing the new court to operate at the Lincoln Center was a matter formally supported by the county’s Space & Properties Committee- the body which governs how the county uses buildings. But the issue was also improperly placed on that committee’s agenda without approval from the acting chairman Tom Mallison.
“As far as I’m concerned, this was improperly placed on the agenda. The director was told to put the item on the agenda by the (County) Executive; the Executive has no authority to place anything on the agenda because she chairs no committee,” Mallison said. “And when the ADRC (Aging & Disability Resource Center) voted it down, well, they have no authority to override the vote of another committee.”
According to county documents, the ADRC is responsible for setting policy and proving policy guidance for programs which serve the county’s elderly.
“But for some reason it seems like the ADRC committee got to override Space and Properties,” said Mallison. “I thought that it was improper that what it came down to was that you had one committee overrule another committee and then the executive acted on that and had no authority to do so.”
County Board Chairman Phil Idsvoog said any issue resulting in differing votes from more than one committee must come before the full County Board for approval or denial.
“That irritates me; it’s very clear items need to be approved prior,” Idsvoog said. “I’m not interested in creating any conflict here, but the bottom line is, this would have been better handled if there had been a joint committee meeting or some parallel communication between those committees.”
Idsvoog said he sent a memo to all county chairpersons and department leaders reminding them nothing may be placed on any county agenda without approval from the chairperson.
In this case, neither Space & Properties Chairman Don Jankowski nor Co-Chair Tom Mallison had knowledge of the municipal court’s use of Lincoln Center being placed on the agenda prior to their meeting.
Mallison said he contacted Portage County Facilities Manager Todd Neuenfeldt, who is responsible for writing and distributing the agendas, and was told Neuenfeldt had made an honest mistake by not first clearing it with chairpersons. Neuenfeldt was not available for comment.
Portage County Executive Patty Dreier said items have often been placed on agendas without chairperson knowledge, saying “that’s not an uncommon thing because the chairs of various committees do it differently.”
“We all want to figure out how to work together and get this done,” Dreier said, who added the miscommunication was being blown out of proportion. Dreier also points to assumptions made by city leaders without proof as another element of frustration.
“If it had been that the city doesn’t assume things and that the city coordinates ahead of time…we don’t waste hundreds of hours. We’ve done nothing but spin around on this issue,” said Dreier.
Leaders from the city say they are now looking to hold the municipal court at the Stevens Point Water Department.