Editorial- Is Plover Really That Good?
By Brandi Makuski
I’m never amazed how often I hear people gripe about government. What does amaze me, though, is that so few people ever try to make positive changes well within their grasp.
Take the municipal governments of Whiting, the Town of Dewey, Town of Hull and Village of Plover: their municipal meetings (councils, boards and committees) have very few members of the public in attendance, and all meetings from these municipalities aren’t accessible to the public unless you’re physically in attendance.
By comparison, the regular monthly meetings of the Portage Co. Board of Supervisors and Stevens Point City Council are only slightly well-attended by members of the public. A large portion of the attendees are city and county employees whose presence is required or requested, and while there are a small handful of local residents who regularly attend and address our elected officials, it’s typically the same 3-5 residents who address the City Council.
It can’t be easy for an elected leader to hear from the same small group of individuals over and over. But for city leaders, it’s the most consistent public glimpse they have into the minds and wishes of Stevens Point residents.
But imagine how you’d proceed if you had no public input at all during public meetings.
By stark contrast to the city and the county, the Village of Plover rarely has any residents in attendance during its meetings unless they have a specific request before village leaders. Village Administrator Dan Mahoney once recalled the time when a representative of Chili’s Restaurant came before the Board to propose its new location in Crossroads Commons. The gentleman brought with him a large map and several visual aids, and while he was setting up his equipment for the presentation, the Village Board of Trustees had already voted to approve the new location.
“We’d already talked about it extensively during our committee meetings,” Mahoney recalled. “The Board had asked all their questions then and already knew what it wanted to do.”
The village is indeed an anomaly in local government; several issues on the city level this year have been tabled or required additional information before a vote, or even completing a discussion. The county, too, is guilty of dragging its feet on some issues, having twice passed resolutions proclaiming a new jail/justice center as the county’s top priority in 2010 and again this year, only to now question the importance of a new health care center as well.
Committee meetings on the county level aren’t very welcoming; some take place in small conference rooms with only a few chairs for the public, and none of the committee meetings are videotaped for public consumption. County Board votes take place with very little discussion, leaving members of the public who didn’t attend committee meetings completely in the dark. Plover also does not record its meetings, though there is rarely any public objection to what village leaders approve.
But perhaps the smoothly- run operation stems from the fact that the village is largely missed by the media. Could it be that Stevens Point gets all the media coverage in this community? Could it be that Plover runs so efficiently, so seemingly lean and slick simply because of the lack of media scrutiny? Or is their Board of Trustees just that good, just that in touch with their constituency? Or is there a larger, underlying issue of public noninvolvement which prompts the quick turnaround?
Whatever their secret is, perhaps we ought to implement an “elected leader exchange program”, where municipal leaders take turns trading places with someone of equal duties from another municipality. Municipal leaders in the metro area should learn how their counterparts work, and it would likely be a huge benefit to us all.