Editorial: City Times’ Annual Airing of Grievances
City Times Staff
City Times staffers work hard each year to bring you the very best in ultra- local news in an unbiased, straight-forward manner. Over the past five years we’ve experienced some terrific changes: transitioning from a weekly to a daily news site in late 2012, adding a weekly print edition in May of 2014 and joining forces with Multi Media Channels last November, making the City Times the largest newspaper in Portage County. It’s been very humbling and we have a lot to be thankful for.
Over the past year we’ve gathered volumes of off-the-record comments and behind-the-scenes hilarity, and we deal daily with absurd bureaucracy and non-answer answers in our news gathering efforts.
We generally keep these items within the walls of our newsroom, but air a few each Festivus, a fictitious secular holiday (made popular by the television show Seinfeld) seemingly designed for blowing off verbal steam on Dec. 23.
We’ve compiled our annual airing of grievances for 2015, listed in no particular order:
A council which operates inside a vacuum.
The Stevens Point Common Council found itself with seven new members in April. While some could argue losing so many experienced council members at once was actually a disservice to the community, a new council in itself is not a bad thing: fresh eyes, fresh minds and new perspectives can always be good for a city.
But many on the new council continue to operate with little-to-no thought of the constituency they were elected to represent. Many came into office with requests indicating they knew little about this community, its financial abundance and its laws, and included suggested new ordinances aimed solely at college rental properties and a new fire station on the east side.
The council frequently votes on projects and policies without considering future ramifications- and which often favor only a select group of people. Many on the council, even after sitting in office eight months, remain ignorant of past votes and long-time projects, demanding additional study be performed at taxpayer expense, and recently rushed into two decisions which lowered high standards designed to protect the taxpayers.
Transparency is also something seemingly lost on this council. While arguably a worthy project, the Cultural Commons, a “pocket park” slated for installation at Pfiffner Pioneer Park, was discussed and planned for over a year behind closed doors, with the current mayor and some on the council part of those discussions, though input from the general public was not considered despite its future location of a public park. The park would include an outdoor classroom and labyrinth along the river, but the public was not made aware of the project until city leaders were already prepared to vote.
Lack of safety measures for pedestrians on HH.
The Village of Whiting lost its long-time crossing guards, a husband and wife team, at the corner of County Hwy. HH and School St. in 2013. The pair said their complaints of safety concerns had fallen on deaf ears and too many times had dodged motorists unaware- or apathetic to- the posted speed limit. Since then the post has remained unmanned, with the exception of a few days at the beginning and end of the school year, when the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office helps kids cross the busy street. Otherwise, the young students of McDill Elementary who need to cross that intersection often must do so on their own.
The highway is also home to one of the most heavily-traveled crossings along the Green Circle Trail, which emerges from a heavily-wooded area on either side of the road, and is partially hidden by a curve for motorists from the east. Anyone who’s driven that stretch of road knows few follow the posted speed limit, and it’s only a matter of time before a pedestrian is struck at either crossing.
Incredible lack of accountability in county government.
Portage Co. government has a long history of finger-pointing. Committees often pursue a slow crawl towards decisions of note and are slow to finalize anything. The years-long debate over a new jail facility is evidence of this- countless facility studies at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars later, we still have no new facility. The county doesn’t even have a final design, and county board leaders still can’t agree on the need for a new facility at all.
Meeting minutes for county committees are incredibly light, almost always lacking most detail behind decisions made on behalf of the taxpayers, and while agendas for meetings are available to the public via the county’s website, the meeting packets themselves usually are not. Meeting packets requested by the public often lack several pages; past finance committee minutes contain no notes on the discussion topics, other than to note items were discussed, and the December human resources committee was given a draft of a new pay plan for county employees, but only members of the committee were permitted to see the draft.
Recently, county government has come under heavy scrutiny for the appearance of unethical behavior, to include the much-shrouded-in-mystery investigation of the county treasurer’s office and, more recently, a formal complaint of discrimination against County Executive Patty Dreier.
County government is unique in that it is the only local government body to employ a standing ethics committee. Unfortunately, that committee hasn’t met for months.
Bullies in elected office.
Being an elected official- even in a smaller municipal government- is never easy. You’re constantly in the spotlight and under scrutiny, and you are held to a higher standard when it comes to justifying your votes. With any office also comes an expectation of professional and appropriate public behavior.
Like it or not, when the media does its job correctly, it vets candidates prior to being elected, and continues to shine a spotlight on their actions and votes after taking office. This should only come as a surprise to feckless office holders who aren’t really in touch with their community.
Those in office were put there by constituents, to represent the best interests of the community as a whole. Instead of misdirecting the public from their own boorish and addle-minded behavior, they instead ought to be focused on accepting new information and dissenting opinions on important local issues with profundity.
When elected officials use the law as a sword to combat those practicing honest journalism under a shield of the same law, our democratic process becomes endangered. It has no place in our community.