Editorial: City Times’ Annual Airing of Grievances
City Times Staff
City Times staffers work hard each year to bring you the very best in local news in an unbiased, straight-forward manner. Over the past six 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 — then joining joining forces with Multi Media Channels six month later.
Today, we’re 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 confines of our newsroom, but air a few each Festivus — a fictitious secular holiday made popular by the television show Seinfeld, and seemingly designed for blowing off verbal steam on Dec. 23.
We’ve compiled our annual “Grievances” for 2016, listed in no particular order:
No End in Sight for County Space Problems
The question for voters was pretty simple, but they couldn’t get past the dollar tag, which was capped at $78.5 million. The Nov. referendum asking to construct a new, three-story county building next to the existing Portage Co. Annex was advisory — meaning County Board members could have moved forward regardless of the vote — but the Board voted down their option to make any headway with years-long space issues in county government.
Much like donning winter boots to run to an outhouse in the middle of the night, county officials regularly cross the Strongs Ave. between three buildings — or drive to a fourth building a mile down the road — to conduct business. That doesn’t include the county’s transportation dept., located in yet another building in Plover.
Deputies have to transport inmates from the jail and across the street for court appearances. Inmates, suspects, victims and witnesses all travel the same hallways in a crowded courthouse; family court often erupts into shouting matches because ex-spouses are forced to appear in such close proximity to each other during sensitive family proceedings.
Not long ago, heavy rainfall produced leaks all across the building, leaving city and county employees, and members of the public, to traverse drip-catching buckets in the hallways and offices. The leakage has been going on for so long, the Stevens Point Police Dept. — which is located (hidden, really) in the basement — has stalactites hanging from the ceiling of one of their rooms.
County Board members who voted against moving forward with plans to construct the new Government Center justified their decision by pointing out they were just following direction from their constituents. Those who voted in favor said county offices were in dire straights; waiting any longer would only drive up costs and increase safety concerns.
The Board alone isn’t to blame; all of this could have been prevented if the county employed better PR and public awareness campaigns around the jail issue.
A City Council Disconnected from Reality
The Stevens Point Common Council continues to operate with nine new members. We still call them “new”, despite many having been in office for some-20 months, because most have done almost nothing to improve their knowledge of the city or municipal government. They continue to operate from their own individual agendas, and spread partisan idealism without separation from their elected position, even though Council seats are nonpartisan positions. Many chide bigotry and close-mindedness while themselves remaining immovable by actual facts.
As a group they show great favor and attention to the city’s college campus, but little connection with their actual constituency of blue-collar working families, and almost no thought to fiscal responsibility.
Since the April, 2015 election, this Council has moved away from having a strong focus on debt repayment, working to improve the city’s tax increment finance districts and attracting new business; instead their heads have been turned by tree-planting programs, addition of bike lanes the city can’t possibly maintain without future grant funding and resolutions against hate speech — all without considering any of the future ramifications.
Misnomer of Safety Issue on Stanley; None for Northpoint
A proposal to re-stripe Stanley St. was met with great controversy by constituents who didn’t see a need for the change. Advocates argued there were safety concerns on the roadway but produced no evidence to support their claims, also insinuating at public meetings those against the proposal weren’t intelligent enough to understand why it was needed. Proponents also pointed out Stanley St. would be the perfect “guinea pig” for proving a simple re-striping could be an effective improvement on the maligned Division St. — a project on which there is extensive data showing crash data and traffic patterns.
Those against the idea — which had the benefit of multiple public meetings under the guise of being official city business, far before it actually was — said the change was an unnecessary one because of the lack of bicycle traffic in the area. Stanley St. would also be an unnecessary expense, they argued, as it was near the bottom of the list when it came to roads most in need of repair or changes, and could actually make the road less safe due to heavy semi traffic, as well as long lines of vehicles near the entrance of Ministry St. Michael’s.
The Stanley St. conversation has successfully distracted the public’s attention from the one roadway in dire need of safety improvements; a place where the community’s most inexperienced drivers are found in large numbers almost daily: Northpoint Drive.
For those who don’t know, Northpoint Dr. is not a two-lane road. It’s a wide road, sure, but it’s still a one-lane travelling in each direction. It’s width confuses most drivers, who utilize the road as a two-lane (despite no striping to indicate two lanes). The confusion causes a number of fender-benders on a regular basis, and leaves pedestrians — most of whom are high school students — to their own devices for crossing safely.
If the argument on a potential re-stripe is truly about safety, the conversation needs to make a fast left turn on to Northpoint Dr. — that’s a proposal which would generate almost no controversy, show the Council is cognizant of our city’s youngest drivers, and fill a genuine need.
It’s difficult to know what’s in the minds of poll-takers when they participate in a City Times poll. The polls are by no means scientific, but are meant to encourage conversation in the community. And yes, we do hope to get some general gauge on certain topics through these polls. But this one blew us away.
Our staff has attempted to put a positive spin on this — the rationalization that “Perhaps the definition of ‘abstain’ isn’t widely known” is the best we can come up with. Even that is a sad state of affairs, considering how vital the topic is.
To “abstain” means “to refrain from”, according to Webster’s, and it is a move made by elected officials when they opt to note participate in a vote. It is done to preserve the sanctity of the voting process, and to avoid the appearance of something improper.
Abstentions are common when a project has any impact — perceived or real — on an elected official’s family, home, business, workplace or self. In other words, if your buddy owns a company with a project up for approval before the city, you probably should abstain because your conflict of interest gives your friend a clear advantage.
On the other hand, if the voting public truly believes City Council members should not abstain from votes where they have a perceived or real conflict, we have a much bigger problem indeed.