Editorial: Should Council Get Bigger Education on Real World?
By Brandi Makuski
Presentations to the City Council are a relatively new element of council meetings.
Prior to Mayor Mike Wiza’s administration, presentations before the council were almost always limited to a city award, police/fire honors or information on an upcoming city project. Wiza says the talks are designed to educate members of the council — and by default, the citizenry — on important issues in the community.
Sometimes, Wiza said, the presentations are unsolicited — a member of the community, or the council, may approach him with a topic, he said — but other times, Wiza selects the presentation topic.
All of the presentations to date — Aug. 21 — have been presented as fact, with no contradictory viewpoint offered and no disclaimer from Wiza’s office included.
Presentations began one month after Wiza was elected to office.
Presentations to the Stevens Point City Council, as reflected in meeting minutes:
- May: Presentation by Tori Jennings (before she was elected to council) on downtown bicycle parking and parklets
- June: Presentation by Kent Hall on Bird City Wisconsin; Presentation by Director Joel Lemke regarding the city airport
- July: AECOM presentation regarding Hoover Road grade separation concerns
- August: Presentation of Outstanding Citizen Certificate to Rollie Vallin
- September: Presentation on the Vehicle and Bicycle Parking Analysis from SEH
- October: Appreciation Recognition by the Daughters of the American Revolution (Beverly West) to the Stevens Point Police Dept.
- November: Presentation by Carl Rasmussen on UW-Stevens Point building history
- December: Presentation by Nick Hylla, Executive Director of Midwest Renewable Energy Assoc. regarding MREA services and overview.
- January: none
- February: Presentation by Cindy Piotrowski, Director, Aging & Disability Resource Center of Portage County: Becoming a Dementia Friendly Community
- March: Presentation by Sara Brish, Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, on tourism and events
- April: Presentation by Kent Hall – Bird City Wisconsin Designation
- May: Presentation by Todd Kuckkahn, Portage County Business Council Executive Director, regarding Business Council activities and services
- June: Presentation from SGA (UWSP’s Student Government Association) President, John Peralta and Vice-President, Andrew Glazner
- July: none
- August: Presentation by Tori Jennings (before she was elected to council) regarding possible road lane-striping options
- September: Presentation on City Hall space needs
- October: Presentation by Jerry Deschane, Exec. Dir. of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, regarding the 118th Annual League Conference and Legislative Agenda
- November: none
- December: none
- January: none
- February: Presentation by Matthew Clark, Challenge Academy Graduate; Presentation by Parks and Recreational Services Director Tom Schrader, Annual Report on Parks Usage.
- March: Presentation: Update on “A Path to a Sustainable Stevens Point”
- April: Don Kissinger, Regional Urban Forestry Coordinator, DNR: Presentation of Tree City Designation and Growth Award; Presentation from Dan Dieterich (a former English professor at UWSP): climate change as it relates to Stevens Point
- May: Presentation by Senior Poppy Princess Rebecca Smart and Junior Poppy Princess Angelina Smart (This is a customary presentation each May)
- June: Curt Witynski, Wisconsin League of Municipalities – Presentation on Green Tier Legacy Communities and League Updates; Kent Hall: Presentation of the Bird City Wisconsin/High Flyer award.
- July: Greg Wright: Presentation from CREATE Portage County – annual report; Chief Martin Skibba: Police Department space needs presentation; Mayoral Proclamation proclaiming July as Parks and Recreation Month
- August: Presentation by Simon Stevenoski, Rob Michitsch and Lindsey Carlson on Organics Diversion
Each of the topics presented has been, no doubt, of interest and concern to at least some. But is the council really getting a solid education on the most important pieces of our community? If not, what’s missing?
Perhaps a series of very real — albeit unattractive — issues that affect our city and community beyond:
What about a frank conversation on the growing need for mental health services in our city? While Health & Human Services is a county entity, the drain on city resources is very real. In their 2016 manpower study, Stevens Point police report a 23 percent uptick in calls for welfare checks, and a 37 percent increase in calls for service relating to civil matters between 2014 and 2015. Privacy laws prohibit law enforcement from categorizing calls as being “mental health” related, but in the same study police indicated a single residence on John’s Dr. as having the fifth-highest number of calls for service in the entire city: 82 calls to the residence for mental health-related issues in 2016 alone.
Even more pressing could be a frank lecture on veteran suicide — there were two last year in the city alone — and similarly, the very real post-traumatic stress issues our local police, fire and paramedics deal with daily.
Why not a presentation on hard drug problems in our community? The city spent several meetings in 2015 discussing a fine reduction for small amounts of marijuana possession; yet to date, no time at all hearing about the ever-present movement of heroin and meth coming into the area, the dire need for more narcotics officers, or the lack of professional detox services needed by addicts.
Let’s see a presentation from the Stevens Point Apartment Association to understand its challenges and successes. Follow that up with a talk from Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator Mark Kordus, who, after being hired in April, walked into decades’ worth of problems regarding unregulated rental property owners who — knowingly or otherwise — violate city ordinances, rental laws and tenants’ rights.
What about an honest look at the number of (truly) homeless in our community, along with the need for additional resources (housing, etc.) for those fleeing domestic violence and sexual abuse?
How about information pertaining to unemployment within the city — more importantly, how many jobs go unfilled because of a lack of skilled workers?
The list could go on for days, but if Wiza deems these presentations necessary, he needs to disabuse this council from the idea that environmentalism and university issues are the only driving forces in our community.
The City Council is the deciding body in matters of staffing, finance and ordinances: first and foremost, it should be acutely aware of the most needy aspects to the city and the systems which support it.
Wiza should also make certain presentations are directly related to city business and as objective as possible. Presenters should be neither a lobbyist or advocate, but in a legitimate position to speak professionally on said subject.
Council meetings do, after all, take place in a courtroom: any testimony provided within the context of the mayor’s educational presentations should only be provided in full context and by expert witnesses.