Category Archives: Politics – Wisconsin

West Bend School Board Moves to Close Charter School

It’s actually become pretty easy to predict what this school board will do… if the teachers union wants it, the board will give it to them.

Tonight, the West Bend School Board approved that recommendation in a 5-1 vote with board member Ken Schmidt being the only no vote. Kurt Rebholz was not in attendance at tonight’s meeting.

Chelsea Doman Davis, a WBSD parent, spoke in support of Pathways Charter School at tonight’s meeting, “I am speaking to you again about Pathways. This is the third time you’ve heard from me on this subject, but as a child advocate, I am used to speaking up when others are uncomfortable to do so. I realize at this point I am unlikely to sway opinions but after last week’s work session, I felt a few more things needed to be more said. I’m a little more off the cuff than usual so forgive me if I ramble or stumble.

“First of all, as a parent I was a little disappointed that the information shared in last week’s work session wasn’t requested a year ago when the extension was granted. This work session was even a last-minute decision at the end of the meeting two weeks ago. You had a year to decide and were waiting until the last minute to try to understand what Pathways is about. With the weather last week, I’m not sure if any of you were able to go to Pathways or if you’ve taken the opportunity to do so before. I think only a few of you have. The best way to understand Pathways is to go to the Showcase Nights and talk to the students and see what they’re working on.

[…]

Diana Swillinger, Pathways Charter School Governance Council, commented,”The board decision not to renew its partnership with Pathways is extremely disappointing. While many words from the administration offered promises for a similar education and environment at East and West High Schools, the examples given of how Pathways students would be transitioned and integrated showed a lack of understanding of the experience and  autonomy students currently have. We can hope, for the students’ sakes that administrators will gain a significantly greater understanding in the coming weeks and months in order to not fail them.
“Pathways is a unique and intense educational opportunity that will not be duplicated within the current system. Students, parents and staff are grieving a great loss.”

UW Uses Federal Money to Pay off Loan

Argh.

The University of Wisconsin System will use federal money to pay off bank loans taken out by the UW-Oshkosh Foundation, according to agreements released Friday.

The UW System paid $6.3 million to banks using federal money designated for administrative costs — meaning no state taxpayer money or tuition dollars, according to UW System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi. This money comes from reimbursements for administrative costs already incurred by the UW System related to federal grant activity at UW campuses.

At the close of fiscal year 2018, the UW System had about $9.5 million in federal money from this fund that had accrued over the last decade, according to LaRoi.

UW-Oshkosh will pay back the UW System $3.825 million in annual installments of $191,250 from January 2020 through July 2038, according to the agreement. The annual payments will be made with money from the Witzel biodigester, which turns organic waste into energy. The UW System Board of Regents assumed ownership of the biodigester along with the UW-Oshkosh Alumni Welcome and Conference Center.The payments related to the bankrupty case stem from a building projects controversy surrounding the university’s foundation, a nonprofit organization primarily funded through private donations and investments to help the university.

Remember that this is all because the former chancellor illegally backed loans by a private institution with taxpayer money. That private institution, the UW) Foundation, subsequently bought his house for way above market price. And in the end, who pays? The taxpayers. Meanwhile, take note that the UW System continues to horde slush funds.

This is also yet another example of how much of our money the federal government pisses away. Why in the world are they handing out millions to a university system for “administrative costs?”

Mayor Sadownikow Shared Thoughts on Role

I wish more elected officials thought this way.

“I believe our role is to operate at the speed of business, to facilitate requests and conversations when they arise and stand prepared to respond immediately to the needs of existing or prospective entities,” Sadownikow said. “West Bend helped facilitate several significant developments the past couple of years that validate our internal philosophies.”

Another case of misplaced priorities

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Faced with a mediocre state report card, a systemic decline in enrollment, and pressure from better-performing neighboring schools, the West Bend School Board has decided that they will ask the voters to hike property taxes and spend $74 million on … buildings. One could hardly have conjured a more flagrant example of misplaced priorities.

On the April ballot, the voters of the West Bend School District will be asked to borrow $47 million (with an estimated payback of $74 million) to build a new Jackson Elementary School building and make a hodgepodge of renovations to the high school building. There is no legal requirement that the district spend the borrowed money on the stated purpose once the borrowing is approved. They could spend the money on anything they want, which is why many school districts have ladled fat onto their referendums so that they could pay for myriad pet projects. But for the sake of argument, let us take the West Bend referendum at face value and assume that they will only use it for its stated purpose.

Jackson Elementary is advertised as the oldest school building in the district, but that is a stretch of the truth. One small part of the building is from the original construction. Most of the building was added on over the decades. The school educated as many as 528 kids in the 2008-09 school year, but a combination of reconfiguring the middle schools and the decline in aggregate enrollment eroded the student enrollment to 370 kids in the 2017-19 school year. Enrollment projections show that enrollment will continue to decline 10 percent to 20 percent over the next decade. In short, much of the space in Jackson Elementary is underutilized and unneeded.

The Jackson Elementary building is 59,176 square feet, or about 160 square feet per child. The draft design for a new building is a whopping 85,000 square feet, or about 230 square feet child at the current enrollment. The industry standard for elementary kids, according to the information provided by the school district, is 134 square feet per child. The school is already much bigger than needed and the plan is to build an even bigger one.

It is worth noting that despite the lamentations about Jackson Elementary being a dump of a school, it boasts the second-highest performance of any elementary school in the district. Clearly, what happens inside the building is more important than the building itself. Building a massive new fancy building is more about soothing the vanity of School Board members and staff than it is about educating kids.

In the high school building, there is a list of wants that the school board wants to borrow money to pay for and a few routine maintenance items that have been neglected for years. They are all things that were predictable expenses that should have been budgeted and completed as a matter of routine, but they were willfully ignored. Now the School Board wants to put the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars into debt to make up for years of poor fiscal management.

The School Board has failed to exercise the power given to it by Act 10 to properly manage its budget to improve education. They abandoned the fledgling merit pay system for teachers implemented by the previous superintendent in favor of a blanket $1 million pay increase for teachers. Merit pay may or may not save money, but it will improve education by recruiting and retaining better teachers. Much like the district’s curriculum, the district’s compensation plan for teachers is geared toward punishing excellence, excusing failure, and rewarding mediocrity. The district gets exactly what it is paying for.

Six years ago, an innovative School Board started a charter school in the district to offer diversity in educational experiences for kids. Over the past couple of years, the district has orphaned that effort. The current School Board is well down the path of killing it or, if they can’t, moving it into an existing building. Fortunately, due to declining enrollment, several of the district’s buildings have ample space.

The School Board still pays an exorbitant amount for staff benefits, has too many administrators compared to other districts, and wastes money on duplicative high school staffs. Like the compulsive gambler, the School Board is perpetually claiming poverty and trying to borrow money when the root of the district’s alleged financial distress is the unavoidable consequence of their own decisions.

While School Board members are obsessing over putting their names on a plaque in the new building, even more time and money is being wasted on things that will not improve education for a single kid. One can always tell what is most important to people by where they spend their time and money. The parents in the West Bend School District are waiting for educational excellence to be a priority for the School Board.

Barnes Stokes Racial Hatred on MLK Day By Spreading Lie

The video makes it clear that the original characterization of the encounter touted by leftist activists was wrong, and yet here is our Lt. Governor – days after the truth has been revealed – spreading a lie. Shameful.

Barnes, speaking at UW-Madison, also waded into the viral social media controversy about an encounter near the Lincoln Memorial between a group of white teenagers wearing “Make America Great Again” gear and a Native American man.

Barnes called the Native American, Nathan Phillips, an “American hero” and the teenagers a “mob” who surrounded and taunted him — although information that surfaced after the encounter caused some to temper their initial condemnation of the teens.

[…]

Barnes, while discussing what he described as work still to be done, said: “Unfortunately, America can still be a mob of high school students wearing red hats, inspired by what they see in the nation’s highest office.”

Another case of misplaced priorities

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I start digging into all of the reasons why voters should vote against the referendum that the misguided West Bend School Board put on the April ballot. Here’s a piece:

Faced with a mediocre state report card, a systemic decline in enrollment, and pressure from betterperforming neighboring schools, the West Bend School Board has decided that they will ask the voters to hike property taxes and spend $74 million on … buildings. One could hardly have conjured a more flagrant example of misplaced priorities.

[…]

While School Board members are obsessing over putting their names on a plaque in the new building, even more time and money is being wasted on things that will not improve education for a single kid. One can always tell what is most important to people by where they spend their time and money. The parents in the West Bend School District are waiting for educational excellence to be a priority for the School Board.

 

Carpetbagger Throws Hat in Ring for 64th

There’s nobody actually in the district who can represent them?

Democrat Gina Walkington officially declared her candidacy for the 64th Wisconsin State Assembly District in this spring’s anticipated special election.

The seat is being vacated by Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, because he was named to Gov. Tony Evers’ Cabinet as state secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Walkington, a longtime resident of Bristol who ran against state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes, in last fall’s election for the 61st District Assembly seat, said if elected she would move into Barca’s district.

Republicans Propose Using Surplus for Tax Cut

I agree. By definition, a surplus is money they didn’t budget and don’t need. Give it back.

Assembly Republicans are proposing a 10 percent income tax cut for middle-class Wisconsinites in what they say is an effort to help Democratic Gov. Tony Evers deliver on one of his campaign promises — but Evers isn’t jumping on board.

The Republican proposal would use a budget surplus to expand the sliding scale standard deduction for the individual income tax to give “targeted relief to the middle class,” said state Rep. Terry Katsma, R-Oostburg, in a news conference announcing the plan.

Assembly Republicans held six press conferences throughout the state to highlight the proposal, which would cost $490 million in its first year and an estimated $338 million per year after that. As of June 30, the state’s general fund had a positive balance of $588.5 million based on cash accounting.

Evers campaigned on cutting middle-class income taxes by 10 percent, but his proposal was tied to scaling back the state’s manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, which reduces the state income tax for manufacturers and agricultural producers.

You’ll notice that Evers isn’t as interested in a tax cut for the middle class as he is in hitting manufacturers and farmers with a tax increase.

I do think that the Republicans are being too cute by half by glibly claiming that they are trying to help Evers fulfill a campaign promise. Just propose it, own it, and pass it. Let Evers decide for himself if he wants to take credit for it or veto it.

 

“school board member is the most underutilized position in Wisconsin.”

Bill Savage’s letter to the editor in the Washington County Daily News is spot on. In West Bend, we will have a referendum on the same ballot as the school board candidates. Voters deserve to know exactly where they stand.

To the editor: After serving on Hartford’s school boards for 12 years, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that being a school board member is the most underutilized position in Wisconsin.

Since Act 10, school boards have an enormous amount of influence over several issues. School boards can offer merit-based bonus programs, provide direction for curriculum and set the tone for the educational experience children receive. School boards have the ability to make personnel changes. No longer do board members have to sit back and watch the union veto every decision made. Since Act 10, being a school board member is an important position.

I’ve asked the question before, but I’ll ask it again: Where does the buck stop at the Hartford Union High School? The principal? The administrator? The School Board? The proverbial buck stops with you, the voter.

In the last election for the HUHS Board of Education, there were three candidates vying for two seats — three candidates with no campaign. Not one flier was distributed, not one issue was discussed and not one article on their positions was written.

The absence of an issue-based campaign serves no one. Right now we run the risk of having an entire school board that really doesn’t know why they were elected or what is expected of them. Running for office on issues and winning gives you a moral compass on what direction the people who elected you expect you to pursue. Without that moral compass, those board members do not have the confidence to stand up for us, or shall I say, “we the people.”

In April, there are four candidates for two seats. I’d like to know why they are running, what their concerns are, and of course, more importantly, what they intend to do to improve HUHS.

Bill Savage

Hartford

Evers Throws Shade at GOP Bill Without Reading It

That’s how it’s going to be, eh?

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday signaled skepticism of a bill lawmakers are advancing that requires health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions on some — but not all — health plans.

“My point is it’s important that whatever passes the Legislature has to be equal to or better than what exists at the federal level,” Evers told reporters Tuesday, but noted he had not yet read the bill.

Transportation spending is a matter of priorities

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week.

During the deliberation about Wisconsin’s current budget, the most contentious issue was about whether or not we should increase spending on the state’s transportation infrastructure. One reason that the debate was so heated is because with Wisconsin’s segregated transportation fund, increasing spending means an unpopular increase in taxes. As we begin debating Wisconsin’s next budget, transportation spending is again a hot issue, but the lines of battle need to move.

The state of Wisconsin first segregated the transportation fund from the general fund in 1945, some 22 years before the Department of Transportation was created. Wisconsin has several taxes and fees that shovel money into the transportation fund including gas taxes, registration fees, fees on rental vehicles, airline property taxes, railroad property taxes, outdoor advertising revenue, etc. The two primary transportation funding sources are the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

All of these funding sources have one thing in common. They are meant to serve as a proxy for usage. The underlying philosophy of transportation funding in Wisconsin is that people who use Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure more should pay more for it. The difficulty is that as the technology of transportation has advanced and diversified, usage proxies like fuel consumption have become less valid.

Setting aside for the moment the debate over whether or not Wisconsin needs to spend more on transportation (we do not), in the current paradigm, if Wisconsin wants to spend more, then we need to raise existing taxes or find new ones. Neither of those options has been popular.

Several states have implemented toll roads to generate more revenue, but the idea has been almost universally rejected in Wisconsin. The idea of a tax on actual mileage has been floated in Wisconsin and elsewhere, but the thought of the government tracking our vehicles is distasteful.

The friction between the opposition to increased taxes grinding against the push for more transportation spending is what creates the heat for the political debate. The friction is misplaced. The heart of the debate is centered on the supposition that only the people who directly use Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure should be the ones to pay for it. That is why the transportation fund is segregated and that is why all of the supporting taxes and fees are targeted at people who use the transportation system. The supposition is flawed.

Everyone in Wisconsin benefits from Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure irrespective of how much they actually use it themselves. Every Wisconsinites benefits either directly or indirectly from the commerce that relies on our transportation infrastructure, the goods and services delivered to our homes and retailers, the accessibility of emergency services, and so much more. The person who does not own a car and has everything delivered to their home benefits just as much as the avid driver who is on the road several times a day.

If everyone benefits from our transportation infrastructure, why are we getting twisted around the axle of who pays for it? Shouldn’t we all pay for it? Wisconsinites have long since agreed that we all benefit from, and all should pay for, education, law enforcement, environmental protections, etc. It is time for transportation to join the club.

While some taxes and fees are designated for transportation needs and lawmakers are constitutionally prohibited from spending that revenue on other needs, the spending for transportation can come from any source. Over the years, it has been quite common for the budget to transfer tax revenue from the general fund to the transportation fund to supplement the spending. In the current budget, over $82 million was spent on transportation from the general fund.

If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation in the next budget, there is no need to raise taxes, implement toll roads, or create new taxes. All they have to do is designate more money from the general fund. The taxes and fees that feed the transportation fund create a spending floor, but lawmakers can spend as much as they want above and beyond that by using the general fund.

The rub is that the general fund, fueled by income, sales, and other taxes, is what is used to fund all of the other state’s priorities like education, environmental protection, law enforcement, and so much more. If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation from the general fund, they will need to explain why transportation needs the money more than all of the other budget needs. In other words, lawmakers will need to prioritize transportation spending along with all of the other needs of the state.

This is part of the normal budgeting process. Budgets are statements of priorities. There is always an infinite list of spending needs and wants and a limited amount of money to go around. Lawmakers are elected and paid to set those priorities and make the hard choices on behalf of their constituents.

The segregation of transportation funding all of these years has let lawmakers off the hook from the responsibility of prioritizing transportation spending. By having designated taxes for transportation, lawmakers could just spend every dollar generated by those taxes without having to explain why putting a dollar into concrete is more important than keeping a felon locked up or paying a teacher. The debate should not be about which transportation taxes need to be increased to support more spending. The debate should be about why spending more money on transportation is more important than spending that money on something else.

Wisconsin does not need to spend more on transportation infrastructure, but if lawmakers think it does, they do not need to raise taxes. They can easily use the general fund to increase spending and explain to the taxpayers why it is a priority. That is their job.

West Bend School Board Votes for Referendum

In the least surprising news of the new year, the West Bend School Board has decided to ask the taxpayers to go further into debt to build a new school in a district with mediocre performance and declining enrollment. Neat.

Jan. 15, 2019 – West Bend, WI – The West Bend School Board set the initial resolution for the April 2, 2019 referendum question at $47 million. The true cost with interest at about 4.25 percent, according to John Mehan with Robert W. Baird & Co., will bring the total to $74 million as that will include $27 million in interest.

[…]

Cobbling together the outstanding debt of $34,431,000 plus the proposed referendum and interest of $74 million the total, if approved in April 2019 would bring, the West Bend School District debt on referendums to $108,431,000.

That’s roughly $1,400 in debt for every man, woman, and child in the school district. Nuts.

Meanwhile, they are killing the district’s charter school.

Jan. 15, 2019 – West Bend, WI – Parents and students lined up at Monday night’s West Bend School Board meeting to express their displeasure about the district’s plan to possibly eliminate Pathways Charter School.

According to  documentation posted on the School District site a recommendation will be made for Pathways to be eliminated.

We wouldn’t want innovation or anything crazy like that in the stolid, old, 20th-century education model being offered by the West Bend School District.

 

Transportation spending is a matter of priorities

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. I point out that the lines of battle over transportation funding/spending are in the wrong place. We don’t have to raise taxes to spend more on transportation. If people think we need to spend more (I don’t), then they just need to prioritize it over other needs like education, prisons, etc. It about priorities and one of the biggest priorities should be to NOT raise taxes. Here’s a part:

If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation in the next budget, there is no need to raise taxes, implement toll roads, or create new taxes. All they have to do is designate more money from the general fund. The taxes and fees that feed the transportation fund create a spending floor, but lawmakers can spend as much as they want above and beyond that by using the general fund.

The rub is that the general fund, fueled by income, sales, and other taxes, is what is used to fund all of the other state’s priorities like education, environmentalprotection, law enforcement, and so much more. If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation from the general fund, they will need to explain why transportation needs the money more than all of the other budget needs. In other words, lawmakers will need to prioritize transportation spending along with all of the other needs of the state.

This is part of the normal budgeting process. Budgets are statements of priorities. There is always an infinite list of spending needs and wants and a limited amount of money to go around. Lawmakers are elected and paid to set those priorities and make the hard choices on behalf of their constituents.

The segregation of transportation funding all of these years has let lawmakers off the hook from the responsibility of prioritizing transportation spending. By having designated taxes for transportation, lawmakers could just spend every dollar generated by those taxes without having to explain why putting a dollar into concrete is more important than keeping a felon locked up or paying a teacher. The debate should not be about which transportation taxes need to be increased to support more spending. The debate should be about why spending more money on transportation is more important than spending that money on something else.

 

 

Wisconsin No Longer “Open for Business”

Mark Belling broke this story, but it is a jarring signal that one of Evers’ first acts as governor was to strip the state welcome signs of the “open for business” message.

WFRV – On the borders of Wisconsin, the “Open for Business” signs that use to hang on the Wisconsin Welcomes You signs were removed, and one State Senator is now asking for them back.

State Senator Dan Feyen, of Fond du Lac sent a letter to Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan asking that the signs be sent to Feyen’s office where he says “would be happy to find places to display the signs in my office and district office to let our business community know that we are still “Open for Business.”

Feyen said he heard reports that the signs were removed on Monday.

“I ran for office to be a champion for economic development and workforce development and I will continue to be a leader advancing policy that is good for business in Wisconsin. If our small businesses succeed, we all succeed.”

Assembly Republicans Extend Olive Branch

Good for them. There is room for compromise and cooperation on a lot of things.

Assembly Republicans in a letter to Gov. Tony Evers Thursday said they would work with him on a host of issues, including income tax reductions and funding two-thirds of K-12 public education, as the Democrat prepares to assemble his first budget.

[…]

Vos acknowledged the heightened chance of a recession affecting the U.S. economy in coming years, arguing the possibility should prompt lawmakers to reduce the size of government and grow the state’s rainy-day fund.

Assembly Republicans wrote they would be willing to compromise on several issues they said Evers mentioned on the campaign trail, such as enhancing internet access, evaluating ways to save money on state-owned buildings, reducing debt payments in the transportation budget, ensuring clean drinking water and preventing homelessness.

[…]

Vos in an interview Thursday with a conservative talk show on 1130 WISN said he and Republicans would not approve more controversial Democratic proposals such as a $15 minimum wage, driver’s licenses for immigrants living in the country illegally, legalizing marijuana, rolling back school voucher programs or expanding abortion rights.

City Leaders Express Regret for Funding Brainstorming Project

I remember casting an askance eye at this when it happened. I don’t remember if I wrote about it. Essentially, they paid $10,000 to have a bunch of college kids brainstorm ideas for our downtown. Of course, they don’t have any grounding in business, finance, etc. It was just a bunch of young adults sitting around saying, “wouldn’t it be cool if there was…” fill in the blank. I’m far more interested in the ideas from people who live and work in our downtown and would directly benefit/lose from the decisions made. Skin in the game and whatnot…

WEST BEND — Members of the Downtown West Bend Business Improvement District expressed some buyer’s remorse when they reviewed some of the ideas the high school and college students generated as part of The Commons group.

“I would just like to echo the thought that I think we overpaid in hindsight for this opportunity and that we should be more careful next time that we consider this sort of brainstorming activity,” Alderman Michael Christian said, who is also a member of the business improvement district.

Officials paid almost $10,000 for the opportunity to host students to develop ideas for improving the downtown. The idea was borne from a meeting during the first months of 2018 when board president Mike Husar requested Economic Development Manager Adam Gitter obtain a record of the vacant spaces, along with the businesses that occupied the buildings in the downtown.

That idea morphed into a more comprehensive project to generate general ideas for improving the downtown.

Hazy sunshine in local government

Here’s my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Wisconsin long ago recognized that transparency in government is critical for good government. As former Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says in the most recent edition of the Wisconsin Public Records Law Compliance Guide, “citizens cannot hold their elected officials accountable in a representative government unless government is performed in the open.” In recognition of that imperative, Wisconsin has one of the best open records laws in the nation.

Wisconsin’s public records statutes are comprehensive and firm. In general, they require that, with rare and specific exceptions, government officials must provide access to any existing government records upon request. Officials do not have to create new records, but they do have to provide them if they exist. The law is great, but as with any law, its utility must be measured by its execution and enforcement.

While looking into different issues, I have had cause to file open records requests with three local governments in recent months. The inconsistent responses reveal how challenging it still is for a Wisconsinite to hold his government accountable when government officials choose to be difficult.

While slightly different, all three of my open records requests asked for “any electronic communication … including emails, official email accounts or personal accounts, SMS, SnapChats, Facebook messages, Google Hangout Chats, iMessages, or any other format in which official business was discussed” to or from specific elected and unelected government officials for a range of dates.

I made my request of the city of West Bend on Dec. 19. I received an immediate acknowledgement of the request. After a couple of days of emails and a phone call clarifying my request, the city allowed me to download a PDF with 1,796 pages of emails to and from every Common Council member and other city officials. With some delay due to the Christmas holidays, I received the file on Dec. 28.

My request to Washington County was made on October 5. Again, I received an immediate response acknowledging my request. It went dark for a little while, but after I sent a reminder on Oct. 12, I was able to speak with the county attorney to clarify my request. He indicated that due to some of the sensitive nature of some of the documents, he would have to redact some information and advised me on the appeals process. Shortly after that conversation, I received an email with the requested emails with a few appropriate redactions on Oct. 15.

In both cases, the city and the county responded quickly, conscientiously, comprehensively, and without expense. The West Bend School District was a different story.

I made my request of the West Bend School District on Sept. 25. I received an immediate response acknowledging the request. On Oct. 3, I received a reply from the superintendent indicating that fulfilling my request would cost between $130 and $280 because the district’s policy is to print all of the emails at 10 cents per page instead of providing them in a digital format. He also advised me to submit my request directly to School Board members for their documents, which I did.

I exchanged a few more emails with the superintendent referencing recent Appeals Court rulings that digital records should be provided in their digital format and the wastefulness of printing thousands of emails when they could be easily transmitted digitally (as the city and county did). My arguments fell on deaf ears with the superintendent advising me the final judgement on Nov. 28 that my request would now cost between $150 and $300.

As for the request made directly to the School Board members, only three of them deigned to even respond to my request and one of them lied about using anything other than official email for district business. As a hint to public officials, there are at least two people involved in any communication. More on that in a later column, perhaps.

What have we learned about the ability for a Wisconsin citizen to peer into the workings of our government?

First, if a government wants to be obstinate, there is not much that a citizen can do about it. While the city of West Bend and Washington County were appropriately responsive and cooperative, the West Bend School District and board members threw up multiple roadblocks including ignoring requests and imposing an unnecessary and exorbitantfees. As a private citizen, all one can do is sue the government at great personal expense or file a complaint with the district attorney or attorney general. Historically, neither agency has ever been aggressive in enforcing open records laws. Government looks out for government.

Second, all three governments are doing a poor job of retaining and making available public records to occur outside of government-provided technology. In our modern age, it is not uncommon for public officials to communicate with citizens, vendors, lobbyists, employees, and others through multiple digital channels including SMS, social media, and various chat technologies. In fact, this is becoming commonplace with the ubiquitousness of personal devices.

If those public officials are using those technologies, they are creating a public record that should be open to public scrutiny for a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, it is far too easy for our government officials to conduct themselves as angels in their official email while hiding their corruption in their personal devices. Every government needs to take the proactive step to implement policies regarding the preservation and retention of public records irrespective of format.

Wisconsin has great laws regarding open records, but they are only as good as government officials are willing to obey and enforce them. We still have work to do to ensure that our government is open and accountable.

Hazy sunshine in local government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I share my uneven experiences with Open Records Requests with three local governments. Here’s a part:

What have we learned about the ability for a Wisconsin citizen to peer into the workings of our government?

First, if a government wants to be obstinate, there is not much that a citizen can do about it. While the city of West Bend and Washington County were appropriately responsive and cooperative, the West Bend School District and board members threw up multiple roadblocks including ignoring requests and imposing an unnecessary and exorbitant fees. As a private citizen, all one can do is sue the government at great personal expense or file a complaint with the district attorney or attorney general. Historically, neither agency has ever been aggressive in enforcing open records laws. Government looks out for government.

Second, all three governments are doing a poor job of retaining and making available public records to occur outside of government-provided technology. In our modern age, it is not uncommon for public officials to communicate with citizens, vendors, lobbyists, employees, and others through multiple digital channels including SMS, social media, and various chat technologies. In fact, this is becoming commonplace with the ubiquitousness of personal devices.

If those public officials are using those technologies, they are creating a public record that should be open to public scrutiny for a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, it is far too easy for our government officials to conduct themselves as angels in their official email while hiding their corruption in their personal devices. Every government needs to take the proactive step to implement policies regarding the preservation and retention of public records irrespective of format.

Wisconsin has great laws regarding open records, but they are only as good as government officials are willing to obey and enforce them. We still have work to do to ensure that our government is open and accountable.

 

Chickens, Chickens, Everywhere!

I look forward to madcap chicken hijinks for years to come.

Jan. 7, 2019 – West Bend, WI – For the third time in his tenure as Mayor of West Bend Kraig Sadownikow cast the deciding vote and this time it was on the issue of whether to allow chickens in West Bend.

“The property rights topic is important to me,” said Sadownikow. “We allow lots of other types of animals in the community that have less restrictions than chickens do. We have lots of other fowl in the city; most folks will recognize there’s a growing population of turkeys around West Bend and chickens give a great opportunity for education for kids, with the collection of eggs and the number of folks taking advantage of proposed legislation will probably be pretty limited.”

The vote that led to the mayor’s tiebreaker was 4 – 4; Aldermen voting in favor of allowing chickens included aldermen Mike Christian, Andrew Chevalier, Chris Jenkins and Justice Madl.

Alderman opposing chickens included John Butschlick, Rich Kasten, Steve Hoogester, and Roger Kist.

Attorney General Kaul Begins Term with Partisan Attack

Here we go. Keeping it classy.

MADISON, Wis. – New Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul is criticizing Republican lawmakers in his inauguration speech.

Kaul took the oath of office Monday along with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers during a ceremony in a packed state Capitol rotunda.

Kaul delivered a short speech, ripping Republican legislators for passing lame-duck legislation in December that weakened both his and Evers’ offices.

Kaul said such a move was unprecedented and was designed to hinder both him and Evers. He warned Republicans the state Justice Department’s priorities will still shift during his tenure with a sharper focus on environmental and consumer protection.