Whitewater has a local government that taxes and legislates, and that hires officials who exercise authority over the city’s residents, in a nine-square-mile area. Our local government has its own municipal building, in which it holds regular public meetings, and in which officials can talk to each other and residents in person, by email, text, audiovisual conferencing, or telephone.
And yet, and yet, concerning a housing voucher program for the disadvantaged at a local hotel, this local government has for months conducted public policy through the press. It’s lawful – as it should be – for officials to talk to the press.
It’s also remiss – as local officials should grasp – for the government to have carried on this way without those officials having made use months ago of public meetings to discuss their concerns, if any, about the program.
Weeks ago, the June 4th issue of the Janesville Gazette quoted Whitewater’s police chief’s questions about the voucher program’s use of the local hotel. See Community Action’s leader responds to police chief’s concerns on voucher program. It’s obvious to anyone of average comprehension that it was Whitewater’s police chief who broached these questions with the reporter. The very title of the story makes plain that the content is a reply to a topic the chief raised through the reporter.
The June 4th story reveals that Whitewater’s officials first had concerns about this program in May (‘Whitewater Police Chief Aaron Raap said before May his officers were “virtually never called there” to the Super 8. But he said he has noticed more activity there in the last month’).
Fair enough – it’s common for officials – police chiefs, city managers, whomever – to talk to the press.
What shouldn’t be common is to talk to the press without open-session discussions in public meetings. May and June both offered opportunities for staff reports and agenda items about the voucher program.
When this topic was broached in the press, it percolated on community forums to everyone’s disadvantage. Participants in the voucher program were demonized, often absurdly, yet to no positive end for anyone. (See from FREE WHITEWATER a month ago ‘Communicate, Communicate, Communicate’ Isn’t So Easy in a Fractured Town.)
One reads today still more press remarks about this program.
Talking to, and through, the press is no substitute for regular policy discussions using local government’s public building, her compensated public officials, in public meetings regulated under Wisconsin law.
Handling controversies over a relief program this way is evidence of broken policymaking.