Open Government

Daily Bread for 4.8.24: The Practical Limits of Closed-Session Meetings in Whitewater

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be sunny with a high of 64. Sunrise is 6:22 and sunset 7:30 for 13h 08m 9s of daytime. The moon is new with .1 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

The Whitewater Unified School District holds an electoral canvass at 4:30 PM. Whitewater’s Planning Commission meets at 6 PM.

On this day in 1959, a team of computer manufacturers, users, and university people led by Grace Hopper meets to discuss the creation of a new programming language that would be called COBOL.

For today, a practical consideration of closed-session meetings in Whitewater. (This leaves aside for now the role of closed sessions as a matter of law. That’s a topic for another time.)

There are two practical reasons to have a closed session: for elected or appointed officeholders (1) to conceal permanently information from public or (2) to conceal information temporarily while discussing action that may become public later.

Both cases have obvious practical limits, for the same reason: as the community is factionalized, and goverment in Whitewater often lacks a strong public consensus, the officials’ closed sessions will lack broad support (or even respect).

In a community where residents are skeptical of officials’ motives, let’s-go-to-closed session looks like officials’ self-protective action. (‘We’re doing it for the community’ isn’t often compelling; ‘we have the right to do it’ falls flat without community support.)

In a community where residents are skeptical (or unaware) of officials’ motives, major announcements upon returning to open session turn skepticism into cyncism. For both the city since last summer, and the district in December, major discussions in closed session have had almost no prior public foundation by those public boards. (Residents, yes, but not boardmembers themselves.) Boardmembers and councilmembers cannot expect that their concerns will resonate with residents unless those officials, themselves,  build a compelling public case, open session after open session.

Coming out of closed session with an announcment without building a predicate foundation with the commmunity makes only a faint sound. It doesn’t matter how much some officials think of themselves (and oh, brother, do some of them think highly of themselves) most residents aren’t impressed. A generation ago more residents might have been deferential to officials’ claims. That was then, this is now.

For better or worse, benefit of the doubt doesn’t appertain in Whitewater’s politics. Elected or appointed officials looking for that benefit will not find it here.

If, for example, someone is sitting in her district office wondering why others aren’t persuaded (let alone obedient!), the answer will be found by looking first to herself. One won’t be persuaded by detailed arguments someone else won’t make, or thoughtful words someone else won’t speak.

If, for example, a long effort council is mostly a closed-session effort, then the lack of a sequential public explanation leaves the closed effort as little more than an exercise in private catharsis.

No one is required to come to table and make a public case. Those who are not at table, however, cannot expect to be among those who enjoy the meal.

Daily Bread for 3.27.24: “Nice Person, But…”

Good morning.

Wednesday in Whitewater will be windy with a high of 39. Sunrise is 6:42 and sunset 7:16 for 12h 33m 37s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 95.1 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1975, construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System begins.

Yesterday’s post, These Aren’t the MAGA Claims You Were Looking For,  seemed clear to me. While opinions on local issues differ, residents should be able to discern plainly-stated views. (Opinions in Whitewater — and even basic accounts of events — vary among residents now more than at any time since FREE WHITEWATER began publication in 2007. See Rashomon-upon-Cravath.) 

Of that post, summarized:

(1) The post was about open government1.

(2) A more detailed series on the district and proposals to improve governance can wait until after the election.

(3) Too many people in this town have election fever, and it’s left them dehydrated and decomposed. Their malady is not mine.

(4) The claims and proposals that boardmember (and whistleblower) Maryann Zimmerman has made since December are not conservative populist claims. They are claims of no single ideology or partisan view.

(5) I’ve never met Mrs. Zimmerman and it’s not as though we’re in a knitting club together2.

(6) The current board president has done no better than to beg off every question with the false, self-protective claim that he cannot speak for legal reasons and the district has a superintendent who not only won’t speak but has tried to prevent others from speaking.

That’s yesterday’s post in a nutshell. 

And yet, and yet, a community leader wrote me last night to explain to me that, thirteen months ago, Mrs. Zimmerman voted not to deny a petition to alter district boundaries regarding a taxed property, concluding from her vote that Mrs. Zimerman was a “[n]ice person, but she does not know what she is doing.” (I responded bluntly via email.)

This emailer’s claim might as well have been a parody of whataboutism3.

The overall policy competency of this boardmember wasn’t the point of my post.  (It’s evident that she’s as capable as others on the board. Practically, whether intentional or not, this boardmember alone has been able to knock the board president and the district administration back on their heels. It’s much easier to paint a single boardmember as ignorant than it is to admit — or perhaps grasp — that official responses to that boardmember have been strategically and tactically inept. That’s not the fault of students, parents, or residents. It’s the responsibility of boardmembers and administrators who’ve exacerbated the issue through their own responses.)  

A tax issue from thirteen months ago matters not at all now. The insular frustration that’s come to district officials from more recent events, the excuse-making and rationalization of fumbled and self-injurious responses, evidently grips them.

What matters most is a better path than the one that overreaching and underthinking officials have taken. 

Other district officials made that mess.

Nice people, but they do not know what they’re doing.

Belgian farmers spray manure towards police who respond with water cannon4:

1. Of limited, responsible, open government with individual rights, of progressive theology through traditional liturgy, and of cats, this libertarian blogger is, it happens, a true believer.

2. It’s not as though Boardmember Zimmerman and I are in a knitting club together. I don’t knit, and have no idea if she does. Nonetheless, all my best to the knitters of Whitewater and the sheep who’ve supplied their yarn. I have only love in my bleeding-libertarian heart for all of them.

3. The emailer pointed me to the minutes of the year-ago discussion, but in any event, the minutes are not the first place to look. A recording of the meeting would be the first, best place to look. Again and again: no record like a recording. After reviewing the recording, it seems to me that there were issues that no one considered fully. It certainly wasn’t obvious — except to those of narrow and motivated reasoning — that there was one only way to vote on items. 

4. Does anyone know if some of these district officials have visited a Belgian farm lately?

Daily Bread for 3.15.24: A Sunshine Week Story

 Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will be sunny with a high of 52. Sunrise is 7:04 and sunset 7:02 for 11h 58m 32s of daytime. The moon is a waxing crescent with 33.4 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1991, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany comes into effect, granting full sovereignty to the Federal Republic of Germany.

  It’s Sunshine Week in America. You know, your right to know. Miles Maguire has published a story for Sunshine Week about the fight for open government in Wisconsin entitled UW-Oshkosh buried facts about mishandled Native American remains. Sunshine laws uncovered them:

Last April the Wisconsin Examiner published an examination of the way that Native American human remains have been retained by public institutions in Oshkosh long after the passage of a federal law that was intended to speed their repatriation to the tribes that once inhabited the area.

The article included some startling details that demonstrated the callousness of the institutions, especially the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. But the university also managed to keep even more graphic information out of the story.

For example, readers did not learn that a Native American skull, collected in Oshkosh on the south bank of the Fox River, had been stolen in 1990 from an exhibit case on campus and “broken during the bungled burglary.” Nor did they read about the time that the remains of one individual went missing from an excavation where an assistant professor found 43 burials but apparently lost track of one “en route to the archaeology laboratory.”

The reason that these details, contained in inventory records that had been easily accessible at the campus library, were not included in my story was that during the course of my reporting university officials stepped in and placed the documents in a restricted area. I was in the midst of reviewing the documents when the university decided that they needed to be kept from the public on the basis of what turned out to be a completely bogus rationale.

Last month the university released a full set of the inventory records under prodding from the Winnebago County district attorney, whose investigation showed that UW Oshkosh had repeatedly and egregiously manipulated state law.

The DA’s investigation confirmed what I had asserted in a complaint filed in July, that UW Oshkosh had made a mockery of the state’s public records law, slow-walking responses, making up excuses for redacting information and misapplying doctrines like the attorney-client privilege. Among other things, I pointed out, UWO had withheld documents from me that it had released to another news organization and claimed that it had the right to keep from me a copy of an email that I myself had written.

(Emphasis added.)

Again and again: public officials in public institutions conducting public business aren’t entitled to private avenues of concealment. Officials who would like private protections can find those defenses just as soon as they return to private life. 

Not a moment sooner.

See also Speech & Debate in the Whitewater Schools. 

Watch Brewers grounds crew remove outfield covering at American Family Field before opening day:

Daily Bread for 11.12.23: The Local Press Conference that Was Neither Local Nor a Press Conference

 Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 54. Sunrise is 6:43 and sunset 4:34 for 9h 50m 25s of daytime. The moon is new with 0.8% of its visible disk illuminated.

  On this day in 1948, in Tokyo, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East sentences seven Japanese military and government officials, including General Hideki Tojo, to death for their roles in World War II.

  On Friday, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil found their way to Whitewater for a closed press conference. (A closed event like that is a sham event, and simply a glorified press release with a few local people sitting around as window dressing, non-playing characters, tailor’s dummies, etc.) 

But Johnson and Steil, who’ve never carried the City of Whitewater and never will, had a message for a statewide audience. The few, selected, non-local reporters they carefully situated gave Johnson and Steil the headline they wanted:

Wisconsin lawmakers hold roundtable on crime cartels in Whitewater; call on stricter border policies from Biden Administration.

People will not want to visit, shop, send their children to school, or live in a city that is identified, as this state story does, with a crime cartel. 

People who live here now will not want that either. A more level-headed look at Whitewater would have required a thoughtful set of stories, not a television station’s clickbait. 

For insightful local reporting, the kind that Johnson and Steil did not include in their political event, one should look instead to WhitewaterWise:

Johnson, Steil meet in Whitewater with law enforcement officials; policing challenges discussed and Johnson, Steil hold press conference in Whitewater, discuss immigration, border security initiatives.

That brings residents to the question of policing challenges in Whitewater. At the 11.7.23 meeting of the Whitewater Common Council, one councilmember mentioned the need for at least three more officers for Whitewater’s department.

It’s an understatement to say that the way to build consensus in Whitewater for an expanded force will not come from what officials in county, state, or federal offices think. Some in Whitewater will, surely, support the Johnson-Steil approach. The challenge that Whitewater’s department and council face is that a significant number here find Johnson & Steil objectionable (so much so that neither has ever carried the city vote). It’s not simply that Johnson & Steil are unpopular among Latinos here; they’re unpopular generally. 

An enduring consensus here will be the opposite of their approach: not turning up the dial to eleven, but turning it down to four, and then beginning the discussion. This approach will seem counter-intuitive, if not an invitation to trickery, to many who are addicted to the notion that raising the temperature is a sure-fire winner on this issue. (In some places, on some issues, it is; in Whitewater, on this issue, it won’t be.)

This libertarian blogger doesn’t, and never will, represent the government. Whitewater’s officials will have to sort out the local implications in Whitewater if they want incremental gains in both headcount and community relations for Whitewater. People choose freely, sometimes well, sometimes poorly.  

Much will depend here on how insightful local officials will be about their own local politics and community culture.

We’ll see.

Oops! Lion wanders through Italian town after escaping circus:

A lion prowled the streets of an Italian seaside town for several hours after escaping from a local circus, before being sedated and captured.


Daily Bread for 8.25.23: Scenes from a Council Meeting (Representations)

Good morning. Friday in Whitewater will be mostly cloudy with a high of 85. Sunrise is 6:12 AM and sunset 7:40 PM for 13h 27m 57s of daytime. The moon is a waxing gibbous with 61.5% of its visible disk illuminated. On this day in 1944, the Allies liberate Paris. During its session on 8.15.23,…

Daily Bread for 9.19.22: Insurance is No Assurance

Good morning. Monday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with high of 77. Sunrise is 6:39 AM and sunset 6:56 PM for 12h 16m 42s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 35.3% of its visible disk illuminated.  Whitewater’s Library Board meets at 6:30 PM.    On this day in 1796, George Washington’s Farewell Address…

Daily Bread for 8.19.22: Residency Matters, Practically and Ethically

Good morning. Friday in Whitewater will be mostly cloudy with a high of 79. Sunrise is 6:06 AM and sunset 7:49 PM for 13h 43m 24s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 45.2% of its visible disk illuminated.   On this day in 1812, the American frigate USS Constitution defeats the British frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast…

Daily Bread for 7.8.22: Resentment’s a Distinct Local Explanation for Some Residents

Good morning. Friday in Whitewater will see scattered showers with a high of 76. Sunrise is 5:25 AM and sunset 8:34 PM for 15h 09m 39s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 65.7% of its visible disk illuminated. On this day in 1850, Wisconsin has a would-be king:  On this date James Jesse…

Daily Bread for 6.14.22: When (Local) Government Treats Abnormal as Normal

Good morning. Tuesday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 97. Sunrise is 5:15 AM and sunset 8:34 PM for 15h 19m 13s of daytime.  The moon is full with 100% of its visible disk illuminated. Whitewater’s Public Works Committee meets at 6 PM. On this day in 1775,  the Continental Army is established by…

Daily Bread for 6.13.22: Wisconsin Examiner Reports ‘Complaints mount over conduct of Whitewater PD’

Good morning. Monday in Whitewater will see afternoon thundershowers with a high of 87. Sunrise is 5:15 AM and sunset 8:34 PM for 15h 18m 47s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 98.5% of its visible disk illuminated. Whitewater’s Planning Commission meets at 6 PM. On this day in 1777,  Gilbert du Motier,…

Daily Bread for 6.9.22: Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Public Records Access

Good morning. Thursday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of 76. Sunrise is 5:16 AM and sunset 8:32 PM for 15h 16m 24s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 69.6% of its visible disk illuminated. On this day in 1973, legendary horse Secretariat wins the Triple Crown. On Tuesday, a Wisconsin Supreme Court…