Daily Bread for 6.7.23: The Common Council Meeting of 6.6.23

Good morning.

Wednesday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny with a high of 75. Sunrise is 5:16 AM and sunset 8:31 PM for 15h 14m 37s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 85.2% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1889,  American Temperance crusader Carrie Nation begins her campaign of vandalizing alcohol-serving establishments by destroying the inventory in a saloon in Kiowa, Kansas.

The Whitewater Common Council met last night. The agenda was full, but no particular part, no matter how significant, was more important than the whole. The meeting was illustrative of Whitewater’s condition, one of both challenges and hope. 

A few remarks are below. 

In-person and online. Whitewater’s council meetings are both online and in person. The online platforms are Zoom and streaming through Vimeo.

(Last night, and often, the Vimeo stream loads late and often far down on the city’s Vimeo page. Standard browsers and standard cache management often fail to resolve timely the stream. Worse, the municipal Vimeo page is disorganized, rather than in a proper chronological order. A resident looking to watch the stream should not have to hunt through old video after old video. This doesn’t bother me, as I’m accustomed to this condition, but residents shouldn’t have to fuss over it. The Vimeo page is, now, user-unfriendly.)

On Zoom, as I was last night, some residents kept their microphones or cameras open, and it was — truly! — comedic fare during the first half of the meeting. Residents talking to themselves or others, eating, rattling dishes, opening pop cans, chewing loudly, and belching at least twice brought a humorous tone to the meeting. 

Online, the host should mute all residents’ microphones before the meeting begins, and open them when a resident signals that he or she wishes to speak.

But the significance of all this isn’t that some residents provided light comedy (although they did!), but that they’re unfamiliar with using these platforms. That’s not their fault, of course. Unfamiliar isn’t an offense, but rather a call for the council to add explanations of etiquette when a meeting begins. 

Some of those attending mistakenly and inappropriately tried to use public comment for items listed elsewhere on the agenda, or tried to use public comment as a question-and-answer session with the council or city employees. Even some of those who have attended regularly betrayed their ignorance (or disrespect) of procedure. 

Whitewater is socio-economically diverse. That’s the key insight: people who come to the council and residents who live here are from different classes and backgrounds. Whitewater is not a suburban, middle-class community. Residents should not be rebuked for what they do not know, but they should politely be instructed and reminded. 

Timelines. What’s left of Old Whitewater habitually thinks that how they think is, necessarily, how the world should and must function. ‘That’s how we do things around here’ is justified only when the doing makes sense, so to speak. Perpetuating bad practices because they are long-standing ones holds Whitewater back. 

And look, and look, expecting a city manager or a superintendent to meet the standard of a council or board is only justified when the council or board meets a proper standard. Whitewater residents know — as this libertarian blogger well knows — that there’s a worry that appointees are not in alignment with their overseeing elected bodies. Of course, they should be in alignment, but this then remains: the power to compel alignment under law does not lift the burden elected officials have to speak, reason, and represent the community capably and competently. 

No one would say, for example, that a board of drunks or lunatics deserved deference within this community. Authority under law is not an immunity from competency.   

The City of Whitewater, for example, chose a city manager who has years of experience in a suburban, middle-class community. Those communities move at a faster pace, and both this council and this city manager need to adapt to each other. He may seem to be moving too fast for them, but perhaps, just perhaps, they seem too slow for him.

One word of caution, however. When the city manager mentioned that he was surprised that a council member changed his mind after hearing only one public comment, the proper reply would have been that changing one’s mind after one comment is sufficient if the comment is well-reasoned. It’s not quantity but quality that matters most. 

How this relationship develops over time between manager and council, well, I’m not sure. Everyone involved will have to make greater efforts to understand each other, as this local government shouldn’t be devoting time to managing kerfuffles over the pacing of city efforts.

Lakes and Pool. It’s no surprise that residents are concerned about both the viability of an indoor pool and the condition of our two lakes. The pool is more impressive than are other pools nearby, and the lakes are in the center of the city. These lakes have been in a diminished state for years, and yet there’s no agreed plan — between the government and residents — for improving their condition. The government has failed in its efforts and private residents aren’t united in their own response. 

Last night’s meeting shows that there’s no public or private consensus. 

Funding for two indoor pools and one fitness center remains in dispute between the city and the school district. There are intimations that a resolution is near, and perhaps that’s true.

What’s certain is that a Save the Pool ad hoc committee alone has not yet been enough to move the district to sign a new joint funding agreement. Understandably, people who like the pool have banded together, but that committee, alone, faces a steep hill to force a solution. A solution may come, but it’s likely to result from the outward pressure of the city government on the district and internal pressure within the district

Whitewater is a fragmented community, no matter how much a few suggest otherwise, and the lack of agreement on these persisting problems is proof & demonstration.

For an earlier FREE WHITEWATER post about the pool see The Pool from 5/4.23:

Well, what to make of all this?

First, it’s a good-looking facility, and a source of community pride for members.

Second, the pool is in no danger of closing today, tomorrow, or the next day. There’s time for the public bodies arguing over funding to come to terms.

Third, while long-term costs between the parties are in dispute, there’s no claim that the Whitewater Aquatic Center needs $5,000,000 now or perhaps ever for repairs & maintenance. 

Fourth, consider how odd this dispute is: Whitewater is a small town, and the City of Whitewater and the Whitewater Unified School District are the same communities. A dispute between these parties is not an arm’s length controversy between a buyer in Oregon and a seller in Arizona. On the contrary, the city is the heart and largest part of the district. A controversy like this is something like a dispute among siblings. Conflict here is internecine conflict. Different institutions may have different goals, but the officials of these institutions are, in fact, all neighbors in the same small area. (The idea of litigation between these parties over the pool is, needless to say, a bridge too far.)

Fifth, while the pool matters greatly to some, neither of these public institutions exists to be providing — or arguing over — a pool. The district and the city have more fundamental tasks before them (respectively, education and public safety). This suggests that ending this dispute with the least ongoing time, effort, and cost is the best course. (Closing the pool is what no one wants, and would only increase community time lost to an aggravated controversy.)   

The rational course is a settlement that assures ongoing operation at minimal cost while further discussions on medium and long-term solutions are crafted. A reduction in political temperature — down to, let’s say, negative 30 Fahrenheit —  would serve this community well.

The items on the Whitewater Common Council’s agenda are less important than grasping the conditions in which residents live and, consequently, through which local government must serve. 

Canada’s Wildfires Cover US Skies in Smoky Haze:

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John S Weidl
1 year ago

I’d only correct that I didn’t learn that speed in Mukwonago. I brought it with me. And to that speed I would add resolve, both of which I brought with me from the military. Speed also kills. Point taken. Mukwonago went from being worth $200 million less than Whitewater to being worth $200 million more during my tenure there. That is mill rate stabilization and money to improve services consistently over time. To quote the teenagers quoting Tom Brady, “Let’s Gooooooo.” Thousands of people are depending on the City’s success and improvement.

I would sum up that the community simultaneously wants several things to improve, while several inherited structures are tied to outdated or ineffective methods of operation, leadership, and thinking. We are all setting expectations. It’s quite literally like watching dogs sniff butts at a dog park to establish the hierarchy (Visual intended. Sorry, I know you’re a cat person…).

The City’s success is very much dependent on moving away from ingrained attitudes and actions. Like Apple, we need to Think Different. More importantly, effective leadership requires that we Act Different. Further, we don’t have the luxury of time to repeat failed patterns. Especially in areas clearly within the Manager’s scope. Speed kills. So does standing in the middle of the road.

Once we hit cruising altitude, things will level off and everyone will feel as though we had been moving this speed all along.

I hope in a short amount of time the leadership that supports the manager’s office has demonstrated the ability to set a goal, hit the mark, and achieve big things – with the Fire/EMS department serving as a primary example.

I appreciate your dedication to this publication and it’s important role for the community. As a fan I’d like to hear more about the hopeful aspects…

1 year ago

This is an interesting exchange.You seem to be talking about different topics.
(1) The new city manager wants to move quickly on his goals. He’s focusing on development: “Mukwonago went from being worth $200 million less than Whitewater to being worth $200 million more during my tenure there.”
(2) You aren’t objecting to development as much as having different concerns: “when the government (as ours has been) is closed to the public, is a hostage of regulatory capture by special interests, ignores assault, conceals misconduct, or transgresses individual rights.” Theoretically, Whitewater could develop away and you’d be okay about it as long as what you see as past problems don’t crop up. The only mention of development for you is “regulatory capture” but that’s about organizational structure/loyalty to the public not an anti-development position. I think he read you backwards, and thinks you want him to slow down. You say you only want to avoid “kerfuffles” with manager and council. There’s also an anti-council rebuke: “the power to compel alignment under law does not lift the burden elected officials have to speak, reason, and represent the community capably and competently.” Ouch!
(3) His goals and your libertarian red lines are different. (By the way everyone who’s lived here and isn’t a liar knows you’re right about “idiosyncrasies” in Whitewater.
(4) Your take here probably won’t upset people, but some of us wish you were not as patient with the school district. You have written about wanting a different approach but you haven’t gone further.There’s more than one person who wishes you would focus assertively there. Think of it as a friendly suggestion! Nice post though.