Just as one would prefer a beautiful neighborhood, so too would a sensible person prefer that nearby towns were well-ordered and successful. And yet, and yet, one cannot choose for those other towns: they will choose for themselves, sometimes well, sometimes poorly. When they do choose poorly, the best one can do is to guard against similar mistakes in one’s own town. Others’ mistakes need not become ours.
The Milton School District offers, sad to say, plenty of open government mistakes and transgressions. They’re an example to avoid:
Not all residents got the survey after Superintendent Tim Schigur suggested everyone’s voice was critical. Worse, the district and its survey company used postal ZIP codes for distribution. That meant some nonresidents got the survey, further offending residents who didn’t get it.
The board then asked residents to volunteer for a facilities advisory community team dubbed FACT. An unwieldy number of 48 lined up. Rather than choose a balance from among those who favor facility improvements or even a new school and those most concerned about taxes, the board asked the volunteers to anonymously nominate others among the 48. On Monday, the board approved the 22 getting the most nominations.
But wait: Couldn’t volunteers desiring a new high school stack the FACT deck by voting for each other?
Before the meeting, Milton School District resident Lance Fena set up a large video camera on a table pointed at where the school board would be sitting.
Fena is a vocal and active member of the community, often attending school board and Milton City Council meetings. He’s expressed disapproval of how board meetings are conducted.
Before the meeting, Superintendent Tim Schigur told Fena, who was seated in the front row, he couldn’t tape the meeting.
Fena asked why and invoked state statute 19.90, which states, “Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting. This section does not permit recording, filming or photographing such a meeting in a manner that interferes with the conduct of the meeting or the rights of the participants.”
“We don’t video tape our meetings,” Schigur said.”
(Schigur’s views, or those of the Milton School Board, cannot trump state law. Milton relented, yet Schigur’s not, after all, young. Years of serving as superintendent, and still he didn’t know even a clear provision of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law.)
➤ One finds the Milton School Board arriving late on issue of recording meetings:
Superintendent Tim Schigur told Fena he couldn’t tape the meeting.
[Resident Lance] Fena rightly cited a statute that says a government body should “make a reasonable effort to accommodate” anyone wanting to film, as long as it doesn’t interfere “with the conduct of the meeting or the rights of the participants.”
An hour into the meeting, board member Rob Roy announced he was uncomfortable with the video recording, that he didn’t trust Fena and that, because the recording might change board behavior, he thought it wasn’t permitted under statute.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, told reporter Jake Magee in Thursday’s Gazette that recordings might actually improve behavior.
Roy also suggested someone could twist or clip parts of the recording, post them on social media and make the board or district look bad.
“The law requires citizens be able to make a tape,” Lueders says. “It doesn’t matter what they want to use it for. It doesn’t matter if the public officials like them. They need to get with the program.”
➤ Although Milton promised to record meetings, they’ve moved backwards on live-streaming, and Milton’s live-streaming solution helps nobody:
Imagine if the Milton School Board were to close all meetings to the public on grounds that some people for whatever reason couldn’t attend or understand the proceedings. It’s an absurd proposition, of course. Such a policy would violate open meeting laws, for one thing. So why is ending live streaming under the same rationale any less absurd?
Yes, a school district should be aware of ADA issues and take steps to improve access to its facilities, whether physical or virtual. The disabilities crusader in Michigan filing dozens of complaints is doing good by holding government accountable.”
➤ Even this month, one reads that the winner of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (WFIC)’s Citizens Openness Award found himself losing out due to an improperly noticed meeting:
Earlier that evening, as has been his practice for nearly three years, Fena checked the district’s website looking for meeting agendas. He found two: one for a training session at 4:30 p.m., and a second for an executive session at 5:30 p.m. He chose not to attend either, saying of the second: “I can’t attend an executive session meeting. I didn’t see a need to sit in the hallway.”
Phone calls, describing a process by which the meeting had gone from closed session to open, came through friends about an hour after the meeting was over, Fena said in a recent telephone interview.
Would he have gone if he knew the meeting had changed from closed to open? “Yes …. I guess if I’m being talked about I’d like to be there,” he added.”