The Whitewater Common Council last met on 10.6.20. The agenda for the meeting is available, and a recording of the early October session appears above. (As always, the best record is a recording.)
Council discussed, among other items, Trick or Treating during the pandemic, a preliminary city budget, whether to return to in-person council meetings, and a closed session to consider the sale of a lot in the business park.
A few remarks —
1. Trick or Treating. Halloween is on a Saturday this year, and the city (under the authority of the Parks & Rec Board) will hold traditional Trick or Treat hours (4 to 7 PM). There were several recommendations about (relatively) safer practices during the pandemic, but community views on what is safe vary. Some families will participate, others are likely to skip this year. (Video, 14:09.)
2. Presentation on a Preliminary City Budget. The council packet for the meeting (linked above) did not include a copy of the preliminary budget presentation. As of this post, that preliminary presentation is yet not online. There are three scheduled finance committee meetings (10.8, 10.13, 10.14) before a final document goes to council. Council will consider that final budget on 11.5 with a public hearing on 11.17.
Whitewater’s city manager and finance director were in attendance for the full council session (and so for the entirety of the budget presentation).
The preliminary budget document was posted online in 2018; a good practice would be to post it consistently each year.
3. Finance and Fiscal Policy.
There are three aspects to the city’s finances, with fiscal being the most limited: (1) competency at basic accounting, (2) competency in funding basic services adequately (safety, public works, etc.), and (3) fiscal policy that aims to uplift the local economy. Most local government spending falls short of true fiscal policy, where government tries to shape economic conditions.
Whitewater’s city government, since the Great Recession and into this pandemic recession, has shown no ability to improve the economic life of its residents in the critical category of individual or household income.
In part, that’s because there’s not much money to spend on items other than ordinary services. In part, it’s because attempts to craft a fiscal policy have been notable failures – wasting significant sums for a small town – even when there has been grant or loan money available.
At the least, however, one should expect that (1) accounting is in order, and (2) basic services are met without impoverishing the residents needing those services.
There is a huge need in Whitewater for poverty relief – this local government has limited resources, and the resources it has come by have been mostly wasted on development schemes no more useful than a few magic beans.
Turning away from a reliance on local development men wasting public monies is the first step toward a normal market economy and normal charitable framework. See Waiting for Whitewater’s Dorothy Day.
4. Property Value Growth. Whitewater’s finance director optimistically observed that property values in the city rose 6.3% from 2019 to 2020. (Video, 34:50.) Reason compels caution: that’s one year’s growth, involving property values rather than individual or household incomes, and is a measurement before the current recession.
5. CDBG Fund Close. The city manager’s discussion of the Community Development Authority’s CDBG (community development block grant) fund was brief, mentioned no concerns, and was not included in an enumerated list of municipal financial concerns. (Video, 38:14 and 40:00.)
6. COVID-19. The current cost to the municipal government of hundreds of thousands would only be a small fraction of the cost to society of a poorly-controlled pandemic.
7. Council Sessions. The council considered whether to return to in-person meetings.
Here is an ethical position: where one sends others one should be prepared to go. If most city employees are in the office or field daily, then council should return. If most city employees need not be in the office or in direct public contact, then council should be free to do what it does now from home.
Those who will not lead by example should not be leaders.
8. Lot in the Business Park. Council unanimously declined a sale offer.
Questions. The solution to an omission during a public discussion is not a contact number for a conversation beyond the scope of Wisconsin’s Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39) – the solution is a more candid public discussion. (Video, 54:00.)
Employees. One curious aspect of city government is the absence of employees’ comments – on matters concerning them – during public meetings. The other principal public institutions in town – the school district and university – have employees who are willing to speak, even if they find it uncomfortable (or even if it is made uncomfortable for them).
Frontline city workers, however, almost never speak at city meetings. Managers and directors speak at every meeting, but city employees don’t speak at the public meetings of the town for which they work.
It’s notable, especially, during the pandemic: departmental leaders talk about their employees, but the employees, themselves, don’t speak at public meetings.