Whitewater’s Local Politics 2021: The Common Council

This is the seventh in a series on Whitewater’s local politics of 2021.

Whitewater has a seven-person person city council with an appointed city manager to run the daily affairs of the town. Two of the council seats are at-large, and the other five members are from aldermanic districts.

While the city manager acts in a delegated executive function, the city council embodies both the legislative and executive authority of the city.

Looking back over more than a dozen years one finds a number of municipal controversies, disappointments, and problems. Some of these challenges came from council members, themselves: the obstinate, the obtuse, or otherwise troublesome on that public body.

Whitewater is a city less unified that it has pretended to be, and managing conflicting desires and agendas on the city’s common council required during this time a shrewd parliamentarian’s approach. Patrick Singer, who was council president in Whitewater for more than a decade during a notably difficult period, ably exercised his role in this city.

(Easily stated: it’s often been in decisions and actions one might imagine contrary to my views or interests that Singer performed some of his best work.)

Whether by intuition or instruction (or perhaps both), Singer was notably, memorably  skillful. Even-keeled in expression, economically thoughtful in remarks (never too much or too little), he was a patient conductor in a city suffering with others’ ceaseless strivings to be center stage, full spotlight.

One doesn’t have to be a government man to see that local government, and the community, will miss his public work.

In the year since Singer stepped down as council president, the city has probably seen as much community-council controversy as at any moment of the last decade. The pandemic has been difficult for Whitewater, of course, but Whitewater has seen many significant difficulties over the years.

I have sometimes agreed, and more often disagreed, with current council president Lynn Binnie, but it’s odd to the point of nuttiness that some in town so misunderstand his place in Whitewater’s ecosystem. Singer’s successor has attracted criticism as power hungry, and as though he were some sort of radical who – impossibly – sought to establish a version of Haight-Ashbury on Cravath. That’s all nonsense.

I once heard Nancy Pelosi say that she did not hate people, however critical she was of them. She’s not alone in that outlook; it’s certainly mine. There’s no one in the government who merits hatred. (At the same time, one carries on without regard to what government or others think of oneself; commentary is not a task for the emotionally needy.)

Whitewater’s new council leader is as close in approach (if not ideology) to Old Whitewater’s outlook as almost anyone in the city: concerned about detail (but sometimes at the expense of perspective), community-oriented (but sometimes more attentive to notable residents over less notable residents), participatory at meetings (but sometimes impatient with others’ remarks), wanting to inform (but sometimes with disregard of conflicts of interest or while omitting key details).

Like many of that older outlook, this approach tends toward dealmaking with, or praise-making of, established conservatives, and these deals often redistribute public money from general uses to special interest projects.

That’s a pinched outlook that leads to bad policy; it’s not the coming of a Leninist state.

Meaningful, enduring criticism depends on insight, delivered with cold composure. This small and beautiful city deserves no less.

Tomorrow: COVID-19: Skepticism and Rhetoric.

Previously: Unofficial Spring Election ResultsThe Kinds of Conservatives in WhitewaterThe City’s Center-LeftThe City’s Few Progressives, The Campus, and The Subcultural City.

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