Council can’t continue with 3+ hour meetings
By Brandi Makuski
For the second consecutive month the Stevens Point City Council has hit the three-hour-mark, with the July meeting running a marathon five hours.
The reasons behind the lengthy meetings are many. No doubt the Council’s inexperience is a major factor. In April, citizens elected seven new members to the Council- none with elected public service experience. Individually that inexperience isn’t an issue, but having so few experienced alders on the Council to guide things along is proving to slow most progress to a maddening crawl.
Although not mutually exclusive to inexperience, many of the new Council members haven’t shown their ability to follow local news coverage or read past meeting minutes regarding major projects. The July 20 agenda was loaded with planned discussion on long-term, large-scale projects, including the Country Club Drive overpass, special assessments for the city’s newly-FEMA-approved seawall and proposed funding for improvements to Edgewater Manor.
All topics which have received extensive news coverage in multiple media outlets over a period of years.
Unfortunately, many of the new alders still had questions on the most rudimentary elements of the projects, triggering more than 4 combined hours of Q&A and public discussion.
One of the new aldermen even questioned some elements of the railroad overpass on Country Club Drive/Hoover Road be altered. Instead of referring to the video-taped meetings where design elements of the project were discussed- and some elements dismissed for various reasons- all of which are available on the city’s website, the city spent $11,000 on a new presentation for the Council, putting the project a month behind schedule and showing the alderman’s suggestions weren’t feasible.
Another factor was a largely-unchecked public comment period. Gone was the enforced time limit on public speakers, even though there was no division among those who spoke on various topics. The upside is, everyone was satisfied by getting to have their say. The downside: nine public speakers at 5+ minutes each, and that was on the Edgewater Manor funding issue alone.
Throughout the July Council meeting there were several moments with some light-hearted jokes and off-the-cuff remarks. At one point Mayor Mike Wiza, Alderwoman Heidi Oberstadt and Alderman Tony Patton had a short discussion on the cool temperatures of the room. It made the meeting all the longer and removed the air of professionalism from the business at hand.
Some Council members haven’t yet learned the need to trust the experts hired by the city; they themselves do not need to be the experts on construction, roadway planning or engineering. They will soon learn the city has neither the time nor the resources to investigate every single option for larger projects- and it doesn’t need to. The city has some excellent department heads who are paid to look out for the city’s best interest; in all cases there is an excellent support staff in place, people who know their jobs well.
Future Council meetings would be more functional, and more constituent-friendly, if the alders would do their homework prior to standing committee meetings, held on the second Monday of each month, and get their questions answered prior to the Common Council.
The city can’t afford such a lengthy meeting each month.