Questions from constituents lead to education of Council
By Brandi Makuski
City officials will begin work on a new brochure to explain the role of alders, following a request by Councilwoman Meleesa Johnson.
Johnson, who chairs the city’s Public Protection Committee, said she’s been asked by constituents what a city alder actually does. Her response, which she bases on a legal definition provided by state statute, often leaves people with what she calls a “eyes-glazed-over” look.
“One citizen just said [sic], ‘Do you have something I can read?’, which lead me to investigating some sort of easy-to-use document for us and our constituents,” Johnson said in a memo to the committee.
“So I went and did some research, and I found that Madison has a very nice little brochure that I think would be well-suited for helping constituents and alders understand our role,” Johnson said at the Oct. 10 meeting. “It’s actually a fairly weighty responsibility.”
Johnson said she was “very willing to put this together,” adding she does “a lot media collateral” with the Marathon Co. Solid Waste Department, where she is employed as its director.
“But I wanted to have this sanctioned officially,” she added.
But Mayor Mike Wiza said Johnson’s involvement — or that of any alder — in such a document was not appropriate and should be extremely limited.
“I know you’ve consulted with the city attorney, but the document should come from him rather than an alderperson,” Wiza said. “Someone other than an alderperson should define the roles.”
Wiza also said council members could not use city-funded brochures for their own campaign purposes.
Ald. Mary Kneebone suggested the brochure should also include a list of what alders cannot do.
“There are protocols for us, as well, than sometimes residents don’t understand,” Kneebone said. “So maybe the dos and don’ts could be included.”
Wiza also said Johnson’s agenda unnecessarily included specific time for council members to discuss future agenda item requests.
“Alders can request agenda items at any time,” Wiza said. “You don’t need an agenda item for it.”
Johnson said she would like to see one particular item on a future agenda for discussion — that of overnight parking. It’s a restriction she believes should be lifted in most parts of the city outside of a snow emergency.
Johnson is one of nine city council members who have served on the City Council for less than one full term, and is fast becoming known as a wordy chair, often referencing the importance of democratic ideals during her comments, and Monday was no exception.
“We’re very fortunate on Stevens Point City Council to have such a breadth of academics that [sic] can help us inform how we say things, do things, the resources they bring to the table,” she said. “I think there probably aren’t many councils with that many PhD’s and skilled individuals, business owners, serving the council. People with Masters degrees, business owners…I know I’m going on, but this is important and I’m proud to be a part of this group.”
City Attorney Andrew Beveridge said as the brochure was not a high priority, he plans to have the brochure complete by the end of the year for the Council’s approval.