EDITORIAL: Government openness serves greater goodIt was a bit ironic when a Superior landlord railed about a city department head having a discussion with a city councilor prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, somehow suggesting it was improper.
It was a bit ironic when a Superior landlord railed about a city department head having a discussion with a city councilor prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, somehow suggesting it was improper.
What was improper was the recommendation that brought several landlords to the Government Center. The finance committee recommended cutting the penalty for unpaid sewage, even though the issue was never put on the committee’s agenda for consideration.
For the last few months, the finance committee has discussed its agreement with Superior Water, Light and Power. At issue, the company is not contracted to notify landlords when their tenants fail to pay their sewer bills. The committee was considering solutions that could result in a change in the agreement.
On Feb. 14, the finance committee was again going to discuss the agreement with the utility company. Somehow that discussion resulted in a recommendation to reduce the penalty for not paying the bill on time. It’s a move that would cut $33,000 in penalties the city collects.
Since the city assesses and collects the penalties, it has nothing to do with the agreement with the utility company — the issue on the agenda. Proper notification under Wisconsin’s open meeting law was not given.
That’s great for the landlord with a tenant who doesn’t pay the bill and doesn’t take the time to call the utility to find out.
That’s not so good for the folks who pay their bills on time and are paying $33,000 more collectively to cover the city’s losses.
Homeowners who pay their sewer bills on time never had the opportunity to object to shifting the cost because the issue never appeared on an agenda.
The real irony Tuesday was the landlord’s ire was directed at the mayor, who favored — as Wisconsin law does — the greatest degree of openness in government that night.
Tuesday afternoon Mayor Dave Ross and Councilor Nick Milroy amended the council’s agenda, about six hours before the meeting. Wisconsin law requires 24 hours notice unless there is a compelling reason to amend up to two hours before the meeting.
The Telegram called the mayor to object.
While the amendment met the letter of the law — as the city attorney astutely argued — it violated the spirit of the law, prompting the mayor to withdraw the resolution.