Real Racine Executive Director, Dave Blank, had a rough night on Monday at Village Hall. After being forced to sit through 3 hours of invoices and permits, the Village Board gave him about 2 minutes to make his case and convince them to continue funding the former Racine County Visitors and Convention Bureau - now called Real Racine.
Considering that Mt. Pleasant’s hotels fund the majority of Real Racine’s annual budget with their coveted room tax - the stakes for his organization were high. Blank used his time to make it clear Real Racine would be grateful for a reduction from 75% to 70% of room tax contributions - as opposed to nothing at all.
Blank had another hour to go as the Village Board convened into closed session to discuss the contract. When they reappeared 60 minutes later, they voted - unanimously - to give Real Racine nothing.
And just like that, the Village Board voted to destabilize the marketing and tourism engine for the entire region - a measure which had been first discussed literally just a few days before in committee. That’s how much time they gave in deciding to gut an organization with whom they have maintained a relationship with for decades.
A bit of background on how these taxes work - and why they go to Real Racine.
Wisconsin law says that if you collect hotel room taxes, a minimum of 70% of taxes collected MUST go towards tourism efforts. The rules are pretty clear - you can’t just collect that money and spend it on random things. Everything gets reported.
This is why it is common to find region or county based tourism bureaus. They pool together funds and create tourism and marketing strategies for the entire area. They also make sure they are spending that money appropriately.
For Racine County, the Visitors and Convention Bureau was able to capitalize on the attractions and nightlife in the city with the shopping and hotels in the villages. This is how regions work. Each has something to offer.
Mt. Pleasant gives Real Racine a lot of money - about $700,000 a year - because they have the majority of hotels. If you combine that with the 25% they don’t fork over to them - an extra million bucks is pretty enticing. But the village can’t just use that money to lower your taxes (as if that would ever happen). They must form their own tourism bureau - you know, like the one they just bailed on.
The village says they want to carve out their own identity - apparently forgetting every single thing they learned in Wingspread seminars on “Resilient Communities” which was designed to teach local officials the importance of learning to work together with neighboring communities. The point is not to create islands.
So, with a decision to effectively crush Real Racine and create their own duplicate tourism bureau just for Mt. Pleasant, Dave DeGroot went in the exact opposite of the direction communities are being encouraged to explore and support - at the expense of the efforts Real Racine makes on behalf of smaller communities in Racine County who can’t contribute as much cash.
A few additional things to think about:
The first time consideration of ending the contract with Real Racine came up was on June 5th in committee. Why wasn’t this ordinance change read in and given time to be discussed and to weigh feedback from the public?
Just 6 months ago, it was announced that these types of items would be given time over multiple meetings for deliberation. That happened once.
The contract between the village and Real Racine said they had to provide 6 months notice to amend or cancel - the village simply mismanaged its time and was forced to make a decision now.
I have to wonder how many hotels and attractions in Mt. Pleasant currently being marketed by Real Racine were given the opportunity to weigh in on this rushed decision? I would guess none. Wouldn’t that seem to be the first thing one might do?
Village officials have long resented the attention Real Racine pays to the City of Racine and have felt neglected. Racine has the majority of attractions and Mt. Pleasant the majority of hotels - there is no argument.
However, if as a village who contributes the majority of funds to a vendor like Real Racine and can’t get that vendor to listen and comply - you need to find something else to do. It’s a failure of leadership, negotiation and follow-through. Dave DeGroot took his marbles and went home and the rest of the community will suffer. It was a selfish and weak decision.
This is not the way mature government works. Mature governments understand their responsibilities to the larger community, to businesses and people, and to the agreements they have made.
It is my hope this contract can be revisited. That grown-ups will come to table who are able to see something bigger and more beneficial to the entire community we are a part of.
In January, with weeks of village minutes not reviewed or published, I brought this ongoing problem before the Mount Pleasant Village Board. Spending millions of dollars with no public record of its activities proved to be embarrassing. The village caught up and has been far more conscientious since then.
With the announcement of the Foxconn development, numerous contracts and invoices are approved at each Village Board meeting. None of the supporting documents, which are forwarded to trustees, have ever been made available to the public. I began making open records requests in March for trustee packets and posted them online so residents could see the same information the trustees saw. A few weeks later, Mount Pleasant began posting the trustee packets on its website.
Months ago, village leaders promised to host public information meetings about the Foxconn project. None were scheduled. Several residents and I hosted our own public information forum at Village Hall. That night at our forum, the village announced its first Foxconn forum in late May.
In April, I began broadcasting village meetings live on A Better Mount Pleasant’s Facebook page with hundreds of people watching the posted meetings. Just this week, the village announced it would broadcast all village meetings on Facebook.
Accountability and transparency are possible. We are fortunate to have a village administrator like Maureen Murphy, who has listened and responded to requests to make Mount Pleasant better.
Under Wisconsin law, all motions and roll call votes of each meeting of a governmental body shall be recorded, preserved and open to public inspection. These are usually called the minutes. They are the official and permanent record of what happened.
Municipalities like Racine, Sturtevant and Caledonia, and nearly everywhere else, review and approve the minutes at the very next meeting. This way, any corrections are fresh in the minds of public officials and residents can have quick access to records of local government activities. Minutes should be presented and approved in “a reasonable amount of time.”
Not in Mount Pleasant, where rules and ethics go to die. On Feb. 12, the Village Board approved the minutes of seven board meetings, all at once, dating back to early December of 2017. The last time they approved minutes was for 11 meetings, which dated back to July.
During this time, village trustees spent tens of millions of dollars purchasing property, hiring consultants, and paying Foxconn invoices with no public record of their actions.
Does this seem reasonable to you?
The public’s ability to know and oversee what their government is doing is essential. Foxconn is real. The money being promised is real. The homes people are being asked to leave are real. The village must make timely and consistent public disclosure a priority. The stakes could not be higher. It is no time for amateurs.
Several weeks ago, newly elected village trustee, Ram Bhatia called and asked me to meet him for a cup of coffee. He said he wanted to know more about me. It was a pleasant surprise and I agreed to meet later that day.
During our conversation, Ram wanted to know why the village board was so divided? What made them so adversarial towards each other? I told him the divisiveness between trustee factions went back many years. It was not a new phenomenon.
I told Ram, in my experience, there are always alliances and factions between members of even non-partisan governmental bodies. This is true on the common council in Racine. It is true on the school board too. Sometimes members cross over and join up with the “other side” on issues, but politics is a team sport - like it or not - and Ram is now a politician.
Ram told me he was not on a team. He considered himself to be an independent thinker. He said his decision to join up with the other candidates running for trustee seats was a strategy, not an alliance. Just because he hosted fundraisers with Clausen, Eastman and Leonard, sent out mailings with his name along with theirs and blanketed the village with team “End the Stalemate” yard signs - didn’t mean he was going to vote the way they did.
I said the only way to know if he was telling the truth was to see how he voted.
The conversation shifted to me. Ram said that he attended many village meetings where I spoke during public comments. He was very interested in my comments about the hate website “Let’s Make a Better Mt. Pleasant” which I believe is written by Village President, Dave DeGroot - and has been renewed until 2020 according to the domain host.
I suspect Ram may have thought I was embarrassing myself.
Ram asked if I was so sure the website is written by DeGroot, why I didn’t do something about it? I explained the complaints to the domain host, the Sheriff’s investigation, the conversations with the District Attorney and other elected officials - local and state - who also had conversations with DeGroot about his late night activities.
I told Ram, my strategy to publicly read the childish and abusive things DeGroot wrote about me during public comments in public meetings has been the only thing which has ever paused his behavior.
Ram seemed to think my strategy was bad for the village’s reputation. I think he was talking to the wrong party.
Having seen me also address the board of trustees on a range of policy issues, Ram wondered what I wanted out of my activities? To him, I appeared so... he couldn’t out his finger on the word he wanted to say. So I offered up the word “angry.” Yes, he said. Why was I so angry?
I spoke about how other local municipalities and elected officials I knew didn’t act the way they did in Mt. Pleasant. In my opinion, some trustees in the village were more interested in hiring and granting favors to their friends than being accountable to residents. I said several trustees don’t understand public policy and treat village hall like a clubhouse instead of a publicly funded municipality.
Ram listened politely and said he had a meeting to go to which turned out to be a semi-private commencement of construction ceremony - which (ironically) the village improperly noticed.
Ram left giving me one last thought: we must work together and put aside personal agendas and prejudice.
I thought about our conversation. A short while later, he gave a trustee report in which he lobbied for more positivity during public comments at the last board meeting. Ram is very big on being positive.
His first idea was having the board address certain issues stemming from public comments at the following board meeting. Most ideas and feedback provided during public comment just disappear because there is no discussion. Creating a way to follow-up is a step in the right direction.
Ram’s second idea went back to the positivity theme. Because of Foxconn, people are watching the village. He talked about village accountability and holding their feet to the fire - but with less negative and personal attacks.
Other people told me they felt like Ram was saying - yes, call us out - but be nicer. It wasn’t well received.
Ram deserves credit for his comments. This was the only time I have witnessed any trustee associated with that “team” who was willing to even absorb public comments and follow up. Generally, they look like they want to just get it over with as quickly as possible.
However, Ram is wrong about something important.
When people respond to feedback or criticism by telling you they don’t like the manner you have presented the feedback - they are basically saying they don’t want to listen to you without saying those precise words. Worse, they are blaming you for your tone, your anger, your personal agenda - whatever - to escape their own responsibility and resistance to acting.
They are avoiding having a discussion on the merits of what is being said - by having a discussion about how it was said. It’s a manipulation and a cop-out.
Everything the Village Board does is personal to someone. Special assessments, eminent domain, ordinance violations, public safety - all effect people literally where they live. Telling people to put aside their “personal agendas” is a ludicrous suggestion which no one should buy.
When the village refuses to schedule meetings when the public can best attend, disallows residents to speak about agenda items or threatens them with arrest during public comments, or uses eminent domain to pressure people sell their homes - it rightly makes people angry. When that anger is expressed during meetings or online, Village Trustees should be less concerned about the tone of that discussion and more concerned about what they are doing to cause that anger and seek a remedy.
That’s their job.
We all know the world is watching Mt. Pleasant. I have zero interest in putting on a pleasant face or a happy show if trustees (and committee members) can’t or won’t take their responsibilities to the public seriously.
Mt. Pleasant isn’t a joke because residents are angry. Mt. Pleasant is a joke because because local officials don’t listen to residents, make stupid mistakes and behave like mini-tyrants.
People in power - like politicians, often think they have the clout to dictate the terms in which they will consider your feelings in return for their actions or consideration. They use phrases like “personal agenda” and “negativity” to distract us.
Anger is a perfectly reasonable reaction to feeling tricked or manipulated. Not being particularly pleasant has gotten residents more accountability and transparency in recent weeks than ever before. Don’t let Ram or anyone else tell you it isn’t productive - it is.
If Ram Bhatia and the other trustees are really interested in forging something positive on the board, they need only look to either side on the dais during board meetings instead of out in the audience and begin there.
Is Mount Pleasant the most dysfunctional village in Wisconsin? Probably not, but the Foxconn juggernaut has made our maladjusted Village Hall a lot more visible. People who have watched local politics will tell you the Village’s reputation is well earned and was years in the making.
Our embarrassing reputation has made it difficult to find people willing to work at Village Hall - a renown snake pit according to former employees. And even though almost everyone acknowledges our unfortunate reputation, no one takes responsibility for it - least of all many of the current Village Trustees on the Village Board.
If you have sat on the Village Board of Trustees for as long as some trustees have, you might want to stop moaning about all the bad things people say about our local government - because you have been riding shotgun in the clown car too long to be innocent of some of the blame.
Now that another election day upon us, it’s interesting that four of the candidates running for trustee seats are running as a “team.” They have even spent a boatload of cash to make giant, unreadable yard signs which advertise a cry to “end the stalemate” and “move Mount Pleasant forward.”
Of course, most of us are a little dizzy and motion sick from the speed at which Mount Pleasant is moving forward. What “stalemate” are candidates, Bud Eastman, Ram Bhatia, Anna Marie Clausen, and Skip Leonard referencing?
My guess the “stalemate” is the one in which Eastman, Bhatia and Clausen were each nominated by David DeGroot to serve as trustees to fill his vacant seat and were declined by the three other trustees, leaving it unfilled until this year’s special election.
Not exactly a wide community concern since the “stalemated” board was finally able to hire a Village Administrator, Human Resource Manager, Village Finance Director and new Village legal counsel over the last several months.
You may recall, before Dave DeGroot was even sworn as Village President in last April, he told local press he was halting the search for the Administrator and Human Resources positions. Turns out he didn’t have the authority, and trustees, Feest, Hansen and Otwaska forced him to move forward on it.
With a six man board - DeGroot didn’t have the votes to get his way. He spent the next few months embarrassing himself trying to nominate his friends and business associates - some with whom he had significant financial connections - before Feest, Hansen and Otwaska made the case to take it to an election this spring.
They said it was a more fair and democratic solution to allow voters to decide. Naturally, DeGroot was the lone vote against it.
The truth is, for all its controversy, the “stalemate” worked. No side or faction of trustees had the majority and they were forced to work together. After years of flip flopping factions having control - which germinated the original seeds of dysfunction - no one had control and some things got done.
Not everything was perfect - this is Mount Pleasant after all.
There was the board censure of DeGroot in late summer. After trying to have Al Gardner removed by the Police Chief during a village meeting for replying to an insult DeGroot made to him during public comments, and refusing to allow me to speak at all until I submitted a written and oral apology to him first - two things he has no authority to do - trustees Hansen and Feest got tired of his abuse. DeGroot said he would have them removed too.
The recording made Milwaukee news. As the censure came down, Anna Marie Clausen was there to speak - saying she supported the president.
When a local delegation traveled to Japan last summer to see Foxconn facilities, DeGroot decided to travel along too. Instead of traveling coach on the international flight like everyone else, DeGroot upgraded his seats - at double the cost - paid for by village residents.
The complimentary champagne was not appreciated by his travel companions.
Then there is the website. Since last May, Dave DeGroot has penned a public website about me, trustees Feest, Hansen, and Otwaska which as sexually harassed, verbally abused and intimidated us. The website is registered privately, so I may never be able to prove he writes it, but he doesn’t really hide his identity at all.
It’s disgusting, creepy and the work of someone who really needs professional help.
What may be worse, Anna Marie Clausen encouraged people to read the website with a link on her campaign Facebook page for six months before she finally took it down - only after I started speaking out about it and using her name in connection to it.
Now, more than ever, we need to elect trustees who will ask questions, demand answers and become policy makers that will create a stronger local government. We need to do better than the Castlewood “breakfast club” of friends who are largely responsible for the mismanagement and lack of policies which has plagued Village Hall.
Clausen, Eastman, Bhatia and Leonard are running as a team - they don’t hide it - it’s their election strategy. Saying you’re a “team-player” is usually a positive thing unless you know something more about the team.
Gary Feest, the lone incumbent on ballot, should be given credit for taking a risk in saying the deadlocked board might be the best thing to happen in years. He was right, and he should be re-elected as Trustee #4. He is thoughtful and independent. Gary always votes his conscience. Feest’s opponent, Skip Leonard is an ambivalent candidate at best. He has hinted to more than a couple of people he might drop out.
Don Schulz is the right choice for Trustee #2. As a previous Supervisor and Trustee, Don wants to see strategic planning for Fire and EMS and is never afraid to challenge and ask questions - unlike his opponent, Bud Eastman. Eastman has sat on the Police and Fire Commission for years which has never produced any long term planning or reviews - and is the biggest budget item in the village. Eastman’s previous nomination to the board by DeGroot says it all.
Ram Bhatia has spent a small fortune on yard signs, making him the most visible in the special election for Trustee #5. He says he is a peacemaker and open minded - but in his primary debate, I found him to be arrogant. He repeatedly referenced his degrees to qualify himself as if his opponent, Dr. John Martini, was uneducated. His recent behavior at the Carthage Foxconn panel discussion - where he criticized and shamed a panelist for talking too long and being too “political” proved to me my first impression of him at the debate was not hasty. Dr. John Martini is a compassionate and caring man. He listens before he speaks - he considers other opinions. Mount Pleasant can’t afford more bullies on the board.
Lastly, Anna Marie Clausen wants the seat back she lost to John Hansen two years ago. That Hansen has enthusiastically endorsed her opponent, Tom Giese for Trustee #6, is probably enough information. Hansen has been dogged in promoting policy updates and better review processes - or ANY review processes. The reality is, Giese dropped into the race like a dream come true. An international businessman, having lived and conducted business in Singapore and an MBA from Northwestern - Giese is the guy everyone wished would run. Clausen is a DeGroot/Gleason/Wahlen disciple and sees no reason to change. She is better left to run Mount Pleasant Days. When it comes to the Village, she is there to support her president not the people. Mount Pleasant would be lucky to have Tom Giese on the board.
If we are ever going end the dysfunction at Village Hall - we have to elect some new people. We need independent people, young people, smart people. We need to break the lock this group has on Village Hall. Our ‘stalemated” board has succeeded in bringing in new and professional staff - they deserve a chance to thrive.
Early voting begins Monday, March 19th during regular business hours at Village Hall through March 30th. Election day is April 3rd. Please vote.
(Photo: David DeGroot, Ram Bhatia, Van Wanggaard, Anna Marie Clausen & Bud Eastman at candidate fundraiser hosted by Wanggaard.)
UPDATE: We spoke with new Village Administrator, Maureen Murphy who said she thought executive reports had always been published. She has promised going forward she will make sure they are added to the website ahead of board meetings. A great step forward on transparency and public input!
What do you know about the Foxconn development? I am willing to bet that beyond the often repeated talking points, you may not know very much about the construction which is already underway.
Yes, properties are being purchased and there are water pipes already being installed, oddly in advance of the DNR water approval. Did you know, Mount Pleasant has already spent millions of dollars paying contractors, consultants and attorneys? Millions.
If you go to a Village Finance Legal Licence - the committee that is supposed review and recommend paying the Foxconn related bills to the Village Board - or go to an actual Village Board meeting where they vote to pay those invoices - the list of invoices to be paid for the biggest development in the United States looks like this:
Not very detailed is it? Ok, that’s just the agenda. However, if you go to a Village Board meeting, you will be provided a more detailed version on a television monitor that says this:
That’s the full disclosure of $2.5 million in public funds spent on your behalf from just one meeting - and the 3rd item is spelled incorrectly - it’s Advance Construction Inc, not “Contraction.” No itemized invoices have been made available or published for the public to see. The Village has no intention to make them available. It doesn’t even occur to them.
So why is this a big deal? There are a few reasons I can think of:
I have asked for all Foxconn invoices which were approved in December, January and February and we will put them online. I also asked for the Trustees Packets of information which is sent to all Board Trustees with the meeting agenda for this week’s meeting and for the next one when it is available. We will put these online too.
These aren’t radical notions. RUSD has always posted executive packets of supplemental information, executive summaries and financial impact statements when they post the agenda. The City of Racine does too.
Residents deserve better than to sit in meetings and guess what the Village Board is going to do. They deserve to know and be part of the process.
Stay tuned for the results.
In November 2017, South Shore Fire Chief Stedman added a $500,000 line item to the 2018 proposed Village Budget to build a stand-alone EMS station. Not much was known about his plan because it was never reviewed or approved by the Oversight Board.
As the governmental body which oversees the operations and expenditures of the South Shore Fire Department and forwards recommendations to the governing authorities, it seemed logical that something as important as the construction of an EMS station would have begun with your approval.
As you probably know by now, just a few weeks after the 2018 Budget was adopted, the Village President made an offer on a vacant lot of land for this station before it even got to the Village Board for approval. A couple of weeks after that, the Zoning Board quickly approved a petition to rezone the property before neighbors were notified and before a public hearing was held - which is something they never do.
Naturally, property owners near the planned station were angry when they found out about it from the newspaper and not directly from the Village. They felt an EMS station situated in the middle of residential houses was inappropriate and would create disruption to their quality of life. They submitted a formal protest petition requiring a supermajority vote of the Village Board to move the project forward.
That is your fault.
You could have directed the Chief to speak with the neighbors personally. You could have held an informational meeting to explain how the station would operate and perhaps put their fears to rest. Instead, your lack of oversight led to a neighborhood insurrection which has made this process far more contentious and difficult to pass.
Chief Stedman told the Village Board he was going to build a 3800 square foot EMS station - including furnishings and land for “significantly less” than $500,000. Beyond that, he has offered no budget or projected costs.
A 3800 square foot building that meets the institutional codes required of governmental buildings would cost approximately $250 per square feet to build. That’s easily a million dollars when you factor in the land. It also doesn’t include furnishings, emergency power generators, specialized ventilation equipment for ambulance bays or hiring 6 additional EMT staff.
In 2016, Chief Stedman boasted Village emergency response times were in line with national standards. He said existing stations were more strategically located. Now, response and location is suddenly a big problem?
There is no doubt that reducing emergency response times should be a priority. Why hasn’t the Fire/EMS Oversight Board looked into expanding emergency vehicle preemption devices throughout the village which can reduce emergency travel time by more than 25%?
Traffic signal preemption devices not only get first responders to emergencies quicker - they do it safer by reducing the need for emergency vehicles to cross over into oncoming traffic when negotiating busy intersections. The entire metro area of Milwaukee uses them and Kenosha does too.
For the cost allocated in 2018 budget for an EMS Station which will surely be insufficient to complete, the Village could use those funds to equip dozens of intersections and reduce response times across the entire community - for everyone.
Mt. Pleasant already spends double on public safety than our neighbors in Caledonia do. We know we will spend millions on a complete fire station near the Foxconn development. This plan does not add up. It is your job to present a coherent plan for public safety and to find the most efficient ways to achieve our goals.
9.31 Declaration of policy. In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Further, providing persons with such information is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information.
The minutes of public meetings become the official record of village business when they are approved by the governing body. They serve as a permanent record of motions, discussions and votes on business that not only affect us, but as residents, we fund with our tax dollars.
While Wisconsin law gives leeway on the timing for approval and publication - minutes should be presented and approved in “a reasonable amount of time.” Caledonia, Sturtevant, Union Grove, Pleasant Prairie, Oak Creek, all review and approve the minutes from the previous meeting almost without exception. The City of Racine Common Council doesn’t consider any council vote actionable until the minutes of those actions are reviewed and accepted at the next meeting.
On Monday, February 12th, the Village Board approved - all at once - the minutes of seven Village Board meetings that dated back to December of last year. Before Monday, the last time the Village Board reviewed and approved meeting minutes was in November 2017, and that was for eleven meetings all in one vote. Eleven meetings.
During that time, the board voted on contractor agreements, invoices, relocation orders and the acquisition of property for the Foxconn development - representing tens of millions of dollars. They hired of a Village Human Resource Manager, and voted for a wage increase for the Clerk. They amended the intergovernmental water agreement with Racine and the Wisconsin DOT. They voted to purchase vacant land for an EMS station and adopted the 2018 Village Budget - ALL with no published public record of their actions.
Does that seem reasonable to you?
How did it get this way in Mt. Pleasant? Go to the municipal code of ordinances for any city, town or village and they will have a section which covers meetings. This section includes the order of business - often called the agenda - and it outlines the order in which the meeting is conducted. In general, the order is something like this:
(1) Call to Order; (2) Roll call; (3) Reading and correcting the financial report and the minutes of the last preceding meeting or meetings; (4) Public Comment and Input; (5) Reports from officials of the Village; (6) Reports from committees; (7) Unfinished business; (8) New business; (9) Adjournment.
They change the order a bit, but a review and approval of minutes comes before any new or old business on the meeting agenda.
If you look at a copy of the village code of ordinances in Mt. Pleasant, under Sec. 2-43.(6), you will find this:
a. Roll Call; b. Pledge of Allegiance; c. Public Comment and Input; d. Consent Agenda; e. New Business; f. Administrator/Staff Reports; g. Trustees’ and President’s Reports;
No minutes. You may notice item: d. Consent Agenda. When the Village Board does vote on minutes, that’s often where they are stuck. A consent agenda is stuff (like 11 meetings) that are bundled in a way for easy passage. NOT a good policy for approving the permanent record of your government.
Every governmental body must publish a public notice of a meeting - that’s most often the agenda. You have to notice a meeting in advance and you can’t take actions in meetings that aren’t publicly noticed. Every governmental body must also publish a record of the meeting - the minutes.
Wisconsin law doesn’t tell towns and village how they must run their meetings. They are only required to comply with open meetings law. As a result, most use Robert’s Rules of Order for ease and continuity. Your PTA or local church committee probably uses Robert’s Rules too.
Mt. Pleasant follows Robert’s Rules, except they skipped the very first rule about setting the agenda - reading and approval of the minutes. It doesn’t appear technically illegal, it’s just really, really bad policy.
If your neighborhood Girl Scouts can follow best practices for holding a meeting, doesn’t it seem like Mt. Pleasant can too?
The money the Village is spending on the Foxconn development is real. It will take a generation to realize a return on our investment and public oversight is required. The Village Board must bring forward an amendment to our municipal ordinances that includes the reading and approval of the minutes at every meeting.
Your right to know should be a priority and an essential part of our democracy.
Testimony from the Village of Mt. Pleasant Public Hearing of the rezone petition for a proposed EMS Station held on February 8, 2018 by A Better Mt. Pleasant contributor Kelly Gallaher.
Several years ago, when the Village voted to close the fire station in Lake Park, it came as a surprise to many in the community. However, in reality, consultant studies had been commissioned which recommended its closing, repair and updating costs of the existing building were discussed and considered, and an analysis of emergency calls produced in the area were highlighted to provide a clearer picture for how the decision was made. Even though it remained a controversial issue, there were facts and costs as part of the overall discussion.
It is also important to point out the discussion of the Fire Station closure began appropriately in the Village Fire/EMS Oversight Board as part of a reorganization plan - a plan - which was then forwarded to the appropriate governing body - the Village Board.
I can locate no agenda item reflecting the discussion of the need to build an EMS station by the Fire/EMS Oversight Board. I can locate no action to approve a plan to build an EMS station by the Fire/EMS Oversight Board. If such a discussion did happen - we could not know because of the 7 Fire/EMS meetings which took place in 2017 - the minutes of only 2 meetings have been published and posted. The only time I was able to locate any discussion of an EMS station by the Oversight Commission was a few weeks ago in January and that was to report that an offer on vacant land had been made and architectural drawings had been received.
Under whose authority and recommendation was this done?
I attended the budget hearing when this idea was first suggested. Trustees told the Chief they needed a plan and and outline before moving forward. Three weeks after the November budget hearing which first introduced this idea, the Village President signed a contract offer to purchase a lot of land. Two weeks after that, the contract offer went to the zoning board for approval - with no public hearing and no public notification.
As of tonight, Chief Stedman has offered no projections on building or maintenance costs. There have been no staffing or overtime budgets presented. No estimates for furnishings and equipment. No projected growth relative to EMS response has been conducted.
The Chief has admitted that this may not be a permanent station and could be repurposed as a home at a later time - but at what cost? We don’t know, because virtually no homework has been done which might tell us if building an actual fire station which could remain operational for decades might be a better investment.
At the last regular Village Board meeting, Community Development Director Sam Schultz was asked by trustees why this hearing was scheduled after the zoning board had already met and voted on the rezone petition - which has always been the practice of this village - and basically every other municipality. After some discussion about whether it was technically legal - Mr. Schultz admitted it was due to an error. Mistakes happen, however, this error happened to satisfy a contingency in the offer to purchase which stipulated approval from the zoning commission was required to make the offer binding.
That news is not much comfort to the residents in the area who feel they have been left out of the process - because they were. To their concerns on location and lack of planning, Chief Stedman said they were too emotional and he was the expert.
Building a EMS Station may be a fine idea. However, it doesn’t take an expert to see the development for this particular plan has been incomplete, lacking both due process and due diligence.
I believe this “plan” such as it is, is unworthy of a vote by the board at this time and should not be moved forward until the appropriate oversight and recommendations have been reviewed and put forward. When it comes to public safety, residents deserve a careful and detailed plan. This is not that.
Every day, hundreds of businesses in Mount Pleasant follow the rules and ordinances of the village. They file for permits, have regular inspections and zoned to be located in the correct place to do business. They do it to protect the safety of their customers, employees and the interest of property owners around them.
They know if they don't follow the rules, the village can fine them or shut them down.
It is deeply unfair to legal businesses in our community that village officials would allow any business to ignore those same rules and responsibilities. Ordinances aren't supposed to be optional.
Ron Primuth operates a business located in a residential neighborhood and was told to close or move by the village in 1992. They gave him a 13-year extension to operate there until 2005 and then close or move. He did neither.
At the time, business owners testified before the zoning board and said the village was encouraging illegal behavior. They said it was unfair they had to relocate their businesses, and a man whose wife was the village clerk and close friends with many officials, did not.
Primuth's business has started on fire twice since it was ordered to close. Although it's a place of employment and required by law to have regular fire inspections, no record of any could be found when an open records request was filed. More special treatment.
There aren't supposed to be two sets of rules — one for the friends of village trustees and another for everyone else. Fairness is long overdue on this issue.