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.
Recently, The Journal Times reported on a harassment suit filed by Mount Pleasant Village Clerk Stephanie Kohlhagen. She claimed she did not receive a raise because she is a woman. Pay inequality is a real issue for many women in the workplace, but it is not an issue for Stephanie Kohlhagen.
Kohlhagen did get a raise. She got a 2 percent raise with the rest of village staff, many of whom are women. She wanted a 5.5 percent raise, which had not been put in the budget and had not been recommended by the personnel committee.
Sonny Havn, John Hewitt and David DeGroot put this random salary increase on the village agenda in which Jerry Garski, Jon Hansen, Gary Feest and Ken Otwaska rightly voted no.
There is a procedure for pay increases and Havn, Hewitt and DeGroot did not follow it.
Stephanie Kohlhagen’s salary has increased 17 percent in less than 4 years. Receiving nearly 24 percent is extraordinary especially for a public employee. Kohlhagen is paid $70k per year, she gets four weeks vacation and generous benefits. She is not a victim of discrimination and it does a disservice to those who are to portray her as one.
Since Jerry Garski is not allowed to comment on this village matter, it is crucial that voters know the truth and see this for the election stunt that it is.
Garski is moving our village forward and establishing accountability for all residents. He deserves your vote on April 4th.