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Thoughts on one council finishing, another taking over

Halverson (click for larger version)
January 04, 2012 | 07:33 AM
There will be a new Lake Geneva City Council this year.

As we reported in last week's Regional News, incumbent councilmen Tom Hartz, Frank Marsala and Todd Krause have all chosen not to run again.

All three have been steady, responsible members of the current council. As a result, the current council has been a refreshing change from the discord of a previous one.

Luckily, Mayor Jim Connors — another positive member — has chosen to run again after a lot of soul searching.

All of them received heat for their vote related to the settlement with developers and for some that probably played into their decision to step out of the political arena at least for now. While both Marsala and Krause were members of the more disruptive council, they survived it relatively unscathed. They resisted falling into the caldron of personal attacks and innuendo that ate up the former mayor and much of the rest of the council.

Granted, Marsala has been embroiled in a rather public feud with a local business owner. That's embarrassing, but doesn't seem to directly relate to how he handles himself on the council.

If you go to council meetings regularly or watch them on TV, you can't help but be impressed by the studious nature of Krause and Hartz especially. They appear to do their homework and accept the opinions of others in a nonconfrontational way.

To be fair, some of the members of the previous council also paid a personal and emotional price for their positions and actions. Lake Geneva politics often resembles a contact sport.

I don't agree with everything the current council has done. I think they moved too quickly and too secretively on settlements with developers. In their minds, they had no choice. But it appeared to many as a subversion of the democratic process. Right or wrong, it is nice to know the city is no longer under the fear of economic disaster because of the lawsuits.

There have been other cases where they seem to have moved too cautiously. For instance, fear of disapproval has apparently slowed their willingness to quickly end free plowing, garbage pickup and other services to residents who live on private roads.

But it's the same traits — practicality and caution — that has been a positive hallmark of this council. They've been professional, measured — sometimes to the point of boredom. While the old council made for more exciting news, the most recent council proved you don't need fireworks to create good public policy. The Regional News may have sold fewer papers on given weeks as a result, but as far as the city is concerned, fewer dramatic headlines have been a welcome change.

The current council also tackled the issue of long-term debt and moved to replace the city's outdated parking meters. Neither action has been perfectly realized, but at least they looked at the issues head-on and tried to do something about them.

Every council needs a contrarian, someone who will question the "conventional wisdom" of the majority. Having covered city councils in three communities during my time as a reporter, I always thought such a person gave voice to those who feel disenfranchised and challenged the majority to justify their decisions. One contrarian enlivens debate.

In the case of this council, Alderman Terry O'Neill has filled that role. Too many contrarians can switch the focus from policy to personalities. Of course, they think they're right. But I prefer a more judicious tone from our city officials as opposed to the discord of the previous council. There are ways to express yourself without resorting to mudslinging and theatrics. And, as witnessed by the long view of history, those practices usually end up as a form of self-destruction.

So, from my perspective the three outgoing councilmen will be missed. The council has been quietly effective, willing to tackle both long- and short-term issues, and done it in a professional manner.

It would be nice to see the next council carry on that tradition.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.

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