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Things to think about: Elections, open meetings, sidewalks

Lisa Seiser
February 14, 2012 | 05:10 PM
There are times when I think about a number of issues, but don't want to focus on one for an entire column.

Here's one of those times. The following are some things I've been thinking about lately.

The "sidewalk to nowhere"

Tonight, Thursday, the city's Public Works Committee is expected to discuss what to do regarding resident sidewalk shoveling in developments that aren't completed.

The issue arose a couple weeks back when some property owners, specifically in the Stone Ridge subdivision received $80 bills from the city after the city's contractor went around and shoveled walkways following the most recent snowstorm.

The property owner I wrote about on last week's front page received one of these bills and called the city. She called me, too. After listening to her story, I went up to her home to see what she was calling her "sidewalk to nowhere." Honestly, I thought she may have been exaggerating regarding her walkway.

I pulled into her driveway and immediately realized she wasn't joking. All I could do was look and shake my head in disbelief. Her approximate 75-foot long sidewalk ended at her property line on both sides. The only way someone could use her sidewalk was to either walk through a construction site on one side or through a muddy vacant lot on the other.

Don't get me wrong, I believe people should follow the city's requirement of shoveling their walkways within 24 hours of the end of a storm. After all, it is the law. But, this seemed ridiculous. The whole point for the shoveling requirement is to make it safe for people to walk in the city. Nobody is walking on the sidewalks of a partially completed development about as far away from downtown Lake Geneva as you can get and still be in the city.

I can only hope, just as those residents up in Stone Ridge, that a resolution can be found to this issue. I am confident it will.

Open meetings

Late last month, the City Council organized a special meeting to talk about the importance of following open meeting and open records laws.

Dennis Tweedale from the Wisconsin League of Municipalities and attorney Ray Pollen attended to talk about the specifics of open government. They also showed the same video city officials watched in 2008, which focused on ethical behavior as aldermen.

I was very pleased to see seven current aldermen and the mayor in attendance. I was even more pleased to see each of the candidates running for office in April also in the audience and paying extremely close attention to the presentation.

Many good questions were asked and answered clearly regarding closed sessions, legislative versus quasi judicial decisions, quorums, negative quorums and walking quorums. Now, there should be no question as to the proper behavior of elected officials.

Had some previous councils paid attention to the ethical and proper behavior as described and shown during this meeting, maybe the city could have avoided the lawsuits and suspensions of a few years ago. Let's hope this council and future councils take heed to what was said on Jan. 30.

Knowing the problems that have arisen in the recent past, I do wish Tweedale and Pollen would have spent a few more minutes on open records requirements.

Anyway, an interesting tidbit. Tweedale said the city's lawsuits settled with Mirbeau and Geneva Ridge Joint Venture exceeded four times the highest of any lawsuits against a municipality in Wisconsin.

Election in new village

While the final results of this election are complete and it required a card drawing to determine one of the winners, I have another concern.

What in the world is the county's Clerk of Courts doing running this election? Apparently, state statutes say that is who handles the election, but it makes no sense.

Wouldn't it make more sense for the County Clerk to perform an election? No offense to Walworth County Clerk of Courts Sheila Reiff, but her training is not in running elections. When I talked to her Tuesday night to collect the results, there was no question she was in complete control, despite the tie for the second trustee spot.

However, that doesn't mean she should have been in charge. One of the main functions of the County Clerk is to organize and run an election. The current clerk has done it dozens of times, probably more. At the same time, the Clerk of Courts had never run an election before. That's not part of her regular duties.

That's the only reason that needs to be said as to why Reiff should never have had to run this election.

Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.


Tags: Staff Editorial

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