Alderwoman should give up council seat
June 02, 2010 | 08:08 AM
When a person is elected in the city of Lake Geneva, that person raises his or her right hand and recites an oath. This is the official oath taken by all elected or appointed officials in the state of Wisconsin.
"I ... having been elected as an alderman for the city of Lake Geneva, swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Wisconsin, and will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of said office to the best of my ability. So help me God."
Along with this oath comes additional responsibilities to the citizenry that are not mentioned, but should be understood by all public officials.
These responsibilities include following laws and performing all duties ethically, transparently and honestly.
Wisconsin State Statutes and Lake Geneva ordinances cite ethics and conflict of interest laws. In a 2008 University of Wisconsin-Extension document prepared by James H. Schneider, the reasons for ethics and conflict laws are simple.
"The purpose of these laws is to prevent self-dealing, undue influence and bias, and to preserve the public confidence in local government by avoiding the appearance of impropriety. In general, these laws, with the open meetings and public records laws, while occasionally cumbersome, provide an important part of the foundation of our democratic government."
It's apparent that Lake Geneva's Second District Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier isn't playing by this set of ethics and laws and that makes her no longer deserving of her seat on the City Council.
On May 21, after nearly three months, Fesenmaier finally responded in writing to Regional News open records request for e-mails pertaining to the Mirbeau and Hummel development proposals, which now are in federal litigation to the tune of about $150 million. Despite claiming in one e-mail in mid-April that she was "working on it" and a hand-delivered post it note on May 19 that she had nothing yet, but she would "know by the end of the week," her response to the request was that she had "no records to share."
That answer came one week after former alderwoman Penny Roehrer provided about 250 pages of e-mails through the records request, which included a number of e-mails Fesenmaier wrote and received, all with the key words Mirbeau or Hummel included in them. This response also came after the city attorney strongly urged Fesenmaier provide her records to the Regional News.
No way was this a mistake or an oversight on Fesenmaier's part. She didn't forget about these e-mails. She didn't lose them or accidently delete them from the numerous e-mail accounts she has used to communicate city business.
This was an intentional three-month long disregard for Wisconsin's public records laws. This is a slap in the face to officials who abided by the law and provided honest responses to the records requests. But, mostly, this shows a lack of respect for the office of alderman and to the city of Lake Geneva as a whole.
It's obvious that Fesenmaier's constant call for the city to be "transparent" and for "full disclosure" doesn't include her or her behind-the-scenes communications and activities.
One of Fesenmaier's claims to fame on the council since she was elected in 2007 has been her detailed focus on city policies and procedures.
She even has gone as far as saying at a recent meeting that policies and procedures are "the lifeblood of the city."
It appears she has forgotten about those policies that require her to be custodian of her own records pertaining to city business, and that public records requests are an important and required part of the democratic process used to ensure the citizenry is informed and educated as to the actions of their elected officials.
For the time being, this matter regarding Fesenmaier's response to our public records requests is in the hands of the Walworth County District Attorney for possible future action. What the DA will do about this, if anything, we don't yet know.
However, there is no doubt the citizens of the Second District and the city deserve more ethical and honest representation from their elected officials.
Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.