Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Umbrance" and arrogance....

On Nov.14th, at the last meeting of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission, two citizens attended (For me it required getting up before dawn--6:30am--to be there in time to speak up as a ratepayer and resident).

I spoke up. I asked the Commission to stop holding meetings from which the public is excluded on the subject of "water supply options", just as I have asked several times in the past.

The Commission President, Daniel Warren, whose day job is "Development Manager" of Pabst Farms--just in case you're wondering whether the leader of the Utility is somebody who knows a good plan when he sees it--did get a little hot under the collar when it came time to discuss the motion to close the session. He claimed to "feel umbrance" over my questioning his integrity.

The time for public comment was over; I had no standing to speak. So I said nothing.

But, if I'd had the opportunity to speak I would have said this:

"Only one person in this room has ever been cited by the District Attorney of Waukesha for violation of Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law. Cited and FINED in July, 2006, for the offense.
That person is Daniel Warren, President of this Water Utility Commission"

"Umbrance" indeed.

* * *

The Business of the Waukesha Water Utility is the Public’s Business.

Mayor Larry Nelson, in the 19 months he has had the power to appoint four of the five members of the Water Utility Commission (as well as one seat at the table for himself), has been consistent in his replies to questions about what the Commission was planning on the subject of diverting Lake Michigan Water to the City of Waukesha: “No decision has been made. We are exploring all the options. When a direction is chosen it will have to be discussed by the City Council and is subject to their power to approve any plan. That will be the time for public input.”

On Nov. 14th, the Commission met at 7:00 am, a time when most Waukesha adults are either brushing and flossing or heading to work. On the agenda were about twenty items, large and small. Two appeared to be critically important to the public:
1. Approval of the 2008 Water Utility Budget.
2. A plan to evict the public from the room and go into a closed session, “Pursuant to Sec 19.85 (1) (e) & (g), Wisconsin Statutes, to discuss strategy relative to our long term water options, as well as radium compliance, with legal counsel”.

And, indeed, they did vote unanimously to exclude the citizens/ratepayers and meet in secret. Commissioner Greg Zinda: "Aye". Commissioner Alderman Peggy Bull: "Aye". Commissioner Mayor Larry Nelson: "Aye". Commission President Daniel Warren: "Aye". Commissioner Gerald Couri: Absent (again).

So they met. And the public still doesn't know what they're up to. Except, they gave us a hint. More than a hint. Their downtown lawyer from Reinhart Boerner, Don Gallo, hadn't arrived by the time the closed meeting agenda item came up. So, they skipped ahead to a review of budgetary stuff—pages of spreadsheets and detailed budgets for each Utility Department.

Perhaps inadvertently, tucked into seventy pages of figures we found, under a heading called "2008 Significant Budget Items," part of an executive summary provided by the Commission's accountant, Peggy Steeno:
“New Water Supply Investigation/Plan:
Included in this item are the consulting services to continue to assist the Utility with its investigation into a new water supply. The assumptions with this item are that an application for Great Lakes water will be submitted for review in early 2008. This item includes the support necessary to achieve development and approval of the application and initiate the negotiations with a wholesale provider. The current estimate for these services in 2008 is $300,000.”

Diversion of water from Lake Michigan is not something that the public has any information on, nor do the time-lines imply that we will have much to say about it.

It is a done deal. And it appears that it became a done deal through a two-year series of closed meetings: first, among the members of the Water Utility Commission and continuing in a parallel series of closed meeting of the Commission with the City Council.

Citizens of Waukesha are encouraged to come to the meeting of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 20 at 5:30 pm. At the Water Utility Building, next to City Hall. Address the Commission, as is your right. City residents and customers need to be present at the start of the meeting. The first order of business is public comment. Make clear to the Commissioners that the public’s business is to be done IN PUBLIC.

Oh! About the budget. Remember the 17% increase in water rates that Mayor Nelson and his Water Utility Commission just put in place several months ago? Well, they are already planning another double digit increase which they discussed at the November meeting. The request for another big bite out of the ratepayers—probably in the area of 19%--will come at the end of 2008. Somebody has to pay the tab for the $300,000 for all those consultants they are going to hire beginning in two weeks.

Insist on an open discussion of these important matters. Make your opinion known.

The Public’s business must be done in public, not in secret.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.