In what appears to be a politically motivated attack, the Janesville Gazette targeted a Janesville city council member, Sam Liebert, for simply holding a different (opposing) view to the city's current form of non-district representative at-large form of elective city government.
FYI, the city of Janesville has a seven member council elected at-large. This means it is possible that all seven council members could be living on the same city block and it so happens that most officials holding public office are residents of the city's east side.
Apparently, during a council session last year, Liebert stated that he heard from many constituents who felt their voices were not being represented on city issues. Liebert concluded that in order to better serve those feeling left out, he would like to see Janesville change over to a district representative form of city government with aldermanic wards.
For that, the Gazette posted a large headlining article last week conjuring up evidence to the contrary, along with some fearmongering and spin on why the current system of at-large representation is what best serves the city. They followed up a week later with an editorial essentially repeating quotes from the story and hammering down on those who might disagree.
It's been awhile since I last wrote about this issue so I'll be clear on my position first. I strongly believe Janesville needs district representative government, a mayor AND an administrative manager in order for the residents to take control of the city's destiny. I do NOT believe Janesville should have a 20 or 30 member city council. Nor do they have to be partisan elective offices. But ideally, I would like to see an eight member aldermanic style of city council with an elected mayor casting the tie-breaking vote when necessary. That system would create a true leader with a singular voice and vision that a majority of residents can identify with, restore accountability to the voters and offer true representation.
The Gazette of course disagrees with that scenario and that's perfectly fine. But they just don't simply disagree. In their article, they cherry picked a few Janesville residents in an attempt to demonize Liebert and those who might agree with him as having potentially partisan or dishonorable motives, including inventing and personalizing a disrespect for current members of the council for added effect.
One Janesville resident said this about the current members of the council ...
JG: "They are honorable and respectable people who wish to serve the entire city and not any one particular issue or any one particular neighborhood." - Burdette Erickson
As if others aren't? As opposed to what? A district representative form of government?
Of most interest however in the Gazette's article and editorial are the pieces of evidence they use to support their position, evidence that just as strongly shows how inadequate the current system is and in fact supports Liebert's position.
For instance, Janesville School Board Member Kevin Murray said he doesn't see any geographic evidence of (east-west) bias on the board because ...
JG: The board actually works hard to be balanced, Murray said, noting that when questions were raised about the high school expansion projects, board members agreed to change the plans so that the wrestling facilities at Craig and Parker would be similar.
They have to work hard to be balanced? Thank God they agreed, huh? At least that time ...or that other time.
The Gazette also takes the position that only educated and affluent people run for local elective office and it is those qualities in candidates that makes the city's current system of at-large presentation the better of any alternatives. But in the same manner of Erickson's comment, they conversely imply that those living on the west and south sides of Janesville, despite paying property taxes and being contributing members to the city, are either too stupid or too poor to run for city council and are better off to leave issues and decisions to those more educated and deserving.
At the same time, and this is almost unbelievable, the Gazette editors fuel the polarization in their editorial by stating that current and past city "leaders" should be offended by anyone who suggests they don't care about all of Janesville's neighborhoods and residents. Ummm, never mind the Gazette's own offensive condescension and animosity toward the Janesville constituencies they just trashed. By the way, this isn't the first time the Gazette debased certain segments of Janesville's population.
Included in the article were a few comments by Sen. Tim Cullen, who seemed to be non-committal to the idea of an aldermanic style of government for Janesville, but senses that government at every level is indeed broken.
Cullen thinks partisanship is the main problem, but he also inadvertently sounded an alarm of sorts when he mentioned how some organizations are recruiting candidates for public office and school boards that are philosophically "anti" to public education and the concept of government.
This in my opinion is a real and growing problem that should be addressed during question and answer forums with local candidates. There is nothing wrong in asking school board candidates what their primary goals are for public education. Are they running to make our public schools the best in the world? Or are they running to defund and dismantle them? The same goes for city council members and the county board. Do you want to restore faith in government or is that the wrong strategy? What business would hire people whose main goal is to hurt business performance? On the same token, why in the world would we elect candidates knowing they want to obstruct or poison government for the sake of fueling public mistrust and hatred towards government? It doesn't make sense.
The Gazette also uses the context of "leaders" when referring to the seven representatives of Janesville's at-large city council and "geography" when describing district ward representation.
But let's put it in fundamental terms. How many corporations have 7 CEOs? Or 7 head coaches for one football team or 7 managers for a baseball team? How well does anyone think those teams would perform if they are led by seven diverging game philosophies or different managerial personalities bickering over authority? But that is similar to how the city of Janesville is operated.
The problem is; what are they representative of? Since it's not geography, or to be blunt, districts with boundaries, it can only mean that they are representative of special interests, ideologies or parties. That doesn't mean district representation will end the influence of special interests, ideologies or parties. But it does mean that the option of pure representation now exists and voters will finally have the opportunity to voice and check those priorities.
Again, getting back to basic fundamentals, district representation is not all about geography. If it were, Janesville's 34.45 square miles would then be divided into eight 4.30 square mile districts. But that's not how districts are created. Districts are simply containers for the "demos," the people. That means Janesville's population of 63,000 would be divided into 8 districts of 7,875 people. Each district, regardless of how poor, rich, conservative, liberal or uneducated they are, are then represented by one of their own in the body politic. It's the people that are the core or root of the container, not geography, not their wealth and certainly not their education.
Finally, it's not surprising for the Gazette to use a bully pulpit against one council member who merely happens to have a different view. But it is horrendous, and to use Janesville residents as wedges to further polarize the issue is even worse. Again, what the Janesville Gazette does is not an opinion - it's a campaign. It's how they roll.
If you liked this article, you might be interested in the following. Don't be put off by the age of some of the postings - very little has changed in Janesville since:
RNR - Janesville's City Council Likes Things Just The Way They Are (Sept, 2013)
RNR - Newspaper Injects Partisan Politics into Local Non-Partisan Elections (Dec, 2011)
RNR - Will GM-less Janesville Usher In Government Reforms? (July, 2009)
RNR - In Janesville, Less Leadership Is More (Feb. 2008)
RNR - E Pluribus Non Unum – From Many, Not One (Dec. 2008)
RNR - Zero-Sum Development Unique To Poor Planning (July, 2008)
RNR - Non-Partisan Elections Like Throwing Darts (March, 2007)