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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why Bother To Attend Public Hearings and Meetings? Pt.2

Brace yourselves. Depending on your perspective of democracy and fiscal responsibility, Mondays' Janesville city council meeting was either a complete hoot or a complete shame.

In a concern troll sort of a way, several council members worried about the (high) costs for interested residents to keep and maintain four chickens and build a coop. Really! That those in support of keeping chickens can't possibly be smart enough to know the costs involved since they are stupid enough to even consider wanting chickens in their backyards in the first place. Sure, they didn't say it that way but that's the way I heard it.

Using their cost and supermarket analysis on the chickens ordinance, it’s very possible the fishing and the backyard swimming pool industries could be in jeopardy here in Janesville. Is the city council aware of the tens of thousands of dollars some fishermen spend on 200 HP Basstrackers, depthfinders and other exotic fishing gear? Just to catch a little fish that they can buy cleaned and breaded in the supermarket for just a few dollars? Or what about backyard swimming pools? Some homeowners spend thousands a year on an activity they can enjoy for free at Lions Beach. Did you ever smell rotting fish left in the yard? Or an unsanitized swimming pool?

Obviously, it was not only condescending and offensive to use costs as justification against the ordinance, but arguments such as these are also intellectually dishonest. Council members trying to use land covenants, costs and supermarkets were clearly stretching for reasons to deny the ordinance. But the main failure to this ordinance was the planning commission’s earlier incompetence when they failed to debate and plan for the necessary changes required to make the ordinance more palatable. Sitting in their high chairs, they instead lazily offered a negative edict against the proposal. The same can be said for the administration.

From another angle, council members Steeber and Brunner both claimed the residents they spoke to were heavily opposed to the proposed chicken ordinance, but apparently not opposed enough to come to the public meeting. At Monday's final public hearing, ten people spoke in favor of the ordinance, five were opposed. Again, 10 against 5 in Janesville means the 10 loses. This strikes sharply against the very purpose and intent to hold public hearings and to encourage citizens to attend meetings in Janesville. Why should people bother?

Still, another council member compared keeping chickens to a hobby, like archery, and thus should be denied - as if THAT makes sense. The council voted against chickens in the backyard by a 5 to 2 vote. McDonald and Rashkin voted for it, while the other five talked themselves out of it any way they could. Literally, it seemed like they were just making stuff up to reject the request.

But it got predictably worse. Later during the meeting, the city council entertained the Janesville Gazette's third request of the council to start meetings a half an hour earlier - from 7PM to 6:30PM. Although the request narrowly failed, Council member George Brunner echoed an earlier comment from McDonald and felt changing the city council meeting time to a half an hour earlier was about more than being only selfishly about the Gazette. He was worried how the little people in attendance who wanted to voice their concerns on an issue might leave early during late running drawn-out meetings. As if their voice really matters.

But the council saved the best for last. Here they dealt with a request from the city manager to extend (eliminate?) the deadline to help the wealthy private group meet it's fundraising goal by buying into a consultant study at the very last minute of the long and winding ice arena proposal. Although NOT ONE PERSON from the private group of wealthy investors thought it important enough to attend such a trivial hearing, the city council still agreed to pay for the study with $10,000 in a deal that might eventually involve giving away an additional $2.5 million in tax dollars. Talk about a kick in the face and loving it. When the Big 3 went to Congress for a hand-out, at least they attended the meeting even if they had to fly in on their private jets. The ice arena folks are above all that. After the council cowered in approval, council member Kathy Voskuil actually began questioning other council members apparent lack of enthusiasm towards public/private partnerships for economic development. No - really.

The Janesville city council as a unit can fool some folks, but they don’t fool everyone. From examples as lightweight as an urban chicken ordinance to the wild and open-ended ice arena fiasco, to the content, purpose and goal of each proposal on the council agenda, to the ideological and personal biases of the city council and administration, to the selective appointments for committees and their expected duties and responsibilities, and to the false democracy propped up by the at-large city council, Janesville city government, it’s organizational process and it’s power structure are in complete shambles.

If there’s one additional point that I’ve made in my blog that was driven home during Monday night’s Janesville city council session, it’s this:
The people the city council are listening to and taking marching orders from are obviously NOT the ones that show up.


Judith said...

This disaster was encouraged to happen when the city staff rewrote sample ordinances that were provided and, instead, chose to write the amendment in a form they could then give a "negative recommendation". Perrotto's veto based upon" land covenants" to limit "ugly" chicken coops was a farce given people with large dogs don't have to get approval to build huge, ugly dog houses and runs. Asking proponents if they know how expensive it is to raise chickens - are cat or dog owners stopped from companionship because they apparently don't know the vet bills can rival human medical bills? If you can't afford it, responsible people don't spend it! Potential poultry owners were treated as naive, untrustworthy and irresponsible in spite of showing up at both the Plan Commission and Council meeting with FACTS vs. the emotional fears of far fewer in opposition. The Council has rarely (ever?) cared this much about "neighbor reactions" when they have unanimously approved far more intrusive, dangerous and, yes, deadly human endeavors amid our residential neighborhoods. It appears the majority of the Council was more concerned about perpetuating the emotional myths of raising hens to garner re-election later rather than risking the appearance of being more rational and knowledgeable. Thanks to Council members McDonald and Rashkin who voted with confidence and REAL leadership. Rather than complain, get involved! This issue is NOT dead and will reappear:
on Twitter: COJchickens
on Facebook: City Of Janesville Chickens?
on e-mail:
on WordPress:
AND good volunteers are always needed for city committees/commissions. The application process is VERY simple and ALL are given serious consideration:

Lou Kaye said...

Judith, thanks for the additional insight. Of course I'm of the belief that the bias and procedural elements that effected the decision on the chicken ordinance are part of a much broader and systemic problem within Janesville government.

That "serious consideration" is given to selection on committees is a major sore spot. My point being is that any Janesville resident regardless of education, politics or profession of proper age and no felonies should be qualified for any committee. Their name should go into a hat. Committees should be comprised of a cross section of Janesville's population and not just those deemed qualified by a panel. The legal language and professional nuances necessary to polish the committee's framework should come from the paid administration. In Janesville, we're more qualified to run for President or Congress than we are to be accepted on our current city committees. Fixing this "fix" would be a small step forward.

Anonymous said...

"Why Bother To Attend Public Hearings and Meetings?" Is a question I am asking myself these last couple of weeks! Thanks for promoting my site, Judith -- and I appreciate the blogger's perspective, as well, for obvious reasons. I have been told by an opposed Council member recently that:

"The only way that I can see this being changed is through a referendum. You would have to check with the City Clerk to see how this is done. I don’t know all of the particulars but, from what I know, you would have to file your intentions to petition with the City Clerk. Once you have done this you would then have to obtain signatures equal to or greater than (4800 signatures) 15% of electors that voted for governor in the last gubernatorial election. This must be done with 60 days from the date you file your attention to petition with the City Clerk."

Do you think he or she possibly might be attempting to deter this issue from returning to the table? LOL ; )

Judith said...

"In Janesville, we're more qualified to run for President or Congress than we are to be accepted on our current city committees." simply not true. I hope you'll talk to those now voluntarily serving on any of the committees if you have concerns. Again, I encourage all who are interested in service to take the time to submit their application for the committee(s) that interest them and through which they might help make a better Janesville.

Lou Kaye said...

I'm sorry, that is entirely true. Qualifications for Congress or President are: Legally born U.S. citizen, proper age and no felonies. Meeting those requirements by law, except for the election process, a panel of citizens cannot deny a person the right to run for high office. But a person who meets that criteria can be denied membership to a Janesville city committe because someone has a hang-up.

Judith said...

Aren't there thousands of voters with "hang-ups" denying others "membership"? ;-) Anyone who has been rejected from any local committee position or the opportunity to run for/win an elected office - no matter what the reasons - I would suggest patience and persistence often prevail.

Anonymous said...

Why does the online committee application ask for your employer, occupation, and whether you own or rent? They are even asterisked as required. They may as well ask what your religion and marital status are, too. I can see maybe there could be a conflict of interest if a person was employed by the city or had contracts with them. Even then, I rather have them on a committee than contacting council members though other less "public" means.

Lou Kaye said...

Judith - sure, but people willing to participate on a committee are not running for office. They are not campaigning for votes. And candidates should not be allowed to choose the committee they would like to be on. Those serving on committees should reflect the overall composition of the average Janesville taxpayer - not only bankers, business people, realtors, academics or so-called "professionals." And they should not "vote" on issues unless it's to vote on changes they proposed to tweak an ordinance or issue so it can be submitted to the council. Pull candidates out of a hat and pull the committee name out of another.

I realize that comparison was not fair, but I brought it up to show that Janesville's committees are "steered" from the beginning to provide a specified outcome, and city council members should only have observer status and not be on any committee - it's just more steerage. I agree with anonymous here, beyond name, residency and whether a person is competent or a criminal should be the only (dis)qualifiers. Besides, my beef isn't with you or the fine people serving on the committees or the council - it's the system and the resistance that continues to defend it. These of course are only my opinions.

Anonymous said...

COJ said "I have been told by an opposed Council member recently that:
"The only way that I can see this being changed is through a referendum."

If you want keep a few chickens in your backyard, you need a referendum. But the city council can give away $2 million and land to private investors without one. That about says it all.

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