Concerns about board conduct continues in Osceola Township
Crowds have grown consistently at recent Town of Osceola board meetings with the conduct of the board being a primary concern of residents. Issues of previous meetings becoming hostile and contention between committee members were addressed at the Nov. 5 meeting with over 70 in attendance.
“Last month I brought up this issue of incivility that has been happening at some of these meetings and it unfortunately continued during that October meeting after I sat down,” said plan commission member Bob Wright during public comment. “I’m here again to remind folks that we can have discussions about things that we disagree with, but they need to be done in a respectful manner.”
“At our July plan commission meeting we had a guest speaker come in to talk to us about factory farming,” said plan commission member Amy Middleton. “Ever since then, the town meetings have been hostile, they’ve been intimidating, there’s been name calling, and our guest speaker that month was interrupted and the entire meeting was disruptive. The town needs to talk about what we’re going to do here, and you as the board are going to have to figure out how we do that.”
Both Middleton and Wright submitted letters to the editor to The Sun and Inter County Leader newspapers respectively to further illustrate their perceived issues with the Town of Osceola Board conduct. Newest board supervisor, Brandon Whittaker, brought those letters to the town attorney in hopes of clarifying any conduct, intentional or otherwise, that could be considered unethical.
“When you write a letter to the editor, you have the right to say whatever you want, but you have to be careful about what you state after your name,” Whittaker said. “If you start using your title like, ‘Osceola Planning Commission’, now you’re speaking on behalf of the entire planning commission. You can state that you are a member, but using the title as a whole could result in a potential lawsuit.”
Whittaker continued about the etiquette of the board to say, “This should be a very professional meeting. We, as officials and members of the plan commission, are paid by Town of Osceola taxpayers. So, it’s our job to ensure that we are accurate with what we say, whether it’s here, or in the paper, and that we are professional and respectful.”
The suggestion made by the town’s attorney was to make a specific code of ethics relative to the circumstances surrounding the Town of Osceola. The Wisconsin Towns Association (WTA) has a set of guidelines for board conduct, but the idea to create specific rules for the board at a later date ended the conversation at the November meeting.
“I do know that we have to be careful about what we say,” said board chairman Dough Schmidt. “I know that there have been mistakes made by a lot of people here. Statements are made that might not be totally accurate by just about everybody. The code of ethics has never been brought up at this town board before, so I’m not sure if we’re making a mountain out of a molehill here, but it’s something that the board will be looking into.”
Jo Everson was sworn in as interim Clerk/Treasurer while the board finds a permanent employee. Everson has served more than 20 years in the Town of Osceola and Taylor’s Falls as clerk/treasurer and willingly volunteered her time while the position is being filled.
The board heard a draft report created by Public Administration Associates, LLC after an organizational audit was done in the Town of Osceola. The audit examined areas of strengths and improvements for the town including public works operations, road improvement plan, records management and the clerk/treasurer position. Overall, the report showed Osceola to be doing very well in all categories.
During the special town board meeting Nov. 18, the board will discuss the potential options for the clerk/treasurer position taking into consideration the report from Public Administration Associates, LLC.
The Town of Osceola Board of Supervisors is looking for three persons to serve on a short term committee (one or two meetings) to assess the town’s current website and possible need for a town Facebook page. If interested, please contact the Town of Osceola: 715-755-3060, firstname.lastname@example.org