The Wisconsin legislature is in session and it’s once again time to keep an eye on what lawmakers (and special interests) want to change in the lawbooks.
Governor Evers’ proposals to modernize the unemployment system and legalize marijuana are two of the more flashy items that will be debated, but a bill, passed on close to a party line vote in the Senate last week, has the potential to have the largest and most wide spread impact on taxpayers.
Senate Bill 55 would give villages, cities, school districts and counties the option to stop publishing meeting minutes in newspapers, giving them the option to post the minutes on their websites instead.
What’s the big deal, Tom? These governments already have websites. Surely they can use the money spent buying public notices in newspapers on more important things like fixing roads? What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty. I’ll give you a few scenarios.
For well over a century, laws concerning publishing minutes of governments in newspapers have worked well. Taxpayers have a single place to find out where their tax dollars are being spent, delivered to their home to read at their convenience. Want to know what the city council did? Check the newspaper. Want to know what the school board did? Check the newspaper. In addition to being great for readers, taxpayers could rest easy because minutes that were published in newspapers could be easily accessed. A decision made 10 years ago could be researched with a trip to the newspaper.
If this measure becomes law (it still has to pass the Assembly), taxpayers will have to go to multiple websites to read minutes. They will also need to have faith the minutes they read now are the same ones that were approved. There will be nothing to stop a government from re-writing minutes in the future. If the government changes website providers, hopefully links to minutes will be preserved and not disappear.
We understand that some people (not you) don’t read newspapers. That’s OK. Our newspaper and every newspaper in the state upload their public notices to a central searchable website, wisconsinpublicnotice.org, at no charge to anyone.
Our form of government works best when the ones paying the bill can easily understand how their money is being spent. It’s a basic tenet of human nature that people behave better when they are being watched. Government without oversight can go overboard or in the wrong direction when no one is watching.
The city of Bell, California is a cautionary tale of what happens when no one is watching. In 2010, the Los Angeles Times published an investigative article on possible malfeasance in the neighboring city of Maywood, revealing that the city officials of Bell received salaries that were reported as the highest in the nation. Subsequent investigations found atypically high property tax rates, allegations of voter fraud in municipal elections and other irregularities which heightened the ensuing scandal.
In the end, seven Bell city officials, including a former mayor, former city administrator, assistant city administrator and four city council members were convicted on graft and corruption charges.
If you believe the actions of government should be easily found and transparent, contact Rep. Gae Magnafici at (608) 266-0640, email: Rep.Magnafici@legis.wisconsin.gov and tell her to vote against this measure. Sen. Rob Stafsholt voted in favor of this measure last week. You can call him at (608) 266-7745, email: Sen.Stafsholt@legis.wisconsin.gov
As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.
Thanks for reading I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.