Audience numbers swelled to about 40 people at the Oneida County board meeting last Tuesday morning, supporting a petition that would change county board meeting times. Currently the board meets 10 months out of the year, usually the third Tuesday of the month. However, those meetings are held at 9:30 a.m. and that’s a point of contention for Scott Eshelman, who started the on-line signature petition drive.
“Having meetings during the day restricts people from running for office,” said Eshelman, who is a Newbold Town board member. “It’s also about accountability and responsibility. If people can’t make it to meetings because they work then they really don’t know what is going on with their government.”
To emphasize Eshelman’s point, two people held up a large banner with 75 names and printed comments supporting the meeting time change. “There have been some negative reactions with this petition and I’ve heard plenty of excuses,” said Eshelman. “I call them excuses, not reasons. This is about the opportunity to attend meetings and most people don’t have that if they have to work and county board meetings are held during the day.”
As of Jan. 17, 358 people had signed Eshelman’s on-line petition, (his goal is 400 signatures) including three county board members. Those were Bob Metropulos, Carol Pedersen and Tom Rudolph. Eshelman posted the on-line petition Dec. 9. “I would describe this as a ‘neophyte’ group,” he said. “Imagine how many people would sign (this petition) if we were aggressive.”
A few board members expressed concerns about holding county board meetings at night but hedged their comments about “keeping an open mind.”
“We are talking about a large area here,” said Jack Martinson, supervisor, who resides in Tripoli. “You have people traveling a long way. What about people coming long distances at night? Sometimes the weather is bad. It makes it difficult doing a job as a representative.”
But Supervisor Dave O’Melia had no sympathy for Martinson’s concerns. “If people are concerned about driving in bad weather at night, welcome to Wisconsin,” he quipped. “But these meetings don’t have to be at 8 p.m. Couldn’t we have them at 4 or 5 p.m.? I do totally agree though that the budget hearing should be held at night.”
Paul Dean also hedged his comments. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have them (night meetings) but there are some financial concerns,” he said. “Having night meetings could cost more money to taxpayers. For instance lots of times we have department heads attend these meetings to answer questions. You have to have night security. Someone will have to be here to secure the building after the meetings. And what about cleaning up the room after a meeting? This could have a real chain reaction effect. We’ll have to pay the price financially. I’m not saying this isn’t a good idea but the board will really have to take a closer look at this.”
Bob Metropolis, one of the board members who signed the petition, was for keeping an open mind about the proposal. “This is a bold, bold move,” he said. “But I think we should take baby steps here. Not every meeting has to be held at night but maybe high profile ones.”
Ted Cushing, county board chairman, explained while the petition, and Eshelman, brought the issue before the board, the only way meeting times could be changed was with an ordinance amendment brought to a county board meeting by a supervisor.
In other business, Cushing also encouraged supervisors to sign a resolution directed at the Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide “more open communication and consideration of landowners needs with regards to the Hwy. 51 reconstruction project.”
The project will affect communities such as Cassian, Hazelhurst, Minocqua and Woodruff within Oneida County. “This area represents 36 per cent of the Oneida County property tax base,” Cushing said. “The DOT’s current plans for reconstructing this road could shut down five businesses, maybe more. They (the DOT) don’t work from the ground up. They spend millions on plans and then just expect the towns to conform.”
Supervisor Carol Pedersen asked just what those reconstruction plans entailed. Supervisor Mike Timmons, whose district encompasses Woodruff, explained. “If we knew that we wouldn’t have to have this resolution,” he said. “But they’re talking about changing driveways, putting in turnarounds, and redoing the Lake Katherine bridge. They really haven’t communicated much with the towns. In their original plans they had 40 points of contention but we’ve got those down to about 12 now.”
The signed petition will be sent to Mark Gottlieb, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Russ Habeck, director of the north central region of the DOT, Governor Scott Walker, Senator Jim Holperin, and Representatives Dan Meyer and Tom Tiffany.
In other business:
• The board voted to purchase a patrol truck for snowplowing costing $136,567.11. This money will be taken from a “machinery” fund which contains $325,000 and was put in the budget for that purpose. The new truck will have a front plow, wing and underbody designed for plowing snow. Bidding procedures resulted in the $136,567.11 price tag. The new vehicle will be delivered in June.
• Approved joining the Blue Line Community Coalition, an alliance for the purpose of working with other Wisconsin cities and counties to discuss enhanced local rail services from and augmented rail infrastructure improvements by the Canadian National Railroad.
• Approved a resolution declaring that the current Oneida County Department on Aging headquarters located at 1103 Thayer St. be put up for sale. Within a few weeks the department will be moving to a new location in the former Northern Advantage Job building.