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Common Council debates ‘debate’
Boscobel City Hall

BOSCOBEL - New rules that put limits on public participation at City Hall came up for discussion at last week’s Common Council meeting. Mayor Brenda Kalish gave the floor to Boscobel resident Rita Thompson, who said she’d tried to preregister to make a public comment, as the new rules require, but found no way to do so on the city website. Kalish said citizens must phone City Hall to get their public comments preregistered.

Thompson read a prepared statement opposing the changes. In addition to requiring preregistration, the mayor dissolved an informal email group that had received the council agenda and the informational background packet.

“Five or six of us regularly attend and are interested in what is happening and are even interested in helping by serving our community in one capacity or another,” Thompson said. “Why would you not want to encourage that public participation? It has the appearance that someone is trying to hide something.”

Mayor Kalish said that the new rules are designed to route citizen input through the elected alders, rather than directly to the council. “If three or four people from the same ward are complaining about something to their aldermen, they know it’s definitely an issue,” she said. “They will bring it to the council and we can address it.”

Divided city is “sick”

City Attorney Ben Wood, who advises the council on legal matters and signed off on the changes, said the rule is designed to prevent personal attacks against council members. “If you think something is important enough to talk to your alder people that you elect then you call them up, but showing up to say ‘I’m mad about a Boscobel Dial article,’ that’s unproductive. That doesn’t do anything but divide.”

Wood cited attacks against Grant County’s public health staff during the Covid pandemic as examples of divisive public behavior the new rules are designed to prevent.

“I’ve never seen the city in such divide that it is right now,” Wood said. “It’s sick. And I think a big part of it is some of these allegations that you’re bringing up. Nobody’s hiding anything. Nobody’s ever hid anything. We follow the law here,” he said.

Wood also pushed back on the idea that greater participation would result from improved access to City Hall through open comment sessions and email access to the agenda.

“Emailing out agendas is not going to make people more involved in city government, Wood said. What makes them more involved is sexy news stories and other things that make everybody riled up because that’s what they care about. We like drama. We like problems. So when we see problems and it grows and festers, and then we roll in it like my dogs. To say getting a public comment on the agenda is going to bring this city together—I’m too much of a damn lawyer pessimist to believe that.”

Other business

The council also approved personnel and logistics for the upcoming spring election. Polling will take place in the Blaine Gym, and the city will roll out its newly acquired electronic poll book, Badger Book, which will ultimately replace the paper lists of registered voters currently in use. Four alderpersons are running unopposed in the April election.