Still closed in Kendall
Wisconsin has a long and venerable tradition of open, transparent government. The Legislature has explicitly promoted that “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information” and mandates in the Public Records Law that local residents have complete access.
But Town of Kendall officials have a troubling record of secrecy and have wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars to avoid complying with state mandates.
On Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 4 p.m., town residents will have an opportunity to nominate candidates who will respect the First Amendment and adhere to Wisconsin Open Records and Meetings laws allowing complete public access to governmental business.
Attending monthly meetings where officials read minutes and financial reports silently so that no one knows what is being proposed or approved may be legal. But is it right, and in the best interest of towns residents? There is no public comment item on the agenda, and there was no agenda available for attendees at the Nov. 10 meeting. At the recent budget hearing, there were no budget proposals available for residents to see. Requests for public documents are met with delays and sometimes refusals.
Kendall’s three town board members — chairman Micah Bahr and supervisors Jackie Steffes and Don Christensen — ostensibly may feel they represent township residents, but in reality they do not.
Bahr has been under scrutiny for Open Records violations and has earned the enmity of the media, according to The Platteville Journal. In a Dec. 4, 2013 column, “Kendall vs. its residents,” The Journal found it “arrogant,” “ignorant,” and “disturbing” that legitimacy of residents’ concerns lacked validity because its candidates lost in previous elections.
Officials posted a notice in October 2013 that proposed meeting privately to conduct town business, shouting secrecy to the rooftops and demonstrating the utmost contempt for state open meeting laws. Taxpayer dollars have been spent for legal fees — nearly $7,000 in 2014 — for officials’ violation of Open Records laws. These fees include the dishonorable refusal to pay the former town clerk for his postal expenses.
But Kendall residents deserve better. It’s time to question the integrity of our current officials who believe secrecy is the best policy and that oligarchical rule is best.
Now we have a chance to nominate and elect public servants who will respect the First Amendment regarding freedom of speech and adhere to Open Meetings and Open Records laws.
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