Opinion Archives for 2018-04

Editorial Comment: Best Hope for Restoring Civility to Civic Discourse in Wisconsin is Institute for Public Policy and Service

By Roger Utnehmer    

 

DoorCountyDailyNews.com

President and CEO

 

The best hope for restoring civility to civic discourse in Wisconsin might be a little-known but influential organization operating out of the University of Wisconsin Marathon County campus in Wausau.

 

The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) is developing a respected reputation for research, action and engagement.

 

According to its website, for the past 10 years WIPPS has been succeeding in its mission to spur civic engagement, nonpartisan public dialogue, student learning and community-building initiatives.

 

Accomplishments include a summer seminar that gives college students a three-week opportunity to learn about policy-making in Madison and Washington, D.C., conflict resolution training for students and public officials, assistance with financial aid applications for college students, and expert research and programming on issues by facilitating conferences, webinars and public dialogues.

 

The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service is a classic example of the Wisconsin Idea at its best. Progressive reformer and former Governor Robert La Follette advocated for the citizen-centered democracy at the heart of the WIPPS mission. He would be proud to see the influence of this university-sponsored effort being extended throughout the state.

 

WIPPS is effective because of the bi-partisan composition of its board of advisors and a passionate staff led by Eric Giordano. The board is comprised of some of the most thoughtful and articulate citizens in Wisconsin. The ability of the board and staff to facilitate difficult discussions with civility and decorum is reason for optimism.

 

WIPPS most impressive work may be the facilitation of programs that engage future generations in the process of government. The emerging millennial generation cares deeply about important issues. Millennials prefer cooperation to conflict. They reject the hyperbole characteristic of too much of our political rhetoric and prefer authenticity. Millennials are searching for engagement. WIPPS is providing that opportunity and the guidance to do it well.

 

Those of us concerned about the coarseness of communications, polarizing political differences and lack of civility in civic discourse will find the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service optimistically refreshing.

 

University budget cuts should never threaten the ability of WIPPS to carry out its mission. By encouraging legislative support and making personal contributions to WIPPS our best hope for restoring civility to civic discourse in Wisconsin will be stronger.

 

That's my opinion. I'd like to hear yours.

Letter to the Editor: Since you asked...Questions that indicate success

By Laurel Hauser           

Thank you, Mr. Utnehmer, for articulating in your recent editorial many of the items I also believe need to be changed in our city.

 

I've just completed my first year as an elected official, and those who have been paying attention know that it's been one for the proverbial books -- difficult, frustrating, maddening and, at many times, downright surreal. It's also been educational and enlightening.

 

The results of Tuesday's election indicate that our community's ready for a paradigm shift, a new way of doing business. As Mr. Utnehmer says, this shift comes with "significant responsibility."

 

At this hinge point between what was and what will be, I've been thinking about that responsibility. How will we, the new council, know if we've met it? The questions below will be my personal indicators of our success.

 


  • Does the council have open and meaningful conversation before voting on issues? Are the motives behind arguments comprehendible?


 

  • Do we seek public input? If hot-button items emerge, do we solicit more input, not less?


 

  • Are we adhering to our policies? Are those policies clear and accessible to the public?


 

  • Are our decisions fiscally responsible?


 

  • Can our decisions be conveyed simply and clearly?


 

  • And finally, are we communicating our work with the media so the community can stay informed?


 

I've spent many hours this past year trying to help people make sense of what the council has done when there was little or no sense to be found. If we can answer yes to the questions above, we will have fewer "What just happened?" moments after council meetings and our local government will be more accessible to its citizens.

 

Letter to the Editor: Why I support the PRAT

By Laurel Hauser



This Tuesday, Sturgeon Bay residents will be asked to vote yes or no on a Premier Area Resort Tax (PRAT). I support the PRAT and this is why. (If you're in favor of the PRAT, you'll like the first part of this. If you're opposed or undecided, please keep reading.)

Until we as a society decide that more of our collective wealth should go to the community, and while we are under state-imposed levy limits, we need to pay for the services we all use. Sturgeon Bay is fortunate that, because of where we're located, we have the PRAT tool available to us. (Pending approval by our State legislature.)

When our Roads Committee met last year (and I call it "our" because it was made up of one citizen from each district), the members did an inspiring job of examining our current situation and assessing our options. They did their homework (literally), asked questions and came to a common recommendation. I attended the meetings and watched the process.

The PRAT tax was their first choice because it makes a lot of sense. It shares the cost for the roads with those who use them. As the hub of Door County, and as the gateway to northern Door County, our roads get more use than our 9,000+ residents give them. By enacting the PRAT, visitors help pay for the roads they use. While the PRAT will bring in an estimated $800,000 a year, only a fraction of that will come from the residents of Sturgeon Bay.

But here's the real reason I support the PRAT. A few years ago, when I made a career change, I spent a summer and fall working for a local landscape company. I went from earning a salary at my previous job to being an hourly employee. I worked with people who put in 9-hour days, six days a week, doing hard physical labor. Most of them drove cars that barely got them to work. Which brings us to the alternative to a PRAT.

Choice#2 from the Roads Committee is a wheel tax. Many communities adopt wheel taxes, and every vehicle – whether it's a luxury vehicle or a clunker – gets taxed the same. In order to collect the $720,000 needed to meet the Roads Committee's recommended replacement schedule and maintenance, the wheel tax on each vehicle would need to be $56. If a family has two vehicles, that's $112. (It's estimated that the PRAT, in comparison, will cost a family with a modest income about $30 a year.)

In our culture, even the poorest laborer needs a car to get to work. It hurts me to think of the working poor paying a wheel tax when the alternative is to ask people who vacation here to pay .5 percent on what are largely luxury, tourist-related items.

Having said all that, are those who question the PRAT and the parameters of its use asking the right questions? Yes, they absolutely are.

If things are done with the right intentions – i.e. instituting a tax to pay for our roads and sidewalks, as the Roads Committee recommends – but no policy is put in writing, no follow-up process is identified to make sure the tax is used correctly, we've done half of the job.

 

Asking for intentions to be recorded in policy form, and accessible to the public, is wise and will carry the Roads Committee's work forward to future councils.

Our roadways work when they free of potholes and when there are stop signs and traffic lights telling people where to go and what the rules are. The same is true of city government.

I urge people to vote yes for the PRAT so that those who use our roads pay for them. And then I'd urge people to hold their council members' feet to the fire to do the rest of their job. Before the PRAT goes to the legislature, put the Roads Committee's intentions (found in their final report) into a policy that's accessible.

Laurel Hauser

Alderperson, District 7, Sturgeon Bay

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