The time has come for some straight talk about Rhinelander city government.
Numerous times over the last year we have contemplated sharing our thoughts about the goings-on at City Hall but have held off in the hope that positive changes were on the horizon. Unfortunately, very little has changed over the last 11 months and we can't hold back any longer. The city leadership team (the mayor and the City Council) is simply not functioning and the community is suffering for it.
While all parties can certainly point to certain accomplishments over the years, for which we all owe them respect and gratitude, the simple truth is this particular group of people is no longer functioning as a cohesive team and hasn't for some time.
Frankly, dysfunction isn't a strong enough term. Despite having plenty of dictionaries at our disposal, we're not sure we can find a word that accurately describes what has gone on in city government over the last year.
We've had alderpersons taking turns filing complaints with the district attorney's office (at one point every member of the City Council was under some sort of investigation), constant bickering, the casual use of profanity at meetings and many ill-advised social media postings. And then there is the tumult in the Department of Public Works. We would compare that department to a junior high school but that would probably be unfair to the students soon to be filing into James Williams Middle School. Most recently, as we continue to study the impact of the new premiere resort area tax (PRAT), we've been left with questions as to whether city leaders properly researched the matter and whether the public was given complete and accurate information prior to approving the tax.
We're not sure if city leaders realize they are supposed to be running a city, not participating in a new version of the reality TV show "Survivor" where the goal is to outwit, outlast and outplay all of the other city officials. To win what prize, we're not sure and, at this point, there are so many different "alliances" that we struggle to keep track of the different factions. Like a reality TV competition, some even seem to move from one alliance to another.
To be clear, we are not pointing a finger at any one individual. It's our position that the group as a whole is wholly incompetent, for those who have sat quietly by while some revel in an apparent addiction to drama are just as guilty as those who can't seem to hold their tongues or acquit themselves in a manner befitting their office.
We can't help but wonder, are there no rules of decorum for city officials? Is it acceptable for city leaders to casually "call (expletive deleted)" on each other during meetings? Is it appropriate for city alderpersons to attack local businesses on their social media accounts? If one is served an insufficient meal or has an unsatisfactory experience at a particular establishment, why not speak directly to the proprietor of said establishment rather than post a "rant" on Facebook?
After all, it's very easy for anyone, including entrepreneurs considering relocating their businesses to Rhinelander, to find the list of alderpersons on the city website and peruse their social media accounts. What impression would a prospective entrepreneur have of our city leaders after reading their Facebook pages? Sadly, we think most would quickly abandon the idea of bringing their businesses here.
To be clear, we certainly recognize elected officials have a right to free speech that extends to social media. However, we submit that certain people can and should be held to a higher standard based on their position and city elected officials should fall into that category.
We're betting someone reading this is thinking about the president's Twitter account right now. Anyone who is thinking "but Trump does it" should locate the nearest elementary school and ask to be placed in the kindergarten class. Our parents were right when they warned us about mindlessly mimicking the behavior of others.
Not that we're advocating for the creation of "fake" Facebook accounts, mind you. If city officials have something to share with the community, they should do so under their own names. We're not saying any particular official is hiding behind a fake account, but we realize it would be very easy to do just that and strongly hope our city leaders resist the urge.
We have another major concern about city leadership and it can be summed up with a simple question: Why are so many of you so hostile to your own constituents?
We give credit to anyone willing to go before a city committee these days, as from where we sit it's akin to approaching the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. City officials have a tendency to lord their power over anyone who might have a request or suggestion and frequently treat persons who address them at meetings as if they are an annoyance. Apparently, with the possible exception of the parks task force, city residents should just shut up and let their alderpersons shape every square inch of the city to their own personal specifications, as if Rhinelander was one of those city simulation games where players can decide where every building is placed instead of an actual city filled with real people.
As a corollary to that, the City Council has become increasingly isolationist. Somewhere along the way someone seems to have decided that the people who live in the adjacent townships are the enemy. While it's understandable that city leaders would want to protect their taxpayers and tax base, their rhetoric has become dangerously harsh, not to mention counterproductive. Frankly, it's simply unfair and inaccurate for city leaders to attempt to hide years of poor decision-making and financial mismanagement by claiming that the city is in the shape it's in because township residents (many of whom own businesses or work in the city proper) are essentially moochers and leeches who must be put in their place.
So what's the solution? Frankly, we're not sure, but something has to change and soon.
There's an election coming in the spring and we're hoping to see some new people with the right attitude step up to the plate. For the record, those of you who are content to sit back in the cheap seats and take potshots on social media are not helping the situation. If you have some solutions to bring to the table, take out nomination papers.
This is the part where we repeat what we all know to be true - this is a beautiful community with boundless potential.
However, no community survives on natural beauty alone, all communities need responsible people to guide the ship. We thank those serving in public office for all of the positive contributions they have made, but the SS City of Rhinelander is dangerously close to capsizing. We respectfully ask them to consider whether it's time for them to step aside and let a new crew steer.
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