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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

We pause this meeting of the Franklin Common Council for a moment of pettiness


“We’re starting off on a bad foot.”

Franklin alderman Kristen Wilhelm at the beginning of the August 16 Franklin Common Council meeting


I’ve covered or been involved in politics for over 33 years, attended countless meetings, and I have never witnessed what happened at the last Franklin Common Council meeting. At first blush, it may not sound like a big deal, but there’s a larger issue at play. If you listen to the audio of the very beginning of the meeting found on the city’s website, you’ll hear the following:

City Clerk Sandi Wesolowski takes the roll call and gets to Alderman Steve Olson.

Wesolowski: “Alderman Olson has sent an e-mail requesting to be excused.”

Wesolowski then calls on Alderman Tim Solomon when Alderman Ken Skowronski interrupts.

Skowronski: “Why?”

An unknown individual is clearly heard snickering.

Mayor Tom Taylor: “I told the clerk I think it’s probably proper that Council excuse its own members.”

Alderman Kristen Wilhelm: “He’s excused as far I’m concerned.”

Skowronski: “I asked a question. Why?”

Wesolowski: “He’s unable to make the meeting.”

Skowronski: “That ain’t an answer.”

Alderman Steve Taylor: “When are we going to bring a policy, something forward…”

Skowronski: “May I ask a question. Does the council excuse or does the mayor?”

Wilhelm: “Let’s just take the roll and move on.  We’re starting off on a bad foot.”

Amen, Kristen, and congrats for exhibiting common sense, not once, but twice in those opening exchanges.

Again, if you listen to the audio, it’s apparent from Alderman Skowronski’s tone that his heart wasn’t melting with genuine concern for Alderman Olson’s well-being. I’ve never seen this at a public meeting, ever.

For 15 years I worked in the Wisconsin state Senate. Here’s the procedure. Senator X informs his/her leader that he/she can’t attend a floor session of the Senate. On the floor when the roll is being taken, the leader politely requests a leave of absence for that senator. The Senate President then asks the body if there’s any objection. There never is and the session continues. A policy debate or personal squabble would never break out or be allowed to.

After listening to the Franklin Common Council audio, I requested pertinent e-mails on the matter from City Hall. Here’s the first that got this ball rolling:


From: Steve Olson [mailto:steve-olson@wi.rr.com]
Sent:
Friday, August 12, 2011 10:03 PM
To:
Sandi Wesolowski
Subject:
Council Meeting, 8/16/11

 
Sandi:
 
I will be out of town and unable to participate in the Council meeting of 8/16.
 
Ald. Olson




That was followed by:


From: Sandi Wesolowski
Sent:
Monday, August 15, 2011 9:57 AM
To:
Tom Taylor
Subject:
FW: Council Meeting, 8/16/11

 
 
 
From: Sandi Wesolowski
Sent:
Monday, August 15, 2011 9:26 AM
To:
'Steve Olson'
Subject:
RE: Council Meeting, 8/16/11

 
I will inform the Mayor.

Another e-mail went out from Wesolowski to the mayor and aldermen:

From: Sandi Wesolowski [mailto:SWesolowski@franklinwi.gov]
Sent:
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:42 PM
To:
Alderman
Cc:
Tom Taylor
Subject:
FW: Council Meeting, 8/16/11

 
In answer to Ald. Skowronski’s questions at the 8/16/11 meeting as to WHERE Ald. Olson was, he did inform me last week that he will be out of town (as you can see from the first email on this chain).  As my own practice that I have always tried to follow in the past, at a public meeting, I usually do not like to state when someone “is out of town”—for security reasons.  (That usually means your house is empty or someone else is home alone…)
Any questions or comments, please let me know (do not reply to all).
Sandi


From: Sandi Wesolowski
Sent:
Monday, August 15, 2011 9:57 AM
To:
Tom Taylor
Subject:
FW: Council Meeting, 8/16/11

 
 
 
From: Sandi Wesolowski
Sent:
Monday, August 15, 2011 9:26 AM
To:
'Steve Olson'
Subject:
RE: Council Meeting, 8/16/11

 
I will inform the Mayor.
 
From: Steve Olson [mailto:steve-olson@wi.rr.com]
Sent:
Friday, August 12, 2011 10:03 PM
To:
Sandi Wesolowski
Subject:
Council Meeting, 8/16/11
 
 
Sandi:
 
I will be out of town and unable to participate in the Council meeting of 8/16.
 
Ald. Olson 
 



That same day, Alderman Olson e-mailed the following:


From: Steve Olson [mailto:steve-olson@wi.rr.com]
Sent:
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 8:38 PM
To:
'Sandi Wesolowski'; 'Alderman'; 'Jesse Wesolowski'
Cc:
'Tom Taylor'
Subject:
RE: Council Meeting, 8/16/11

 
Ladies and Gentlemen:
 
After I received this e-mail I made it a point to listen to the recording of last evening’s meeting.
 
I can only assume that Ald. Skowronski’s inquiry of WHY I was not in attendance was in heartfelt concern for my well being and an abundance of worry.  To believe in any other motivation would mean that the question came from arrogance, anger, a need to pick a fight or some other nefarious reason.
 
Let me be clear (again).  I do NOT report to any of you.  Not the mayor, not the council president or any other alderman.  My reasons for not being at the meeting are mine and mine alone.  No one has the privilege of asking WHY I was not at the meeting unless they are a resident of the 1st Aldermanic District.  The fact that I chose to let the Director of Clerk Services know that I would not be in attendance was and is a courtesy, extended out of respect for the body.
 
Let me also be clear.  There is no ordinance in place that gives permission or assigns the duty of “excusing” anyone on any board or commission or the council from anything.  To think that a peer would have such authority shows just how self important our Council has gotten.
 
Ald. Olson

Some might wonder why this is an issue or view it as just a minor quarrel. So what's the big deal? Some thoughts…

Unless it’s an emergency, Olson’s whereabouts on the night of August 16, whether he was at a job interview or playing blackjack in Vegas, are nobody’s business. He took the appropriate and courteous action of informing the City Clerk who assured him she would inform the mayor. She was then grilled at the meeting.

There is no policy for excused absences. Should there be? Should there be a full-blown debate? It’s unnecessary when a procedure like the one Olson followed should suffice. Then it’s up to his constituents to decide if he missed a critical meeting (he did not) or critical vote (he did not).

Arguing over excused absences would just waste time and divert more attention away from the so-called “real” problems and that’s the larger issue. It’s unfortunate to see the Franklin Common Council become mired in petty and personal antics that result in a lack of cohesion and a failure to get critical work accomplished. Collectively, the body doesn’t recognize what is so plain to many others. And if you dare question a city proposal or action, you are ridiculed, mocked, laughed at, tossed under the bus.

Our city leaders need an attitude adjustment; otherwise our most significant business will never get done.

Franklin blogger Bryan Maersch has also written on this matter.

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