Column: Holman’s ‘No Scheme’ scheme

We exist in an era where it’s relatively easy for someone to say something that sounds intelligent and believable without having that idea or argument be held up to any logic or scrutiny. So, people can easily find themselves thinking that something is true when it isn’t.

Generally speaking, that believability factor hinges on access to accurate, up-to-date information. This is where the transparent, publicly-noticed, deliberative process we follow in Portage County comes in. That, or if you can’t make a meeting, a quick e-mail or phone call can get you any information you’re curious about.

The media does what it can—and I’m happy we have what we have—but we all know it’s a shadow of its former self.

Unfortunately, scheming is what we’ve been set up to expect from politics and politicians, and it’s even more unfortunate that there are those who rise to meet that expectation. Personal politics is the epitome of reductionist thinking, and there’s no room for it when what we need most at every level of government is a big-picture perspective to frame our decision-making processes. Without it, we create our own—avoidable—problems.

Rather than let good-intentioned misunderstanding or questions linger, my approach has been to reach out to numerous individuals and groups within the county. Some have reached out to me, too. I have had great conversations and learned a lot.

For the record, I’m always open to talking with anyone about any of their concerns. It’s my goal that if they come to me with their question or misunderstanding, they leave with more clarity on the situation, we can share our points of view, and while we may disagree on one point or another, we can still learn from each other and where our conversation takes us.

Which brings me to tomorrow’s county board meeting. I will present the proposed budget to the county board and that will be followed with a board-focused conversation that’s labeled on the agenda as “Committee of the Whole”.

Though it is used by many municipalities and some counties across the state of Wisconsin, I don’t believe this approach has ever been used in Portage County.

Convening as Committee of the Whole allows the board to meet as a body and to have an informal, open, and transparent discussion together about key issues that can then create recommendations or ideas for committees and staff to follow up on. It also allows everyone on the board to hear the same information at the same time.

That also goes for anyone in the public who is in attendance or who watches the video recording. The reason I thought to propose it as an option is that I’ve noticed what hasn’t worked up to this point and this approach intrigued me. Based on those I’ve spoken with across the state who have used it, the results have been nothing but positive.

The conversation on Tuesday will focus on key issues related to our long-standing needs to address county infrastructure. As you may remember, the county board chose to entertain a proposal from the City of Stevens Point earlier this year.

After several months of meetings and conversations at the county, the city council then decided that the city proposal wasn’t something they wanted to support. It’s clear now that the city’s proposal didn’t enjoy unanimous support on the council. So, the county will pick back up where we had left off prior putting things on pause to entertain the city’s idea(s).

In short, that’s continuing to explore the possibilities within the downtown location.

What does that look like? Where is there a consensus on the board on any of these issues? How will the board take what they’ve heard over the past 1.5 years and dovetail that with past board decisions and the need for a sustainable long-term plan? The Committee of the Whole approach will hopefully provide some insight and maybe an answer or two to those questions.

Everything won’t be solved Tuesday night, though. This is just another step in a positive direction.

Given how often county supervisors wonder how they can talk to each other about these and other questions without violating open meeting laws, this new approach might provide them with a tool they can use from here on out or on an as-needed basis.

The conversation will be facilitated by someone from the Wisconsin Counties Association who has used it extensively in his own experience as an elected official. I’m looking forward to listening to the board’s conversation and working with them toward a positive outcome for all of us. Maybe this will be a new way to help solve old problems.

Portage County Executive Chris Holman can be reached at (715) 346-1997.