Roger Trzebiatowski (center) was an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War. In 2017, he went on the Never Forgotten Honor Flight. (Contributed)

Editorial: Local electeds, candidates, should learn from Trzebiatowski’s legacy

Editor’s Note: This editorial was originally published on March 29, 2019, when Metro Wire staff learned of Mr. Trzebiatowski’s death the previous day. Today, it serves as an annual, public recognition of his passing — and as a reminder to those working in public office or who are seeking to serve.

By Brandi Makuski

You could say the city of Stevens Point lost Roger Trzebiatowski twice.

The first loss came when Trzebiatowski, 65, stepped down from his 7th District Council seat in 2015. While he chose to not seek another term, his departure was part of a massive turnover in city government — which included six new members of the Council and a new mayor, simultaneously — signaling a new era, and direction, for local politics.

Due in no small part to his absence, city government quickly became a political battleground with a far inferior quality of debate; one that, for a short time, became mired with suspicion and confused with personal attacks. It has since transformed into a series of discussions so low-key that councilmembers could almost be accused of loitering, as the most common phrase now uttered on the Council floor often doesn’t extend beyond, “I echo my colleague’s remarks…”

The city lost Trzebiatowski a second time on March 28, 2019, when he died due to complications from surgery in Loveland, Colo., where he had moved with his wife, Sandra, to retire. Unfortunately, his death went unrecognized at city meetings.

Though he joked that many of his best friends were Republicans, Trzebiatowski was an unapologetic Democrat, yet resolute in his belief that city government should not be partisan. “City government, just like any municipal government, is a business and it should be run like one,” he told this reporter while sipping on a diet soda at a downtown pub in 2014. “That’s what a lot of people don’t realize; they need to leave their personal political beliefs at the door.”

His votes on city matters often, but not always, erred on the side of fiscal conservancy. He understood that the city was operating based on long-term plans spearheaded by the mayors under whom he served — Gary Wescott and Andrew Halverson, both long-serving themselves — and he sought to either support or argue to modify, rather than usurp, those plans.

He never avoided the press. He answered every question. He went out of his way to educate himself on parliamentary procedure, read his packet thoroughly before the start of each city meeting, and reached out to department heads or business owners to get his questions answered before each issue came up for public discussion.

He knew there was little value in “being seen” during a public meeting asking questions to which he already had an answer, and understood the quality and usefulness of a discussion would be greater if those previously-obtained answers were part of his remarks from the start.

He was simultaneously outspoken and humble, and he brushed off verbal sideswipes with a chuckle. He listened to everyone’s point of view and enjoyed the debate. He understood some on the Council may operate with a personal agenda; he was careful to not become part of the drama.

He was never dull. He was a man filled with humor on just about any subject and was able to rib the other members of the Council delightfully.

But he had peculiarities and took his share of ribbing for attending summertime committee meetings in dress shorts and black compression knee-high socks; for carrying the same generic brand of bottled peach-flavored water everywhere he went; and for his attaché case containing a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order along with other books and brochures on municipal government.

Though his participation in city government and local history is much more vast, Trzebiatowski, or, “Treb” to many of his friends, served the 7th District from 2005 to 2015. He spent a lot of that decade attending community events, volunteering with local groups, and sitting in local bars — always drinking diet soda — talking to residents about city business. He was keenly aware that these comfortable settings would encourage honest input, even if it was sometimes brutal.

He wanted to hear it all, so when an issue came up for public discussion, he was able to honestly report what his constituents thought, then weigh it against the financial implications to the city, and explain his thoughts publicly before casting a vote.

Roger Trzebiatowski was a true statesman. He put the city’s interests, and those of his constituents, above his personal politics. He wasn’t a braggart. He was respectful. He would carry on a conversation with almost anybody — even those he did not like — and never with an unkind word.

He’s even listed on the Internet Movie Database as a producer for the 2017 film “Opportunity: The P.J. Jacobs H.S. Story.”

A public city acknowledgment of his passing would have provided the entire community a chance to mourn his passing — and to understand why Trzebiatowski was worth their grief. The city lost a good friend, mentor, and longtime public servant.

But more importantly, we should acknowledge that his method of representing the city with a kind of educated stoicism seems to have died with him.

Thanks for all you’ve done in Stevens Point, Roger. We miss you.

“A wise mentor once told me about this position to remember, the city clerk is the official recipient and disseminator of all information. Utilize that connection to protect yourself, elicit the information you’ve received, and protect the integrity of the information. I’ve seen Council members who voted in favor of contracts without even having had the ability to read the details inside, and members who willingly voted to give away their own power blindly. I’ve seen members come and go because of single-issue agendas. But our job is not about single issues; it’s about Stevens Point…it is about preserving the powers and rights of future Councils to come. Research both sides of an idea, not only those that support your theories.”

—Roger Trzebiatowski’s farewell address, April 20, 2015.

Here’s his last address to the city council, as a citizen, in 2017: