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Editorial: Trzebiatowski left a legacy long before his death

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 opted to not seek another term, his departure was part of massive turnover in city government—which included six new members of the council, a new mayor, a new city attorney, and a new city treasurer—and signified a new era, and direction, for local politics. Due in no small part to his absence city government became a political battleground with a far inferior quality of debate, and one that has become mired with suspicion and confused with personal attacks.

The city lost Trzebiatowski a second time on March 28, when he died due to complications from surgery in Loveland, Colo., where he had moved with his wife, Sandra, to retire. Unfortunately, his death has gone unrecognized during recent city meetings, and as of April 14, no services to honor his memory have yet been scheduled.

Trzebiatowski was an unapologetic Democrat but was feverish in his belief that city government should not be. “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 the city operated based on long-term plans spearheaded by the city’s most two recent mayors, both long-serving themselves, and he sought to support, rather than usurp, those plans. He went out of his way to educate himself on parliamentary procedure, read his packet before the start of each meeting and reached out to department heads or local business to have his questions answered before each issue came up for discussion. He knew there was little value in “being seen” during a 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 it.

He was simultaneously outspoken and humble, and he brushed off perceived 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.

But he was never dull. He was a man filled with humor on just about any subject and was able to rib just about all of his colleagues on the council in a delightful manner.

But he had peculiarities, and took his share of ribbing for attending committee meetings in shorts and  black compression kneehigh socks during the warmer months of the year, for carrying the same generic brand of peach-flavored bottle water from Walmart everywhere he went, and for his attaché case filled with a copy of Roberts Rules of Order, along with other books and brochures on municipal government.

Though his participation in city government and city history are much more vast, Trzebiatowski, or “Treb” to many of his friends, served the 7th District from 2005-2015. During that decade he spent a lot of time at community events, volunteering with local groups, and sitting in local bars—always drinking diet soda—talking to his constituents about city business. When an issue came up for discussion, he was able to honestly report what his constituents wanted, then weigh it against the financial implications to the city, 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 with whom he disagreed—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”.

The entire community should be in mourning, not just because we lost a good friend, mentor, and longtime public servant, but because his method of representing the city, a kind of quiet stoicism, seems to have died with him.

Thanks for all you’ve done in Stevens Point, Roger. We’ll 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 been council members who voted in favor 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: