Board of Appeals Meeting 07.20.2022 Informational Packet

Board of Appeals Meeting 07.20.2022 Informational Packet

Apparently, I’ve been a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals for some years now. I wasn’t aware of this, because it hasn’t met in several years. However, there will be a meeting of that Board of Appeals regarding a requested variance for Signart to place a larger than allowed sign for St. Pauls. This meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 20th at the Village Hall @ 6:00PM for anyone that wishes to attend. I’m attaching the “packet” that the Village has prepared for the meeting. Keep in mind that this packet is a “live document” and may be modified or changed up to the meeting itself, and it may be missing some context. I am providing this as a service to the community, take the contents with a grain of salt, as the final information will be presented at the meeting.

To prevent any issues with Wisconsin’s Open Records law, I will be refraining from making any statements about my decision regarding this meeting until the meeting itself.

Fall Creek School Board 05.19.2022 Packet and Commentary

Fall Creek School Board 05.19.2022 Packet and Commentary

Thanks to Ms. Teresa Reetz from the School District office, we now have access to the packets that the School Board receives at the beginning of each meeting. By necessity, these are redacted to only the information which should be provided to the public, but I thank the school district for providing this to us.

Below I will provide my commentary for the meeting. Each entry will start with the timestamp that I’m looking at when I made my comment, so you can follow along if you wish:

You can find the video for the Board meeting here.

08:25 to 15:00 – The “board reorganization” wasn’t a board reorganization, at all. Everyone maintained their current positions. This, in my opinion, is problematic. I understand the concept of letting someone do a job that they’ve already done before due to them already having previous experience. There is a strong argument that this experience is valuable. However, I would argue that what would be more valuable, ESPECIALLY with the entire makeup of the Board representative remaining the same, is for board members to switch positions for the purpose of giving those members additional experiences and insight that they wouldn’t otherwise have. This would strengthen the board greatly.

There’s also the very real danger of something happening to a sitting board member (such as sickness, death, or “scandal” – which I’m sure won’t happen). In the case of something happening to a sitting board member, if nobody else has fulfilled that role in, say, 15 or more years, then when that person goes, ALL of their experience and skill goes with them. That’s called in the business world “institutional knowledge loss”, and is a MAJOR cause for concern and business failures. Businesses often times struggle with this, being a case of “putting all of your eggs in one basket”, and then the “basket” walking away or disappearing. Then, quite simply, all the “eggs” are gone/lost. We need to prevent this wherever possible.

As to any concerns about having a less skilled member in a position due to the changing of the seats, with the board makeup itself not changing, that’s greatly diminished, as the original holder of that position is there to help guide the other person and advise them. That’s actually another point in favor of switching positions, especially when the makeup of the board itself doesn’t change. It would give the chance to make the board even stronger by having all members learn new skills, and learn more from each other.

Not to mention the stagnation that comes with the same people doing the same things over and over again inherently causing a reduction in potential for improvement. It is vital for organizations to constantly have an influx of new people and new ideas. Otherwise, if the same people and same ideas are always there, and the world changes around them, then they won’t be ready for those changes. To me, it’s a simple matter of desiring both constant improvement and preparation for potential future disaster. “Same old, same old” is generally NOT a good idea.

17:27 – Resolution Considering Authorization of Funds – Defeasance, is essentially setting up an escrow account to “pre-pay” back the referendum-approved debt at a constant rate. The fancy business “trick” that is happening here is to basically set aside some of the money that you had planned in the future to use to pay back a debt, and put that money instead into another account that will hopefully accumulate positive interest, to offset the negative interest of the original debt (aka “interest avoidance”). It works. I had some misgivings about it initially, as it seemed fairly “shady” to me, moving money around like that. But the more I look into it, the more it seems a standard business practice throughout the finance services industry, and it also relies on the owner of the original debt to agree to the situation. So, as long as everyone is in agreement about it, it all appears to be above the board to me, and is a great way to save money.

27:45 – Excellent to see this breakdown of the budget, and see where our money is going. Charts and graphs are always a good thing, as many of us are visual thinkers. Also good to see that most of our money is going to the people that are helping our children make it through school!

37:00 – Good on Ms. Kneifl for asking if there was “wiggle room” to allow us to renegotiate our school food options. I’m not a big fan of how Dr. Sanfelippo sort of “shut down” further inquiry by stating the the service that we currently get “is fantastic”. That’s good to hear, but it sounded very forceful to me, like there shouldn’t be any argument or further discussion about it. It’s fantastic, and that’s it, it’s done, let’s move on. I’m concerned about that interaction.

40:43 – I do like that Dr. Sanfelippo suggested that we keep food prices the same, and make a new decision next year about changing the prices. This gives us a chance to “wait out” the after effects of the COVID pandemic, and give people time to adjust back to paying for regular school meals again.

46:08 – Mr. Ryan brought up the great idea of potentially scrapping one of our buses rather than doing a trade-in with the bus company. This section of the meeting shows the school board at its best – someone brings up a reasonable idea or concern to the contrary of the existing “path”, people talk it over, and rather than just accepting what’s already been previously set, the motion is passed to buy the new bus, and do the homework of scrap prices vs. trade-in to see which would net us the greatest payback. I hope in the next meeting to see the Superintendent to come back with information about the actual values of scrap vs. trade-in.

51:55 – Regarding the pole vault bid – I’m disappointed to see that while we can see the actual bid for Richey in the informational packet, no mention at all of the other bids was given except in passing. I personally would have liked to have known exactly what other entities were contacted, and what their bids were. Instead, we’re just given one choice, and the board then has to choose to vote on one choice. I’m also slightly disappointed that none of the other board members asked about the other bids.

01:05:00 – Good to see students being brought in to the board meetings, to share their experiences. I would like to see this happen more often. It’s beneficial for both the board, and the students themselves.

Village Board Meeting 05.09.2022 – Commentary

Village Board Meeting 05.09.2022 – Commentary

Below are my personal notes for the Village Board meeting of 05.09.2022.

(First five minutes) It is interesting to see people’s interactions with each other when they first step in the room. Mr. Mattoon is particularly interesting, as he made a point of attempting to greet and shake the hands of almost everyone in the room.

08:30 – It appears that the Village Board could use some new chairs. Those creaky things make a lot of noise, look very uncomfortable, and also look like they could fall apart at any moment!

09:45 – It is good to see a good man like Richard Ziemann show up to meetings to try to provide further input. His breadth of experience and knowledge of local events and history is invaluable.

10:30 – Mr. Ziemann’s point is a good one. We should definitely be charging a reasonable rate to rent the Parks and Rec pavilions and such.

11:44 – Mr. Ziemann’s words “made us honest people”, are powerful words, in my opinion. External groups to the village proper should not be getting a “free pass” when it comes to using the services that we all pay for. At the very least, the Board should consider Mr. Ziemann’s words so far to at the very LEAST do a survey, or some form of record keeping to keep track of how much extra money the village WOULD have if it had charged every time the village provided a “freebie” to one of these external groups. Perhaps he’s wrong, and this wouldn’t amount to much that would make a difference. However, I know the budget is tight, so every little bit would help. And, as Mr. Aylesworth has said before, we should “follow the data” to see what the truth of things are. And we can’t do that, if we haven’t collected the data to follow.

12:20 – At this point, I would have expected any of the Board members to make any sort of comment relating to Mr. Ziemann’s words, and that they will look into it at least. However, there was silence regarding any actions or considerations the Board may have. This is disappointing to me. This important subject that a respected village citizen brought up – appears to just drop right off the radar immediately, and not be considered. Unless, that is, it was brought up in the second half of the meeting that I was unable to attend.

12:26 – “Charles Keane” (attempting to transcribe from what I heard) brought up an interesting point that’s been brought up previously. There are ordinances that vehicles must be parked on a “hard surface”. But… why? Is it not your own private property? What right does the Village have to decide what you do on your own property, when it’s causing no harm to any other person? I would like to go into more details on ordinances, but I’ll save that for another article when I have more time to go in depth on this.

15:30 – I’ve requested a copy of the entire “packet” that the Board receives at the start of the meeting on their tablets. I think it’s important for transparency for the public at large to be able to see everything that the Board itself is looking at during the public meetings – otherwise, how are we able to properly follow along with what they are talking about? I think this is a reasonable request. Ideally, these packets would be provided on the website alongside the Agendas and Minutes.

22:45 – The financial advisor that the Village brought in to talk about finances really seems to know what he’s talking about, and that’s good to see. I like that the Village is trying to maintain a (sort of) zero balance budget. That we are trying to spend only as much money as we raise, and not much more. That’s great!

23:00 – The unassigned fund balance (funds available to be used in the future) compared to the expenditures ratio is good. We’re at where I think we’d like to be. A fund balance of 51% means that our existing unassigned funds are enough to cover a half of a year of expenditures, assuming that we don’t receive any more revenue for the year. However, revenue and expenditures keep coming in. It’s good for us to have a “buffer”, and I like to see that our buffer is higher than the average that the advisor states of about 30% for most municipalities.

28:00 – The inner 12-year-old in me had to snirk at the phrase “had to keep the TID open”. Being previously unfamiliar with the terms, from my searching, it appears that “TID” stands for “Tax Incremental District”, which is the land area associated with development and redevelopment projects. Reference –

33:56 – Mr. Goodman asked a very good question here, whether any of the utilities were being subsidized by the general fund, or if they were operating independently. As per the financial rep, and Jared McKee, these utilities are entirely funded as “enterprises”, essentially meaning that the users of the services pay for the entirety of the services – the services pay for themselves. I agree to this method of operation.

44:00 – There is a mention of attorney fees here, and Mr. McKee stated that the fee was for legal advice regarding the meaning of ordinances on a property owned by Ms. Hurd. When talking about this subject, I noticed the tension in the room starting to increase, and I can understand why, due to there being a seeming conflict between the village administrator and a board member. I don’t know the circumstances of this “event” as I’ll call it, but I would like to know. It would be a good thing, I think, for the Village to provide the public with a summary of exactly what is going on here, as I can hardly tell what they are even talking about with the veiled language that’s being used. Something relating to “rezoning/conditional use permits”.

55:00 – This is an important discussion about the speed limits, speeding, etc. We need to have good data. And we need to TRUST that data, and this is why. Because one person has experienced issues with speeding, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is speeding. Human memory is EXTREMELY faulty, and filled with problems like “confirmation bias” (where you ignore the data points that don’t agree with you, and you remember/accept the data points that do agree with you). We need scientific, OBJECTIVE measurements of things like this, to take away those human biases. We need to make decisions on that objective data, rather than individuals’ subjective experiences. Because one person’s faulty memory is a single data point, amongst a possibility of hundreds or thousands of data points. This is important, and relates to many other issues as well. It looks like the county has done the work, and has decided that there isn’t a chronic issue with speeding. We should accept that decision for now, yet at the same time, investigate that study, and understand their data collection methods and make sure that those methods are valid. As Reagan said “trust, but verify”.

01:04:12 – It is very good that Ms. Hurd has been looking into getting grant money to help us replace/update/upgrade the playground equipment at Keller Park. This is an important and necessary goal for our village, to keep our children active and healthy. But when she said “we don’t want to do that” to having an inspector come and actually inspect and possibility shut down our playground if they find unsafe conditions? This bothers me greatly. As the father to two children that have used that playground in the past, it is important to me that our playground equipment isn’t only accessible, but safe first. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again and again… “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” is NOT an accidental order of words. It was intentional. For without Liberty, there can BE no Pursuit of Happiness. And without Life, there can be no Liberty. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be able to KNOW if a playground is unsafe before letting my kids play on it. Because having a grumpy kid that’s grumpy because they can’t play is FAR superior to having a DEAD kid. It bothers me greatly that when Ms. Hurd heard from this inspector that if he came down, based on what he’d seen from pictures he’d have to shut down the park, that she decided that she would rather NOT have the inspector come, thus endangering our kids, and would rather allow them to play on potentially dangerous playground equipment. This… concerns me. Greatly.

01:08:00 – Interesting in this roll call vote on the paying of the monthly bills, that Ms. Hurd and Mr. Aylesworth chose to abstain from the vote. I would be curious to know each of their reasons for abstaining. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for the Board members to have a place where, after the meeting, they’d be able to explain the reasoning for voting a certain way for any specific roll call vote. Because we can’t see inside of their heads, so it’d be nice to know what their thought processes are in regards to these votes. I am happy to see abstention being used however. I’ve seen way too many 5-0 and 3-0 votes in the past, and would like to see more people exercising their right to either disagree civilly, or abstain from voting entirely. We need more different ways of thinking, and less “hive mind” mentality. We SHOULDN’T all agree on many things. Our greatest strength as a species is our varied thought processes and viewpoints. Everyone having the same viewpoint on all things, would lead us to stagnation, in the same way that animals and plants that all share too much of the same DNA (due to inbreeding), can lead to increased risk of disease and death. Look no further than the example of the end of the Gros Michel banana, and the mistake in the rise of the Cavendish banana mono-crop. We’ve yet to learn our lesson there.

01:24:00 – At this point in the video, they start talking about the administrative surcharge for garbage. This surcharge covers the actual time and labor cost of Renee and/or Joan administrating garbage collection. Ms. Hurd suggested using funds from the general fund to subsidize this administrative fee to save those using the garbage collection services some money. As Jared McKee stated, the garbage collection should be an “enterprise” service, meaning that it pays for itself, through service charges to the end users. This way, for one example, the farmers out of town that pay taxes, but don’t/can’t use the garbage services aren’t paying to subsidize the price of the garbage services that we use in-town. This makes complete sense to me, and is a very conservative way to handle these kinds of services. The use of public monies to “subsidize” anything is kind of the OPPOSITE of conservative thinking, and involves government getting their hands further into these pies to “shift money around”. And whenever you do such a thing, and make a system more complicated, you also make more room for “monkey business” to happen. This is actually the primary issue with our federal income tax system. Some have gamed the system and greased the right palms in order to get exceptions and exemptions made so that they have to pay less than what they should be paying for taxes, less than what the rest of us are paying. Subsidies are literally bigger government, rather than smaller government.

01:33:27 – Sheena Kaatz had two questions here, the second of which was quite an apt question, which is how much it costs other citizens in the Chippewa Valley for trash collection, to see if we have information on what the bills of others are to compare against our bills, and whether or not it makes a difference when we award a contract to a single hauler, rather than allowing the free market to prevail and allowing citizens to choose from multiple garbage collectors. At this point, everyone started focusing on the question of how to handle the administrative fee (which was in fairness the main question put to the board), however, nobody appeared to circle back to this important question at this time that Ms. Kaatz raised – do we KNOW how much citizens on other municipalities are paying compared to what we’re paying? And did we make a mistake in allowing one company to have a monopoly for Fall Creek? I think it would be a VERY valuable project to collect the data from around the area and find out exactly where we stand in comparison to the other residents of the Chippewa Valley.

01:37:22 – Here, it seemed the conversation went off the rails a bit, and people started to “talk past each other”, and thinking about their responses, rather than thinking about what the other person was saying. Mr. Aylesworth said he couldn’t make a decision without the data, which is a perfectly acceptable and understandable proposition. However, as Jared McKee had stated earlier, they DO have the data, they collected it a year or two ago, and that’s where they came at the figure that needs to be increased to pay for the administrative costs of running the trash collection. I think all Board members would do well to take some time, sit back, listen to the current person speaking, and let them finish before considering your own response, so that you can give the person the time to actually articulate everything that they need to say. Otherwise, as we can see here, people end up talking past each other, one not connecting to what another is saying. A shared set of non-sequiturs and circle-talk, if you will.

01:40:20 – Mr. Mattoon at this point raises the possibility of a “compromise” amount somewhere in the middle, which I believe is what was done the last time that this was brought up, which, as Mr. Goodman stated, essentially “kicked the can down the road”.

01:49:32 – Once again, Ms. Kaatz makes another good point, and suggests that the village creates some sort of graphic that could explain to the consumer the REASONING for why these rates have to go up. This is important and critical. It’s important for us to know WHY decisions are made the way they are, and WHY those prices have to go up. I also like Mr. McKee’s point right afterwards to create something to show the citizens where we stand compared to others in terms of actual costs, while “sanitizing” the results to not increase tribalism. This may be what I was talking about earlier that I didn’t see at the time. It looks like Mr. McKee finally circled back around to Ms. Kaatz’s previous suggestion. I like to see this kind of brainstorming!

01:52:48 – I like what Ms. Hurd and Ms. Kaatz both say here, that we need to be ABSOLUTELY honest with our citizenry. It’s been my experience that most issues come from either miscommunication, lack of communication, or INSUFFICIENT communication. Most people are reasonable, if you provide good reasoning to them. It’s that part that is often missing, as decisions come down from “on high” without reasoning being provided. Rather, commandments often times tend to come down, and the citizenry is unaware of the WHYs and can only speculate. Don’t let them speculate, let them KNOW WHY. Excellent. Let the community know that there will be a price jump today, because we failed to perform a price jump previously when we should have.

Final thoughts at the end of the meeting that I was able to attend – I’m disappointed that the Village didn’t vote to outright increase the cost to the full actual known cost of running the garbage administration. I will have to wait for the minutes to come out to know how this vote finally ended up. I wish I had the time to attend the rest of the meeting.

Fall Creek Village Ordinances Snapshot – 05.20.2022

Fall Creek Village Ordinances Snapshot – 05.20.2022

The Village of Fall Creek provides all of their ordinances to the public here on their website. This is excellent, and is necessary transparency. However, for the regular citizen that is trying to find a specific ordinance pertaining to a certain subject, trying to browse and navigate these ordinances one by one to find the specific appropriate ordinance can be… challenging. That’s why I also think it’s important that these ordinances be combined as well into a single, searchable document.

I have provided such a document below. Now, keep in mind that this document is a “snapshot in time” of the Village Ordinances at the moment that I downloaded and merged the individual PDFs. Ideally, the Village would also perform these steps and provide a merged document on their website alongside the “navigatable” individual PDFs whenever any single change is made to any of the ordinances. I will shortly contact Tim Raap and Jared McKee to request and see if this service can be provided.

For reference, the merging of PDFs is a service that’s provided online for free by Adobe, the original creators of the PDF file format. You can find that merge functionality here. I literally just downloaded the individual files and then pushed them onto their website to get the final product below. It took me longer to download the individual files one by one, than it took to merge them, by far.

Fall Creek Village Board Meeting 05.10.2022 (video stopped prematurely)

Fall Creek Village Board Meeting 05.10.2022 (video stopped prematurely)

As stated at the end of this video, I hadn’t accounted for the meeting lasting as long as it did, so this is roughly the first half of the meeting, as I had a prior obligation, so had to stop recording. I will, next time, clear my schedule for the entire evening. As per Ryan Aylesworth, the meeting didn’t end until 10PM, for a total of four hours.

However, I was able to get my hands on a professional audio recorder, so I was able to get much better audio than on my last video, to match the HD video.