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HomeCity of AppletonAppleton City Council Update: April 14, 2024

Appleton City Council Update: April 14, 2024

Happy Sunday, Neighbors! It looks like spring may have finally officially sprung! Thank you for taking some time to join me here for another alderman blog post.

This week is a Full Council Meeting Week… but it’s a bit different this week as there is a new makeup of council members this week. The aldermanic seats for the even-numbered districts in the city were up for election this April and those who were re-elected and a couple of new aldermen who were elected in seats where the incumbents were not running for re-election will be sworn in on Tuesday evening (5pm in Houdini Plaza, weather permitting). The “new” council (in quotes because almost all of the seats that were up for election this year will be filled with re-elected incumbents who ran unopposed) will take part in both an informal and a formal organizational meeting before the regular full council meeting takes place on Wednesday at 7pm as usual.

Here is what you can expect for this week:

Tuesday, 04/16/2024

Library Board – 3pm In the one non-council meeting of the week, members of this board will discuss and look to approve the March 2024 bills and financials and a small budget amendment. They will review the library’s 2023 annual report and a March 2024 library building project update.

City of Appleton Common Council – Informal Organizational Meeting – 6pm This annual meeting is just what it says it is — informal. In this meeting, members of the council look at the council rules from the previous council year and offer and discuss amendments to those rules for the new council year. On the table already (as seen in the agenda that has already been published and posted online) are two proposed changes:

  • Allow aldermen to write and deliver their own invocations at each meeting of the full council. This is how it used to be: An alderman would volunteer to write and deliver an “invocation” for each meeting. These often rambling invocations would be about any topic not related to an action item on that evening’s council meeting agenda… but more often than not became a time for an alderman to make personal proclamations about political items. 

    This past council year, the rule was written so that there would not be an open platform for aldermen to make blanket statements about political issues. There was one simple invocation statement that was recited at each meeting. This rule kept the members of the council from going off on tangents about political issues when an invocation is meant to be “the act of invoking, especially an appeal to a higher power, for assistance.” (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

    I understand that many on the council do not ascribe to a religion and/or fervently believe that an invocation at a council meeting violates the separation of church and state (which it does not). These same council members love to speak openly on pet political issues at invocation time. The latter, I feel, is inappropriate. As such, I would like the rule to remain as is. There might be room for more than one alternative pre-written invocation script (where there is currently only one). But other than that, I do not believe that giving this invocation time back over to political speech is appropriate for the city or its citizens. What do you think? Should this be an open forum for political speech? Or should it stick to what the word “invocation” is defined to mean?

  • Last council year, it was decided that the Pledge of Allegiance should be recited by all present at each city government meeting (including committee and board/commission meetings) right after each meeting is called to order. I believe this to be an important part of governmental meetings as it sets the tone for the meeting to follow. It shows that all attending the meeting pledge to uphold and support how governing in this country should proceed. Alderman Denise Fenton (District 6) is requesting that this rule be removed and that no Pledge be recited at these meetings. I cannot understand what the motivation for this change might be as it takes less than a minute to include this recitation and, as I mentioned, grounds all those present to the governmental tasks to follow. What do you think about removing this requirement? Can you imagine a reason for doing so?

I have a couple of rules that could be proposed as well but I have not yet submitted them for formal scrutiny. In particular, I believe that the council needs a rule calling for some minimal standards of physical appearance for council/committee members at council/committee meetings. I feel that members of the council and all other committee/commission members should be required to remove hats and/or caps while a meeting is in session. I also believe that these meetings warrant some basic “business casual” dress code (no t-shirts, for example). I know that this might not be popular; but I do believe that people do better work and approach each other with more respect when all are dressed in slightly more formal attire. I am not calling for the old days of suits and ties and dresses and skirts! But I think it would be good to call for council and committee members to at least not look as though they just came in from yardwork or a picnic in the park. Do you agree?

There are two other proposed changes on this informal meeting agenda as well. One would look to consolidate the Utilities Committee with the Municipal Services Committee. This was the subject of a resolution presented a month or so ago which will finally be discussed by the council. I believe this to be a wise idea as is explained in the Whereas clauses in the resolution. The second would look to change the name of the Community and Economic Development Department in the city to the “Community Development Department.” I see no issue with this proposal but for the fact that we are all so accustomed to calling the department by its current name and the committee that oversees it by its current name and/or the abbreviation — CEDC!

What other council rules do you think might be helpful in best conducting the business of city government in Appleton? Let me know if you have any thoughts.

Wednesday, 04/17/2024

City of Appleton Common Council – Formal Organizational Meeting – 6pm This formal organizational meeting has the same agenda as the informal meeting. The only differences would be 1) if there are any other/new amendments to the council rules, etc, not yet submitted but later presented at the informal meeting (they will be added in an updated agenda) and 2) the proposed changes will actually be voted on in this formal meeting. At this formal meeting, council members will also receive from the mayor their committee assignments for this year.

City of Appleton Common Council – 7pm The first regular meeting of this “new” council will kick off with a presentation of seven mayoral proclamations. (After a long drought of mayoral proclamations, the newly re-elected mayor is back with a bunch.) There will also be a presentation of this year’s batch of sidewalk poetry to be added throughout the city in the coming sidewalk-repair season. Next will be a presentation of the city’s new Housing Development Policy Guide (which was produced through an overbudget consultancy mentioned here and here). This guide was presented in committee meetings last week. It is expected to be used as a framework for the city’s departments to work together to do a better job of “selling” housing development in the City of Appleton. The guide is just vague enough to allow for some departmental and other policy changes in the city. We will have to see where that takes the city in the months and years to come as it can now be used as reason to make changes through the rationale presented therein.

As you already likely know, the balance of the council’s agenda items are from items discussed during last week’s committee meetings. Here are the items most likely to be separated for further discussion:

  • From the Municipal Services Committee: A request from the Boldt Company for some construction closures along College Avenue and including parts of Drew Street and Kimball Alley. When this was discussed in committee last week, there was a request that the city and Boldt discuss the potential to allow some weekend opening of the proposed closure of Drew Street. This would allow for weekend traffic (especially to and from area churches) to flow through the area while there is no active construction activity. I’ll be interested to see whether any agreements to do so have come out of those discussions.

  • From the City Plan Commission: A proposed rezoning of some property near the roundabout at Plank Road and Midway Road. There are a number of neighboring residents to this piece of property who are opposed to this rezoning as they believe it will cause an overcrowding/excess traffic issue there. After a thorough evaluation by the Community and Economic Development Department, city staff recommends the rezoning. The property was annexed into the city in 1985 and, at that time, all new annexations were added to the city as R1 (residential single-family) zoned even though the city’s comprehensive plan shows that this piece of property has always been intended as multi-family development property. As such, many of the neighbors have been under the mistaken understanding that this property would eventually hold single-family homes and they are surprised and not keen on the proposed multi-family zoning and construction. (The city has since changed policy to zone newly annexed property as AG — zoned agricultural — perhaps to avoid the misunderstanding that have come about from instances such as this.)

There are really no other agenda items which could garner more discussion. I hope that that means that this could be a short meeting. (And now that I said that… I may have jinxed it!)

I hope that you will share with me if you have any questions or comments on any of the above items or any other city-government-related items. I look forward to continuing to serve District 13 neighbors this “new” council year!

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1 COMMENT

  1. Alderperson Fenton explained in a blog post why she proposes getting rid of the Pledge: “This is not out of a lack of patriotism, but because I have observed that during committee meetings where all the committee members are seated on the dais, the audio is lost as soon as we turn to face the flag, and anyone watching the livestream or the video basically hears mumbling and sees a row of backsides. Those who proposed this last year seemed to have the desire to point out anyone who doesn’t participate, either for religious or other conviction.”

    Surely the “lost audio” and “row of backsides” problems could be addressed in a way that doesn’t eliminate reciting the Pledge? For example, couldn’t the flag be MOVED, or a second flag be brought in and positioned in such a way as to address those issues? Sheesh.

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