Today on our Facebook page, City Council member David Oberbeck wrote the following, “If you read the paper… nothing… if you read the committee meeting minutes it is a different story. If nothing is getting done then I am wasting all of my time sitting in meetings…unfortunately only the issues that are controversial get printed. The debate on a 1.4 million operating budget will be next.” I felt strongly enough about it to respond rather harshly, and I think the strength of my feeling warrants me writing a post.
Let me start by again stating a simple thesis: The leadership of the City of Wausau is both failing, and to their benefit attempting NOT to fail. Further, the City of Wausau has a lot going for it, and has made a lot of strides forward. But, to deny the disfunction of our leadership would be disingenuous. Let us start there.
To return to the exhaustingly untrue narrative that Oberbeck hints at, the scaling criticism of the local media, specifically the Wausau Daily Herald. That claim is false. That claim is oversensitive, and that claim reflects a level of out of touch-ness that boggles the mind. The idea that the City Council cannot get their story to the public, to inform them on what is going on is patently absurd.
Each election, and each year, I send an email to every council member inviting them to use our website as a way to communicate with the community. In all of the years we have been doing that only 2 members of council have ever responded. With each and every time we want to write something about the business of the Wausau City Council, we email the members and allow them a chance to speak (or write) up.
But, more than that, the idea of claiming that the people are not engaged is a common one we hear, and it is amazingly insulting. I only know of one person who is at just about every council meeting, every committee meeting, and all the council related events, Pat Peckham of the The City Pages. It is his job.
Council members often lament privately that they wished more people would come to see what the council is doing. They wish that more people were engaged in the process. Each and every time I get an email about that topic I simply say, “What did you do to engage them?” Which leads to the inevitable, “The Herald does not cover our stories, only what they want to.” To which I respond, “Did you send a press release, or talk to a reporter, have you made an effort to have a relationship with the Herald?” The answer is almost always some variation of “No” or “No, I am too busy with the people’s business.” To which I respond, “Have you just walked into the Herald office and said Hi I am a city council member and I want to talk to a reporter? and started a relationship?” The emails stop coming back around that point.
The idea that the narrative of our City being solely limited to the whims of the Wausau Daily Herald are false. Completely and totally false. We started Citizen Wausau a long time ago, as a platform to allow local people to start their own blogs within their community. Soon, that became irrelevant. The measure of the relevance was that widespread availability of free platforms that people could publish on. WordPress, Tumblr to name my two favorites. From their it becomes an endless list of options of social media platforms.
The members of the City Council are not helpless to get the narrative of their actions out in public for discussion, they just seem completely unwilling to do it. Council members could, if they wanted, create their own podcast, their own youtube channel, their own twitter feed. They could build their own website, and they could share the peoples news on that page without the editorial oversight of the Wausau Daily Herald or other local media. But, they do not.
Council members have a chance to start a twitter page, a tumblr blog, a youtube account. Most of have smart phones, can take selfies, can share documents. The City of Wausau has a website in which you could tell the story. You could use Constant Contact, or Mail Chimp. You could walk door to door and tell your story. You could go to public access and have a 30 minute monthly talk show.
My point is, it is absolute jiggery pokery (no idea what that is but Justice Scalia used it) of a martyrdom narrative that has no connection to the world in 2015. If you want to speak out, you can and any claim to the opposite of that is simply balderdash. You have been invited here, let me invite you again.
Dear Local Government Officials,
Thank you for taking the time to read this email. Citizen Wausau would like to extend an invitation to you to publish things here on our website. We would ask that you simply be willing to go through the same editorial process we go through, meaning your work will be read prior and we might have some questions and ask you to verify some of the work you want us to publish.
We believe that you are served by being transparent, and encourage you to communicate with your constituents in some fashion. We would love it to be us, but we would love it more if you did it. Engage social media, let people engage you as well. The internet in 2015 gives you the power.
So, can we once and for all put to bed the idea that local government officials cannot get their message out?