Veracity of Alderman’s Presentation Questioned
For many years, the City of Marshfield has struggled with communications, whether it be communicating to citizens about topical issues or educating on City services. In February of this year, efforts to improve communications were renewed when Mayor Chris Meyer appointed a Communications Team, consisting of volunteers, to better examine the current situation and to develop a comprehensive communications plan for the City moving forward.
The City Communications Team met several times between April and September (read more here), and apparent results of the committee were presented at the October 10 meeting of the Common Council.
However, some team members and City officials are questioning the accuracy of the reports presented, wary that the direction the Council was recommended to follow is not representative of the Team’s findings.
District 5 Aldermen Ed Wagner, who was a member of the Communications Team, presented the results to Common Council.
“The issues always boiled down to ‘do we use our existing resources, which is our staff?’…or ‘do we go with hiring a communications manager?’” he said at the meeting.
Wagner also claimed that a vote that took place at the final meeting favored the hiring of a communications manager.
“The vote that finally took place was a split vote, but was in favor of hiring a communications manager,” said Wagner. “What’s important for the Council to know is our preference was to go with a communications manager of some sort or another and to ask the Council to move in that direction in the future.”
District 7 Alderman Jason Zaleski, also a Communications Team member, spoke at the meeting, asking for clarification of Wagner’s comment regarding how a vote could be split but still have a preference.
“It was a majority that wanted to go with a communications manager. As a matter of fact, that vote was taken twice if you’ll recall,” said Wagner, attempting to clarify earlier comments.
“So just for clarification since we’re talking about this, I need a vote count to understand the majority,” said Zaleski. “I saw it as a dead split when I was sitting in that room.”
Zaleski’s comments have since been echoed by other members of the Team, who agree that there was no formal vote taken and that the informal sampling was by no means definitive. Additionally, votes of staff members (who are not team members) at the meeting may have been mistakenly been counted during the informal vote.
It was after Zaleski’s comment in the October 10 Common Council meeting that Mayor Chris Meyer reminded the Council that no matter what the team decided, it is the Council’s decision as to what direction to take with communications. Meyer explained that the communications Team was not a statutory body and thus all official direction and spending must come at the direction of the Common Council.
“Let me clarify this, because I don’t want to get into micromanaging of committee work here at the Council. The decision is here, not at the committee level,” said Mayor Chris Meyer at the October 10 meeting. “This body makes the decision about what we do, not a subcommittee.”
However, as a team of volunteers that have spent several months investigating and researching the topic of communications and the best avenue for the City to take, Zaleski expressed that he felt it was important to ensure that the Team’s decision was being properly represented.
“I just want the results of that committee to be clear,” said Zaleski. “There shouldn’t be any ambiguity towards what happened in that committee and that’s what happened here. I was a member of that committee and there wasn’t a clear vote in the direction that Mr. Wagner is stating.”
“We have minutes of this meeting,” said Meyer, however FOCUS has since discovered that there are no formal records of a vote being taken at that meeting.
At the October 10 meeting, District 8 Alderperson Rebecca Spiros requested those minutes, which as aforementioned, do not exist.
FOCUS reached out to Spiros for comment on how much the Council relies on committees’ recommendation when making a decision.
“In general when a special committee is formed, people volunteer to be on it or the Mayor appoints,” said Spiros. “Generally, the committee then does a presentation and the Council weighs pretty heavily on their recommendation.”
Spiros also expressed that she is disappointed there are no readable minutes from the meetings. In the absence of minutes, the Council only has the report of whomever presented (in this case, Alderman Wagner).
“It seemed like what he [Wagner] told people was that the committee recommended a communications manager, and people will listen to him,” said Spiros. “Whether what he presented or not was factual, that’s the issue. Again, I don’t have the meeting minutes so I can’t say one way or another if that was factual or not factual.”
Furthermore, at the Common Council meeting, Meyer went on to question the expertise of the committee itself, which consisted of several experts in the communications field that have dedicated numerous hours to the cause.
“Let me be very upfront with the communications committee,” said Meyer. “This is a committee that I put together and the Council confirmed. In hindsight, this was not a well-constructed committee. It was heavily skewed in one direction and that’s my fault. That’s something I missed. In hindsight, I wish we would have had a more balanced committee with less perspectives looking at one particular direction.”
In short, there is no record of a formal vote taken at the final Communications Team meeting and some members of the Team report that Alderman Wagner presented a false account of the Committee’s intentions. One Team member interviewed (who wished to remain anonymous) also expressed disappointment in the Mayor’s “unfair” comments at the meeting towards the team’s volunteers, noting that the Mayor himself was not in attendance at any of the meetings.
City Communications will likely be the topic of discussion at a future meeting of the Common Council.
“I would like to see this come back for further discussion of the Council sometime after the budget process is completed for this year,” said Meyer at the October 10 meeting. “My recommendation is that this comes back for discussion at this body.”
FOCUS reached out to both Mayor Chris Meyer and Alderman Ed Wagner for comment. Meyer replied with additional comment.
Alderman Wagner stated, “Since the council meeting I have conferred with others who were at the meeting and was reminded that there was not [a] vote at the 9/26 meeting but committee members as well as staff were “polled”. I mistakenly referred to it as a “vote”. My recollection was and remains that there was a slim margin in favor of a communications director.”
FULL VIDEO OF COMMUNICATIONS TEAM REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS