Saturday, August 24th, 2019

A kind of government to show your kids


Waukesha Freeman 4/17/14 Page A7 Opinion

A kind of government to show your kids

When I get asked about what I am going to write about in the post-Jeff Scrima era, I laugh and point out the number of races unfolding in the state for the fall elections. My son, Will, has a different suggestion. In true Wigderson style, he said, “You could write more about me.”

On Tuesday night, the family took a break from our usual routine to go to City Hall to watch the Common Council meetings. Usually I just watch from home and throw popcorn at the television.


My son showed up in his Boy Scout uniform to nervously lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. At the break and after the meeting, Alderman Kathy Cummings took him through the process of earning one of his badges.

My daughter, Moira, is not yet old enough to be left alone at home. She squirmed in the chair, played with her My Little Pony figure and announced to anyone within earshot she was bored. I can’t decide if that will make her a bad political columnist someday or a good one.

After the fifth time of her asking if the meeting was almost over and could she please go look at the art (her favorite contribution of the Scrima era), I gave her my phone to play with. It’s her fault I wasn’t on Twitter making jokes during the meeting.

The Lovely Doreen from Waukesha did her best to keep my son from having an anxiety attack. Unlike his sister, my son doesn’t seek the spotlight, so the idea that everybody in the room would be looking at him was terrifying.

Most of us feel the same way. Just ask anyone who signs up to make a public comment before a Common Council meeting.

On the off chance my kids remember anything from Tuesday night’s meeting, I hope they remember three things.

The first is how the transition from one mayor to the next is so civil and routine. On his last day as mayor, Scrima sent a nice note to the city employees. At the meeting, Scrima thanked Waukesha for letting him serve. Alderman Terry Thieme, who ran against Scrima for mayor, thanked the mayor for his four years of service.

Cummings reminded the council that part of the transition from one year to the next is the carrying over of old business, which passed unanimously.

When the council reconvened for the second meeting, the new mayor, the new city attorney, and the “new” council were sworn in.

It’s a process of continuity that is a luxury we take for granted. As much as it would make my job more interesting if we were chopping the heads off past mayors and aldermen, I think most off us prefer the routine, even boring, nature of our democratic process. Maybe someday my children will appreciate it.

The third thing I hope they take away from the meeting was the promise of more openness by Mayor Shawn Reilly.

Reilly announced that the supplemental information given to the aldermen along with their agendas also will be posted online. Now citizens will have the same information as the aldermen as we sit at home and wonder, “What the heck are they doing?”

It’s also going to be easier to watch from home because council meetings are going to be live-streamed on the Internet. That means my wife and kids get the television back on meeting nights while I retreat to my office.

I really hope my children were paying attention when Reilly said he was going to talk to the media even when he didn’t want to. I’m going to hold Reilly to his word, and leave him with one anecdote to keep in mind.

My kids’ first exposure to politics came during the debate over putting a stadium in Frame Park. I took the kids over to City Hall and asked to see Mayor Larry Nelson. Nelson invited us into his office and showed me the file that had everything I wanted to know about the project, even though Nelson knew I was going to oppose it. While I read the file, Nelson talked to my kids and made sure they were comfortable.

No secrets, no delayed open records requests, just an honest, open exchange.

That’s the kind of government that I would like my kids to see and remember again.

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