City enforcing rule on in-person meeting attendance

Policy shift bars vacationing members from appearing by phone

City officials who used to attend some Shawano Common Council and other meetings by phone are now being required to show up in person, unless there are “unusual circumstances,” under an 11-year-old ordinance that is being strictly enforced for the first time.

The change in policy will most directly affect Alderman Bob Kurkiewicz, who has traditionally vacationed in Florida in February and March and has for several years been attending by phone and then more recently via Skype.

Kurkiewicz, who was aware of the new ordinance enforcement before leaving for Florida last month, tried phoning in to a Shawano Municipal Utilities Commission meeting on Monday but was denied by Mayor Jeanne Cronce, who sits on that commission.

Kurkiewicz is also on the finance committee which had a meeting scheduled Tuesday. The meeting was rescheduled for Wednesday because Alderwoman Sandy Steinke was not back from her vacation, and there was no quorum in attendance.

The city’s new posture on the ordinance will mean Kurkiewicz will not be able to participate in Wednesday’s Common Council meeting or any others until he returns from Florida.

“It’s nothing personally to do with Bob,” Cronce said. “The city has had the ordinance since 2007 and it hasn’t been followed.”

The city actually has two ordinances on the books covering meeting attendance, once for boards and commissions and the other for the Common Council.

The rule for boards and commissions requires members to personally attend and prohibits appearances by phone.

The rule for the council allows a little more leeway, stating that a member shall be allowed to attend via speaker phone as long as it’s only one member per meeting and that member attends the entire meeting.

Also, “Permission shall only be granted to Council members to attend said meeting via speaker phone due to an unusual circumstance that would prevent the person from personally appearing at the meeting,” according to the ordinance.

It also states that “A Council member who wishes to attend the meeting via speaker phone shall obtain permission to do so from the Mayor.”

Cronce said she wasn’t aware of the ordinance when she took office in April 2016.

She came across the rules while reviewing all of the city’s ordinances last year, she said.

“It became apparent we’re not following our own rules,” Cronce said. “If we don’t follow the rules, how can we expect the general public to?”

Kurkiewicz said he has been attending meetings by phone and Skype for about 10 years. In years past, other council members, including Elmer Martin and Fred Krueger, attended by phone while on vacation.

Kurkiewicz said the ordinance leaves phone attendance to the discretion of the mayor and was approved by Cronce last year.

“Why has she changed her mind at this time?” Kurkiewicz said.

He said he has not been given a reason for the shift in attitude.

“I take my position very seriously,” Kurkiewicz said. “I would think my willingness to attend would be appreciated.”

Kurkiewicz said he always studies up before meeting and is fully prepared, even when appearing by phone.

His own phone in Shawano, he said, reroutes calls to him in Florida and that no constituent who has called with a problem has had that problem left unresolved.

According to Cronce, the telephone appearances “have been a bone of contention with some of the council members.”

She said the decision to enforce the ordinance was not sudden and that there have been discussions about it going back to at least October.

She also said City Attorney Tim Schmid wrote a letter several months ago stating that the city should be enforcing the rule.

Cronce said the ordinance could be changed by the Common Council, but so far none of the members have made any move to do that.