A Cambridge Village Board member is questioning why the first meeting of a new committee charged with reviewing plans to expand the fire and EMS station, is closed to the public.
The Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission voted unanimously on April 29 to create the Building Review Committee after 3 of 5 area referendums to expand the station failed on April 6.
The 5 referendums, that aimed to split the $6.5 million cost to roughly triple the size of the station on West Main Street in Cambridge, failed in Cambridge, the town of Oakland and town of Christiana and passed in the village of Rockdale and town of Lake Mills.
The committee expects to meet twice a month into late summer or early fall, and to then bring a recommendation to the fire and EMS commission that would also need approval from all five municipalities. Its members include village and town elected representatives who don’t sit on the commission, fire and EMS department heads and citizens at large.
In an email obtained by the Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent, Cambridge Fire Chief Terry Johnson on Tuesday morning May 11, shared an agenda for the upcoming meeting, that he said was set for Thursday, May 13 at 6 p.m. at the station, 271 W. Main St.
“Again, this is a working meeting and not open to the public,” Johnson wrote.
In a response letter Tuesday afternoon, Cambridge Village Board member Kris Breunig, appointed to be the village of Cambridge’s representative on the committee, said the Wisconsin Open Meetings law requires that such meetings be properly noticed and open.
“The building Review Committee is a government body under state law. Therefore, I vehemently object to our meetings not being open and public and not being properly noticed according to Wisconsin state statutes,” Breunig said in an email sent to 20 local officials and the Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent.
Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent Managing Editor Karyn Saemann also objected in a separate email to the meeting being closed and not properly noticed, saying that the newspaper “respectfully demands that per that law and for the sake of general transparency that the public be allowed to attend to hear the full discussion, and that all of the committee’s meetings be open going forward.”
The newspaper additionally asked for an explanation as to “who determined this should be a closed meeting, and why.”
In an email response Tuesday evening, directed to the newspaper and shared with about 20 others, Fire and EMS Commission Chair Gene Kapsner said that the May 13 meeting "is a work session by a committee to explore various options for the station. The representative from each municipality will give a report at each of the municipal meetings and at the monthly commission meeting. Surely you can understand that much work needs to get done, without interruption, at these meetings."
"There will also be tours of neighboring facilities which would get quite cumbersome if there is a large group. We've had many building committee meetings over the past 5 years without a problem. There will be minutes taken at each committee meeting that will be shared with each municipality at there monthly meeting and can be shared with the public as well. That should suffice for transparency and complying with open meetings laws. The committee is not a governing body but a committee to make a recommendation to the commission," Kapsner continued.
Breunig in his letter also sought a variety of public documents regarding the fire and EMS commission’s contract with design-build firm Keller, Inc., a copy of a needs assessment done in recent years on the station expansion proposal, and copies of correspondence.
“As the committee begins its work, it’s important to have adequate background information,” Breunig wrote. “Please include me and all members of this committee on all emails and correspondence related to our committee business as well as fire commission business related to this building project.”