A proposed village policy for service awards, proclamations and recognitions was killed in a three-to-four vote in the Oct. 5 DeForest Village Board meeting after arguments of minimal thresholds, staff discretion and due diligence.
The policy, which had been brought before the previous meeting for review and input from trustees by Village President Jane Cahill Wolfgram described a formal resolution of recognition or appreciation as the highest Village Board honor. Formal resolutions recognizing individuals and organization would be voted on and signed by the entire Village Board with candidates including Village Board members upon “retirement” after more than four years of service and retirement or resignation of staff after more than eight years of service.
Proclamations would be issued at the discretion of the Village Administrator in circumstances such as service on the Village Board, a committee or a commission under four years, individuals or organizations who have made contributions of community-wide significance, a resident on their 100th birthday, the earning of an Eagle Scout Award, to call attention to a special event or occasion, or significant staff accomplishment.
Noting that the draft had “edits from lots of people,” Cahill Wolfgram opened the matter for discussion, with first comments from Trustee Rebecca Witherspoon.
“While I don’t have a problem with having a standard policy on how and when we choose to recognize folks for their various contributions to the village,” said Witherspoon, “I do have a problem with us delegating it to bureaucracy and giving them ‘discretion’ over whether or not they decide to do something or not.”
Use of the phrase ‘discretion,’ according to Witherspoon would “denote the potential for bias and abuse--if you get rid of the discretion, then you make it fair, you make it consistent, it becomes equitable, it becomes an automatic process and you eliminate any need for an appeals process on top of that.”
Witherspoon also took issue with the stipulation that any individuals nominated for a formal resolution or proclamation would receive a background check, saying that she couldn’t support the policy with both of those stipulations.
Trustee Colleen Little asked Cahill Wolfgram several questions revolving around the semantics of the policy and the overall complexity of it as it read on the page, with removal of some extraneous words helping the situation.
Returning to the issue of background checks, Trustee Abigail Lowery asked if that would be “just a quick check” on CCAP, the Wisconsin State Circuit Court records database. To which Cahill Wolfgram affirmed, “we’re not looking for an in-depth background check,” involving credit history or private information.
Although it would not really affect the vast majority of cases, Lowery said, she conceded that it could be reasonable to avoid the risk of the board trying to do something positive but having a distraction “if someone slipped through the cracks” with whom the board would not want to have an official association.
“There are so many different things,” said Lowery, “but I’m thinking if there was some kind of child abuse thing in their past.”
Wanting to catch the draft at that iteration, Trustee Jim Simpson moved to approve the policy with the given changes and a recommendation that background checks be just for those who are up for formal recognition by the Board.
After a long pause, there was a second by Little, who also expressed frustration at “the depth of this thing,” saying that in five and a half years on the board they had issued “a handful of proclamations,” and that it had never been that complicated.
Trustee Bill Landgraf joined Little to say he would be voting “no,” simply because it had gotten too complex.
Cahill Wolfgram turned to Police Chief James Olson to describe what would be entailed in a “background check.” Olson explained that the most important thing would be an “open source” search, which would involve running a person’s name through CCAP to check for criminal history or pending cases, and just looking them up through Google and social media to check for potential red flags “that might bring a bad look to the village if we were to stand behind them.”
Nonetheless, Witherspoon appeared unmoved, saying that, “if someone serves the community with honor, they need to be recognized, also, my opinion is that discretion needs to be removed, it needs to be an automatic process and get rid of this stupid appeals process. I think that’s the most insane thing that I’ve ever heard. Us as a board, abdicating our responsibility and pushing it off on a bureaucrat...no offense to you Steve [Fahlgren, Village Administrator], but you’re not always going to be there. We don’t know who’s going to be there next, we don’t know if they’re going to be good, bad, ugly, or what.”
Simpson explained that for certain levels of recognition, he was hoping there could be an “expedited process” in which the Village Administrator could personally handle the matter without the board in a matter of a couple of days or even hours.
In the event of disagreement over an administrator’s decision to offer or not offer recognition, Simpson said that he didn’t like the idea of that all being on one person and so supported an appeal process if a board member felt it appropriate.
Lowery offered her appreciation for Simpson’s comments, saying that although the document and discussion seemed to be getting complicated, it would hopefully make for an efficient process in the long-term.
“I don’t see [Fahlgren] or whoever takes over in that position as a ‘bureaucrat,’ I don’t think we have any of those in Village Hall,” said Lowery, highlighting that the board would have the discretion to change or eliminate the policy if they preferred. “The Village Board is basically the Administrator’s boss and there’s certain things we can’t or shouldn’t get involved with, because it’s day-to-day operations, but also...we are choosing the person who we think will best enact our values and policies...I don’t think if there are mistakes there is necessarily nefarious intent.”
The motion, in the end, was defeated three-to-four, with Trustees Lowery, Simpson, and President Cahill Wolfgram voting for and Trustees Landgraff, Little, Witherspoon, and Taysheedra Allen voting against. Proclamations and recognitions will continue to be brought up as agenda items, requiring the support of the Village President or a minimum of three trustees.