What an Invitation Says (and Doesn’t Say) – 2017

 

Over at the City of Whitewater’s website, there’s a notice about a public meeting at which candidates for a city job will available to the public. Although the notice is formally correct (to meet the requirements of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law, Wis. Stats. §§ 19.81-19.98), as a community matter there’s something sad about it.

First, the notice (http://www.whitewater-wi.gov/images/stories/agendas/common_council/2017/ccagen_2017-0329_Special.pdf):

NOTICE

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The City of Whitewater will be hosting a reception for the candidates for the Finance and Administrative Services Director on March 29, 2017, from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. at the Whitewater Innovation Center, 1221 Innovation Dr., Whitewater, WI 53190.

It is highly likely that quorums of the following Committees may be present at the reception:

Whitewater Community Development Authority;
City of Whitewater Common Council;
Whitewater University Technology Park Board; and the
Whitewater Plan & Architectural Review Commission.

It is possible that members of and possibly a quorum of members of other governmental bodies of the municipality may be in attendance at the above-stated meeting to gather information over which they may have decision-making responsibility; no action will be taken by any governmental body at the above-stated meeting other than the governmental body specifically referred to above in this notice.

Anyone requiring special arrangements is asked to call the office of the City Manager/ City Clerk at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.

Second, why it’s sad: there’s no mention of the applicants for the position, and no public information about them. For the City of Whitewater and the Banner, this probably makes sense, as they work on a those-who-need-to-know-basis, and for them the significant audience is their own small circle.

This is like receiving a wedding invitation where the names of the bride and groom are left blank:

Somebody requests the honor of your presence at the marriage of someone
to someone else on Wednesday, March 29, 2017, from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. at the Whitewater Innovation Center, 1221 Innovation Dr., Whitewater, WI 53190.

Reception to follow.

The municipal notice is a community notice only in the narrowest sense, revealing that the position isn’t a community matter in the eyes of local insiders – it’s (effectually) a quasi-private meeting. The municipal government meets the terms of the law, but nothing more.

It should be a caution to sensible candidates: insiders may or may not buck up a fellow employee in difficult times, but no one inside will have much resonance with the community outside. There are two principal options: either spend each waking moment pleasing that tiny inside circle, or adopt a view that transcends the circle, and stretches much farther.

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