Keys to the municipal building a big issue
The resolution by Alderperson Kevin Mathewson (8th district) to direct that all alderpersons be given a key to the municipal office building was a major topic of discussion at three meetings earlier tonight. The item appeared on the Public Works Committee, Finance Committee, and Common Council meeting agendas.
At the Public Works Committee meeting, Alderperson Jan Michalski said that, as long as he’s been an alderperson, he has not had a key. He said that he realizes it might be financially burdensome for some alderpersons to go to a coffee shop with their constituents, but there are other public places to meet, like the library. Plus, he mentioned other issues regarding liability, logistics, etc. He also said that the issue would be moot anyway since the mayor said that a keyless system was being looked into.
Mathewson was present at the Public Works Committee and was allowed to speak several times. He said that he spoke to the city attorney, and there is a liability issue wherever meetings are held, here in the municipal building, McDonald’s, anywhere. “If you think we’re going to party or break windows, just vote no. But, if you trust all of the alderpersons, then vote for it.” He confirmed what Michalski said about the keyless system. There are bids out to three companies for the keycard system already. “The mayor may have been opposed to it at first, but he’s warming up to it. Is this resolution still necessary? Yes. It can stop at any time. This further solidifies the will of the Council.”
Alderperson G. John Ruffolo said that he saw two issues here. One was that there are 60 employees who currently have keys. Employees have come and gone. The keycard system would be used for all employees. The County Job Center has had such a system for over thirty years. It costs $30 to $40 to replace a key card. Secondly, he said that he used to have a key for this building, which he gave back when the need ended. “No one was at risk. My colleagues in Racine have keys. We have contractors in the building, two credit unions, janitorial services. They all have master keys. We are all responsible individuals, not kids.”
Alderperson Steve Bostrom said that he felt the same as Ruffolo. He thanked Mathewson for bringing it up. “Being an officer of the city with no access to officers’ offices after public hours is ridiculous,” he said. “But, the bigger issue is security. The key card system would control who’s coming and going. I’d like to see a more secured system for all employees. It’s important.”
Michalski then said that the consensus seems that all should have a key card or key pad system to record who comes and goes. It’s a hard key situation. “Keys multiply and proliferate. The only way to do it is with an electronic system. But, that’s not what this resolution says. I’m not voting for it,” he said.
Alderperson Scott Gordon agreed. He stated that he was not supporting the resolution as written. A keypad system and security cameras in the hallways are what’s needed. He said that he didn’t have a problem with the key card system. The mayor was working on it.
Ruffolo went on to say that ten employees have left within the last twelve months. “There are keys floating out there. All are responsible on the Common Council. The mayors over the years, city administrators, department heads. It’s the peoples’ city hall.”
Chairman Eric Haugaard questioned Mike Lemens, public works director, on the way the master keys would work. Lemens stated that none of the interior office door keys will open the exterior doors. If an employee has to work on the weekends, they can sign out a key. Otherwise, they have only interior door keys. Haugaard wanted to know which rooms were not locked. Those are the rest rooms and the alderpersons’ room.
Mathewson said that his intention was to have access to the alderpersons’ meeting room and council chambers. “It seems more professional whenever I’m meeting with others.”
Haugaard said that it was not clear to him in the resolution. “An alderperson would get a key, then develop a policy. No one will have a problem. It’s not secure and vague.”
Mathewson said that he thought that was a good observation. It should say the building itself, or the alderpersons’ meeting room. It implies access to the outside door itself. He thanked Haugaard for pointing that out.
Haugaard then asked Lemens if he was certain that there were no locks on the rest rooms, that there would be no changes required to building operations. He said that he’d be inclined to make changes to the resolution. Lemens said that he could make arrangements to comply with the requirements.
Michalski stated that he didn’t see the sense of urgency. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t wait for the key code access. Couldn’t a key be made available through the city clerk’s office? Mathewson said that he was told by administration that there were no policies governing lending out a key. The executive action would be to deny the request.
Bostrom said that it seems as if the opposition to the alderpersons’ obtaining a key was that they were not trustworthy enough. “That is preposterous,” he said. He suggested the use of a Central Lock System if there was concern about the number of keys. It’s cheaper than a card system. A code is given every time a person needs to gain access. “We shouldn’t have to wait for the key card system. If the alderperson needs a place to meet, what’s the problem with giving him a key? I’m disappointed with this committee and the Common Council as a whole. The alderperson was trustworthy enough to gain the citizens’ trust to get elected,” he said.
Haugaard was willing to make an amendment regarding access to the building. The external entry to unsecured common spaces and alderperson-designated meeting spaces. It doesn’t mention the word “key.” “It’s no problem,” he said. “Get the job done that he’s elected to do. Allow key cards, and make it more accessible. Then, it can be changed at will.” He thought that between now and the Common Council meeting, he could craft something with the city attorney.
Bostrom made a motion to send the resolution on to the Common Council without a recommendation from the committee, and this motion was approved by a vote of 4 to 1. Gordon was the sole dissenting voter.
At the Finance Committee meeting, Alderperson Keith Rosenberg expressed his concerns that the city could be held liable if, for example, a constituent alleged sexual harassment after meeting with an alderperson at the municipal building. “After a lot of soul searching,” he said, “it just doesn’t make sense.”
At the Common Council meeting, the first motion made was to defer for 30 days. Mathewson was not in support of the deferral. He asked the mayor if a key code system was being reviewed, and Mayor Keith Bosman said that yes, that staff was putting together proposals. Mathewson said, “The public works director can readily make portions of the building unavailable. I don’t know why we would want to defer it again. The Finance chairman (Daniel Prozanski) is a co-sponsor. The Council president wants to make a small amendment. This is about having a venue to meet with my constituents. We shouldn’t spend countless hours. Please vote down the deferral and let’s vette this out tonight. Stop wasting time. After the deferral fails, I’ll be making a motion to make an amendment.”
Prozanski said that he supported the deferral. He said that he was given a key card when he started work at Tremper High School. He signed a paper outlining the policies and procedures. No policy exists now. Administration was directed to look into it and create policies. “We are putting the cart before the horse here. We need to think about the policies and procedures. Thirty days gives us time to create a policy. Alderpersons can contact the city administrator to make their recommendations. The resolution says that each alderperson is provided key. There is no policy. An elected official ought to have a key, but we need to have the policies and procedures in place. It’s just common sense, to protect everyone’s interest involved.
Bosman wanted to know if the city currently has key policies, and Bosman said that he couldn’t tell him.
Alderperson Anthony Kennedy asked if a resolution has the weight of a law, and Ed Antaramian, city attorney, said yes. Kennedy said that, if the the resolution forces that a key be issued immediately without policies and procedures in place, then that wasn’t his intention. He wanted to make the language clearer. Antaramian said that there was no time frame specified; therefore, it would be immediate as currently written. Kennedy wanted to know how to put in the language once the policies and procedures are in place. Bosman said that they needed to deal with the deferral.
Ruffolo spoke on the deferral. “We’ve already spent 50 days, and this has not appeared on any committee agendas. The Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) has a policy and procedures. Why not copy it? Also, the County Board. There are 60 keys out there. Three new people have come and gone in the office. No policies and procedures are in place. We should have them. I’m not supporting the deferral,” he said.
Alderperson David Bogdala also said that he was not supporting the deferral. He was okay with not having a key until a policy was put in place. He wanted to amend the language. Get the policy copies. “We’ve approved more complicated resolutions over the years. We urged administration to merge two departments. We didn’t have a plan how it was going to be done. We urged administration to dredge the harbor. We didn’t tell them how or when. We simply said, ‘Please get this done.’ We need to fix the concerns, not defer. No key til policies and procedures are approved and rolled out.” This would avoid the 30-day deferral and address Bostrom’s concerns.
Mathewson then asked the mayor some questions. Did administration already begin the process? Bosman said yes. Policies and procedures and costs have already been started. Mathewson said that he realizes the potential for problems with greater than 60 keys out there, with no rules. He asked the mayor, “When policies and procedures are developed, will they include all elected officials?” Bosman’s reply was that it was too early to speak to that. Mathewson then concluded, “This needs to pass tonight. If we keep deferring it, we may not get access. We need to determine the will of the Council.”
Prozanski said that he made it this far with no key. He was in favor of the deferral to allow time to codify the specific suggestions. He wanted to make sure that all other pieces were in place. He asked the clerk if there was more than one sponsor because he kept hearing, “All we’re saying . . .,” and she said no. He said that he thought it made sense to defer. He wanted to know if, within the 30-day period, there was access needed, would a key be made available? And Bosman replied that, yes, arrangements could be made.
Michalski said that he would support the deferral. “Besides the policies and procedures, the issue is access,” he said.
Haugaard said that it takes nine votes to pass, and five to kill it. (There were four alderpersons absent from tonight’s meeting, Alderpersons Patrick Juliana, Jesse Downing, Tod Ohnstad, and Rocco LaMacchia.) Public Works stated their intent to support with simple changes. He wanted time to talk to the city attorney about his concerns. “It can’t get done on the Council floor,” he said. “If five don’t support, it’s dead. I’m okay with a two-week deferral. Or, we can approve it pending a policy. I just want to keep it alive,” said Haugaard.
Gordon stated that he supported the deferral because of the four members who were not here. “We don’t have their opinions. Hopefully, all seventeen of us will be at the next meeting, and all can be heard,” he said.
The roll call vote for the deferral for 30 days failed by a vote of 6 to 7.
To clarify, Antaramian then read some proposed language. “Subsequent to the development and promulgation of the policies and procedures governing use by the alderpersons of this municipal office building. . . ” Mathewson said that he supported the current amendment. Orth said that he would not support the current amendment because the bigger concern is that policies and procedures need to be developed. He said that “alderperson access is a secondary issue. Once established, this focused entirely on access for alderpersons. It’s about getting control of the keys, who has them, why, when? Then, include the alderpersons.” Haugaard said that he would not support the motion because there was too much risk.
Ruffolo asked the mayor when the goal was to have this done. The mayor replied 60 days. Ruffolo didn’t understand why it would take 60 days when the water utility policy could be copied. Bosman agreed. “The water utility has never had an issue with keys or their card system. There are all kinds of good things that would come from this, but it takes time to bring these things to the committee. It’s a valid pursuit,” he said. “The Common Council will have time to opine. We’re not passing out keys. We were given this directive a month ago, to develop policies and procedures. If it costs $10,000, it’s valid. If it costs $100,000, then we’d have to re-think it. Maybe 30 days is too optimistic. But, it shouldn’t take 60 days,” he said.
Mathewson then asked a simple question of the mayor. The majority of the Common Council has spoken. They think that an alderperson should have access to the building. He wanted to know if the mayor agreed. The mayor replied that he never needed access in his twelve years as an alderperson. Mathewson then immediately jumped on that, and concluded that “administration doesn’t want us to have keys. Technology has changed in twelve years,” he said. He said that administration won’t put in policies and procedures for alderpersons. “You just heard it,” he said. The resolution needs to pass.
Bostrom said, “If the amendment passes, without the nine votes, is it dead? Will they continue to secure the building? If the resolution doesn’t pass, will the progress being made stop?” Bosman said no, that they would continue, as directed. They would continue to look at the card key system.
Prozanski then called finance director, Carol Stancato, to the podium. He asked about the resolution and amendment and asked if, as a result of the December 3rd resolution and amendment, was the administration looking into an electronic key system, and were they developing policies and procedure? Stancato said that yes, specifications were written. Also, bids went out to three or four vendors. He wanted to know how this took place without a resolution directing them to do so. Prozanski then said that he was in favor of the key system, but not without the policies and procedures. He wanted to consider all issues.
Haugaard asked, if it passes in its amended form, would policies and procedures be developed absent the key card system, or wait for a recordable system? Bosman replied that “all would get a key right away. Wasn’t that the gist of the motion?” Bosman wanted to wait until the card system was developed, then put the polices and procedures in place. Haugaard said that he thought it was worth waiting. “There’s too much at risk. It’s likely to go away. If it fails, we must start all over again.”
Kennedy then withdrew the amendment. He said that he didn’t want a key. But, he respected the alderperson having a tool to serve his constituents. He said that he now supported the deferral for 45 days, and he asked if it was appropriate to make the motion. The city attorney said that it was. Kennedy said also that he was disturbed by Mathewson’s comments after questioning the mayor. He said, “I don’t believe the alderpersons would be cut out of the policies and procedures. We need to give them time to make it tighter. It’s already been 30 days on the same time.”
Mathewson then asked the mayor if he would meet with Mathewson and the co-sponsor, and the reply was yes. “Would 45 days be enough time?” The mayor said that he thought that it would. Mathewson said that he was willing to work together. He then said that he would support the 45-day deferrals. “Hopefully, this will be the last time,” he said. He then asked Kennedy if he would be willing to attend the meeting, and he said yes.
The mayor then assured Mathewson that the policies governing the alderpersons would not be completely left out. The roll call vote for the 45-day deferral was then unanimously approved by a vote of 13 to 0.