Voting with their hearts rather than their heads, a majority of Ripon aldermen last week unwittingly put residents’ public safety and taxpayers’ financial wherewithal at risk.
They voted 5-3 to retain dispatch center services in Ripon rather than move them to Fond du Lac County, with its faster response and greater services, available at less cost and risk to the city.
Ripon’s dispatch center may be staying put after the Ripon Common Council voted 5-3 Tuesday against moving the dispatch center to Fond du Lac …
Proof that the decision was not well thought out came immediately after the vote, when aldermen realized they had led the city off a cliff without a parachute.
Immediately following the vote, they seemed to have second thoughts about their decision. So, despite having the issue on their plates for half a year, they sought political cover by considering a referendum.
Mayor Ted Grant, who favors moving the dispatch center, poured cold water on the idea of going to the public with a compelling argument. “[The Common Council has] more information than we can probably legally disseminate to people in the community because they are sensitive topics,” he said. “… So if we make it a binding resolution, they’re voting with less than all the information [the council had].”
What can’t be legally disseminated to the public? Past failures in Ripon’s dispatch that could put the city at risk of being sued. Liability is but one reason the city should move its dispatch to Fond du Lac County.
Ald. Howard Hansen seemed to make the case that aldermen are elected to be the people’s delegates, to study issues and make the tough decisions — until he didn’t.
“We are the representatives of our citizens,” he said. “We were elected to be their voice and represent them.” Absolutely.
But then he ducked that responsibility. “This is a big decision. [The public] should have some sort of say in it. It effects them as well as effects us.”
The flaw in his reasoning is that a plebiscite is no better than the degree to which the public is given access to documents, decision makers, interviews, discussion and an understanding of current risks, which Grant admitted for legal reasons cannot be divulged.
So a referendum, be it advisory or binding, makes no sense accept to absolve aldermen responsibility for their careless vote.
COST TO UPGRADE
After voting to keep dispatch in Ripon, Ald. Jim Werch asked City Administrator Lori Rich, “So Lori, how would we fund a local upgrade, and staffing and any other issues? How would we fund that going forward?”
The answer to that question should have played a critical role in aldermen’s decisions rather than come as an afterthought.
“At this point, the only option is to borrow,” Rich said. “We are limited as to how much we can borrow so that would take away from street projects. A good chunk of it, for a long time.” The city currently borrows about $500,000 annually. “To be honest,” she added, “I don’t know how we would come up with these numbers.”
Even if city taxpayers agreed to pay more to finance Ripon dispatch, Rich said, the city would exceed its state-mandated expenditure limit leading to “significant consequences.”
Thanks to Werch, the council will get a do-over when it reconsiders its sloppy decision at the Jan. 25 meeting.
Hopefully, aldermen will have a better idea then of how taxpayers can find an additional $4.6 million over the next 10 years to pay for a Ripon system that won’t be as efficient, responsive or inexpensive as Fond du Lac County dispatch’s.
Finally, before the next tally is recorded we’d like to see one alderman publicly pose this question to Ripon Police Chief Bill Wallner, who better understands Ripon’s dispatch system than any other city official: “Chief, if you were on the Common Council, how would you vote?”
His candid answer to that question should give aldermen all they need to move Ripon’s dispatch to Fond du Lac County.
— Tim Lyke