Finance Committee favors city residency for Police and Fire Commission
‘Residents’ would replace ‘citizens’ in city code for 3 governmental bodies
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Rhinelander’s Finance, Wage and Salary Committee wants in no uncertain terms to require appointed members of the Planning Commission, Police and Fire Commission and Board of Review to be city residents.
Finance Committee members voted at Tuesday’s meeting in favor of changing the city code by replacing the word “citizens” to “residents” to explicitly not allow appointees now longer living in the city limits to serve on those three governmental bodies.
The issue came up recently related to a Police and Fire Commission member, Pete Tenderholt, who moved outside of the city and has had his eligibility to serve on that commission questioned.
City attorney Carrie Miljevich said the meaning of “citizen” currently in the city code for Police and Fire Commission members is ambiguous.
“There’s no definition of citizen or resident in the state statute, but what it does allow the city to do is make its own determination on it,” Miljevich said. “Right now it’s citizen. That’s very ambiguous. It can be subject to interpretation.
“Certainly past practice and precedent is very important on all three of these commissions, but if the committee and the full council decides to change this to resident, that takes away the ambiguity of it, and certainly you are entitled to do that as a legislative body for the city.”
Police and Fire Commission chairman Todd McEldowney, who has spoken in favor of allowing Tenderholt to continue serving on the commission, contacted City Council members and others in an email message regarding the distinction between “resident” and “citizen.”
“I have Police and Fire Commission handbooks going back to 1997 which provide that a citizen on the commission need not be a resident,” McEldowney said. “The City Council may change the ordinance if they so choose; however, it would be contrary to the present (Wisconsin League of Municipalities) interpretation.”
McEldowney made reference to an April 2009 League of Municipalities article by legal counsel Claire Silverman, who noted the applicable state statute for Police and Fire Commissions “calls for the appointment of ‘citizens.’”
“The League has long opined that citizen is not synonymous with resident and that residency is not required by statute but may be required by local ordinance,” Silverman wrote. “Since ‘citizen’ isn’t statutorily defined, it should be construed according to common and approved usage.”
Finance Committee members unanimously favored changing the city code to require commission members to be city residents.
For instance, committee chairman Mark Pelletier said “resident is really more appropriate” for being a commission member who would be acting in the city’s interest.
“Where is citizen? Is it only right outside of town?” Pelletier asked. “How far can you go with it?”
Committee member Sherrie Belliveau said appointing commission members who are city residents has been the practice in Rhinelander for years.
“Where do you draw the line of citizen?” Belliveau asked. “I’m a citizen of the city of Rhinelander. I’m a citizen of the county. I’m a citizen of the state. I’m a citizen of the United States. I’m a citizen of the world.”
One member of both the Planning and Police and Fire commissions who was present for Tuesday’s meeting, Joe Sturzl, informed the Finance Committee that he would have to resign from those positions upon moving outside the city limits, if residency would be required.
“I’ve lived here for nine years, the kids go to school here, my wife and I recently purchased a lot just on the other side of the country club, and because I’ll be moving a mile from where I live now, you guys would think that my love of this city is going to change because I live there, I think is laughable,” Sturzl said.
Pelletier said he would miss having Sturzl on the Planning Commission he also serves on, while also noting being a city resident would be a requirement to remain as a member.
Finance Committee members forwarded the proposed language changes in the city code for the three governmental bodies for the first reading at the City Council’s meeting next Monday.