Rhinelander mayor creates opportunities for citizen participation in city government
By Lori Adler and Eileen Persike
Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson recently announced a number of ways for which members of the public can make contributions to city government, all while helping to mold Rhinelander’s future. Rhinelander citizens have been active at common council meetings and on the city’s website and Facebook pages, commenting on various issues, but this is a chance to make a larger contribution.
“We are looking for interested parties who are passionate,” Frederickson said. “We as a city have amazing people here – really amazing people. But they have been somewhat siloed.”
Beginning this summer, a number of citizen work groups are being created to ensure public input into several different aspects of city growth and development. Frederickson has recently posted a number of letters of interest outlining the various groups and requesting those interested to come forward.
The various work groups proposed by the mayor are outlined below.
Business Leaders Round Table: This group would suggest strategies and approaches for growing the tax base and increasing the prosperity of the community. Group members would provide advice and guidance on city programs and investments.
“Economic development really is the $18,000 we pay Stacy Johnson with the county,” Frederickson said. “That’s it. Now should we have more of a role in [economic development] or not, and how can we do that? We can do that, one, by drawing people in and saying, what are the problems we can solve. Even if we’re not going to do anything with actually purchasing a property or selling anything, what infrastructure improvements can we make to get that to that point.”
Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Planning work group: Members of this group would advise the city on future investments of bicycle lanes, trails and sidewalks. This group would help the identify needs of the community for many different types of non-motorized facilities.
Housing & Neighborhoods Master Planning work group: The mayor would like a group of citizens to provide advice and input on the quality of the city’s housing and conditions of its neighborhoods, including parks.
“The way we did it before, as far as my understanding from the past year looking at past plans, interested individuals would say, ‘I want more done with the concession stand.’ That’s what would happen – if it was the best plan, the worst plan, whatever, it didn’t matter; we just did it,” Frederickson said. “We want to have an overall plan and say, ‘if you want to do that, here is our plan; join in our efforts.’ We’re not eliminating civic groups but we’re saying we have a vision for what we want.
The goal of the group would be to prioritize needs and create a strategy to improve housing and residential areas.
Property & Infrastructure work group: Citizens involved in this work group would advise city officials on current public works projects and provide input into city’s programs and investments.
Redevelopment Authority: Those interested in this group would help to create a redevelopment program for the city as well as aid with its planning and overall direction.
“People got uptight about us creating [this] work group,” Frederickson said. “But it’s in the 2009 plan, so it’s already there.”
Citizens interested in this group should possess knowledge and experience in this area, especially in the fields of finance and management.
Future Rhinelander Academy
In addition to the work groups, Frederickson has created a program he said is “basically government 101.”
“We now have a gallery full of people who are interested in government,” Frederickson said. “When Sherrie Belliveau resigned there were five people interested in the position. So how do we get these people up to speed and what does that role need?”
Based upon programs found in other cities, this series of educational workshops is designed to help community members become more involved in local government. The seminars are aimed at educating citizens who currently serve on local government boards, commissions, or committees, and those who wish to serve in this capacity in the future, as well as anyone who may be considering running for local public office. The workshops will be held the second and fourth Mondays from 6-7:30 p.m. and will run for eight total sessions through this summer and fall.
Having a room full of people at city council meetings is important, Frederickson said.
“They keep you from the pitfalls. They are your advocates in the community. When you have ownership in the community, you feel better about it. Participation in our community is key.”
Citizens, employees, taxpayers, community volunteers or anyone wishing to learn more about the intricacies of local government are encouraged to participate. Those interested must apply and be accepted into the program as well as agree to commit to the entire program as workshops build upon each other. The cost to participate is $25 to cover books and supplies.
The packet of information for the Future Rhinelander Academy, including the application form, is available at City Hall. In addition, the packet and the letters of interest for the various work groups are posted at http://bit.ly/190624CCMtg. For questions regarding any of the work groups or the Future Rhinelander Academy, contact Mayor Chris Frederickson directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-470-1168.