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Our View: Brokaw can handle an open discussion

3:59 PM, May 6, 2013  |  Comments
Wausau Paper employees leave work in December 2011 in Brokaw. The mill closed in 2012, leaving the village with serious financial issues.
Wausau Paper employees leave work in December 2011 in Brokaw. The mill closed in 2012, leaving the village with serious financial issues.
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People say Washington is vicious, but there is no politics so vindictive as small-town politics. We invite skeptics to sit in on a Brokaw Village Board meeting and tell us afterward if they disagree.

At the very least, the conduct in the village of Brokaw in recent weeks should serve as an object lesson for local officials on how not to conduct the public's business.

Background: Brokaw is a village of 251 people just a stone's throw north of Wausau. For a century, it was the site of the Wausau Paper mill that closed last year. That closure sent the village, already struggling in the way many small municipalities are, into deep and serious financial difficulty.

Village President Jeffrey Weisenberger has had a series of meetings with Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple in recent months, and the village has discussed everything from water-sharing options to staffing needs. One Wausau City Council member, Keene Winters, late last month called on Wausau and Brokaw to consider a merger.

Look, it's one option. Maybe it's a good one and maybe it's a bad one. But surely, given the discussions already underway, it is worth considering the pros and cons of merging.

Instead, Weisenberger responded to an inquiry by a Daily Herald Media reporter with an angry phone call. And on Friday, at a bizarre, embarrassing and very likely illegal public meeting, Weisenberger called on everyone on the Village Board - perhaps everyone in the village! - to refrain from speaking to the media. He decried supposed leaks of confidential information. He even publicly demanded that a board member silence his wife and prevent her from discussing public matters in public forums. (He did not specify exactly how the board member should do that, but we'll admit we are curious.)

Weisenberger doesn't give the council or Brokaw villagers enough credit. A full discussion of issues gives people a chance to participate in government. And that usually results in better decisions.

Weisenberger appears to be acting out of a deeply misguided sense of what it means to be a leader.

We do not doubt for an instant Weisenberger's sincere love of Brokaw and his desire to see the village through extraordinarily difficult times. But his impulse - to try to seize control of any and all discussion, to browbeat critics into silence and to decry the airing of public issues - is exactly wrong.

People, we've observed, seem not to like it when you tell them to sit down and shut up. And whether he likes it or not, people in his village are now discussing all the things he would have them ignore. Leadership would be playing a constructive role in those conversations. Throwing a fit about them is not leadership.

If he'd like to discuss the substance of the issues, we invite Weisenberger to an interview with the Daily Herald Media Editorial Board at his convenience. If he'd prefer to tamp down public discussion, we suggest that Brokaw can do better.

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