Watchdog group, board policies cause stir
Officials told to leave meeting; CRG questions spending
Members of the Brown Deer School Board and a local watchdog group are at odds over each other's policies.
The Brown Deer chapter of Citizens for Responsible Government, which formed recently, has taken aim at the board's spending habits. Board members, meanwhile, were dismayed when they were unable to attend a CRG meeting March 19 at the Brown Deer Public Library.
CRG members distributed more than 3,400 fliers to residents the weekend before the meeting, inviting people to attend. CRG President Ron Kundinger said about 50 residents attended.
Board member Dennis Lowder was among the school district officials who attempted to offer input from the district's perspective.
"I've never been booted out of a public meeting before, and certainly not from a public building," Lowder said, referring to the library. "I was very shocked to be informed … that School Board members and their agents were to be excluded under the bylaws."
CRG members recently adopted a set of bylaws, which state membership is open to "any person who subscribes to the purposes and policies" of the organization and "elected officials, their representatives and/or agents shall not be permitted membership due to conflicts of interest."
Holding a meeting that was closed to some members of the community was in violation of library policies, Library Director Joseph Rice said.
"You can only have meetings at the library if it's open to the entire public," Rice said. "It's just like Village Hall. We're part of the village, too."
In retrospect, Kundinger said the situation could have been handled differently and hopes future dialogue between board and CRG members will prevent future misunderstandings.
"I understand what the library policy is now, and we're not going to challenge that," Kundinger said.
It remains uncertain where future CRG meetings will be held. Kundinger said some meetings likely will be open to elected officials and others would be reserved solely for CRG members.
"In the closed portion, we'd discuss our strategies and how we'd let people know about board decisions, as we perceive them," Kundinger said.
Levy increase last straw
CRG last fall invited members of the Brown Deer school and village boards to its first meeting, prior to the adoption of the bylaws. As stated on its literature, the organization's primary mission is to "organize, motivate and educate residents to better engage and manage their government."
Kundinger said the impetus for forming CRG in Brown Deer was the board's decision to increase the property tax levy for the 2008-09 school year by 12.67 percent.
"When it hit people's tax bills, it became very real to them," said Kundinger, a former Brown Deer village trustee. "It's been tough during this economic downturn."
CRG has been critical of other recent board decisions, including razing Algonquin Elementary School, installing modular classrooms at Dean Elementary School to house displaced students and spending $200,000 for new lights at the football stadium.
Kundinger said he would be willing to attend monthly School Board meetings to update members on what CRG is doing.
Dave Fidlin can be reached at (262) 446-6603.
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