OPINION: Don’t let misinformation leave you wrong

Misinformation and missing information are problems that won’t go away. Case in point: Just listen to people talk about Fowler Lake Village. If built, some say, St. Paul street will be closed. Wrong. The condo owners at FLV will own lakefront property. Wrong. If the development isn’t built, the city will be on the hook for $6.4 million. Wrong. The city-owned playground that sits on the lake front, next to St. Paul’s will disappear. Wrong. The popular boardwalk will be interrupted. Wrong. There will be less public parking. Wrong. Condo owners will take some of the public parking. Wrong. The list of misinformation is extensive.

So what’s the solution? Yes the city has to do a better job disseminating information, but to its credit, it has taken action, including creating a website that is a major valuable information resource. But city staff and elected officials aren’t always able to easily share information.

For example, there are legal issues associated with the city holding an “informational” meeting on key issues or concerns. The state’s Open Meeting Law comes into play and there is a lot of gray area around how such meetings are conducted, who can attend, etc. In the past, the city has took the position that if such a meeting were held, it would probably requite a legal notice and a published agenda. Plus the meeting would probably be conducted as a meeting of the Common Council, which has its own set of procedural constraints, many of which don’t support or encourage open dialog or public discourse. Council meetings are working sessions for the aldermen; not public forums.

Another part of the solution involves greater diligence and information-gathering and dissemination by public media. Oconomowoc, unfortunately, doesn’t have a television or radio station (Beaver Dam, West Bend, and Watertown have newspapers and radio stations). Beaver Dam’s mayor has his own regular radio call-in show.

Oconomowoc also doesn’t have a locally owned, staffed, and housed newspaper. The old Oconomowoc Enterprise was a true community newspaper. The name still exists but the product, published out of Waukesha, pales in comparison, due in part to the financial constraints–low staffing, space limitations– that print newspapers have today. And of course, there is the new OCON2DAY, which, while local, has its own set of limitations.

The best solution ultimately involves not only multiple, different, and new channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, but also the recognition that each of us must be an active participant in the information-gathering and dissemination process. We must be proactive and participatory. It takes time, but to be accurately informed, we have to avail ourselves of these multiple sources of information. Don’t rely on your sister-in-law, who heard it from her boss, whose uncle is a developer in Pewaukee.

If you want information, it is there. You may have to dig for it, attend meetings, read reports, and make phone calls (start with your alderman), but accurate information is usually available from knowledgeable resources if you take the time to get it. It is your responsibility as a citizen to assume ownership for a major chunk of the process. Don’t let misinformation or missing information leave you wrong.

 

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