At a meeting of the Oneida County Public Works Committee on Thursday, Nov. 21, chairman Robb Jensen informed committee members of what might be discussed in a Capital Improvements (CIP) Committee meeting the following day. Two supervisors objected to what they were told.
Jensen, who is also the chair of the CIP committee, read portions of the agenda he had prepared for Friday’s CIP meeting. Topics slated for discussion included a potential fuel system upgrade and a brine-making and storage facility for the Oneida County Highway Department.
The Public Works Committee had approved those two topics to be forwarded to the CIP committee, but the CIP agenda — as authored by Jensen — included options for the projects which public works did not approve.
The options — as listed — were “1) Current facility; 2) Current facility-west side expansion; 3) Current facility-east side expansion; 4) New site facility; 5) Current facility and off-site lease/purchase.”
At an Aug. 19 meeting of the county’s capital improvement subcommittee, both Jensen and supervisor Jack Sorensen broke from the meeting’s agenda in a spontaneous discussion about the merits of building an entirely new highway department facility.
Following that meeting, The Lakeland Times filed open-meeting complaints against both supervisors for the unauthorized discussion.
Upon reading the CIP agenda at last Thursday’s public works meeting, supervisor Scott Holewinski balked.
“So, Robb, I’m looking at that agenda and I don’t understand down here where it says ‘Highway facility options,’” Holewinski said.
“What I tried to do ... was, when this came up before, and the whole thing with the complaint — whether I violated open meetings (laws) by discussing potential options — if you remember, on the fuel upgrade project, there were three options,” Jensen replied.
“Yeah, but this says ‘new site facility,’ and I don’t think we forwarded anything (about that) to capital improvements,” Holewinski said.
“We haven’t,” Jensen clarified. “So the brine one had four options, OK? So, if you’re of the opinion that you’re going to evaluate those two projects, and each with the belief that this current facility will stay as-is — no changes — there may be discussion about if we were to do the west side expansion, how would that impact ...”
“But isn’t that supposed to come from our committee to them?” Holewinski interrupted. “That committee’s not supposed to decide what each department needs. Shouldn’t we be having those discussions before it goes to capital improvements?”
“That should happen beforehand,” supervisor Mike Timmons added.
“Gentlemen,” Jensen replied. “I’ve tried that; coming back and saying ‘Here’s the functions of the department,’ and we went nowhere. We went nowhere, so I’m just covering us. One could be the east side expansion. The other could be ‘you know what, we should continue to look at a new site.’ I don’t know ... I tried to cover all possible things that might be discussed.”
Agenda, procedural questions
“This is very vague,” Holewinski said in reference to the CIP agenda. “You’ve got a whole bunch of things listed here ... we never submitted these other things to the Capital (Improvements Committee). And you guys are going to discuss it at your committee level. I think we were supposed to submit capital improvements from here for that. I don’t think it was your — or that committee’s — deal to bring this forward on your own.”
“These are the two capital improvement projects: the fuel system upgrade and the brine building/storage building, OK?” Jensen replied. “Those are the two capital improvements ...”
“That we sent in,” Holewinski finished. “But we didn’t send all this other stuff in.”
“No,” Jensen said. “But we also didn’t decide as a committee ‘You know what? We’re going to do nothing on brine. Nothing. We’ll just keep status quo.’”
“In my opinion, option number one was all we talked about,” Timmons said.
“But what I’m saying is, there may be people that want to discuss that,” Jensen said. “I have to post it that way. It allows for all those discussions.”
“But that isn’t supported here,” Timmons objected.
“I’m going to go back to the (courthouse) elevator in 2019,” Jensen said. “The 2019 elevator project was approved for almost $1 million. The Capital Improvement Committee, through its process of discussing and vetting that project, eliminated it. Even though Buildings and Grounds forwarded that project on to be approved.”
“Well, I’m alright if you (the CIP committee) eliminate something,” Holewinski said, “But I think this discussion of a new facility and all that needs to come from here not from that committee over there. How does that committee know how this operation operates and what the needs are?”
“So, I guess what I’m hearing from you is, the recommendation of this committee is not to do anything until this committee makes a decision on this facility,” Jensen said. “Is that what I’m hearing?”
“No,” Holewinski answered. “I think the committee submitted this stuff up here (referring to the brine/storage building and fuel system upgrade), not all this stuff down here.”
“I think I also recall from that discussion that we’re not going to come to an agreement on that,” Jensen said. “This allows for that discussion, and it’s also going to allow for that discussion with whatever goes to the county board floor.”
“I thought we moved forward with looking into the fuel system here and the brine building here and the new tanks, and that’s why we allowed buying the new tanks,” Timmons replied. “The size of the building was questionable whether we were going to do the full-blown building now, or half a building now and half a building later. That’s the way I interpreted it.”
“I understand that,” Jensen said. “I will explain at the (Capital Improvements) Committee ‘The projects in front of you have been approved by this (Public Works) Committee’ ... I have to post it. There are some that are going to question that.”
Supervisor Ted Cushing reminded Timmons and Holewinski “that’s how they (Jensen and Sorensen) got in trouble,” with the open-meetings violation.”
“I’ve got to post it in case someone says ‘Well, you know what? I don’t see the sense in putting up $408,000,’” Jensen clarified. “Someone’s going to bring that up, and we post it to have that discussion. And I’ll tell you right now: you know what we’re probably going to come up with? ‘Here, Administration Committee, is option one; option two; option three. You guys debate it on the county board floor.’ But if I don’t post it that way, they can’t. This way, the public knows these discussions can come up. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying where the discussion is going to go. I don’t know.”
“All you’ve got to do is say ‘That’s not an agenda item. It’s only these agenda items,’” Holewinski replied. “What you’re doing is, you’re instigating a discussion down here so that that committee — which might approve a new facility — gets to put all their input in. And us guys who are sitting on this committee — who may not be attending that meeting — don’t have a say in it. And this is a big-ticket number.”
“What should be known is what the highway committee brought forward,” Timmons said. “The rest is from other places. This is what the highway committee recommended. Period. Option one is what we talked about, which is staying at this facility. That should be known at that CIP meeting.”
“Mike, the decision could be to build the brine building and upgrade, and then two years from now, the decision could be to move,” Jensen replied.
“We’re moving forward with the decision from the county board when they decided not to sell to Kwik Trip and we’re supposed to make these improvements here,” Holewinski said.
“OK, well, I could argue on that point, too,” Jensen said. “That’s the process that we’ll start tomorrow at capital improvements.”
“Note that this committee was not in favor of those items being on that agenda,” Holewinski told Jensen. “I don’t think they should be on there the way they are. The common person doesn’t understand what you’re doing here. I didn’t understand what you were doing here, and I should know what’s going on.”
“Well, if it’s not right, I’m sure The Lakeland Times will make me aware of that,” Jensen said. “What I’m trying to say is, ‘This is the possible discussion’ ... They’re listed as options. I mean, I understand what (this) committee approved.”
As the CIP agenda update was not an action item for the Public Works Committee, it remained unchanged and was taken up by the Capital Improvements Committee last Friday.
“I anticipate there will be some interesting questions that come along the line in terms of justification of each project,” Jensen said. “It could be a real long meeting for capital improvements.”