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OPINION - OK to work the phones

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple has been making some phone calls. He doesn't like council member Robert Mielke. The mayor has been making calls on behalf of Mielke's opponent Mark Lambert.

It's unusual in local politics, where all elections are non-partisan, to have a mayor actively campaigning for a city council candidate. But there's nothing wrong with it. The Mayor, or any other citizen, has a right advocate and try to shape the council to their liking.

It's also unusual for a candidate who has the mayors support to say they dont want it. That's what Lambert has done. He's quoted in the Wausau Daily Herald as saying, "Im dumbfounded.... I want to do this on my own. Im glad he thinks that highly of me but I dont think hes always in the good light at City Hall. I don't need any of the publicity that hes got." It's up to the Mayor whether he thinks his phone calls are helpful or not to a candidate hed like to win.

This controversy stems from a proposed gas station on Wausaus west side. Earlier this year the city council decided not to change area zoning so Kwik Trip council build another store near Bridge Street and Highway 51. The measure failed 7-4, and Councilman Mielke was one of the votes against the project.

Is there anything wrong with this? No, but there are rules.

The mayor is not allowed to campaign from his office. He cant be calling voters from city hall, or during work hours. He cant use city records. He cant use city equipment (including computers and cellphones). This is a legitimate area for questions and investigation, especially in a city that has a history of skirting the rules and cutting corners. An open-records request for the mayors city-hall phone records is legitimate.

But assuming Mayor Tipple is following the rules, and there's no evidence he isnt, there's nothing wrong with an elected official wishing to shape the political landscape around them. Supporting like-minded candidates and opposing those who disagree with you is normal. You and I have the same privileges to work the phones and talk to our friends and neighbors about candidates we support.

Chris Conley

Image: Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple, via wsau.com