EDITORIAL: It’s a matter of health and safety now — It’s time to take Arena’s issues seriously

No records were requested so no answer is given is an entirely inappropriate and inadequate response by Village of Arena President Kate Reimann to “what would you say to village residents that are concerned this [police] decision [to go part-time] will lead to increased response times for emergencies?”

Reimann’s response by email to questions regarding the Arena Police Department switching to part time.

Questions like these are usually softball questions from newspapers, but can be quite useful to residents. It’s akin to: “residents are confused and concerned. Elected official, how can you reassure them? What should they know?”

On Nov. 7 the Village of Arena Police Department announced they will now serve the village part-time, citing “low morale” due mostly to the village board.

From water to referendums, from EMS to gas lines, from public records to open meetings, from shifting timelines and broken promises to increasing taxes—the Village of Arena has problems.

Residents now need to decide how much is too much. Without guidance or reassurance from the village president that this decision won’t affect public health and safety, again how much is too much? When is the line crossed? Will it take a life expired that would have otherwise been saved? One of our community members being interred on Saturday rather than being served at the VFW Steak Feed? 

For some, the immediate concern may be cost and whether or not they can continue to have a roof over their heads and afford to live in a village that has seen increasing taxes year after year and decreasing services year after year. Similarly, questions remain unanswered as to whether the village will end up paying more out of pocket reimbursing the county and other agencies for services rendered that would have otherwise been provided in-house.

There are some that would argue the size of the Village of Arena warrants strictly a contract with the county for public safety (à la Mazomanie). But we need to remember that Iowa County and Dane County are very different, all rural areas in Wisconsin right now are facing unique challenges and that changes shouldn’t be made on the unexamined hope that costs will go down and service will go up. 

The bigger question needs to be: why? Why has the village seen unprecedented turnover in the past several years? Why are village employees in effect saying they can’t work with the conditions the board and its president have created?

Village President Kate Reimann is well into her third term now, and served as trustee before that. There is no acceptable honeymoon period remaining. There’s no excuse any longer for refusing to learn from your mistakes. If residents have paid attention to the Village at all, then they’re aware the mistakes keep piling up—with no resolution in sight.

It is not clear—and has never been clear—to this editorial board that Reimann can do the job of village president…

Despite any critiques that may exist and the obvious crutch they provide(d), former clerk Lisa Kopic and current clerk DeNean Naeger have done a valiant job in many ways attempting to keep the ship afloat and upright. But the rudder seems to be very nearly irreparably broken with the current administration at the helm. A vain attempt to prove yourself able is simply a white whale when both your actions and inactions threaten to take down the ship and its residents with it. 

Before this publication existed, Reimann told a member of its editorial board that her sole purpose for staying in the position of village president was to prove that she could do the job. It is not clear—and has never been clear—to this editorial board that Reimann can do the job of village president the way it needs to be done. 

Our concerns extend to much of the board as well. It’s sobering when the police chief himself says the board doesn’t respect public safety and states he observed board members snickering and smiling while presenting the decision to move the department to part time. It speaks to a larger culture on the board that suggests an appropriate solution more akin to mass resignation than being voted out in disgrace over the next election or two. If anyone is paying attention, one of the two will happen. Things certainly can’t stay the same.

Health and safety is at stake, lives are at stake—Arena residents can’t wait for change over multiple election cycles, as it’s likely some residents won’t live long enough to see the inside of a poll booth again if the next time they call 911 the wait is longer than it was before.

Make no mistake, this will affect the Town of Arena as well.

The Village of Arena police department has an automatic aid agreement with the county. So, if someone is on duty, there is no hesitation in response to the townships near the Village of Arena.

Town of Arena residents should be concerned about their emergency services and should consider attending both Village and Town meetings as well as joint-Fire and EMS meetings to ask questions about what exactly is going on.

Village of Arena residents should do the same. Just as importantly, residents need to seriously consider whether they still have confidence in their village president and much of their board. Turnover rates have not slowed down and when the police department says “enough” we need to interpret that as notice that the village president and the village board have been in need of a performance improvement plan for a while. But only the residents can decide how long it is before they start issuing pink slips. 

However, it may be time for residents to start familiarizing themselves with Wis. Stat. § 17.13, especially sub (3) as much as the polling booth. The next village board meeting is Dec. 5, village board candidacy declarations and signatures are due less than a month later.