A Fence to Step Over

Wars are fought over borders. Presidential candidates support absurd border fences. Nations erect walls naively thinking they will somehow ensure their safety. These fences pit people against each other and fuel the fans of hatred and bigotry.

However, sometimes fences serve useful purposes. Responsible dog owners have a fenced backyard to allow their dogs to get some exercise in their backyards, while keeping the dogs out of other backyards and safe from street traffic.

Sometimes fences are really just symbolic. These symbolic fences are not designed to separate people. Rather, they simply demarcate different plots of land.

Last weekend, under the auspices of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I Chair, my friend (and former Chair and Treasurer of the GLWD) Onie Karch, who lives on the other side of Goose Lake from me, and I painted a fence at the beach at Goose Lake, which had recently been repaired. As this picture shows, it is a simple, low, white fence, which simply marks the property line between the private homeowner’s front yard, and the public beach.

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Onie and I spent a couple of hours painting the fence. We could easily step over the fence to paint both sides. John, who lives in the house on the other side of the fence, was unable to help us paint the fence due to recent knee surgery, but he gladly offered us water and was pleased to see the fence being maintained.

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Symbolically separating the beach from private property simply allows the public to enjoy the beach without negatively impacting on the private property owner’s land. Maintaining the beach and the fence has brought praise from both visitors and local residents, some of whom have been kind enough to extend praise for the improved beach to the Town of Jackson Chairman. This type of goodwill will likely encourage the Town of Jackson to help the GLWD improve the road leading to the boat launch to reduce unwanted runoff into the lake.

So, instead of building fences that fuel fear and hatred, policy makers should strategically build fences we can step over, allowing us to build community and make friends with our neighbors and the visitors whom we are glad to welcome into our neighborhood.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Building Community with Grains of Sand

This past weekend, as our nation celebrated its independence from colonial rule, the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I chair, brought our small community together at a beach picnic. Neighbors enjoyed each other’s company and new acquaintances were made. Towards the middle of the afternoon, I took the opportunity to inform Goose Lake residents about how much a small group of volunteers has accomplished under the auspices of the GLWD.

In just a few short years, our 5 member elected volunteer commission has made the most out of our small budget (roughly $18,000 in tax revenues annually).

  • A few years ago, we bought a used weed harvester, which a volunteer maintains and harvests lake weeds and provides them for organic farming;
  • We have vastly reduced invasive weeds through effective non-toxic bio-management and hand harvesting;
  • Last fall, we started a 3 year fish stocking program with an initial stocking of over 3,000 fish;
  • We removed a hazardous bridge and boardwalk; and
  • This spring we brought in new sand to our small beach and made initial improvements to the boat launch.

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In the near future, we hope to establish a web site and in 2017, in cooperation with Adams County and the Town of Jackson, we hope to vastly improve the roadway leading to the boat launch to reduce runoff into the lake.

American skepticism about government is very high. In late 2015, survey data showed that:

only 19 percent said they can trust the government always or most of the time, and 74 percent said most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s.

However, I have long believed that when money and partisan politics are removed from government, as is the case with the GLWD, and citizens see that government is effectively leveraging their tax revenues for the common good, then citizens will support government not only through their taxes, but through volunteerism.

None of the projects I mentioned above, including the picnic itself, would have happened without the effective participation of citizen volunteers working with our small government unit. While I understand that problems of scale increase as the size of the government and the magnitude of its problems increase, nevertheless, I firmly believe that reducing money and partisanship in politics combined with clear demonstration of effective work performed by government officials, will increase the support for the necessary work that we all need government to perform. Simply put, most people will pay for things that produce value they can see, including government.

Perhaps the most important function government can perform is building community by supporting the shared interests of its local citizens. This past weekend, as the children playing on the Goose Lake beach and in the water clearly demonstrated, we demonstrated that we can build community with grains of sand.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Protecting the Environment at the Local Level

Twenty-three years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to find and purchase an incredible piece of property in Central Wisconsin, on Goose Lake, in Adams County. For many years, we focused on preserving the old oak forest, wetlands and farmland on our property. But, a few years ago, the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD) was formed, which has the authority to levy a small amount of taxes to use to care for and preserve the lake.

After attending the first 2 annual meetings, I was elected the Chair of the GLWD, as I recognized that preserving the diverse ecology of Goose Lake required working with my neighbors through this small government authority. We have done many good things together, including purchasing our own used weed harvester, improving the public boat landing and beach, and in 10 days, we will stock the lake with about 3000 young fish.

However, one dangerous eyesore remains. About 40 years ago, when a corner of the lake was developed with vacation homes, the developer placed ownership rights of a small island on every deed of the adjoining properties. The developer also built a wooden boardwalk and footbridge to the island. Unfortunately, these 20+ island owners have never been able to coordinate the upkeep of the bridge and so it has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair.

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For the past couple of years, the GLWD has been exploring many possibilities to deal with this dilapidated and dangerous bridge. We have stayed in regular communication with the island owners, sought legal advice, and held public meetings to make sure that all options can be thoughtfully considered. At our last Annual meeting, we decided to issue a request for proposals to remove the bridge and boardwalk.

We received a few proposals, but only 1 was within our budget. I have spent the past few weeks checking references. The GLWD will consider whether or not to engage in contract negotiations to remove the bridge and boardwalk at our meeting this coming Sunday. I am optimistic that we will move forward to remove the bridge and boardwalk this coming winter and in doing so, we will make our lake safer for the people who use  it and the diverse wildlife, such as Sandhill cranes, that nest nearby.

This is one of many reasons why small local government matters. In an era, when out state legislature and Congress seem to dominate government decision making, I am proud to be a key part in leading the Goose Lake Watershed District’s effort to preserve this diverse ecological paradise.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Why Small Local Government Matters

One of the many hats I wear is that of Chairperson of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD).  The GLWD is a small governmental body which has 5 members, 3 of whom are elected by the 157 property owners in the watershed district, 1 is appointed by the Town of Jackson, and one is appointed by Adams County.  We have the power of taxation and those taxes bring in about $18,000/year.  Those funds are used for the care and maintenance of Goose Lake, including combating invasive species, weed control, aeration, and beach maintenance.

The GLWD was formed about 4 years ago when it became clear that neither voluntary efforts nor other, larger governmental units, were maintaining the necessary environmental quality of Goose Lake.  Last summer, after watching the GLWD’s initial success, I decided to put my hat in the ring when a vacancy opened up, and I was unanimously elected Chair at the annual meeting.

The GLWD operates remarkably free of partisan politics, as we all have the same goal in mind, improving the quality of Goose Lake for all to enjoy.  One of our biggest challenges involves how to deal with the privately owned Gilligan’s Island which has a deteriorating boardwalk and bridge leading from the mainland to the island.  It presents unique challenges because there are 17 co-owners of the island and it cannot be sold without all owners agreeing to its sale.

To deal with this challenge, the GLWD sent a survey to the island owners and discovered that they were also frustrated by the island’s deteriorating condition.  After the survey results were in, the GLWD invited the island owners to a meeting to discuss how the GLWD could potentially buy the island and fix or remove the deteriorating boardwalk and bridge.  While this process is far from concluded, these initial cooperative steps show promising signs as we agreed to put together a committee to develop a plan to improve the island.

At its last meeting, after much investigation, the GLWD also signed a contract to buy a used lake weed cutter, which over time will allow us to maintain the lake in better condition for less money.

While the GLWD is strictly non-partisan, it does not mean that it does not express its views to the Wisconsin legislature.  Earlier in the Wisconsin state budget process, we wrote our legislators and sought restoration of state funds for lake conservation staff. Our State Senator, Luther Olsen, sits on the Joint Finance (budget) committee, and agreed with our position, and successfully restored that funding.

At our last meeting, we agreed to write Gov. Scott Walker to request that he veto the policy provision which is in the budget recently passed by the legislature that eliminates the right of citizens and Lake Districts such as GLWD to challenge high capacity well permits.  I just sent that letter to Governor Walker and I hope it influences his decision in favor of vetoing this non-budgetary anti-environmental provision.

The GLWD is an excellent example of how a few dedicated citizens can have an important impact at the local level.  Policymakers would be wise to support the success of local governmental units, rather than limiting their ability to succeed through unnecessary restrictions.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.