Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but it’s mighty curious to us that, as property rights and environmental battles escalate here in the Northwoods, two of the biggest controversies that have erupted here recently have occurred within the land and water conservation departments of two separate counties.
As we report in today’s edition, in Oneida County, the land and water conservation committee came within a whisker of violating the open meetings law when it tiptoed to the edge of discussing a fake “ballot” contrived by supervisor Bob Thome without including it on its meeting agenda, while in Vilas County the land and water conservation committee did violate the open meetings law — by the county’s own admission — when a quorum of that committee attended an improperly noticed “workshop.”
So just what is going on here?
Dishonesty, that is what is going on. Otherwise known as standard operating procedure for the progressive left.
In Oneida County, environmentalists and their progressive allies are desperate to manufacture a show of opposition to proposed revisions of the county’s shoreland zoning code — revisions designed to streamline permitting, to codify common-sense practices that the DNR has actually allowed in other counties, and to eliminate absurdities.
Here’s one absurdity: The DNR allows boathouse rooftops to be used as decks, but of course the state doesn’t allow exterior stairs to be able to get to the boathouse rooftop. Oneida County wants to rectify that, but the progressives are in a tither because resolving the contradiction would actually allow people to make sensible use of their property.
Progressives are miserable people, that is what drives them, and they want everybody to be miserable with them. So, in the progressive mind, go ahead and let people use their boathouse rooftops — if they can get there.
Anyway, progressives are wondering, how to show this massive opposition at the upcoming March 29 public hearing on the proposed revisions? 
Well, one way is to trot out the same old 30 or so people they always trot out to public hearings and proclaim that that shows massive public support. These poor souls have had to tromp to the courthouse so many times for so many worthless causes that they probably have been inside the courthouse for more hours than the county’s custodial staff. 
Hey, at least hand them a mop next time and make their visit worthwhile.
Also, it’s a good thing progressives apparently don’t have to have jobs that tie them down, or all this traveling to the courthouse would be really tough to pull off.
Everybody is catching the meeting scam, though, so along comes supervisor Bob Thome and contrives a ballot to show massive opposition to the proposed changes.
Brilliantly, Thome — and anyone who might be in league with him — listed the various changes on this “ballot,” upon which residents can then check off their support or opposition to each proposed change. Thome also conveniently provided the correct answers for the progressive sheep, apparently because progressive sheep are unable to think for themselves.
Not a lot else is known about the ballot. It showed up as an item to be discussed at the land and water conservative committee meeting without being put on the agenda (see story), but, beyond that, Thome’s motives are unclear. We don’t know if it was meant for informational purposes only or if he desired committee support for the ballot and its recommendations. We don’t know how the ballot is to be distributed, or to whom, for that matter.
We do know one thing for sure: Trying to slip this material into the meeting packets and schedule it for discussion was a clear bid by someone — either Thome or someone inside the department — to keep news of this discussion from the general public. There would be no other reason to insert the ballot into the meeting materials and to put on the department‘s website that a discussion was going to be had, all without — oops — not putting it on the publicly available and disseminated meeting agenda.
Of course the gig is now up. We suspect that a ballot harvesting effort is underway to distribute the “ballots” to members of favored groups and then collect them for delivery to the county’s zoning committee for entry into the March 29 public hearing record. The ballot itself asks that it be accepted “along with my public comments or in lieu of my public comments at the public hearing.”
Because the ballots are tainted — not only would they represent a cherry-picked population but they attempt to manipulate the public by providing pre-filled in correct answers — and the zoning committee should not count or accept any of them.
In fact, the zoning committee and the county have an ethical duty to disqualify and not count any of these ballots that might appear because they would represent a fraudulent attempt to manipulate public opinion and distort the public hearing process. Any attempt to do so will be received with the outrage it deserves.
The fake ballot is one more attempt by a small cadre of progressives in the greater Rhinelander area to tell the rest of us how to live. So get ready, you 30 weary progressive souls, you have to make yet another trip to the courthouse, dressed in the drapes of public opinion, weeping for the water, sobbing for the soil, secretly wondering why you aren’t somewhere else doing something actually productive with your lives.
As for Vilas County, there’s more deception. The land and water conservation committee decided to hold a de facto public hearing, which the committee and the department creatively called a workshop, that would present only one side of an issue, and — echoes of Oneida County — proceeded not to tell anybody about it that they didn’t want there.
For starters, the committee apparently sanctioned a workshop on the need to pass local ordinances regulating wake boats, a workshop that was sponsored by the land and water conservation department, and then told the department not to invite anybody from the other side.
But, as a look around the nation quickly shows, there’s a lot of opposition to these regulations. 
The land and water conservation department could have held a public workshop; they could have invited the representatives of the recreational boating industry to give their perspectives not only about whether regulations are needed but, if they are, about the most effective types of regulation.
Instead the department only invited government and environmental types and even requested a RSVP to the invitation. The only pros and cons discussed were the best and worst ways to write regulations to make sure they could be enforced.
For the public, the department produced a quorum notice that a quorum of supervisors of the land and water conservation committee might attend but would not conduct any business. Somehow, they forgot to send it to the media or to even post it.
So it’s no surprise that the whole thing turned out to be a progressive love fest as well as a primer on how to regulate yet another industry out of existence without having to bother with any public or industry input.
Why, according to the agenda, they even had little snacks. Win-win!
Of course this is all about the dishonesty of the left. In Oneida County it’s a fake ballot designed to show fake public support, while in Vilas County it was an attempt to advance a coordinated campaign to pass wake boat regulations at the municipal level without having to face any public opposition or questions.
On the one hand, both matters are open government issues. The attempt to evade notice requirements, whether by burying a specific discussion under a generic agenda item, as in Oneida County, or the attempt to camouflage what should be a wide-open public discussion as a private invitation-only workshop is despicable and dishonest.
But that’s the only way progressives can win.
The larger issue that has been exposed here is the very existence of these land and water conservation committees. Really, what do they do besides agitate for particular leftist outcomes? 
In Oneida County, the zoning committee did the work of revising the ordinance and presenting it to the public. The land and water department has become nothing but a vessel for a faction that opposes those efforts. It is doing no real government work; it is practicing political activism instead.
In Vilas County, the land and water conservation department is also practicing political activism in favor of a certain position. Any ordinance would actually be written by municipalities, and land and water conservation is one of the vessels the left is using to pressure towns into these ordinances. They have no interest in the other side, and that’s sad for a public agency,
Citizens are free to advocate for those positions, but not on the taxpayers’ dime. Across the state, though, that is what is happening. Land and water conservation departments have become nothing but hotbeds of progressive activism — often undermining the legitimate work of county governments representing the people — little nests of leftists perched safely upon a state sanctioned tree limb.
To be sure, state statutes mandate the existence of these conservation committees and their staffs, but perhaps lawmakers should consider repealing that statute and to let individual counties make up their own minds if the land and water conservation committees and departments are actually providing any actual core government services, or are just partisan safe houses.
We believe the time has come to repeal the statute, before we are treated to other progressive insurgencies camouflaged as do-gooding land and water conservation departments.