Sunday, August 29, 2004

Eye on Oshkosh hosts/producers respond to citizen’s public statement

At the August 24, 2004 meeting of the Oshkosh Common Council, Oshkosh resident Mark Schumerth got up during the Citizen Statements portion and spoke very negatively about a local cable access show and its hosts. Mr. Schumerth, for whatever reason, chose not to specifically name the show or its hosts. However, our identity and that of Eye on Oshkosh seemed pretty apparent to those who watched. Intentional or not, Mr. Schumerth's comments -"veiled" and "discreet" as he may have thought they were - pointed folks in our direction, as evidenced by the calls of support we have received since then. Some of the folks who have called us have suggested we respond – something we agree with completely – and following are both Mr. Schumerth’s comments and our formal response.

He prefaced his statement by saying he does not have cable TV, but went on to say that someone was kind enough to have given him a copy of a show in which his name was mentioned (during one of our Another Viewpoint segments after he appeared at a July Common Council meeting). He said he was “aghast and appalled” and he followed with this…
“The stock and trade of the hosts was to totally and absolutely misquote the people with whom they disagreed and then belittle the misquotes which they themselves had made. In fact, in the brief viewing I had there was not one accurate quote. This was accompanied by a liberal dose of character assassination and name-calling. There was absolutely nothing that bore even a vague resemblance to enlightened political discourse. Slander and libel flowed freely and it was clear that the hosts of the show have no clue as to the difference in how those terms apply to public figures and private citizens. Since the city is the stakeholder in public access cable it might be a good idea for the council, the city manager and the city attorney to make clear to all of those involved in public access broadcasting, the legal ramifications of slander and libel. The worst part of this is that such programming stifles public discourse. Good citizens with valuable ideas and input could be constrained from speaking out for fear they might be ridiculed and made public spectacle by such crude program hosts. One doesn’t want to abrogate the right of free speech. But these types of programs clearly remind us that no one has the right to shout FIRE in a crowded theater, and slander and libel are against the law.” – Mark Schumerth, Aug. 24, 2004

Let us begin by saying that, as is noticed on each and every one of our programs, Eye on Oshkosh is copyrighted and we did not give permission for anyone acquainted with Mr. Schumerth to make a copy of it. While we thank them for “publicizing” the show, we hereby ask that they adhere to the same conditions everyone else does, and that is to ASK AND OBTAIN PERMISSION FROM US BEFORE MAKING COPIES. That’s one of the basic premises and requirements of copyright law.

Now specifically to the depth and breadth of Mr. Schumerth’s statement; we are not going to take the time to address each and every one of his comments. We believe they speak for themselves, while at the same time our program, the work we do and the viewership our program has speak for themselves. However, a few points do need to be made.

First, Mr. Schumerth clearly misspoke when he said we quoted people. In the portion of the show where his name was mentioned we paraphrased what had been said. There is a difference. We recognize that the difference between an actual quote and a paraphrase of what someone has said is a concept with which some people have difficulty grasping. Let us try to clarify. A direct quote is just that, a direct quote – in other words, what someone has said, verbatim, or word for word – just as Mr. Schumerth’s statement above is a direct quote (hence, the quotation marks). And on the show, we always say whether something is a quote or not. If we don’t say so, then one should not make the assumption that someone has been quoted. To do so would be an error on their part and could possibly only lead to further confusion for people. Before lobbing accusations and making public statements about their having been misquoted, it might be advisable for people to understand the basic terminology of the words they are throwing around in their dissertation.

There also needs to be an understanding of the difference between character assassination and pointing out the problems we personally have with votes made by elected officials or inaccurate statements made by a citizen in a public setting. And while there indeed are differences between private citizens and elected officials, when a citizen makes a statement in a public meeting, especially one that is aired on TV, or when they write a letter to the editor of a print publication, that statement or letter is fair game for being challenged, especially when it contains inaccuracies or is misleading, as Mr. Schumerth’s statements were on both occasions. Moreover, had we been in attendance at the meeting, we could have challenged his statements right then and there. There really would have been no difference.

The most interesting part of Mr. Schumerth’s Aug. 24 statement was his assertion that he was somehow libeled and slandered. We don’t know from which legal dictionary Mr. Schumerth has gotten his definitions, but for the record, libel cannot be committed in a broadcast medium. Rather, it can only be committed in a print medium. Further, there was no slander committed against him, either. To slander someone you must say something that is not true and it must, at least in most cases, somehow harm that person’s good name, reputation or standing in the community. That simply DID NOT happen. In fact, it would appear that if anyone has slandered anyone, it is we who may have been slandered by Mr. Schumerth through his comments, misstatement of fact and innuendo during his Aug. 24 statement. And again, simply because he did not name the show or hosts by name, the law recognizes that slander can be committed if it can be reasonably inferred who someone is speaking about. That clearly is the case here.

It is too bad Mr. Schumerth only saw, as he called it, a “brief viewing.” Otherwise he would have seen there is a full disclaimer at the beginning of every public access show which states that the opinions expressed on cable access shows are those of the hosts and/or producers only. That, in and of itself, would seem to hold the city harmless from any potential litigation arising from a host and/or producer exercising their right to free speech on a variety of issues. Additionally, the very nature of the show we taped to which Mr. Schumerth referred is clearly subtitled “Another Viewpoint.” There is absolutely not one shred of proof or validity to Mr. Schumerth’s claim that he, or anyone else for that matter, was somehow libeled and/or slandered by us. Again, the term “libel” doesn’t apply and the claim of slander has no proof to support it. Interesting how it appears that Mr. Schumerth wants to be able to exercise his own right to free speech while somehow stifling ours. But the Constitution and its amendments were written for all citizens, not just those who agree with a certain point of view.

Additionally, no public discourse has been stifled by our infrequent, if not rare, comments about citizen statements or written editorials in the local newspapers. That is evidenced by Mr. Schumerth’s own appearance and citizen statement, even after we mentioned him on one of our previous shows.

And to compare our editorial comments on a show which has full disclaimers and where anyone viewing it - even for the first time – can see when we are stating our opinions, to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, is to make a quantum leap. There is no realistic comparison between the two and it is a stretch of mammoth proportions, no matter how you look at it.

Finally, we couldn’t agree more with Mr. Schumerth’s comment that libel and slander are against the law. But just as it is important for people to understand that these acts are against the law, it is equally important for people to understand what the words truly mean before they so freely toss them around, claiming to have had these acts committed against them.

Cheryl Hentz and Melanie Bloechl
Hosts/producers, "Eye on Oshkosh"

Saturday, August 28, 2004

5 lions named ‘outstanding’ by Kohler Arts Center director

Five lions in a project to support the arts in Oshkosh have been named “outstanding” by Ruth DeYoung Kohler, director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan.

The juried competition included all 33 lions in “The Pride of Oshkosh” exhibit. The artists who created each of the winning lions will receive a $1,000 award, and their lions will be auctioned off at “The Lion Ball,” scheduled Oct. 16 at the Paine Art Center and Gardens.

Proceeds from that auction and the rest of the public art project organized by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the Paine Art Center and Gardens will go to the Oshkosh Public Library, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, UW-Oshkosh Foundation and the Paine Art Center to support art in Oshkosh.

The five “outstanding” lions, and the artists, are:

· Poodle Envy, by Laurie Von Endt. Kohler said it was chosen for its wit, conceptual cohesiveness and “deceptively simple yet superb execution, including the use of texture and sculpted additions.” “The silliness of this majestic creature in a pink poodle outfit actually endears us to her/him,” Kohler said.

  • Oshkosh Gothic, by Christie Charbonneau Wells. Kohler chose this lion for the intriguing way it joins four icons­Grant Wood’s painting “American Gothic” and three local landmarks­to “encourage Oshkosh residents to think about the importance of these local landmarks in their everyday lives.”
  • The King of the Midway, by Jim Fay, which was selected “for the spectacular way this artist incorporates a variety of materials with competent painting, thus transforming the lion into a powerful character.”
  • Fur Fin and Feather and Walkin’ on the Wild Side, both by Joye Moon and Joan Mosling. The two were chosen “for the imaginative way they have been reshaped and the craftsmanship with which the reshaping was executed; for the quality of the painting and for the thorough research and captivating detail.”

Kohler also singled out three additional lions for honorable mention. They are The Lion Sleeps Tonight, by Gail Panske; SS Copperpaw, by Nick Rogge and Tamara Mugerauer; and The Paper Boy, by Robin Asbury and UW-Oshkosh University Relations staff.

Earlier this month, the lion Ivan, a glass mosaic sculpture created by Oshkosh artists Julia Flanagan and Kim Koch, won the $2,500 People’s Choice Award.

Ivan and 19 other lions in “The Pride of Oshkosh” will be auctioned off during “The Mane Event” Sept. 25 at the Grand Opera House.

“The Pride of Oshkosh” has received leadership support from the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation in partnership with the Oshkosh Northwestern and the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce.

Congratulations to ALL the winners and participants from Eye on Oshkosh. Your talents, hard work and passion for this project have helped grace our city for the past several weeks. They have also helped create a flurry of attention on the areas in which the lions were located. It has truly been wonderful to see. Thanks for your contribution to culture in the city of Oshkosh and congratulations again to you all!

For more information, call (920) 424-2242 or visit them on the World Wide Web at Photos of many of the lions can also be found at:

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

People will get to vote for a "mayor" - but is there a benefit? Time will tell

Finally, there will be a referendum on the November ballot that allows the citizens of Oshkosh to vote for their mayor. But "thanks" to the effort of Councilman F. Tower and support from Paul Esslinger, Brian Poeschl and Shirley Brabender Mattox, it is a mayor that is no different from what we have now. But at least these four were willing to give the people somewhat of a voice in our government even if it is a weak voice; unlike Mark Harris, Burk Tower and Bill Castle, who apparently don't think we should have a voice at all.

Councilman Paul Esslinger brought forward a resolution for a three-year elected mayor with veto power who would serve on the city's Plan Commission. That is what the majority of people attending a town hall meeting - small as the turnout may have been, according to some - said they wanted to see. And many others in the community have said they want to have a mayor with veto power.

Instead, F. Tower completely watered down the proposal to change it to a two-year term with no veto power and no requirement to serve on the Plan Commission. So in reality, all we get to do come this November is vote on who we want leading parades and cutting ribbons - a greeting committee leader, if you will. But it's a start and perhaps will eventually get us where we need to be. Now we need to focus on getting some decent candidates to run for Common Council next April.

A couple other comments about this evening's Common Council meeting and some of the statements made by citizens, two of them in particular.

First we heard from Mark Schumerth who said he had studied this evening's proposal, just as he had the last one. It appears he didn't read the last one very carefully, nor did he seem to have read this one too well, either. Otherwise, why would he have said the things he did?

Mr. Schumerth also claimed that under a different form of government in years past, the city was stagnant. Perhaps that was so back then, but that is certainly not the case today with cities which have a different form of government than ours. All one has to do is look at other cities throughout the state and more specifically closer to home in Neenah, Menasha and Appleton, where true growth and development happen on a regular basis. These cities all have directly elected mayors and they are mayors with much more power than our mayor here has. And they each have an aldermanic form of government. They also have a much more professionally run organization than we have in the Oshkosh Commercial Development Corporation. They actually have entities that help bring business into their communities. They also raise huge chunks of money from their community members for their park improvement projects BEFORE moving forward with construction - again, unlike here. We keep hearing how Oshkosh is progressive because of our form of government. If that is so, why are these other communities - many much smaller than us - getting all the development and growth, while leaving us in the dust from their construction?

Finally to Mr. Schumerth's suggestion that the petition drive was stopped because we could not get enough signatures. I would respectfully suggest that if Mr. Schumerth opened his ears and eyes a little more he would know precisely why the petition drive was stopped when it was. He would be armed with the facts before opening his mouth in a public forum, rather than spinning unfounded statements and gossip based on nothing more than his feelings. And a word of caution: Simply because the petition drive was stopped for now, does not mean it's dead.

Then we had comments from Mike Hayes who did nothing more than attack Councilman Esslinger - and for seemingly nothing more than his continued case of sour grapes over a road reconstruction project that he and his neighbors were on the losing end of. Mr. Hayes seemed to suggest that Councilman Esslinger was not fit to be the mayor of this city and that obviously his fellow councilors knew it or they would have selected him as such this past April.

First, no one said Mr. Esslinger would necessarily run for the position of mayor if the people were to elect one. But if he does run - now that we will actually get to vote for our own mayor - it will be up to all the citizens to decide whether he's fit or not, not just Mr. Hayes and his neighbors, and certainly not just the rest of the council members.

Then Mr. Hayes said that there is nothing wrong with the form of government we have right now. If that is true and everything is so wonderful with what's going on here, why is it that Mr. Hayes chooses to have his dental practice in Appleton? Or maybe it's actually located in the town of Grand Chute. But, whether it's Appleton or Grand Chute, or even Timbuctoo, the one place it isn't, is Oshkosh.

Finally, Mr. Hayes boldly stated that the effort for a directly elected mayor was only brought up after Mr. Esslinger was not selected mayor or deputy mayor. Again, he knows not of what he speaks. This has been debated and voted on for a number of years and on many different occasions. And Mr. Esslinger's ideas for a directly elected mayor have been bandied about since long before this past April. As a matter of fact, he talked about it on Eye on Oshkosh at least a year ago already.

We certainly think citizens have a right to speak at council meetings and don't mean to discourage them from doing so. However, it seems citizens should be a little more certain of their facts before they choose to speak on issues. Otherwise we end up with people spinning a web of confusion for the public over what is and isn't reality.

Bottom line on the passage of a referendum to elect our mayor: Let's make the most of it, such as it is, and focus on a good slate of candidates for the spring election. But, if things don't change and we continue to have business being conducted as usual, we'll be back with something stronger in the future.

Incidentally, for anyone concerned, the opinions expressed on this web site and on our show are ours and guaranteed to us under the First Amendment. No one has been libeled or slandered in either venue. We've done nothing but give our personal opinions and/or speak the truth about events as they occurred. The truth is ALWAYS the perfect defense against slander, and you can't commit libel on a TV show, no matter how freely the points of view are flowing.

Cheryl Hentz

Monday, August 23, 2004

Everyone has a right to feel disenfranchised by smoking ban "snafu"

What was a year-long battle and an issue that divided this community like none other in recent history, the smoking ban is officially dead, until a new effort is resurrected. In the meantime, every person who held a stake in this cause - whether as activist on one side or another, or merely as interested citizen and concerned voter - should feel disenfranchised.

Approximately seven weeks after the ban went into effect, a local circuit court judge granted the restaurant owners a temporary restraining order, saying the will of the people was hard to discern because of vague wording in the referendum question placed on the ballot by Breathe Free Oshkosh.

That particular decision was legally sound and just plain "the right thing to do." But what soon followed was anything but right and should never have happened.

Within a week or two of Judge Key's ruling, the city attorney's office said a mistake made at city hall prior to the election essentially nullified the smoking ban votes altogether.

According to state statutes, a public notice of referendum questions evidently must be done 28 days prior to the election. In this case it did not happen until the day before the election. And while the people in the city clerk's office and city attorney's office are only human and subject to make mistakes, this mistake was a biggie and everyone should be upset over it.

First and foremost, are the main players in this issue: the restaurant owners and the members of Breathe Free Oshkosh. Both sides took every step necessary to circulate petitions and gather the necessary number of signatures to get their referendum questions on the ballot. They had every reason to believe that the people at city hall would do their jobs well enough to make sure that happened. But because they didn't, an issue was voted on that should not have been and restaurant owners suffered huge financial losses while some employees lost their jobs.

The restaurateurs have every right to sue the city and would probably have a strong case. Whether any actually do or not remains to be seen, but the possibility is very real, despite mayor Mark Harris saying he hasn't thought about it.

What kind of leader, especially one who has a law degree, doesn't think about something like that? Funny how Mr. Harris may not be thinking about it, but everyone else has been. Even people on the street - some with no college or law school at all - have been thinking about it. So how could Mr. Harris not be? He may not WANT to think about it, but I guarantee you he has been. And if he truly hasn't been, then he does not have enough forethought and insight to lead this community in a parade, much less anywhere else.

Lastly, we the people were disenfranchised in this ill-fated election, as well. We all took a stand and we each had a stake in the outcome, to one degree or another. Voters take time out of their busy schedules to go to the polls and cast ballots, having at least some small interest in the outcome. We don't expect to have our votes tossed aside like this either because someone dropped the ball.

The city has said that certain procedures have been put in place to ensure such a thing does not happen again. What are those procedures? We have a right to know what they are. After all, we foot the bill for the election, we pay the salaries at city hall and we have all paid the price to one degree or another as a result of this botched election.

The only good thing to come from this is both sides will once again have a chance to see if they can find some middle ground between them. Let's hope that this time they do!

- Cheryl Hentz

Saturday, August 21, 2004

People at Town Hall meeting want a mayor with veto power

A crowd of about 60 people gathered at City Hall this past Wednesday to voice their opinions on what they want in city government. Of those attending, 55 cast "ballots" for the things they would like to see happen.

At least one-third of them attending wanted to see a part-time mayor with veto power. The remaining two-thirds were split between the other choices. In addition, the people overwhelmingly said they believed the mayor should serve as a voting member of the Plan Commission.

As a result of that meeting, a proposal to put a referendum with these two provisions on the November ballot will be brought forward at this coming Tuesday's Common Council meeting for a vote. We will now see how many of our elected officials really care about giving the people of this community a voice.

A couple interesting points about the Town Hall meeting...
Freshman council member Burk Tower refused to complete a survey form, instead stating he'd let his voice be heard at the council meeting. How smug! This attitude seems to say, "I don't have to complete your insignifcant little survey. I've got a bully pulpit because I am an elected official and I'll flex my muscle there!"

Say, Mr. Tower, you may be - for the moment, anyway - an elected official, but you're also one of the taxpayers. Common sense would suggest that you voice your opinion like all the rest of the citizens in the community. Your vote may have helped sway the results in a different direction. And maybe it wouldn't have. But why would you take such an arrogant, contrarian position? Then again, this is kind of par for the course with B. Tower. He's had somewhat of an attitude from the beginning and since being elected, it's gotten even worse from where I sit. I'm sure he WILL let his voice be heard at the council meeting, and I predict it will be to NOT let the people have their own voice be heard.

Then we have mayor Mark Harris, who still insists that November is not the right time to put this on a ballot because, according to him, people will not have had enough time to think about it. As I told him after the meeting, people have had plenty of time to think about it. Mr. Harris, the people in this community are not stupid, despite what you may think. They know precisely what's going on and they know what they want. But apparently you still haven't bothered listening when they come to the city council meetings and tell you.

Mr. Harris also made the comment that 55 or so people is not a mandate. Well, neither were the 300 or 400 people surveyed on the smoking ban issue, but Mr. Harris fully supported that as being a mandate. After his proposal failed at the council level, he used that 300 or 400 people to prognosticate that the ban would pass at the polls last April by 75 percent. It never happened. Instead, the ban barely squeaked by, only to have a temporary injunction slapped on it by a judge several weeks later, and two weeks after that be nullified by the city itself because of technical problems.

Mr. Harris, no poll results - no matter how scientific or unscientific - can necessarily ever be called a mandate. But if you want a mandate, I would challenge you and you fellow council members to have the collective courage to put Mr. Esslinger's proposal on a November ballot. You don't have to agree with it and you're welcome to vote against it in November if you choose. But give the people a chance to say what they want, once and for all. When they vote and the results are revealed, you'll have your mandate. There can be no surer way than that.

Do you have the courage to do that? If not, you may as well forget about running for any other elected office around these parts. You will once again have shown people that you think they're not smart enough to understand issues and that you don't have enough respect for them to give them a voice.

To all who came to the Town Hall meeting - thank you! Working together maybe we can cause some effective change in this community once and for all.

Submitted by Cheryl Hentz
Co-host/Co-producer, Eye on Oshkosh

The results of the Town Hall meeting survey are in their entirety below, as they were tabulated that evening.

The people elect a full-time mayor with veto power. This mayor would replace the city manager and would only vote in cases of a tie. >>> 14

The people elect a part-time mayor with veto power. This mayor would work with a city manager and would only vote in cases of a tie. >>> 20

The people elect a mayor without veto power who is a figurehead, ceremonial mayor only and who serves as a full voting member of the city council. >>> 9

The city council selects a figurehead, ceremonial mayor. >>> 12

Numbered council seats, all councilors elected at large, but candidates must specify who they're running against. >>> 9

District representation only. >>> 9

A combination of district and at-large representation. >>> 13

At-large representation only with no numbered seats, but rather just as we have now. >>> 23

The mayor, whether full- or part-time, should serve as a voting member of the Plan Commission. >>> 32

The city council should be able to terminate department heads with a super majority vote. >>> 19

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Mystery" candidates not worthy of votes

Another campaign season is upon us and it is always interesting to see which candidates take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them. It’s even more interesting to see the ones who don’t. Unfortunately, candidates in the latter group are hurting more than just themselves by not availing themselves to free publicity. They are hurting - or more appropriately, disenfranchising - the very public they want to support them, by depriving them of information to which they are entitled.

Advertising dollars are at a premium these days – political advertising, in particular. So smart candidates would do well to honor requests to appear at debates and on talk shows where they can get their name out there and their message told. Most candidates are savvy enough to do so, especially when races are tight or hotly contested. But there are some candidates who are full of excuses. “You support the other candidate;” “My campaign people said I should decline;” “I’ll only come on if there’s a primary;” “I’m sorry, but my schedule is too busy. Perhaps another time.” You name it and for every candidate who has ever declined an invitation there is an excuse to match. Problem is, about the only excuse worth anything is the scheduling conflict excuse. During a campaign season most candidates are very busy and many people are clamoring for their attention. And while most media will be as accommodating as possible, once in a while there just is no way to make everything work. The other excuses though, are shamefully ridiculous and usually indicative of a candidate who probably feels they cannot hold their own, should the questions become tough. These excuses also show fear and skewed thinking on the part of the candidate, his/her campaign committee or both.

Anyone who is a regular viewer of Eye on Oshkosh knows that Melanie Bloechl and I have strong opinions on many issues and even some political candidates. And we are not terribly shy about expressing them. However, regular viewers also know that no matter what our personal views are, we treat all guests with respect and gratitude. Ask some of the city council members or school board members who have appeared on the show in the past, yet with whom we have vehemently disagreed on many political issues. We ask tough questions of everyone, friend or foe, but we have never treated a guest with anything less than respect.

That is why I applaud Gregg Underheim for agreeing to come on the show. He and Melanie have been political adversaries for years and it will surely be a spirited discussion when we host him on Aug. 12, but we will be courteous and respectful, while at the same time ask him questions that need to be not just asked, but also answered.

On the other hand, there are some candidates running for less contentious positions – like Winnebago County Register of Deeds – who have elected not to appear simply because we circulated nomination papers for Julie Pagel. These relative newcomers – Cathy Ann Steinert and Heidi Turner – don’t want to appear on the show for that reason and that reason only, they say. Our feelings are not hurt by their actions and we have no regrets about helping out Mrs. Pagel. The other challenger in this Register of Deeds race – Louise Schoenike – was not deterred from appearing because of our circulating papers for Mrs. Pagel so she could get her name on the ballot. Quite the contrary. Schoenike appreciated our candor in explaining our position; said she recognized the need to get publicity and her name out to the public; was grateful for the opportunity; and happily accepted our invitation.

Steinert and Turner are hurting themselves by turning down 30 minutes of free publicity. But more importantly, they are hurting the electorate because they are unwilling to share with the people what their thoughts and positions are, they’re unwilling to share with the voters what they intend to do in the Register of Deeds office if elected, and they’re unwilling to tell any of us why we should vote for them. It’s almost as if they think people should vote for them because they’re swell gals. Unfortunately, some votes may be garnered that way, but most voters are too smart to fall for that tac. They will base their votes more on merit rather than where someone’s name falls on the ballot or how popular a person may be.

Remember the game Mystery Date from when you were a kid growing up in the 60’s? There was a different surprise date behind each door. And then there was one that was a dud. Such a game of chance may have been fun back then, but political office is far too important to be taking chances on Mystery CandiDATEs. If these women – or any other political candidates, for that matter – want to withhold their ideas and opinions from the voters, perhaps the voters should withhold their votes from the candidates on primary Election Day, Sept. 14.

Cheryl Hentz
Co-host/co-producer, Eye on Oshkosh