At its January 12 meeting, the Council discussed allowing advertisements on the official City of New Berlin Web site.
Perhaps you saw the subsequent Jan. 19 Journal Sentinel news story headlined “New Berlin seeks Web revenue.”
Unfortunately, significant information was omitted . The news article neglected to mention that City Attorney Mark Blum advised the Council against letting businesses advertise on the City’s Web site. At the meeting, Blum contended that doing so would open the door to a possible legal challenge---he mentioned the First Amendment--- and if there was a legal challenge, the City would lose. THE CITY WOULD LOSE. Blum's legal opinion was clearly expressed at the meeting.
Did the Council heed its own legal counsel? Uh,no. Ken Harenda made a motion to direct the City Attorney to draft an ordinance allowing advertising space on the City’s official web site www.newberlin.org and it passed 5-2 with Ald. Harenda, Hopkins, Ament, Wysocki, Seidl voting yes. Aldermen Moore and Poshepny voted no.
In 2006, the Council approved a policies resolution that limited City Hall and the City’s cable channel to units of government. As a result, citizen groups (even the boy scouts) are not permitted the use of City Hall and City cable channel. The Council's action ended voters forums at City Hall and broadcasting the forums via the City cable channel. Aldermen sought to justify their action by arguing that if you allow one group the use of the facilities, you have to allow all. Their decision was not to allow any. The resolution passed 4-3 with Ald. Harenda, Hopkins, Ament, and Gallagher voting yes. Ald. Moore, Augustine and Hegeman voted no.
Aldermen Harenda, Hopkins and Ament voted to deny citizen groups, including us taxpaying New Berlin residents, the use of City Hall and City cable channel facilities—even for voters forums—but did not object at the Jan. 12 meeting to the City’s Web site being used by businesses to promote their goods and services?
“If you allow one, you have to allow all” conveys equal, fair treatment, doesn't it?
If the City “discriminates” and allows some ads but not others on its government Web site, it may risk a lawsuit.
On the other hand, an official Web site full of ads for adult bookstores, escort services, bars (including those featuring exotic dancers), liquor beverages and liquor stores, tobacco products and companies, feminine hygiene products, Viagra, erectile dysfunction medications, condoms, breast implants, abortion clinics, etc. wouldn't exactly enhance the City's image. And what if the company that wanted to advertise on the Web site had received multiple consumer complaints, was operating unethically or illegally, or was a local business’ chief competitor? Would it matter? What about political ads or ads containing religious messages?
The Journal Sentinel article reported that if the advertising was restricted to local businesses or national chains with stores or restaurants located in New Berlin, it would likely raise only about $7,000 annually for the city. Ald. John Hopkins is quoted stating, “Obviously, it’s not going to be a huge amount, but we’ll do anything we can to help the city.” Anything? Who’s he kidding? When Mayor Chiovatero proposed cutting aldermanic salary by $1000 ($1,000 x 7 aldermen= $7,000) during budget talks, Hopkins and the other aldermen balked at that. They wouldn’t even vote to reduce their generous expense allowance.