By Linda Wyeth
In yet another long, drawn-out regular Owen Common Council meeting on Tuesday, June 24, at City Hall, First Ward alderman Dennis Lulloff raised questions with Police Chief Andrew Schade about several issues. Lulloff is usually quiet during meetings but occasionally breaks with his colleagues in voting on contentious issues.
One of the agenda items before the council was a request from Schade to rent a storage unit in Withee for the back-up police squad car. Schade said he had rented the shed for $60, with an anticipated cost of $50 a month or $600 a year.
“I rented a storage unit in Withee,” said Schade, “because there’s not any room in Gary’s shop… I was going to rent one over in Owen here, but the labs are seating in there real bad, and I didn’t want to put it in there with it being damp and wet in there.”
Lulloff immediately questioned the need for the storage shed. “Why can’t it sit outside?”
“It could,” Schade acknowledged, “but what about vandalism or someone messin’ with it?”
Lulloff responded, “My car has never been vandalized, and it sits outside all the time.”
“Okay. Well, your car’s not a marked squad,” said Schade skeptically. “But we could leave it outside.”
Schade and alderman Andrew Pfeffer said the city garage has a lot of space available, but that “there’s a lot of stuff in there.” Pfeffer emphasized, “There’s lots of room if things that do not belong in there… There’s PILES of crap, like old broken-down equipment…”
Schade chimed in, “There’s a washer and dryer and icebox in there.”
Pfeffer concurred, “There’s an old icebox. There’s PILES of stuff in there that do not need to be there.”
Pfeffer said, “I guess I don’t like the idea of a marked squad sitting outside. I see the vandalism issue on that myself.” He suggested a motion to have Gary Smith and the Public Works employees clear out space to make room to store the extra squad car there. “And if it becomes a long, drawn-out process that we have Public Works pay for [the rental of the storage unit].”
Lulloff responded, “I guess I would object to that.”
Schade again jumped into the fray. “Then I’ll pay for the storage unit. I am responsible for the safekeeping of all police equipment, and I’ll pay for the storage unit myself.”
“The Council is responsible for that,” said Lulloff.
“As per the ordinance, I am responsible for it,” Shade replied.
“You may be, but the Council… You’re responsible to the Council, but the Council is responsible…”
Schade responded, “I’m just telling you what our ordinance states.”
Mayor Stephen Heggemeier brought the meeting back on track. “We have a motion and a second to keep the police car in the storage unit until the city garage is cleaned out,” he reminded everyone.
The motion passed with only Lulloff voting against it.
The sparring continued when the discussion turned to the city’s injured animal policy. The issue arose several weeks ago when police took an injured animal to Dairyland Animal Clinic for treatment. After its initial treatment in Owen, Police Chief Schade took the dog to an out-of-area veterinary hospital for further treatment. He said he incurred over $1,000 in bills that he paid out of his own funds, with assistance from other donors.
Alderman Mel Lorence suggested setting a $200 limit of city funds for emergency treatment of stray and injured animals in the future.
Alderman Pfeffer didn’t like the limit. “I have a problem with the $200 limit because this was an animal that didn’t deserve it,” he said.
Schade agreed and went further. “Not only that, but we actually have a duty to save that animal because that animal is a victim of a heinous crime. We have to save that animal if at all possible, and [pay] any bills that are accumulated because of it,” he maintained. It would be no different if a human was a victim of a crime and has to go to the hospital to be saved. That dog is an actual witness and a victim to a criminal act. So, technically, a $200 limit wouldn’t even apply in this case.”
Lulloff scoffed, “I would disagree with you. It’s a pretty strong stretch to say that that dog is going to be a witness.”
Schade remained firm. “The DA says the dog is a victim and a witness to a crime. It’s evidence. The dog is evidence.”
He also announced to the council that the City now has an agreement with the Humane Society. “I signed an agreement with them.”
Lulloff asked, “What does that agreement say?”
Schade hesitated slightly, “Ah, I’d have to get it. Pretty much they will house animals.” He said it applies mainly to stray dogs and not so much to cats “because they have so many. I’m on pretty good terms with Chuck Wegner, and if there’s a problem, he’ll help us out.”
He then returned to the issue of the rescued dog. “The dog is evidence. The dog is a witness. He is evidence. It’s up to the DA, and I don’t know what they’ll do half the time. But I was advised by the DA’s office that that dog… She would have to go somewhere, and that would have cost thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Lulloff wondered, “Do you have a letter to that effect?”
Schade bristled, “I was advised by the DA.”
Lulloff persisted, “Do you have a letter from the DA to that effect?”
The police chief responded, “No. He told me that verbally.”
Alderman Mark Hanson suggested setting a limit of $500 to $1,000 might be more realistic, but in the end the council voted to go with the motion to set the limit for the emergency care of stray animals at $200, with the option of consulting with the mayor if that seems inadequate and there may be valid reasons for spending more.
Finally, the most difficult discussion of the evening came with what is normally routine approval of annual liquor license renewals. Last year the city revised its code of ordinances, and one item may have slipped in, becoming law with some unintended consequences.
One of the applicants, Jackie Reinke of O-W Sports and Liquor, owed back personal property taxes to the City.
Alderman Mark Hanson started the discussion. “Andy, how does that ordinance read?” he asked the police chief.
Schade replied that Ordinance 7-11-1 states, “The City shall not issue or renew any license to transact any business within the City of Owen” if the license holder owes any delinquent taxes to the city.
Community Development Association director Tim Swiggum felt the council should not take a strictly legalistic approach. “I don’t think the old one was so strict, saying ‘You shall not issue…’ Swiggum said. “It was up to the discretion of the council, or whatever it read. This is good, that they need to be held to that standard. I hear you, but you could approve it, and as long as she pays it up – even if it’s the middle of July when she pays it up – then she could be good.”
But Schade explained that only he has such discretionary power. “The only problem with this, Tim, as law enforcement, I have discretion, and the city council and mayor have a statutory duty to uphold all laws and ordinances of the State of Wisconsin and the City of Owen. Unfortunately, discretion is not offered to the city council.”
Swiggum was not impressed. He told the council, “I think you need to change the ordinance, definitely… We approved the ordinances, probably without reading them completely and seeing how they would apply, back last year.”
Schade said he was confused by how Jackie had managed to avoid paying her personal property taxes. “I guess my question is, and I don’t want to cause a ruckus. I just want to ask this, but as a resident of this community, and I pay rent, which pays taxes, is this: These taxes for Clark County have been paid by someone, and Jackie is paying us back for that? So the City of Owen paid her taxes for her? To Clark County? And is getting payment back now?… I guess, that’s what I’m confused about, because these taxes have to be paid to Clark County, correct?”
Assistant City Clerk Carol Devine explained, “No, not the personal property taxes.”
Alderman Pfeffer again spoke on behalf of following the ordinance. “So if she pays up by July 15, and we give her license back, and July 20 her water bill is due, and she doesn’t pay it, and we start getting another balance, and another balance, and another balance – what do we do about that?” He said he was worried another situation similar to that of Roger Wallace and the Woodland Hotel last year would develop.
“Based on what’s in front of us here, I would make a motion that we have to deny it until she’s paid up. If it’s not paid by the end of the month, we have to deny it based on what we have… That’s what our ordinance basically says, so it would have to be that way,” Pfeffer declared. “I’m not saying anything about what the city council has allowed for years. I’m saying… I don’t want to see her close, either, but I don’t want to put us in legal liability over it.”
Alderman Mark Hanson stated, “We need to change our ordinance to allow people to make payments.”
Schade disagreed. “Legally, we can’t allow that,” he said.
At Alderman Lulloff’s insistence, Schade consulted state statutes to see if they would allow some leeway and be less restrictive than the city’s ordinance. And a way to avoid denying Jackie her liquor license, at least for a short time, was found.
Schade explained, “We’d have to do the procedure the same as we did with the Woodland. We’ll have to give Jackie notice of the possible denial of her liquor license. We’ll have to have a meeting again, where she comes in, like we did with Roger, to discuss why… We’ll take a summons to Jackie that ‘you must appear.’ I guess it could be July 8, at the next meeting, where she has to appear. ‘This is what’ s going on. You have to pay up.’ Do it like that.”
He told the Council, “We can’t deny it tonight. You don’t approve it, either. We have to notify her of the possible denial of her license.”
Pfeffer then made a motion to notify her of the possible denial of her liquor license and set a hearing date for July 8th. The council passed it unanimously.
Before acting on the rest of the license applications, Swiggum noted that they, too, would need to be caught up on taxes and other payments to the city.
Lulloff asked the police chief, “Did anyone check to see if the others also owe money?”
Pfeffer said, “That’s my question… Are the rest of these paid up?”
Schade responded, “I don’t know.”
“How did you find out about her?” asked Swiggum.
Lulloff also wondered, “Why did you pick on her?”
Schade said, “I was informed by an anonymous source to check into that.”
In other business, the Owen Common Council voted:
- To table until its next meeting on July 8 a decision about allowing the Downtown Revitalization Committee to hold a burn-out contest in conjunction with their Second Annual Car Show on August 17, 2014. Organizers will bring plans and drawings of their proposed set-up to the meeting for aldermen to review;
- To set a price of $5,000 on the liquor license voluntarily surrendered by Mark Renderman several years ago when the bowling alley closed;
- To put off until its next meeting on July 8 a decision on whether or not to approve a 6-month liquor license for James and Louise Brower of Jim’s Café;
- To not create a new Retail Class A Liquor License;
- To sell a 10.25 acre parcel of property on Lehnen Street to John and Mabel Harms for $1,000 an acre;
- Approved several annual liquor license renewals and Operators’ licenses;
- Heard an update from the Parks & Recreation department and the CDA Director’s report.
Jackie Reinke stated on Thursday that she would be paying the remainder of her unpaid personal property taxes at City Hall on Monday, June 30.
Mayor Stephen Heggemeier visited the city garage last week and found a small amount of “stuff” needing to be cleared out of the way. Public Works Director Gary Smith said this morning that the small amount of trash in the city garage has been removed and things have been rearranged. “We are ready for the police squad car at any time,” Smith said.