An open letter from Linda Wyeth

By Linda Wyeth

There have been a lot of rumors and a lot of conflicting stories about the so-called “Lawnmower Phil” incident in the four months since June 17.

At the last Common Council meeting, on Tuesday, October 14, two aldermen — Patrick Pfeffer and Mark Hanson — insinuated that it was my fault and not Police Chief Andrew Schade’s that he had incurred a large bill from the city attorneys because I had filed an open records request to obtain a valid copy of the police department video of their treatment of Phil Goerl. Hanson went so far as to say that perhaps I should be responsible for those legal fees.

I would like to clarify a few things. I first filed my request on July 2, 2014. I did so because the stories I heard about what had happened did not match the version Andrew Schade wrote that was published in the O-W Enterprise on June 25, a few days after the incident. I wanted to find out what really happened to Phil.

You see, when I was growing up, my best playmate was my Uncle Roger, who was 10 years older than I. My uncle had Down Syndrome and was raised at home by my grandparents rather than institutionalized as most children with developmental disabilities were in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. I was his best playground protector, and we remained very close until his death nine years ago at the age of 66. I simply cannot abide the idea of a person like my uncle or Phil being bullied and treated badly.

Alderman Mark Hanson seems to think that someone in city government wanted me to “get” Andrew Schade and has been spreading that story. He asked me a few months ago if the rumor was true. I was shocked and told him then and am stating again that was a lie. No one has suggested such a thing to me, ever. Not Mayor Heggemeier, not Tim Swiggum, not Terri Ernst. Or, for that matter, not Mel Lorence, or Dan Tolzmann, or Mary Lynn Kiviko, or Dennis Lulloff, or Patrick Pfeffer, or even Mark Hanson himself.

Two days after the last council meeting, I went to Madison to a seminar put on by the Department of Justice about the state’s open meetings law and open records law. Ironically, I had signed up in early June for the class, before the encounter Phil had with Police Chief Schade and Officer John Stubbe.

It was a good refresher for me and reinforced the following facts.

Did you know that anyone can make such a request? Any of the several people who witnessed all or part of the incident could have done so. You can go to the Department of Justice web site if you want to download and print your own copy of the open records law and compliance guide. You can, as I did, sign up for a seminar to learn more.

Here is one quote from the seminar I attended: The public records law “shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of public business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.” (Wis. Stat. 19.31.)

Three objectives of the public records law are to “shed light on workings of government and acts of public officers and employees, assist members of the public in becoming an informed electorate, and serve a basic tenet of our democratic system by providing opportunity for public oversight.”

When I first spoke with Chief Schade on the telephone a few days after I filed my open records request, he told me that a state statute would prevent him from giving me a copy of the video. When I spoke to him a few days before I was permitted to go to his office to watch the video, he told me I was “lucky” to be able to see it, because it was scheduled to be erased from the computer since he didn’t need it for filing charges against Phil. When I was at his office to see the first version of the video, he told me that my records request was not properly filed, and that it needed to be in a “very specific format.”

However, all of those things were untrue. In fact, a written request is not required. “‘Magic words’ are not required. A request which reasonably describes the information or record requested is sufficient.” No specific form is required by the public records law. Under the public records law, an authority may not destroy a record until at least 60 days after denial or until related litigation is completed. And “the material input and the material produced as a product of a computer program is subject to the right of inspection and copying.”

So, you see, there is absolutely no reason for Police Chief Andrew Schade to have delayed giving me a good and valid copy of the video. Period.

As far as my own two calls to City Attorney James Ward, the first was to verify that Chief Schade would not be allowed to delete the video, as he had threatened to do. The second was to tell him that Chief Schade had stated to me after I first saw the video that he was still planning to erase the video.

You need to ask yourselves, or perhaps the police chief, WHY he delayed, WHY he lied to me, WHY he claimed that Officer Stubbe must have accidentally left the microphone in the squad car, WHY he miraculously “found” the missing audio a few days later, claiming it had been missing from the video due to equipment breakdowns (equipment which it is his duty to maintain), WHY he then tried to pass off an amateurishly hacked video as the real deal? What was he trying to hide? What was he afraid I might see or hear?

And now, why does Alderman Pfeffer keep saying that there was nothing on the video when in the clean copy, Andrew Schade can clearly be heard saying to John Stubbe — and I quote: “Did you see I gave him a shot to the abs? I’m sure that didn’t feel very good.”

I have one last point o make. The police chief has tried to make a big point of the fact that some unnamed juveniles, who have not yet been charged with making a false police report, said that Phil had a gun, and so they had to treat him as if he did have a gun. However, in Officer Stubbe’s official report, he says that he immediately recognized Phil and knew of his cognitive, physical, and speech disabilities.

While I do understand that they needed to be wary of the possibility that Phil might have a firearm, I question whether it was necessary to treat him as roughly as they did. Of course, Phil also had no police record and was not a registered gun owner. That information would have been quickly available to the police officers via their computers prior to their confrontation with him.

I am writing here, speaking for Phil Goerl, and for those witnesses who were horrified by what they observed and were afraid to speak about it publicly but were willing to tell their stories to me, and for Eric Petersen, who is a very brave man. And I would like to say thank-you to Jackie Reinke, who has been looking out for her friend Phil for years, and others in the community, like Gail Muehlbauer, who have also been quietly going about doing God’s work and taking care of one of “the least of these,” our brother Phil.

 

 

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Democracy is not dead, McCabe tells us

By Linda Wyeth

Mike McCabe sees hope for our democracy and tells us why and what we can do in his new book, "Blue Jeans in High Places."

Mike McCabe sees hope for our democracy and tells us why and what we can do in his new book, “Blue Jeans in High Places.”

Mike McCabe came back to his hometown of Curtiss here in Clark County a few weeks ago to talk about getting money our of politics and to promote his new book, “Blue Jeans in High Places: The coming makeover of American politics.”

Mike McCabe's new book, "Blue Jeans in High Places," is available in many bookstores in Wisconsin and from Amazonl.com. It is also available as an e-book from Amazon.

Mike McCabe’s new book, “Blue Jeans in High Places,” is available in many bookstores in Wisconsin and from Amazonl.com. It is also available as an e-book from Amazon.

Fortunately for us, he came back soon. He and Terry Laube were selected for induction into the Owen-Withee Alumni Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 9, 2014, during a ceremony at the Homecoming pep rally at Owen-Withee High School.

McCabe has been the executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and a tireless lobbyist for clean government and campaign finance reform for many years. As a brief bio of McCabe reads, “He shines light in dark places, fights government corruption, and works for reforms that make people matter more than money in politics.”

Although his book begins by listing the many problems our democracy is facing today, he draws on the lessons of history – specifically, events in the 1850s and the early 1900s in Wisconsin, that righted the course of our “ship of state” – to give us hope and a blueprint for action and working together to again take back our government.

In his introduction, McCabe declares, “Democracy is a living thing, and in America it is in a state of suspended animation.” Later he notes, “The lesson from the history books is to stop hoping for three parties and start focusing on creating one that is worth a damn. You do that by creating some competition in the form of a new political brand and then go to battle in major party primaries to win voters over to that new brand… Most people who end up voting for Republicans or Democrats are actually politically homeless. Most hate both parties. Create some competition within each party. Give people an appealing new option within each party.”

“It is time to imagine a new political identity,” McCabe says. We need to shed the old symbols of a donkey and an elephant and find a new one. “A good symbol needs to be familiar, instantly recognizable and memorable… It needs to be something that people from just about every walk of life and every part of America can relate to and identify with.”

“Blue jeans,” he says.

“Most everyone wears them. Men wear them. Women wear them. Young and old alike wear them. Southerners wear them. So do northerners. They are in fashion on both coasts and are popular in America’s heartland. People of every race, color, and creed wear them. Kids wear them to school. They are worn by construction workers and on the assembly line and factory floors. We wear them at home, and when we go shopping, and at church, and increasingly at the office – and not just on casual Fridays anymore.”

He adds, “What could better symbolize the political identity of the masses than blue jeans? What stands in starker contrast with the stuffed shirts in the boardrooms, the K Street lobbyists who do their bidding, and the suits on Capitol Hill whose pockets are lined?”

Charles and David Koch did just that with the Republican party, McCabe says. But it didn’t happen overnight. “They planned the Tea Party movement for a decade before it burst on the American political scene… [T]he Kochs did not create a third party. They established a new political brand, and then used that invention to take over the Republican Party.”

We can take lessons from the Kochs, McCabe adds. If it can be done by the Kochs, “it can be done by regular citizens to make government a more faithful instrument of the people. The tactic works… Can we not imagine a more constructive and public-spirited purpose for this time-tested strategy?”

Never mind that the Kochs have almost unlimited wealth. “Remember, the first-party strategy was successfully employed by common folks in the nineteenth century, enabling them to break the stranglehold of their era’s equivalents of the Koch brothers,” McCabe reminds us.

The second problem we need to address, he says, is feeling that we are completely divided. “I repeat: The people of Wisconsin and America are hot as hopelessly divided as the political pundits like to claim. A great many of us have a great deal in common. Many if not most in our society want a limited government. Limited not only in how much it takes from our pocketbooks, but also limited in other respects… Common threads abound that today’s polarized politicians cannot see. Today both major parties are tools of the powerful and privileged. Neither is seen as working for the benefit of our whole country, and that perception is squarely rooted in the reality that nether party is working in such a fashion. Many if not most in our society clearly don’t want government to do too much. But whatever the government does needs to be done for the benefit of all, not just an elevated few… Which party will see the common threads and begin using tem to knit us back together is an open question.”

Economic changes are needed, McCabe maintains. “The vast majority of us would like to see one-for-all economics – policies ensuring that the fruits of a vibrant economy benefit the whole of society. We see the need for both rural revitalization and urban renewal. Instead of subsidizing global conglomerates, efforts to stimulate the economy should emphasize community-based small enterprise development, empower local entrepreneurs and cooperative, and enable us to once again grow together rather than grow apart. We believe supply-side economic theory has it wrong. Demand, not supply, is the primary driver of economic growth.”

He adds that most of us want a limited government, “one that is as small as possible and only as big as required to do what society needs done collectively. Government programs that work should be supported and those that do not should be reformed or ended… [W]hat government does must serve the broad public interest and promote the common good, not just benefit those who lavishly fund election campaigns or have high-priced lobbyists advocating on their behalf.”

No one wants new taxes, he acknowledges. “We see no need for new taxes, but are in agreement that everyone should pay the ones we already have. There should be one tax system that applies equally and fairly to all, not two as is effectively the case today – one for the wealthy and well-connected, enabling them to avoid paying their fair share, and another for the rest of us without the tax shelters and escape hatches.”

Other common values we share, says McCabe, are the right to pursue material gain and accumulate wealth “but vigorously object to its use to buy government favors or special treatment’ and that becoming well educated is desirable and, indeed, “our best hope for building a better and more prosperous future, and our best weapon against economic and social decline.” He advocates making higher education as accessible and affordable in the future as primary and secondary education have been till now.

He also says we need to take care of our earth (“A healthy economy and healthy planet must go hand in hand”), separation of church and state, the right of privacy, and standing for and working to guarantee the basic human rights of all people.

Ultimately, McCabe offers a message of hope. “We have it in our power to create a new political identity,” he concludes, “and an innovative vision of a bright future on a small scale in places like Wisconsin and on a grand scale throughout America. Our best days do not have to be behind us. We have it in our power to breathe life back into democracy and put blue jeans in high places.”

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Gilman faces stark choices with referendum vote

Gilman School, grades 4k through 12, was established in 1905 and now occupies a modern, state-of-the-art building. Voters are being asked to approve a four-year non-recurring referendum to retire the remaining $2 million debt it owes on the building.

Gilman School, grades 4k through 12, was established in 1905 and now occupies a modern, state-of-the-art building. Voters are being asked to approve a four-year non-recurring referendum to retire the remaining $2 million debt it owes on the building.

By Linda Wyeth

In addition to the legislative and gubernatorial candidates to vote for on the November 4 ballot and the question of a Constitutional amendment for the state transportation fund, the people of the Gilman School District will need to make a very up close and personal decision when they cast their ballots: whether or not to exceed the state-imposed revenue cap and increase their taxes to ensure the district will survive the next four years.

The Gilman District educates children from 16 area municipalities and townships: Aurora, Cleveland, Colburn, Ford, Gilman, Grover, Hawkins, Jump River, Lawrence, Lublin, Maplehurst, McKinley, Pershing, Roosevelt, Ruby, and Taft. The district is, itself, a product of several school consolidations in the past 50 years, some of them difficult and painful for the parents and grandparents involved. There is a lovely display in the lobby of the new, modern building in the Village of Gilman of photos of those historic old schools.

Now, having seen a decrease in state aid since 2006 of $1.4 million and having cut $1.2 million in spending in the district, the school board and administration are facing difficult choices. To cope with the dire financial situation and to avoid the looming possibility of either further consolidation or, worse, dissolution of the school district and dispersal of its students to schools in surrounding communities, the Gilman school board is putting the issue to the voters.

They are asking for a four-year non-recurring referendum to increase property taxes. If voters approve the referendum, the district will buy time to pay off its $2 million in remaining debt for its modern, state-of-the-art school building and avoid further cuts in its educational programs for 417 students in grades 4K through 12th grade.

In addition, the tax increase will take effect in steps and not all at once. When the numbers on the hand-out given to people at the meetings were prepared two years ago, the cost per $100,000 of assessed valuation for a house in the district would have gone from an increase of $48 the first year to a total increase of $333 total for four years. “Since then, some things have changed, fortunately in our favor,” said Kraus, “and in that total $48 (the first year) we’re looking more at $37.64. Fortunately, those numbers are down.”

“The referendum is not a request to improve or replace any of the ‘facilities,’” emphasized school board president Jerry Sromek at last week’s final open meeting with concerned citizens. It is for educational programming. Whatever “fat” might have been in the budget has been cut already, over the past seven years, and now the potential cuts are into the meat and bone.

Asked by people what will happen if the referendum does not pass, District Administrator Georgia Kraus said, “My short-term concern is that we will start to lose students and staff. We would look at it again in the spring election. Eventually [the referendum question] would change from whether to exceed the revenue cap to either a consolidation or a dissolution question.”

Although a couple of the people at last Tuesday’s meeting expressed concerns that, once imposed, the four-year tax increase “would never come off,” Kraus said the main question she has been asked by people coming to the dozen citizen meetings in the past few weeks has been whether the district will have enough students over the next few years to justify continuing running the school district. The district has 417 students enrolled this year, with a “rolling 3-year average” of 409 kids, indicating that declining enrollment has stabilized in recent years, as it has in many area districts.

More important, Kraus noted, the district provides a high-quality education. “In the past year,” she said, “Gilman won the School of Merit Award for Reading and the School of Recognition Award.”

Other questions people have asked are about cutting extra-curricular activities, whether school taxes would continue if the district is dissolved and the building no longer used, what the tax impact of consolidation would be, and what would be the impact on the local community if either consolidation or dissolution takes place.

Kraus said that cutting extra-curriculars would have a negative effect on enrollment because it would make the district less attractive to students who might be interested in open-enrolling to Gilman from other districts, and it would almost certainly result in Gilman students leaving for districts with active sports programs.

“Some people were under the impression that if the school district closed, school taxes would go away. Your money in Wisconsin follows your kids. If your kids went to another school district, your money would follow them,” she explained, “and studies show long-term impact of consolidation does not save money and decreases student achievement.”

The impact to the local economy would be severe. Property values would likely decrease, plus 38 local employees would no longer have jobs in Gilman, and 16 other, non-local employees would be gone. All businesses and organizations, from the bank and grocery store to the churches, library, clinic, and gas stations would feel the pain.

“I’ve had two local business owners come up to me and ask, ‘How is the referendum going? What are you hearing?’ And they said, ‘You know, if the school closes, we will not be far behind.’ I was surprised to hear that, that they would divulge that to me,” said Kraus, “but I can understand it.”

After all the questions and all the careful explanations, at the end of the meeting, one woman said, “I have a hard time understanding. I look at what we’ve paid for over the years. Everyone knows the cost of food and everything else has gone up. What in the world would make us think that the cost of education should stay the same? It goes up. It has to go up. It can’t be maintained on that same cost. So have a hard time understanding why people are not willing to pay that extra tax to keep our education at a quality level.”

The Gilman school referendum next week does not ask for funding for more or newer facilities, but would enable the district to pay off its existing building debt of $2 million and save critical educational programs in today’s culture of declining state aid for public education.

The Gilman school referendum next week does not ask for funding for more or newer facilities, but would enable the district to pay off its existing building debt of $2 million and save critical educational programs in today’s culture of declining state aid for public education.

Kraus responded, “I think for some people, they want to know that we’re spending it wisely. And I think it’s been helpful for some of these meetings, to get questions answered.”

Another woman said, “I think it’s necessary. I think we need a quality education. And I want to compliment you, because I think you’re doing a good job.”

Kraus said, “We’re trying hard… My parents struggled, but I fortunately was able to graduate from a small district, and I think it’s important for our kids to have the same opportunity.”

 

 

 

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Pfeffer and Hanson want separate discussion of police chief’s legal bills

By Linda Wyeth

Last week, the Owen Common Council met for its regular meeting on Tuesday, October 14, 2014, and quickly plowed through a number of routine matters. However, the final item on the agenda caused Aldermen Patrick Pfeffer and Mark Hanson the greatest upset. Normally, “disbursements” take the least amount of time during a meeting.

However, when Clerk-Treasurer Terri Ernst raised the question about “a check written to Weld, Riley, Prenn & Ricci [the law firm used by the city] — $449.50 was allocated to the police department attorney expense account. Those are when they issue citations to go to court. $496 has to do with the railroad sale/purchase paperwork. $4,526 is for legal fees regarding… There’s a number of different topics, but mostly it was between Chief Schade and Mrs. Wyeth and her request for the video,” it brought a quick reaction from both aldermen.

Pfeffer asked, “Why are we paying for this when our attorneys even rendered (sic) that there was noting even there? This is a lot of money that’s being accrued (sic) to the city because of this.”

Ernst replied, “Chief Schade was checking with the attorney to, you know, to verify, based on her requests, if, you know, he had to oblige, and, you know, what’s the time frame that it should be given to her, and so on.”

Pfeffer said, “That’s sumpin’ that needs to be on a separate agenda, I believe, to have a discussion about that, because that’s a lot of money being accrued (sic) to the city that we’re forkin’ out.”

Hanson added his voice to the discussion by adding, “You know, if someone else wants information, shouldn’t they be responsible?”

“Um hum,” agreed Pfeffer.

Alderman Dan Tolzmann said, “Well, I think it was from Officer Schade calling the lawyer for information. He was calling the lawyer to find out about the time frame and things around the whole thing. So he was actually making phone calls.”

Pfeffer continued to ask for further discussion. “I have e-mails showing that some of those phone calls to the attorneys were made directly from Linda, some were from Chief Schade, some were from the mayor. It was all things involved with that whole thing, and it was not all just Chief Schade talking to the lawyers.”

“Okay,” said Ernst. She pressed on, “There was another $2,170 for ongoing issues.”

Pfeffer chuckled. “What’s ‘ongoing issues’?

Ernst replied, “Probably the closed session. I don’t have the invoice in front of me. But we can bring it back.”

Hanson then raised a question about the city’s legal arrangements. “I mean, why doesn’t the city have a lawyer on retainer at some point? Wouldn’t it be much cheaper if the city had a lawyer on a set fee or retainer instead of paying these guys every time we use them or something? Wouldn’t that make sense?”

Pfeffer added, “And if they’re not willing to, I would think there’s a lawyer out there that would be willing to. This is getting a little astronomical I mean $4,000 over an incident that the lawyers themselves rendered (sic) nothing happened, you know, that nothing needed to be taken as action against it. That’s a lot of money.”

Ernst brought the discussion to a close by saying “And that was the end of the questions.”

In other business, the Common Council:

  • Listened to and unanimously approved the last meeting’s minutes, the treasurer’s report, the police report, the public works report, and the 3rd quarter overtime report.
  • Referred offers to purchase city property by David and Tracey Taylor and by Mark Pabich, president of Master Package Corporation to the Planning.
  • Heard a report from city Building Inspector Bob Christensen about several properties under consideration for legal action and/or demolition due to their run-down condition.
  • Received an update from Alderman Patrick Pfeffer about the Owen-Withee Area Economic Development Corp.
  • Discussed with clerk-treasurer Terri Ernst a couple of issues slowing down progress on the 2015 budget, including work still to be done on the police contract and employees insurance.
  • Approved routine disbursements for police office supplies with Menard’s in Eau Claire and for Staab Construction for repair of a water main leak.
  • Passed two resolutions, one to execute the deed to Golden Warriors, LLC, for the Dollar Store project, and one to amend the 2014 budget for police expenses for a computer, tasers, and a radio.
  • Was informed by Police Chief Schade that he has promoted Officer John Stubbe to the position of Sergeant.

 

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Common Council approves CSM for Dollar General with no discussion

By Linda Wyeth

After months of questions and concerns about the location of the Dollar General store, the Owen Common Council approved without any discussion the final Certified Survey Map (CSM) for the business at its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 23. Alderman Patrick Pfeffer made the motion to approve the CSM, Dan Tolzmann  seconded it, and the council approved it unanimously.

The council also approved unanimously its insurance contract for next year with Westland Insurance. The cost for the liability and workers compensation insurance package increased slightly, from $29,627 last year to $31,378 in 2015.

After discussing the need for more repairs to the 2011 Chevrolet Caprice squad car, council member Patrick Pfeffer said that “this car has been nothing but problems.” The current problem is with the exhaust system, and the cost estimate for the repairs is $2,800. Pfeffer suggested it might almost be cheaper to replace the squad than to fix it. Police Chief Andrew Schade said he hadn’t yet obtained an invoice, and that he would be willing to check with Gross Motors to see if it might be covered under the car’s warranty. The council voted to table any decision until more information is available.

In other business, the council:

  • Unanimously okayed mandatory police training for Schade to take place next March at Milwaukee Area Training College. The money is available in the police department budget.
  • Learned from City Clerk-Treasurer that the Affordable Care Act is affecting part of the city budget process because the usual estimate/proposal for health insurance will not be available until November. Ernst passed out the tentative schedule for budget planning to council members.
  • Approved execution of the deed to Jon and Mabel Harms for the property they are buying from the city.
  • Decided to approve a request from Wade Hatlestad to have a private trap shooting event at his residence at W5391 CTH X in Withee on October 4, 2014. Hatlestad will need to obtain a special permit from the chief of police, specifying the time of the event.
  • Heard the CDA Director’s report from Tim Swiggum. The city has received the $80,000 check from the railroad for its land transfer. Two parties have expressed interest in purchasing the Woodland Hotel. The city may be working with the OWC Fire District in applying for grants to build a new fire hall and police department. Gardeners at the Community Gardens will be spending time in the next few weeks to clean up the garden spaces.

 

 

 

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“I don’t understand”: Pfeffer and Hanson during budget discussion

By Linda Wyeth

Owen’s Common Council members discussed two main issues at their regular meeting on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, at City Hall.

The first was approval of the site plans for the Dollar General Store. The Planning and Zoning committee approved the plans earlier in the month. The main concern raised by council members was parking, and whether or not the additional driveway on Madsen Street required by Dollar General corporate offices would negatively impact the parking for Mill Pond Park and its pavilion.

Jim Lundberg from Point of Beginning and Todd Platt from Dollar General answered questions and addressed concerns. Lundberg responded to worries about people parking in the Dollar General parking lot. “I guess we can’t control that. We do understand there are times of the year when Madsen Street will be closed. That should not affect operations as long as CTH X is available to them. That should not be a problem.”

Council members unanimously approved the site plan as presented, clearing the way for Dollar General to move forward with its plans to complete the purchase of the property and build their retail store.

The other issue that raised concerns from Aldermen Patrick Pfeffer and Mark Hanson was the budget update. Both Pfeffer and Hanson said repeatedly during the discussion, “I don’t understand.” The first part of the budget they didn’t understand was why the Department of Public Works has so many line items throughout the budget.

“All the other departments are ‘payroll and benefits,’ ‘payroll and benefits,’ ‘payroll and benefits,’’” Pfeffer said. “Public Works is split throughout the entire city. There’s a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit there. But then their actual budget amount, nothing is taken off of that because it’s in all these other different spots.”

“How does that work?” asked Hanson. “Why don’t we lump them all into one?”

“It’s not just one or two,” Pfeffer noted. “It’s ‘city hall repairs,’ it’s ‘library repairs.’ It’s all broke up all over. I don’t understand.”

City Clerk-Treasurer Terri Ernst explained, “Because Public Works has so many different categories. This here shows Public Works payroll only. So here it shows you every breakdown.”

Hanson interrupted, “I understand that, but I guess my question is, why do we break it down like that?”

Ernst continued, “Because the auditor has to shift costs for different utilities… And also a reason for it being done this way is for Workman’s Comp audits.”

Pfeffer pressed on, “I guess my question today is, why is the police department’s budget not broke down for so many calls for this, for such and such calls to Withee, such and such calls to Owen?”

Ernst said, “Because that’s not necessary when it comes to a budget, splitting the costs that way.”

“But it’s no different than Public Works,” Pfeffer stated. “When they work on one building, they break it down.”

Ernst replied, “There’s a reason it’s broken down for Public Works. It’s because they’re doing things throughout the city. They [auditors] have to adjust depreciation every year… They look at what we’ve purchased that’s new. They want to know where workers are spending their time.”

Mayor Stephen Heggemeier suggested that aldermen ask the auditors if they need more detail about the accounting practices.

Ernst tried to explain further. “Like at City Hall. We’re not going to sit here all day and break it down, like this hour I took in utilities from customers. This hour I typed up minutes. That’s all unnecessary. It’s just the Public Works Department that needs to be…”

Hanson broke in, “I don’t understand why they do that. I could understand if you’re doing a study of what your duties are during the day, but it all comes out of the same pot anyway. I just don’t understand why they break it down like that.”

Pfeffer added, “I don’t understand why it’s–”

Public Works Director Gary Smith was finally able to clarify the situation for Pfeffer and Hanson. “One example, Mark. If we do anything on the streets, the ‘Street’ category – we get reimbursed by the State. We have to keep everything separate. If you put it all in one lump sum, how much will you get reimbursed? Same with water and sewer. If you’re replacing pumps, the DNR wants to know how many pumps you replaced, how many mains you fixed. They want to know what your water loss is. They want to know all that. You can’t just lump sum it into one big lump! That’s why we separate it out like that, because they want to know where everything is going.”

With that question resolved, Pfeffer pursued other questions, also directed at Ernst. “I have a couple of questions, too. I took the time to chase everything around and total it all up and see where we’re at with payroll and everything.

“Because in the clerk’s office payroll and benefits, and then in the water utility, it looks like there’s another part of your budget. What is the total budget for the Clerk’s Office for the year, because from what I can see, I only see two line items in there, and as of right now, that would put, at 2/3 through the year, it would put the clerk’s office $9,000 over where they should be for the budget for the year.”

Ernst replied, “That’s because the auditor has set clerk wages of 4 ½ percent for water and sewer… That happens a lot with the auditor.”

Pfeffer switched his budget concern back to Public Works. “The only other one I was concerned about was that in our Public Works Department, right now we’re sitting at 2/3 budget, and now if Erik’s going to be getting a raise, and we still have another 1/3 of the year, how are we going to come out on that at the end of the year?”

Ernst corrected Pfeffer’s figures, but acknowledged that even with $15,000 remaining in the budget, “That isn’t going to make it to the end of the year.” The reason for the shortfall in the Public Works budget, she and Smith said, is because of the difficult winter and large number of pipe freeze-ups and water main breaks resulting in a lot of overtime by employees.

In other business, the Council:

  • Voted to allow the police department to trade 6 LED red and white lights to the Owen-Withee-Curtiss (OWC) fire department in exchange for 2 used AED (automatic external defibrillator) units and 2 CPR bag masks.
  • Approved $2,500 in additional funds to complete the Mill Pond Park project and okayed having a goose hunt in the city. All hunters must complete applications at City Hall or the Police Department.
  • Learned that the railroad property purchase has been completed and that two different parties have viewed the Woodland Hotel property. Also, Jim Louks of Owatonna, MN, expects to have an IPO of his FiberPops business soon and says a buyer is lined up to purchase the stock options.

 

 

 

 

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Council approves Willow Road culvert replacement project

By Linda Wyeth

Members of the Owen Common Council met for their regular meeting on Tuesday, August 26, 2014, at City Hall. The first item up for discussion was, again, what to do about the deteriorating culverts on Willow Road. Although Public Works Director Gary Smith was hoping to put off replacing the culverts until next spring when there would be more money in the budget to pay for the project, council members seemed more inclined to tackle the project this fall. “It’s getting worse,” said Alderman Mark Hanson.

The engineering study done by MSA Professional Services, the city’s engineering firm, estimated the project cost at $51,953, including $4,500 in engineering fees. Council members learned from City Clerk Terri Ernst that they could vote to complete the entire project at this time. “The auditor said the Sewer fund is over $400,000, and we could borrow from the Sewer fund,” Ernst explained.

Alderman Patrick Pfeffer made the motion to approve the project, pending approval of the bids by the Council.

Community Development Authority (CDA) Director Tim Swiggum reported that Dollar General would be meeting with the Zoning Committee on Thursday, August 28, to request approval of variances for signage and parking. Dollar General would like to have a larger sign than allowed by city ordinance and fewer parking spaces than called for by the ordinance. “Our ordinance says they would need 48 parking spots, but they [Dollar General] said 48 is way too many and would take up too much space. About 30 is what they want to get a variance for,” Swiggum said.

The full plan will go to Planning on Tuesday, September 3, Swiggum said, and then to the Common Council at its next meeting on September 9.

The purchase of the railroad property is still with the city attorney, but should be finalized soon, Swiggum explained. “He has the $80,000 check from the railroad. He will be needing some signatures and our check back for $24,000, and that will be done.”

The car show was a success, he reported, with a net profit $529. Some of the proceeds and items from the car show will be carried forward to help pay for expenses for the upcoming Indian Summerfest, scheduled for Saturday, September 6, in downtown Owen. Although the car numbers were down from last year, probably due to the weather threatening rain for most of the morning, the number of spectator was higher this year.

Swiggum and the Downtown Revitalization Committee (DRC) have lined up four bands for the Battle of the Bands, he said. “We’re behind on vendors, but the Farmers Market is looking forward to coming to the middle block. We’ll just stay in the middle block, not block off the north or south of Main Street. We should have plenty of room.”

The DRC now has a balance of $2146, Swiggum said. “We have some expenses coming up for Indian Summerfest, but hopefully we will make some money there, too.”

The owner of the End of the Line discount grocery store has had his back go out and is looking for a buyer. Helen Nickolay, owner of the Woodland Hotel, wants to find a buyer for the Woodland before winter.

In other business:

  • Several members of the public attended the meeting, but no one spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
  • Dennis Lulloff spoke about the Parks & Recreation Committee meeting of August 13. He noted that the improvements at the Mill Pond Park were a big success, but that they will need more money to complete them.

 

 

 

 

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Police chief Schade finds the “missing” audio

By Linda Wyeth

I was able to watch the video of the incident with Phil Goerl, known in Owen as “Lawnmower Phil” or “Ponch,” on Friday, August 1, 2014. However, the video appeared to have been “sanitized,” and it had no audio at all. At the time, Owen Police Chief Andrew Schade told me Officer John Stubbe, who was first on the scene, must have forgotten to take the microphone out of the squad car with him.

The following Tuesday, August 5, Police Chief Schade called me again. This time he seemed very pleased and declared it was my “lucky day” because he had found the missing audio file. He explained that the department had been having technical problems with some of its computer equipment, but he had located the audio. If I brought a flash drive to the police department, he would copy the video-audio file to it for me to pick up the next day.

Eventually, we connected at the police department on Friday afternoon. He returned my flash drive and gave me a DVD with the video on it, because, he said, he couldn’t get it “to stick” on the flash drive.

Before I signed the form he requested, I said again that I wanted to be sure the original file would not be erased.

“No way, shape, or form am I getting rid of that thing,” Schade assured me. Then he went on to state that my description of the video had contained deliberate false statements that injured the reputation of the police department and its officers and were defamatory. I assured him I would review the video very carefully.

Now, about that video… The video that Police Chief Schade provided on Friday, August 8, was not the same video I saw on Friday, August 1. In addition to having audio, the new video had some “scenes” that did not show up on the silent movie of the week before.

My biggest concern is that the video is not an actual copy of the original record. The video is of poor quality, and the definition and resolution are significantly degraded – not in keeping with a transferred video document, but rather more like an amateurish attempt at copying. It appears that someone played the video on a computer and aimed a camera, probably a still camera with video capability, at it to copy it.

If, indeed, the purpose of having all the elaborate video and audio recording equipment for the police department is for documentation to be used when needed for court cases, this video flunks the seeing, hearing, and smelling tests. It lacks even the internal time codes necessary for it to be submitted as evidence.

In the end, the video and “discovered” audio do not serve to contradict the multiple eyewitness accounts of the event. The sole mistake in last week’s article was in stating that both officers were “half carrying, half dragging” Phil as they moved him toward the police vehicle. Upon reviewing the video, only Officer Stubbe was holding on to Phil at that time.

Although the audio quality is poor, coming as it does from the tinny speaker of an external camera and not from the original video file, we can clearly hear the sounds of a struggle taking place between the two police officers and Phil. Eyewitnesses have described that struggle as including Phil being slammed up against a light pole and being handled roughly as the officers handcuffed him.

The audio of the conversation that takes place between the officers and Phil after he is placed in the back of the squad car is clearer. We can hear Schade say over and over to Phil, “A little kid, a little boy, said you had a gun.” “Do you own a gun?” “Did you drop a gun?” “Some little kids said you had a gun.”

After Phil’s apparent departure, Schade says to Stubbe, “It got a little hairy there.”

“I thought about taking him to the ground, but we had two hands on him,” says Stubbe.

Schade replies, “Did you see I gave him a shot to the abs? I’m sure that didn’t feel very good.”

 

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Curtiss quilt show: Cabins, critters, and a diary

By Linda Wyeth

Thirty-plus woman, mostly from Curtiss and surrounding towns, gathered for the 27th annual Curtiss Corners Quilt Show last weekend to show off their “stuffs” and attend workshops and share patterns and ideas for future projects. The event, held as usual in the Curtiss Community Hall, aka the Old School House, was like a great two-day old-fashioned quilting bee, with a lot of friendly gossip and catching-up with each other.

Mavis Wood's Crumb Crazy quilt was one one of the more colorful quilts at the 27th Annual Curtiss Corners Quilt Show.

Mavis Wood’s Crumb Crazy quilt was one one of the more colorful quilts at the 27th Annual Curtiss Corners Quilt Show.

One of the senior quilters was charter member Evelyn Courchaine. In addition to quilting, she sometimes tats, too. Her very unique quilt is called “The Diary.” She started it some years ago, she said, when her husband became ill with a serious blood disease affecting his bone marrow. The quilt includes 365 diary squares, each one a real diary entry from that difficult year of her life. “It kept me busy, and being home a lot, I had something to challenge me.” She and her husband, she said were married for 54 years – “God bless us!”

One of the 365 diary entries included on Evelyn Courchaine's Diary Quilt that she worked on during her husband's final illness.

One of the 365 diary entries included on Evelyn Courchaine’s Diary Quilt that she worked on during her husband’s final illness.

 

This is Evelyn Courchaine's completed Diary Quilt. Making the quilt was almost a kind of therapy for her during her husband's long illness.

This is Evelyn Courchaine’s completed Diary Quilt. Making the quilt was almost a kind of therapy for her during her husband’s long illness.

Mavis Wood is another quilter who had projects to show. Her Crumb Crazy quilt was colorful and vibrant. Mavis, who has 21 grandchildren and is on a mission to make each one a quilt, started quilting in the 1970s, lost interest for awhile, and started up again in the late 1980s and 1990, and has been a member of the Curtiss Corners Club since 2005. She lives in rural Abbotsford with her husband John. So far, she says she has completed about half of the quilts she plans to make. “One year I made seven quilts,” and then I told myself, “I can do that!” Men have sometimes been members of their club, she said, but currently all members are “chicks.”

Sometimes even the backs of quilts are unique works of art. Here Mavis Wood shows the back of her Crumb razy quilt at the Curtiss Quilt Show.

Sometimes even the backs of quilts are unique works of art. Here Mavis Wood shows the back of her Crumb Crazy quilt at the Curtiss Quilt Show.

What would a quilt show be without cats and dogs? Donna Reamer had some of both in her collection.

Polka dots everywhere on tees kittens made by Donna Reamer!

Polka dots everywhere on tees kittens made by Donna Reamer!

 

And, if you aren't "into" polka-dotted cats, Donna Reamer also displayed a quilt with polka-dotted puppies.

And, if you aren’t “into” polka-dotted cats, Donna Reamer also displayed a quilt with polka-dotted puppies.

The theme of this year’s show was “Sewing in a Cabin,” and the program included this little poem,

“Quilters

Cut with hope,

Stitch with grace,

Quilt with dreams,

Bind with laughter,

Share with love.”

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Alderman Pfeffer again targets CDA Director Swiggum (July 22, 2014)

By Linda Wyeth

Owen Police Chief Andrew Schade’s request to purchase four new video surveillance cameras for the police department office raised a few eyebrows at the regular common council meeting on Tuesday, July 20, 2014, at City Hall.

Schade had presented his agenda item to City Clerk Terri Ernst prior to the meeting. “I need to put on the agenda…an approval for an outside purchase reimbursement to myself for the last security cameras I need for my security system at the police department,” Schade wrote in his request.

Presently the one security camera he has on site is pointed at the front door. When asked why he needs four additional surveillance cameras in such a small physical space and where they would be placed, Schade was adamant. “I need three more,” he insisted. He refused to say where they would be placed, noting that he did not want the information made public in the newspaper.

Alderman Dennis Lulloff wanted to know what the request was for. “For the rest of the security cameras for my DV-R system,” Schade replied.

“What are you using all those for anyway?” queried Alderman Patrick Pfeffer.

Schade said, “The office. For CIB. To make sure everything’s secure.” CIB, he said in response to Lulloff, is “Crime Information Bureau. The reason there’s a lock on that door.”

Pfeffer elaborated, “Well, CIB requires that the whole building where you house your evidence in has to be protected, right?”

“Just that area, yeah,” answered Schade. “Yeah. It requires that we have minimum security measures but no maximum, so having those cameras in there definitely… You’d be surprised what that camera picks up inside that office watching out that door.”

Lulloff pressed, “And how many are in there currently?”

Schade replied, “I have one in here right now, one camera… I can put three more on that system right now.”

Pfeffer concurred, “He’s got one camera outside on the door. The monitor’s set up for four.”

“My DVR’s set up for four cameras,” Schade elaborated. “I have one. I need three more. Those cameras would be put, watching my department and the stuff inside it. The cameras at Menard’s – two of them are $99, one would be $59. Four of them on Amazon is $116. Shipping would be free.”

Lulloff wanted to know more. “What do you need four of them for? You only can use – you say you have one… How many more do you need inside?”

Schade countered, “I can buy four cheaper than I can buy three… I need three.”

Lulloff asked again, “I was under the impression there was already three.”

And Schade replied again, “No, I have one camera. I can take you in there, Denny, and show you. I have one camera. It’s probably running right now.”

Lulloff again asked, “That’s all you ever had, is one?”

Pfeffer noted, “That’s all I’ve ever seen, is one, right straight in the door… There’s not one outside the door that I’ve ever seen. There’s one inside pointing out the door that picks up.”

He asked Schade, “Is this something that could wait till we get a city credit card so we’re not doing it on a reimbursement, or is this something that you’re under a time frame that needs to get done?”

Schade recommended immediate approval to be sure of getting the price quoted on Amazon, and the council voted unanimously to approve the purchase of four surveillance cameras for the police department office for $116.03.

In another matter, when the council started its discussion of the second quarter payroll and overtime reports for city employees, Alderman Pfeffer said, “I have a question pertaining to this.  I’m wondering why – I was under the impression that he council had voted to approve comp time for the police department – and why [CDA Director] Tim [Swiggum] has comp time banked? I thought that all had to be approved by the council. I wasn’t aware of it.”

Police Chief Andrew Schade asked Gary Smith of the Public Works department how his department handles the issue of comp time and overtime pay. “We have the option,” Smith said, “of comp time or overtime pay. But we can’t bank it,” unlike the police department.

“Only for one pay period,” Pfeffer said, “and this is all the way back to the beginning of the year.”

Ernst read from the employee manual,  “Overtime pay and comp time pay, which is equal to 150 percent of the regular hourly pay will be paid to all employees except those exempt under the law… Employees are encouraged to use comp time and take off  hours in the same time frame rather than accumulate overtime hours.“

The council discussed the matter at some length and decided that Swiggum had not claimed and used his comp time in a timely way and would therefore lose what he had accumulated.  However, some aldermen also felt that the policy needs to be revised. “Comp time is something you should be able to use at a later date,” said alderman Dan Tolzmann. Hanson, however, backed Pfeffer. “A comp time agreement is completely different from overtime,” he said.

Aldermen also noted that the payout of overtime pay had generally been creeping up and admonished employees to try to limit their use of overtime. “The overtime is getting up there, so we’ll have to try to get the departments to get the overtime down,” Heggemeier said. Tolzmann noted that with three full-time employees in the police department, they should need to claim much less overtime than in the past. Schade countered by saying that when officers claim comp time instead of overtime pay, they are saving the city a considerable amount of money.

Another thorny issue from the past, that of closed session meetings, again came up. At the April 8 meeting of the Common Council meeting, Patrick Pfeffer, who had been elected but had not yet taken his oath of office and seat on the Common Council, read a statement, saying, “I want to inform the city council and public that I have done extensive research into violations of state law, local ordinances, and City of Owen employee policies that have been ongoing by personnel (both elected and employed) at the City of Owen. As a result of my investigation into this, I am forwarding a complaint to the Owen Police Department to look into these issues at the City of Owen.”

When asked a few weeks ago about his progress in investigating Pfeffer’s charges, Schade stated, “The investigation is still ongoing.”

Tuesday night’s meeting included notice of a closed session “for deliberation of purchase of public property Under 19.85(1)(e) Deliberating or negotiating he purchase of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.” The usual pro forma vote to convene in closed session, however, included concerns from both alderman Mark Hanson and Patrick Pfeffer.

“I’ve got a question before we go in there,” said Hanson. “Aren’t we supposed to list the property we’re buying or anything like that?”

Heggemeier replied, “No, we wouldn’t on this because we don’t want that information out.”

Alderman Mel Lorence added, “That’s for nobody’s information except right here at this table.”

“This is still a generalized [notice],” objected Pfeffer.

Ernst explained that a more specific notice will be posted “when it comes to the council, if it does, and that would list the parcel and address.”

All aldermen, including Pfeffer and Hanson, agreed to the closed session, and no aldermen raised any objections when they reconvened in open session.

In open session, alderman voted unanimously to the motion, “An inspection will be conducted on the building that’s being discussed, and the members of the council will have a chance to view the building.” They decided to hold the meeting and view the former Time Federal bank building on Thursday at 3:15 p.m.

[Reporter’s note: During the time when the council was meeting in executive session, I was engaged in conversation with Cindy Cardinal, reporter for the other newspaper, and Andrew Schade, police chief. Both contended that the closed session meeting to discuss the purchase of the Time Federal building for the purpose of locating a new city hall there was not properly noticed by the city. It was interesting to me that both Cardinal and Schade knew the topic of discussion of the meeting before it took place.]

In other business, the council:

  • Received a progress report from Swiggum that the negotiations for the Dollar General Store are progressing well and that they will be sending engineers out to do their testing. Again he assured members of the council that the final plans will come before the council for approval. “And they won’t actually purchase the lot till the plans are approved?” questioned Pfeffer. Swiggum said that was correct, but that Golden Warriors, representing Dollar General, would be sending $2,000 to the city for earnest money.
  • Learned from CDA Director Tim Swiggum that the DRC has received enough donations to pay for the slab needed for the burn-out contest at the Car Show on August 16. Alderman Pfeffer and Police Chief Schade raised a question about whether the Car Show would be considered a “block party” under city ordinances and thus require 60 percent of the residents on the street to approve it. However, a block party takes place in a residential area and is not a city-sponsored event.
  • Heard a lengthy report from city building inspector Robert Christensen about several properties and voted to issue citations to some of the property owners.
  • Approved applying for a credit card for the city. The card will be kept in the city clerk’s office, and any purchases over $1,000 will require prior approval from the Common Council.
  • Agreed to send all three police officers for state-required EVOC (emergency vehicle operation) training, but stipulated that they should use only one squad car to travel to the training rather than using both squads.
  • Learned that the new culverts to be installed on Willow Road are too large for the city to qualify for a free general permit from the DNR and that the city will instead need to submit an engineered plan with the DNR to get a permit. The permit is required to get 50 percent reimbursement from the county for the project. DPW department head Gary Smith said he does not yet have a price from Mike Voss of MSA Associates, the city’s engineering firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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