DARLINGTON – What started out causing everyone to be confused and frustrated, ended with everyone even more confused and frustrated during the meeting of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night, Nov. 12.
The board tabled a resolution, 13-1, brought to them by the Land Conservation Committee that was aimed at restricting data released by the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology Study (SWIGG) and the potential to penalize both the media and county board members who may not report on accurate information.
The first resolution distributed proposed a restriction on future test results to the board chairs or their designees, county conservationists and land conservation committee chairs of Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties, where the study is being conducted.
The review group would create “an appropriate statement” with the directive for the media to not “alter, edit, cut or adjust this press release in any way.” Reporters who attempted to “glean information and selectively report it in order to interpret the results for their own means” “will be prosecuted,” the resolution says.
The resolution also stated that “Any board member caught distorting information intentionally, or speaking to the press without the express authority to represent their Committee, full County Board or the Review Board, will be censured by their respective board and publicly admonished. Further action may be taken against said member as seen fit by their board through each county’s own ethics process.”
The newest resolution states that when information is made public, all board members, committee members, county officials and county employees are to encourage members of the public, including press, to “review and disseminate complete and accurate information concerning the information and the water study”.
“In the event that a conference is held to distribute results,” the resolution continues, “invitations will be extended to local TV stations, radios and news outlets.” The conference will do a complete review of the test process. The press will be giving an official press release provided by the “Review Board”, which consists of the Lafayette County Health Department, the County Conservationists and the Land Conservation Committee Chair.
It still stipulated that no board member, committee member, county official or county employee is authorized to make any public statement regarding the water study without the authorization of the Review Board. Anyone that violates that process may be subject to discipline. It was later commented that it would be ethics violation and taken up with the Ethics, Legislative, and Rules Committee Board.
Several members of the public spoke out against the resolution stating they were disappointed to see it come about and the county board should “abandon processes that are vindictive” and will stifle the public’s access to information. Some touched on the fact that the author of the first resolution that has been seen nation wide has not come forward and that the resolution did more damage to the county than that of the skewed water study results.
“I was angry at first but I am more sad than anything,” one member stated.
“This is a sham,” Darlington resident Bob Bernadoni said. “You cannot dictate what Iowa and Grant County do. This resolution has sullied the reputation of the county.”
Charlotte Doherty, former District Attorney for Lafayette County, was confused after hearing there were different resolutions than the one that was passed Tuesday morning.
“I ask you to vote no or at the very least table this. I’m not sure which version you are voting for right now,” Doherty stated.
After public comment, Land Conservation Chair Gerald Heimann read the resolution that was passed by the Land Conservation Committee Tuesday morning. Confusion played out when Heimann read the last paragraph of the resolution, which happened to be the wrong paragraph. The paragraph he read came from the original resolution that was drafted and sent out on Thursday, Nov. 7 to members of the committee.
Then after reading the resolution and receiving a second to accept the resolution by Scott Pedley, Heimann then made a motion to amend the last sentence of the resolution to read, “While individual board members as elected representatives retain the right to freely speak to the press, no statements which have not been formerly reviewed and acted upon by the county shall be considered the official position of the county.” Pedley again seconded it.
Chairman Jack Sauer then read the legal note that was drafted by attorney Andrew Phillips, the current outside general counsel for the Wisconsin Counties Association, which explained the intent of the resolution was to “focus on accurate and complete dissemination of information pertaining to the water quality testing results from Lafayette County as well as neighboring counties.” The resolution was not intended to prevent the public or members of the press from receiving any information or communicating with the public, but to promote accurate information to be distributed concerning the study results.
Sauer also mentioned he was tired of people commenting on Facebook, blaming him for drafting the first resolution.
“I’ve been working 16 hours a day to get a crop out. I haven’t had the time of day to work on this. I don’t like being accused of being a g*****n liar when I didn’t author any of this stuff,” Sauer argued.
“I am baffled for the whole chain of events,” board supervisor Kriss Marion said. “I have a bunch of resolutions in front of me. The one I requested is different from what we have in front of us. This is unbelievable.”
Sauer was just as confused and frustrated, mentioned he didn’t know why there were different resolutions. He said there should only be the one passed at the Land Conservation that morning with a legal note attached, along with an amendment written by Andrew Phillips, which was the amendment Heimann requested and was currently on the table to be voted on.
“This wasn’t what we looked at in the committee. How did we pass something at committee and now we are looking at something that is remarkably different? I am just so confused about our protocol and I assumed that when we pass a resolution, it would go to legal. I really think this is very confusing. What was read out loud is not what I have in front of me. I don’t know what to think. Is this how we do things? It is very difficult to make a decision with the amount of confusion we have had over this. I can’t wait to make a motion to table this,” Marion said.
Discussion ensued and some tempers flared concerning author of the first resolution, the resolution that was passed during the Land Conservation meeting, and how the results were then taken out of context by several large news outlets.
A vote was finally taken on the amendment to the resolution that was read. It passed 12-2 with Rita Buhholz and Tony Ruesga voting against. Bob Boyle and Steve Spensley were not present, making the total members 14.
Immediately after the roll vote was taken, Marion made a motion to table the resolution with Ursula Fecht seconding. The motion passed 13-1 with Robert Laeser voting against.