DARLINGTON – The Executive, Rules, & Legislative Committee, met on Aug. 29, to discuss a request to have a countywide advisory referendum regarding the legislative and congressional redistricting plans and maps and a revised code of ethics.
Three citizens and Lafayette County Board member Kriss Marion spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and were limited to three minutes. All the speakers shared their opinions and asked for the support of committee members to approve (and send to full county board) having an advisory referendum in Lafayette County that would create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional redistricting at the state level.
Marion said, “Joel Kitchens, our own Todd Novak, Loren Oldenburg and Travis Tranel are all supporting the idea of the Iowa model of nonpartisan redistricting. I think we’re in good company here. Our neighbors in Iowa, Green, and Grant counties have all passed a resolution asking for an Iowa type model.”
Executive chairman Tony Ruesga asked for discussion on the agenda item.
Lafayette County board chairman, Jack Sauer asked, “What effect does this have on Lafayette County?”
Marion answered, “The 51st and 17th could potentially be different and congressional districts could be changed. In the Iowa model, the lines are drawn by a nonpartisan board. Our county is a whole, but Green and Sauk are chopped up, Iowa County is wriggling around.”
Sauer (to Marion) asked, “You don’t feel that your run for the 17th senate district is a conflict of interest, so the lines could be changed in your favor for the upcoming race?”
Marion responded, “I’ve brought this subject up before I thought of running for senate.”
Sauer addressed the room, “You say this is a nonpartisan issue, are there any Republican’s in the audience?”
One man said he was a Republican and stated ‘it’s a nonpartisan issue Jack.’
Sauer said, “Yea, good for you. That’s why there’s one Republican and 40 Democrats in this room.”
Marion said, “I feel a little uncomfortable that you’re asking people to declare their party.”
The room exploded in agreement.
Ruesga said, “The question was asked. If you decide to answer, well that’s up to you.”
Sauer asked Lafayette County Clerk, Carla Jacobson, “How much would a referendum like this cost the county?”
Jacobson responded, “My best guess is about $3,000.”
Sauer started to make a statement and was told by someone in the audience that they couldn’t hear him.
Sauer spoke up, “$3,000, the way our budget is - very tight every year - is lot of money. To spend $3,000 on something that the legislature may choose to listen to or not listen to and I’m guessing they don’t listen to enough other resolutions that we’ve sent to them. I think it’s a waste of money at this point in time. There is a court case going on right now about this and the way the court case goes will be the final word on this.”
Steve Acheson of Blanchardville in the audience said, “What’s the point of making any resolutions at all?”
Sauer answered, “I don’t. There’s probably… (cut off)”
Acheson, “I mean you where pushing for anti-marijuana resolution.”
Sauer, “They can take that resolution and throw it right in the trash can and from what I’ve seen that’s pretty much what they do.”
Ruesga stepped in, “If you don’t want me to throw people out of here, you will be acknowledged by the chair to speak. You will not just speak back and forth. That will not be tolerated at any one of these meetings and shouldn’t be tolerated at any county meetings. So if you want to speak you will make sure the chair knows you want to speak and get permission from the chair to speak. If you do it again, you will be asked to leave.”
County board member Bob Boyle said, “I think history has shown that whoever is in power tends to do this (gerrymandering). We’re allowing the politicians to choose the voters and if there is going to be any reform it will have to come from we the people, because both parties have conflicts.”
Ruesga gave his opinion. “It’s a tough position to put us (committee) in. Us four people to decide for the whole county board. My opinion is we pass it here and get it to the full county board and all 16 board members can consider it. I am in support of it.”
Sauer asked, “You really think it’s important Tony for the county as a whole? Otherwise we’d have a lot more people here.”
Ruesga answered, “Well, I can tell you that I’ve been on the county board three years and this is about as full as I’ve seen any meeting. It’s telling me that this topic is important and maybe it’s not.”
Committee member Larry Ludlum made a motion to deny the resolution to conduct a countywide advisory referendum on creation of nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional redistricting plans and maps. Seconded by committee member John Bartels.
Ludlum said, “I think it’s going to cost us way too much money.”
Ruesga asked for a voice vote.
Jacobson called out the names: Bartels – no…
The meeting momentarily stopped. Sauer tried to clarify and said a yes vote would approve the denial, a no would not approve to deny.
Someone from the audience said, “Make sure he gets it right Jack.”
Ruesga asked the clerk to repeat the motion.
Jacobson said, “The motion is to deny the resolution.”
Roll call vote again: Bartels – no, Ruesga – no, Heimann – yes, Ludlum – yes.
Committee member Jack Wiegel had an excused absence.
Ruesga said, “Being it’s a tie vote the motion fails.”
No other motions where brought up and the committee moved on to other business.
The Republican Journal was told that this item would appear on a future agenda.
Revised Ethics Ordinance
Ruesga said, “My first question to the committee is how many of you three have taken the time to read our current Code of Ethics?” No response was given.
Ludlum said, “When we get into these issues, I get very concerned about the personalities involved and making any reference to a person. I think this whole thing should be in closed session. I would make a motion to table number nine and bring it back in closed session.”
Seconded by Hiemann.
Ruesga said, “I would like to hear an explanation on why that would need to be in closed session. This ordinance is already in effect. I was told to do it through the Executive Committee, instead of the ethics board. We have taken some steps to fix that and now you want to put it in closed session.
Lafayette County Corporate Council Nathen Russell said, “Without researching it, I can say it would not be fit for closed session. You’re specifically talking about an ordinance; you’re not talking about any individuals or persons. You could direct me to research it, but my first feeling is that it doesn’t fit with closed session.”
Ludlum said, “I stand corrected.”
Ruesga said, “We are not taking up an individual person. We are reviving a current ordinance that’s already in existence. For me it’s a joke, when you don’t have a body that can take action on an ethics violation. I think directing it through this committee is fine, however we need to make some revisions to it to make it fit. I’m not comfortable having us (executive committee) police the rest of the 16 of us. We need to have lay people to allow for there to be transparency as we govern these ethics violations.”
Ruesga continued, “I would recommend that we develop a subcommittee to look at this, because there is a lot of information. Once we get this ordinance in place, people will be held accountable.”
Sauer said, “I think that’s a good idea. In the subcommittee we could look at other counties and see how they handle things.”
Ruesga said, “I do think a subcommittee is the proper way to do it. I know there are multiple committee members on here that I would challenge that have not looked at our current ordinance in the last two weeks, as should have been done. So this is being left on my shoulders to fix, then I’m going to bring a product and then you guys are going to pick it apart and possibly kill it or do whatever you want with it and that is not fair.”
Ruesga continued, “We should develop a subcommittee and we deal with all the different ordinances, some suggestions by citizens and put together a good ordinance that has a straight line to enforcement and repercussions for things like lying to the people, having disrespect in committee meetings, not proper decorum and even holding chairmen responsible, because ultimately the chairmen are responsible for keeping control of these meetings.”
Russell said, “To maybe relieve perceived tension in the entire county is to delegate it to our office with two or three staff members, to come up with a best draft for you all.”
The committee agreed to allow Russell’s office take up the matter.
•Approved the sale of Lafayette County real estate and temporary limited easement to Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation for the Highway 23 reconstruction project planned for 2021.
•Approved a resolution pertaining to action taken above, this will need to go to the full county board.
•No action was taken regarding amending the by-laws of the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission – regarding appointments.
Sauer said, “The problem isn’t the people the governor appoints, it’s that it takes so long (six months to a year) to get someone appointed. Ray Spellman is the last one to be appointed. It will work a lot better if the county would take control of appointing our representatives.”
A man from the audience again said, “I cannot hear this man. Either speak up or get some microphones.”
Sauer said, “Get a hearing aid.”
After much more discussion, it was decided to take no action until after the next Regional Planning meeting to see what format of replacing member they would like to see. The item will be on the next agenda.