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Water study resolution details coming to the surface

DARLINGTON — The resolution that created a firestorm across the entire country may be considered “killed” but there are still many questions.

At the end of the Dec. 10 Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, Sup. Robert Laeser of Argyle asked when the board would be dealing with the tabled resolution.

“Truthfully, if you want to look at it from a parliamentary procedure standpoint, once you lay it on the table, it kills it,” said Nathan Russell, the county’s corporation counsel. “The only way to deal with it is to reintroduce it.

“I think what was intended to be done was to postpone the decision. It wasn’t until I researched it after the fact that postpone is the correct way to come about it. There would need to be a motion to reconsider if someone wanted it on the agenda.”

The board Nov. 12 tabled 13–1 a resolution, brought to them by the Land Conservation Committee, that was aimed at restricting data released by the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology Study with 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 original resolution said.

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 next resolution stated 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 continued, “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 would be given 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.

The resolution still stipulated that no board member, committee member, county official or county employee was authorized to make any public statement regarding the water study without the authorization of the Review Board. Anyone who violated that process would be subject to discipline. It was later commented that it would be an ethics violation and taken up by Lafayette County’s Ethics, Legislative, and Rules Committee Board.

The Nov. 12 board meeting featured significant confusion when four different resolutions ended up on each county supervisor’s desk, with varied degrees of difference.

After the board finally voted on an amendment to the resolution, which passed 12–2, Sup. Kriss Marion of Blanchardville made a motion to table the resolution, with Sup. Ursula Fecht of Shullsburg seconding. The motion passed 13–1 with Laeser opposed.

An Open Records Law request made by the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison discovered that the resolution came about from discussions between Lafayette County Board Chairman Jack Sauer and Iowa County Board Chairman John Meyers.

Sauer had mentioned at the Nov. 12 Lafayette County Land Conservation Committee meeting that the issue was brought up by a member of the Iowa County Board. Sauer then mentioned that the county board chair from Iowa County (Meyers) suspected that someone on the Lafayette County Board was giving the media misinformation on the water study.

Some of the same verbiage from the resolution can be found in an email dated Oct. 31 from Meyers to Lafayette County economic development director Abby Haas, who was the middle person between Meyers and Sauer, because Sauer does not have email.

Meyers denied to the Wisconsin State Journal that he wrote the original resolution, saying, “There’s a difference between making suggestions and authoring a document,” adding that Lafayette County is “responsible for their own agendas, their own resolutions.”

Meyers also told the State Journal his statement in an email to Haas to “maybe make the press sign a cooperation agreement that they include the entire study” and “threaten to prosecute them for slander” was “just me venting.”

Sauer told the State Journal he did not see any resolution until the day before the LCC meeting. Sauer told the State Journal that the Lafayette and Iowa county corporation counsels were against taking the resolution to the LCC, but others, including Wisconsin Counties Association attorney Andrew Phillips, thought it could be “salvaged.”

Grant County Board chair Bob Keeney was included in the email discussions, and told Meyers Nov. 1, “I agree that we need to be on the same page and I feel it is important that LCC staff be included. … Let me know what I can do to help.”

Keeney told the State Journal that other than being in the email chain he never proposed any resolution language and never spoke to anyone about the proposed resolution. Keeney told the State Journal the resolution was forwarded to the Grant County corporation counsel but the board never considered the resolution.

Iowa County administrator Larry Bierke denied in an email to The Platteville Journal that anyone was considering the resolution in Iowa County.

Some questions may have been answered, while new questions were raised, in Friday’s Wisconsin State Journal story about emails among the Lafayette, Iowa and Grant county board chairs and others on the creation of the resolution that threatened to discipline county supervisors or employees for “distorting information intentionally, or speaking to the press without the express authority to represent their Committee, full County Board or the Review Board.”

Last year, Lafayette County supervisors fought to have the county fund part of the water study. The first half of the water study cost $15,465. The Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance donated $7,000, which left $8,465 for the county to make up. The money was given to the county by the Lafayette County Housing Authority for the county budget to pass that night without shorting any other department.

A total of $8,010 has been raised since then by Lafayette County residents to pay off that $8,465 given by the Housing Authority, which is still $455 short.

Lafayette County’s 2020 budget funds the second half of the water study, which again costs $15,465, with LASA donating $5,000. The rest of the funds, $10,465, are coming from surplus county funds.

Contributions to the article were made by Steve Prestegard of the Platteville Journal.