Letter to the Editor: Response to a recent political advertisement

This is in response to the full page advertisement in the March 22 Peninsula Pulse paid for and authorized by candidates Helen Bacon, Dan Williams, Gary Nault, and Kisten McFarlin-Reeths. If we are to believe the claims and the numbers presented in the ad, these four candidates (the “Fiscal Four”?) are all that stand between the citizens of Sturgeon Bay and financial ruin. They conveniently ignore recent history in their assertion that the current city council “has not demonstrated fiscal responsibility regarding the Westside waterfront” because...well, that’s where the facts get a little fuzzy. They apparently take umbrage with the results of the last council election that swept in some common sense reformers who put the brakes on the reckless and ethically compromised shenanigans of the previous council that served as a rubber stamp for every whim and whisper of Mayor Thad Birmingham. That reliable working majority voted to sell waterfront property of questionable title to developer Bob Papke, a decision that prompted the law suit that ultimately led to a DNR ruling confirming a water mark in accordance to the Wisconsin state constitution.


The half million dollars wasted on legal fees and a settlement with the developer can be placed squarely at the feet of councilmen who represented districts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 before they retired or were voted out, not the current council members. What’s more, the TID created for the west waterfront redevelopment was the brainchild of that previous council majority, too—despite the fact that Sturgeon Bay government’s luck with TIDs has been pretty lousy, considering that only TID #1 (the industrial park) isn’t drowning in red ink. To read the ad, you might get the idea that the Friends of Sturgeon Bay Waterfront (the group that WON the lawsuit against the city to protect the public trust without financial reward) and the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society are the evil cabal responsible for the TID fever that has put the city in financial peril.


The factually-challenged four also sound clarions of alarm concerning the donation of a renovated and restored granary on the west side, which might serve as both landmark and centerpiece to public space on the waterfront. For some reason, the gift of more than a million dollars has them clutching their pearls because the granary won’t include “restrooms, water, and kitchen facilities for events,” nor will it offer “heating, cooling, ventilation or handicap accessibility.” I’m surprised they didn’t add helipad, an elevator, and large screen TVs to their list of things that no other park facility offers the public. If you’re going to complain, folks, complain BIG!


Having read this ridiculous ad, I am more convinced than ever that the future of Sturgeon Bay rests not with backward thinking people like these but with those who are opposing them. Vote April 2 not out of fear and resentment but with hope and conviction.


Being an informed and concerned Sturgeon Bay resident who pays attention to city business, I am witnessing numerous changes, positive progress toward a greater common good through city policy and a healthier attitude toward her citizens.  This long overdue effect distinctly began with the election of our current common council last April. The public interest, enlightened, responsibility focused majority four female voiced votes, accompanied by Councilman David Hayes, has directed our city policy to begin operating once again, in a direction which holds out clear promise and hope for a brighter future the whole city. 

To further that positive direction we need to elect a new mayor who is willing to support the progress that has been recently cultivated.  We need someone who hasn’t already indicated a preference to follow the old rules of economic development, that tiresome focus on large projects aimed at economic benefits for only a small minority of owners, funded on the backs of the rest of the city residents.  We must elect a new mayor who won’t be strapping our children, our present working class or those of limited means on fixed incomes with crippling financial city debt that produces no short term benefits for most of us.

Shawn Fairchild understands incremental development, historic value and good stewardship of our land and financial resources, demonstrates a proven commitment to the well-being of his and all our neighbors, and his belief that we bear an obligation to ourselves and those future generations, by avoiding actions which substantially benefit only a select few.

While attending the recent mayoral forum and hearing each of the candidates, it became obvious that Shawn Fairchild’s positive vision for Sturgeon Bay is honest, creative and an effective path to bringing jobs to our community. He knows how to think on his feet, and to express his thoughts clearly, with answers and opinions that have substance. Shawn Fairchild is the candidate who should serve as our next mayor.

Please join me in casting your vote April 2nd for SHAWN FAIRCHILD – MAYOR of Sturgeon Bay.

Chesla Seely-Anschutz 
Sturgeon Bay, WI


Unfortunately, the real issue of a large overall city debt accumulated through several decades of Waterfront Redevelopment Authority, mayoral and former common council mismanagement, which the current common council has successfully begun to correct, is being ignored with the false flag distraction being hyped with the grain elevator and the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society.  TID financing failure is the real problem and not the granary, or the private gift of over a million dollars.


The granary is being used to distract from, using one example, city taxpayers subsidizing the Bay Lofts LLC construction loan, as stated in the TID development agreement with the city, to the tune of over a million dollars.  Yes, over a million dollars of your money is directly paying for a private developer’s construction loan. 

Even when the Bay Lofts LLC fell short of their contractual obligation to deliver a minimum of $5M in assessed property valuation, David Ward as city Finance chair argued to give Bay Lofts a free pass after not meeting their contractual terms.  The city could have demanded $160K over that contractual breach, but David Ward argued against that.


Mr Ward’s supporters are saying what a good listener he will be, but Mr Ward’s own published comments state he wants to limit participation from non-city residents at common council meetings.  Does he envision that hundreds of people shopping or regularly doing business in the city might not have something to say about issues like the attempted illegal transfer of public land to a hotel developer or the PRAT tax?


Mr Ward’s 2005 economic plan for the DCEDC has defined economic “stakeholders.”  Nowhere are blue collar workers, teachers, health care workers or government employees ever included as stakeholders in economic development planning.  Workers apparently don’t count except as profit centers for big business.  Living wages are not mentioned as part of local economic planning.


CEOs, white collar managers, corporate boards, and theoretical elitist academia would appear to be the crowd that Mr Ward is most familiar with, by his own reckoning and mayoral self-promotion.  While Mr Ward emphasizes his credentials and a lengthy list of professional organizational memberships, how many of those numerous connections could just as easily be distractions, detriments or conflicts or are even needed to be a successful city mayor?   Who likely has Mr Ward’s ear?


Please consider electing Shawn Fairchild as your mayor.  He has a proven public interest track record, and indisputably understands normal working class people, smaller business owners and city economic issues.  He’s been there and lives there.  Regular people first are what define Shawn’s attitude and intentions for the city.  Putting the public good before corporate welfare demands your vote.


Letter to the Editor: Vote David Ward for Mayor

I urge the citizens of Sturgeon Bay to vote for David Ward for mayor. His educational, business, and administrative experience make him most qualified to run this city. Having lived here for 18 years he knows how to get things done and effect changes, if needed. Most important, Dave LISTENS. As a City Council member he often disagreed with the Council’s actions, but he always heard their reasons. Likewise, he will always listen to and welcome your ideas, comments, and suggestions.

I also urge my neighbors on the East side in District 3, to vote for a 30-year resident, Dan Williams for Alderman. His experience in emergency management will be very useful to the Council. He will help Dave Ward achieve his vision for a better Sturgeon Bay.


Thank you. 


G. Howard Phipps

Sturgeon Bay, WI

Letter to the Editor: Shawn Fairchild for Mayor

Shawn Fairchild for Mayor

For twenty-five years, I’ve had the privilege of knowing Shawn Fairchild.  As a carpenter supervisor for Palmer Johnson, he successfully worked with excellent carpenters, many of whom had strong and independent opinions.  As a Third Avenue business owner, he did a large, handsome remodel to accommodate his wonderful gallery, which would have been at home in Chicago or New York City.  Shawn has proved himself to be an intelligent, creative, resourceful entrepreneur.  Despite his many accomplishments, he has a modest demeanor and doesn’t oversell himself.  
When engaging with Shawn, he is welcoming and has a comfortable presence.  People instinctively like him and he relates well to people, including those with differing opinions.  Additionally, he’s an attentive, careful listener, who is respectful and is eager to hear your thoughts. 
Shawn is inherently positive in his approach to problems and to their solutions, and recognizes it is vital to be open minded and to hear all ideas before making decisions.  Rather than having the city’s problems defined and decided, he wants to be inclusive, to gather information from all potential sources and to be a consensus builder. In preparing himself for office, he’s had discussions with government officials, related community organizations and experts in various subjects.  
As a thirty-five year resident, who raised his two children in Sturgeon Bay, Shawn has a deep understanding of the city’s past and present economy and culture. We’re all aware the city has numerous challenges and, along with fast-growing tourism, is on the cusp of multiple changes. As someone who studied natural resource management and environmental studies, coupled with his attributes, dedication and enthusiasm, Shawn Fairchild would be the right leader for the residents of Sturgeon Bay, the city we all cherish.

Betty Parsons

Letter to the Editor--Support for Sturgeon Bay School Referendum

Dear Readers


I am writing this as an individual who at one time did not believe in voting for school referenda.  As a matter of fact, I may have been somewhat outspoken about it.  But that was B.K. (Before Kids).  A long time ago, a very wise person once told me, “You can be ready for marriage, but you’re NEVER ready for kids.”  What I’m saying is that my point of view has changed…..dramatically.  Kids will do that to you.


The experience that my two great kids (Matt & Jared) had coming up through the Sturgeon Bay School District was exceptional - not only academically, but also athletically and socially.  In fact, their experience prepared them well enough to get them into the school of their choice, UW-Madison.  It is a credit to the administration, the faculty and the staffs of all the schools they attended through their 12 years in the district.  If I had continued to not vote for the referenda that came about during my kids’ time in the District, and others had not as well, perhaps their experience would not have been as rewarding…thankfully, we’ll never know.


Now that my kids have moved on, it is my plan to vote for the referendum on April 2nd.  The way I look at it, there were people out there who, even though they didn’t have kids in the district, felt strongly enough about giving the kids of our community a quality education and voted in favor of the referenda that came before them.  I believe I  should “pay it forward” and give those kids coming up in the District the same opportunities that Matt and Jared had.




Dennis Van Bramer

Letter to the Editor: Shawn Fairchild will be a kind, thoughtful and wise Mayor

I have known Shawn for a few years – as an experienced and exceptional craftsman, as an effective and passionate advocate for the public good, and as a friend. These experiences allow me to understand the traits that will make a terrific mayor. He is a long-time community member who knows every corner of the city, has experienced decades of change, and has been an engaged and active citizen. In his interactions, he listens first, and he listens thoughtfully. When he then speaks, it is to connect the dots, to ensure information is understood by all, and to frame options. That is the approach I look forward to in our Sturgeon Bay mayor.


In running for office, he has deepened his research and his outreach. He told me that one of his early discussions was with the Door County Economic Development director, about the critical need for attainable housing, and possibilities and details of how that could be achieved over time. Shawn is open-minded and level-headed. He seeks information and input from those with knowledge on a particular subject. He values the expertise, talent and passion we have abundantly in the community and I know he will make good use of it.


Importantly, he believes in a city that will be proactive in seeking opportunities and in creatively searching for solutions, and he will establish an environment where that happens. He stands firmly for transparency in government. His arms are wide open to interesting ideas and thoughtful perspectives.


I look forward to progress that is inclusive and to the benefit of the whole community, for an exciting future in Sturgeon Bay! Please vote for Shawn Fairchild for Mayor, Tuesday  April 2nd. (Advance in-person voting 8 am - 4:30 pm weekdays at City Hall begins Monday March 18th – a good option, considering the possibility of a snowstorm on election day!).


Nancy Aten

Sturgeon Bay, WI

Letter to the Editor: Vote for Fairchild

This coming April 2 election is a pivotal one for the citizens of Sturgeon Bay. Two candidates will be competing for the mayoralty, in addition to several key city council races on the ballot. While it is tempting for some to dismiss those seeking public office as being “all alike” (shorthand for, What does it matter who wins?), the two candidates couldn’t be more different. One (Dr. David Ward) is the last remnant of the “old guard” who steered a course for the city through several dubious redevelopment deals that ended up costing city tax-payers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and settlements with nothing to really show for the waste in money and man-hours. The other (Shawn Fairchild) is a tradesman and long-time resident who has emerged as a champion for the public trust that our previous city government was charged with protecting but, sadly, looked to subvert for the enrichment of a few powerful “insiders.”


Shawn Fairchild believes in inclusivity and collaboration, opening City Hall to the ideas and concerns of all citizens. That belief is bedrock to his campaign. He is concerned about issues that relate to the city’s future: affordable housing, attracting young families with good schools and employment opportunities, and fostering a business climate in which large industry and small businesses can both thrive. Dr. Ward, by virtue of his voting record as a member of the city council and the last supporter standing of Mayor Thad Birmingham’s administration, has shown himself to be comfortable with “exclusivity” and closed door deal-making. Sturgeon Bay and its many wonderful resources are, in this view, only worth protecting if they can be sold off to private interests for profit.


We have a chance in this coming election to choose a new path for city government, one that is open and responsive to ALL citizens, not just the well-heeled few; one that will protect those things about the city that we ALL value. I urge you to vote for Sturgeon Bay’s future. I urge you to vote for Shawn.

Endorsement for David Ward – Mayor of Sturgeon Bay

Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Dave Ward as both a business associate and friend.  During this time, I have observed several character traits in Dave that will undoubtedly serve him well as mayor of Sturgeon Bay.  Dave is financially astute, analytical in problem solving, caring, and perhaps most importantly, even-keeled.

Dave spent the majority of his career as a finance professor at UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh, and moved on to become the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs for the entire University of Wisconsin System.  He has a strong attention to detail, and is not afraid to ask the difficult questions that will result in the most efficient use of limited taxpayer revenue.

I have worked with Dave on strategic planning and corporate governance matters, and have seen first-hand how he looks at a challenge from all angles, ask questions, seeks input from differing points of view, and after taking all factors into account, develops the best path forward.  This structured analytical talent will allow Dave, in his position as mayor, to successfully pull the best ideas from differing viewpoints, with the end result being solutions that are best for the entire city and its stakeholders.

During his 18 years as a citizen of Sturgeon Bay, Dave has worked to make our community a better place to live.  He truly cares, as evidenced by his service on the board of directors of both Door County Memorial Hospital and the Door County Economic Development Corporation.  In addition, he has volunteered his time to other community organizations, including the Door County Triathlon, and the Sturgeon Bay United Methodist Church, to name a few.  Dave and his wife Judy are truly vested in Sturgeon Bay, and want to see it grow and thrive for future generations.   

Dave approaches situations in a very thoughtful, calm and even-keeled manner.  This is an extremely important character trait to have for the incoming mayor.  He keeps his emotions in check, and remains steady when situations become tense.  Sturgeon Bay needs a leader like Dave, someone whose only agenda is to do what is best for Sturgeon Bay, its residents, businesses and visitors alike.  

I was a resident of Sturgeon Bay for over 20 years, and now live just outside the city limits.  So while I cannot personally vote in the April 2nd mayoral election, I am proud to endorse Dave Ward for Mayor of Sturgeon Bay.

Peter J. Kerwin
3956 Peterson Road
Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235


The DC-LWV forum on Feb 28, absolutely helped me decide on three of the four city district races as to whom I’d recommend to the city voters to support on April 2.  I had initially involved myself in Sturgeon Bay city politics in defense of the Public Trust Doctrine of the Wisconsin State Constitution, essentially ignored by the former council majority including Fett, Vandertie, Ward, Wiesner and Mayor Birmingham and other local politicians. 


I whole-heartedly support Laurel Hauser in the 7th, District, to continue her non-partisan, proven efforts and the open government goals attained which she enumerated in her closing statement.  Her opponent, Ms McFarlin-Reeths, stated a clear personal agenda directly opposing the welcome progress Hauser has made fostering inclusivity and city policy decidedly pursued in the public interest.


Both Gary Nault in the 5th District, a Birmingham appointee to the Harbor Commission and Ms McFarlin-Reeths essentially vowed to be the same antagonist council members, announcing their pre-conceived agendas which clearly contradict their own claims to being open or able to  compromise. If either were elected, they’d immediately become the very same agents furthering the dissention which they both claimed their constituents and the city has had enough of already.


My clear preference in the 5th is the refreshingly open, thoughtfully tempered and clearly intelligent, Sarah K Evenson.   Both Nault and Reeths failed to state, either in their opposition to the huge public efforts to preserve the historically significant granary on public land, or in their promises to build commercial property tax value on the west waterfront, that the property below the current WI DNR declaratory ruled OHWM is closed to private commercial development, therefore appeared as hiding critical facts. 


The US Supreme Court on February 19, 2019 refused to hear a challenge in Gunderson v Indiana, from shore property home owners, arguments for closing all public access to vast Lake Michigan beaches, claiming that private land owners controlled property to the very water’s edge. 


That claim to private and exclusive shore access was squarely halted in a unanimous decision by the Indiana Supreme Court a year ago, and was just reaffirmed by the US Supreme Court, protecting all our Great Lakes.  (Please take note, Kitchens, David Ward, Wiese/Wulf et.al. v WI DNR)


In the City’s 1st District, both candidates offered clearly non-partisan and public interest priorities within  their comments, myself giving Ms Helen Bacon an edge in that she has a proven county board track record understanding the local problems resulting from real financial poverty, which we frequently pretend doesn’t exist locally, along with her extensive career and volunteer experience. 


In the City’s 3rd District, Williams has helped build Wisconsin’s current EMS delivery system, but I fear he’s too familiar with the extreme majority party partisan leadership in Madison.   Mr Sean Linnan’s popularity contest, mobile phone app consensus seeking scares me, recognizing any representative’s duty is to understand the issues and not capitulate to a particular vocal minority.  A toss-up, I don’t favor either candidate, here.

Vote David Ward for Mayor

I encourage Sturgeon Bay voters to elect David Ward as our next mayor on Tuesday, April 2. 
Mr. Ward brings a wealth of experience and financial expertise to the Common Council table. David has been a member of the City Council since July of 2016, serving as alderman for district 3. He has chaired both the Finance and Personnel Committees. Mr. Ward is also a Sturgeon Bay Utilities Commissioner. 
Furthermore, David Ward is a past board member and chair of the Door County Economic Development Corporation, focusing on three areas to boost the city’s economy: 1-improve our Internet services to better fulfill the demands of residents, businesses, and tourists, 2-maintain focus on the west side industrial park and shipyard to provide good paying jobs, and 3-support Sturgeon Bay’s position as a popular tourist destination. 
David Ward’s additional qualifications for serious consideration as Sturgeon Bay’s next mayor include: 9 years as board member and finance chair of the Door County Memorial Hospital, and chair of the Church Council at the United Methodist Church. 
Mr. Ward and his wife, Judy, have raised four children, having resided in Sturgeon Bay the past 18 years. His education credentials comprise a BBA, MBA, and PhD in Finance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is both a former Finance Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and UW-Oshkosh, as well as Administrator at central headquarters for the UW-System Administration. In addition, Mr. Ward is founder and president of NorthStar Analytic Consulting of Sturgeon Bay and Madison. 
David Ward’s priorities for Sturgeon Bay are simple, and yet comprehensive: better streets, affordable housing, attracting new retail, and maintaining and enhancing our city parks. 
As we move forward as a community, I truly believe that we need the vision and ability Mr. David Ward possesses. I strongly urge you to vote for David Ward for mayor, Tuesday, April 2, 2019. 

Mary Heil-Allen 
Sturgeon Bay, WI 

Civil Discourse: An Occasional Attempt to Restore Civility to Our Civic Discourse--Economic development starts with buying local

The Door County Economic Development Corporation, despite inappropriate side-taking in the past, is fortunate to be led by an accomplished professional executive director, Jim Schuessler.  His efforts to identify the pervasive shortage of affordable housing, recognizing its relationship to job creation, make Schuessler effective and respected.


That said, more local jobs can be created and retained if people bought what they could in Door County rather than on-line, out-of-town and from big box stores.  The problem that threatens more business today than any other is attracting employees.  Local business and industry could afford to pay more competitive wages if more local business was done here rather than on-line and out-of-town.


More children and grandchildren could find employment opportunities in Door County if more of their parents and grandparents did more of their shopping locally rather than on-line and out-of-town.  And more jobs could be created in Door County, not in light industry, tourism, shipbuilding and agriculture, but in retail businesses, if local residents did more business with friends and neighbors rather than on-line and out-of-town.  You cannot have local job growth when local residents fail to support local businesses.  


Statistics speak to the outflow of significant revenue that could be creating local jobs.  When 73 cents out of every dollar spent by Door County residents on clothing are spent outside of Door County that means fewer local jobs in the retail clothing economy.  When 70 cents out of every dollar spent by Door County residents on furniture are spent outside of Door County that means fewer local jobs in the retail furniture economy. 


Before you make a purchase at a big box store, on-line or out-of-town consider what that means to local employment opportunity.

Jim Schuessler and the DCEDC are working to bring more business to Door County.  Yet, you can create more jobs than the DCEDC will be able to do in years simply by focusing your purchases on where they can do the most good.  That’s right here by buying local in Door County.


Buying local does not only impact employment opportunity for people who need a job.  It also impacts the non-profit, civic and service organizations, churches and schools who depend on the generosity of locally-owned businesses.  Few Door County non-profits are funded by on-line retailers or out-of-town businesses and big box stores.


That’s my opinion.  I’d like to hear yours.


As Door/Kewaunee Legislative Days sponsors have gone public with their contrived and limiting survey, requesting issue ideas to bring to our state legislators, these pseudo inclusive efforts fail miserably in encouraging unfettered participation by all our area citizens as “stakeholders,” in the legislative process of influencing state “leadership.” 


Having taken the time to directly communicate to the Executive Directors of both Door and Kewaunee County’s Economic Development Corporations (D/KEDCs) with a couple simple suggestions for being more inclusive and less controlling over the issues allowed for April’s supposed community wide legislative lobbying efforts; I’ve not received one written word in response to my suggestions.


I’ve criticized the three applied pre-conditions of conformity for any issues suggested to be deemed worthy of lobbying efforts.  I’ve asked what issue isn’t potentially a state-wide or national issue and what issue can’t be argued as being controversial by someone and lastly, if we’re bringing any issue to Madison, it’s a forgone conclusion that we’ve not been able to resolve it locally.


Addressing youth disenfranchisement, I’ve directly suggested to most of our area school superintendents and to both our county government sponsors of the D/KEDCs that using our young adults to lobby for efforts dictated to them by political and/or by corporate economic interests is nothing but a public relations gimmick to bolster the community image of our D/KEDCs.  To disingenuously recruit our youth to lobby under contrived, controlled and dictatorial conditions is usury, short-sighted and unconscionable. 


As supposed “adult,” community leaders, frequently lamenting how difficult it is to keep our young adults interested in remaining in the area for the (readily debatable) good job opportunities locally, perhaps we should instead be encouraging our youth to be discussing, selecting and voicing their own critical issues during this lobbying opportunity instead of dictating to them, the terms and talking points for their participation.  


Looming student debt for post-secondary education, global warming, universal health care, fair wages, open government, decriminalizing cannabis use or ending racial oppression are issues that our young adults might want to have the opportunity to champion.  Respecting these young people, their opinions, abilities and ideas is the logical first step to engendering constructive future community involvement, loyalty and civic engagement. 


As “adults,” let’s not waste this golden opportunity for deliberate and honest inclusion of our youth, their ideas and future vision, through our own continued ignorance or arrogance, or the apparent official economic development and local government sanctioning of unquestionable irresponsibility and social detriment currently defining the terms and conditions promoting D/K Legislative Days.


Democracy depends on open government

They say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but when it comes to public records, the state Legislature doesn’t seem to believe in this principle. 

In Wisconsin, cities, police and fire departments, state agencies, and even the governor’s office are required to retain public records and make these available to the public. For example, emails generated by staff in the Department of Justice must be retained for three years from the date of creation and then transferred to the Wisconsin Historical Society or UW-Madison archives. For most of our state’s history, these rules also applied to those who wrote the laws. 

But decades ago, when it wrote the law, the Legislature decided to exempt itself from having to retain most records. This exemption means the state’s 99 representatives and 33 senators can simply destroy or delete records in their possession that they would like to shield from public scrutiny. 

This quirk in the law has been used by some legislators to protect constituents’ personal information, and by others to hide their communications with corporate interest groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. And I know that some of my colleagues in the Senate make it a point to delete their calendars daily.


For a state with a rich history of transparency and with technological advancement, this double standard is no longer acceptable. State lawmakers should have to comply with the same record-keeping standard they require for others.  


Unfortunately, we have seen transparency slide in the opposite direction in recent years. In 2015, Republican lawmakers passed a budget “999 motion” to limit what records they needed to provide. It was removed from the budget only after public outcry. The Legislature has also limited what the public can know about campaign contributors. 

I believe, as I recently told a Milwaukee TV station, that the ability of lawmakers to destroy records is an invitation to corruption, Already, we have seen that some lawmakers have been destroying the emails they received urging them to vote against the package of lame-duck bills they passed in December.

Our public tax dollars pay for all of the functions the lawmakers perform. The public has a right to see records that show who is exerting influence over these allocations.


The fix is easy. We can simply pass a law to delete the legislative exemption to record keeping and bring the state Legislature in line with the Public Records Management and Preservation Program.     

This coming legislative session, I will reintroduce a bill I co-authored in 2011 with former state Senators Tim Cullen and Jim Holperin to do away with this outdated exemption. When this bill was last introduced, legislative Republicans refused to even give it a public hearing. 

Unfortunately, those in power rarely give it up willingly. What’s needed is a loud and unified public demanding that lawmakers’ records be kept safe and available upon request. 

There’s a saying that sums all this up nicely: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” There should not be 132 standards for record keeping in the Wisconsin Legislature; there should be only one standard of transparency.


Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Wisconsin state Senator Chris Larson represents Wisconsin’s 7th Senate District and is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Education.

Sheriff-elect shows class and confidence

Door County may have just elected one of the most self-confident and self-assured sheriffs in Wisconsin history.

Tammy Sternard won a race as a Democratic for Door County Sheriff. She has kept in place her opponent, Chief Deputy Pat McCarty, who ran against her for sheriff as a Republican. That keeps McCarty in the number two position in the department and in a perfect place to mount a campaign for sheriff in the future.

Far too many in politics today view their opponent as an enemy. Apparently, Tammy Sternard has enough self-confidence to rise above traditional politics.

By keeping Chief Deputy McCarty in his position Sternard shows class and confidence. She sends a strong message that she is above the expected partisan politics of retribution that is far too pervasive today.

Sternard replaces another sheriff who demonstrated the same non-partisanship that should be part of the office. Steve Delarwelle served Door County as an effective, quiet and confident leader. Delarwelle never sought publicity. He was a professional law enforcement officer and never a typical politician. And he was smart enough to win a competitive race for sheriff.

These two people, both of whom Door County should be proud, are examples of why being a sheriff should not be a partisan office. Administering a law enforcement agency has nothing to do with being Republican or Democrat. Today, it has more to do with how to reduce recidivism, be smart rather than tough on crime and how to work in a community to prevent rather than punish criminal activity.

Tammy Sternard has a four-year example from Steve Delarwelle that she appears smart enough to follow. She’s off to very good start.

Now, lets get politics out of the courthouse and make positions like sheriff and county clerical positions like clerk, treasurer and register of deeds appointed rather than elected non-partisan positions.

And while that may take some time to accomplish, be confident Door County should be proud of retiring sheriff Delarwelle and his replacement, Tammy Sternard. May retirement bless you, Steve. And Tammy, may you and all with whom you serve be safe and protected.

That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.

When most people make a $360,000 mistake there are consequences.

When most people make a $360,000 mistake there are consequences.
Not, apparently, if you’re the mayor of Sturgeon Bay or a former city administrator or county economic development director.

The Sturgeon Bay city council voted Tuesday to pay developer Robert Papke $360,000 to settle litigation over a failed hotel on the west-side waterfront.
Papke claims he was misled by officials who encouraged him to develop the hotel project but withheld information about the title to the property.

The city settled and taxpayers are footing the bill. Papke has said that those promoting the waterfront development “threw roses at my feet” to get him to invest the more than $500,000 in expenses related to the hotel. Those would include Mayor Thad Birmingham, former city administrator Steve McNeill, and former Door County Economic Director Bill Chaudoir. All three were involved in pushing the project and misleading Papke.

McNeill and Chaudoir have retired and Birmingham’s term as mayor expires in April.

The $360,000 payment to Papke could have patched a lot of potholes. There are better uses for taxpayer dollars than lawsuits and litigation. And if anyone in the private sector made the mistakes that have resulted in this settlement there would be consequences. Not, though, in city government, not even an apology from the people who got Sturgeon Bay into this mess in the first place.

Two are retired and one should be held accountable if he seeks another term as mayor of Sturgeon Bay.

That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.

Letter to the Editor: Kitchens blames his victims

Offering yet another poisoned plateful of rhetorical misdirection and adding victim shaming to their list, Joel Kitchens’ full collusion in undermining the democratic principles of our state government claims in his December 13, E-Update that anyone criticizing GOP lame duck legislation isn’t rational or objective, and has reacted hysterically.  Joel blames the news media for honestly reporting that his straight party line GOP actions were factually treasonous to democracy.  Horrified over news reporting disparaging Republicans, Joel pathetically accused the media of insulting all Wisconsinites.


Using psychologically abusive language, further blaming his constituent victims, Joel describes reliable political critics as closed minded illiterates.  Joel refers his readers to Representative Dale Kooyenga, whom Joel claims as measurably smarter than the rest of us by virtue of Dale’s Joint Finance membership and holding CPA credentials, both irrelevant to proof of superior intelligence or justification of unconstitutional legislation. 


Claiming the lame duck bills are “pretty technical stuff,” and were a “challenge,” to the GOP majority to “educate the public on,” this GOP chose NOT to allow adequate explanations within the timeframe.  Conversely, they’re openly admitting that they are incapable of informing the public and they just don’t care to try.  And that supposedly defines voters as the functionally illiterate populace?   Blame and belittle the voters.


Admitting that this “special,” legislation was GOP partisanship and that he “worked hard,” to “modify…the overly partisan,” portions of it, Kitchens, intuiting GOP efforts would be considered “partisan and mean-spirited,” proudly defends his “extraordinary,” effort to make the legislation “as good as possible.” In other words for us mere workforce dullards, he’s unquestionably spared no lipstick for this pig.


Inevitable in the GOP talking points dutifully repeated by Kitchens, and again revealed in the third paragraph is the real reason Joel expanded on his weekly emailed GOP propaganda.  He’s unsure that the “benefits,” of the legislation so highly praised as necessary for our own good and forcefully inflicted upon us, will prove adequate to polish his already dubious political resume’.   


Narcissist doubts and worry about how he and his GOP colleagues are “portrayed,” again is clearly all that really matters to them.  How they’ve abused their illegally gerrymandered power, functionally crippled state government for the foreseeable future and pathologically endangered their constituents’ very lives is ultimately secondary in every respect to flattering their egos, maintaining dictatorial power and control. 


As uninformed as Joel deems his constituents to be, he admonishes us to trust him, even while he’s attaching unattainable verbal conditions to his “pledge,” to work with the people’s governor “as much as they can.” After willfully subverting any vestigial balance of state power by irreparably dividing government, Joel unwittingly admits they’ve made compromise impossible, then either threatens or promises “that nothing will be accomplished.” 


Lawyering up at constituent expense to defend themselves against the very people these elected officials supposedly serve, indisputably highlights the inexcusable traits of perpetrators of domestic violence, the abusive authoritarian criminals that these petty GOP apparatchiks really are.  

Representative Kitchens is lying

By Casey Buhr


On November 20th there was a feature on DCDN where Joel Kitchens had indicated the thrust of the extraordinary session would be to maintain the progress they have felt has been made over the last eight years. He noted he would not do anything to deliberately take power away from the governor. It appears he was lying on multiple fronts.




In the Joint Committee on Finance hearing on Monday John Nygren spoke about how small communities were suffering from discrimination as they didn’t have the resources to offer the same amount of early voting hours as do larger municipalities, e.g. Madison and Milwaukee. He said he had heard from constituents that they felt they were not on equal footing because of this. Instead of working on a solution that could offer opportunities to the smaller communities to enable them to expand their available hours the Republican chose instead is to reduce it for everyone. I believe the sensible thing is to try to offer as much opportunity for as many people to vote as possible. The Republicans believe that a red herring argument is sufficient enough to try to limit the opportunity of those within the perceived “liberal bastions” from being afforded a more reasonable length of time to vote. They aren’t concerned about the fairness of it at all, they are concerned with positioning the system in a manner that benefits them in elections.


I don’t see how voting to support reduced early ballots supports Joel’s claims about the intent of the session or what how he intended to act in the session.


A prominent campaign promise from Tony Evers and Josh Kaul was to remove the state from being a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans in the legislature determined it should not be in the hands of the Attorney General, directed by the Governor but instead it should go through the Joint Committee on Finance which houses a 12-4 Republican majority.  Essentially the GOP has determined that the voice of the people is meaningless, that our choice, the choice of the majority of voters in this state is irrelevant. The arrogance is galling.


Again I don’t see how a vote supporting this type of legislation fits within the parameters of how Joel said he’d react.


These couple of issues addressed here just scratch at the surface too, there are many others… wresting control of the WEDC, the State senate confirming 81 appointments, et all. There was so much more done, in a such a short time in darkness. An incoming Governor Walker in 2010 made a request to the Doyle administration about lame duck interference yet doesn’t seem to be bothered by it now.




I imagine when confronted on his actions, Joel will likely fall back on “we’re protecting the separation of powers” and he might condescend as he and others in his caucus have taken to do lately, by explaining the checks and balances in our country. Perhaps he’ll use the classic “sure there are a lot of things wrong with the bills but the good outweighed the bad.” Joel has portrayed himself as an independent thinker, one who evaluates the merit of the argument through the weight of the evidence however the actions he’s taken in supporting the legislation in the recent extraordinary session suggests that partisanship and power are higher priorities than the will of the people or transparency in the democratic process. They have subverted our will for their own benefits.


If securing the legacy of the outgoing governor and protecting the checks and balances of our government were such a priority for Joel and the rest of the elected state Republicans then why wasn’t it attended to in the last 8 years?


If the bills that were going to be presented were such powerful tools for good then why all the secrecy surrounding them? Why would they be released at the latest possible hour on a Friday giving limited opportunity to delve into them. Why were they given only one hearing for the public on the following Monday where the main drivers of the legislation, Speaker Vos and Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald where not present to defend the bills? Why were they then brought forth on Tuesday into a session that was delayed into the middle of the night, with negotiations behind closed doors amongst Republicans only to have a revised version come out and vote essentially immediately?


Now the Republicans are scrambling trying to blame the media for their coverage, for hyperbole. Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos lamented that the Republicans didn’t get a fair opportunity to tell the public about the bill and referred to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as an arm of the Democratic party.



The public didn’t rush this bill. I’m certain if adequate time were given for them to digest what the Republicans were attempting to do there would have been a louder outcry against it but that is precisely why they moved so quickly on it. The same reason they’ve moved so quickly on so much heinous legislation (as noted in the opinion piece from DCDN on Dec 5th, 2018). Even with the outcry I certain that the Republicans were going to do it anyway, regardless of what their constituents or a what a majority of voters in this state wanted.


Democrats received 54% of the votes for Assembly amounting to only 36 seats compared to the Republican 46%, 63 seats. Democrats won every statewide contest.




The will of the people is to change the manner in which this state has been run, to change direction and set the state back on a course that aligns better with its progressive heritage. The Republicans have gerrymandered their majority and used it to curb the powers of their opponents. This isn’t about balancing it’s about grabbing and holding power.



Wisconsin lawmakers embrace secrecy, fast-tracking

Your Right to Know/Dee J. Hall


This spring, I taught an investigative reporting class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that investigated the state of Wisconsin’s democracy. We interviewed current and former lawmakers and activists on the left and right, consulted public opinion polls, talked to regular people and tapped experts who study voting, redistricting and money in politics.


The conclusion: Many people in Wisconsin feel state government is moving in the wrong direction, away from the citizenry and toward the interests of politicians and their financial backers.


One of the trends we identified as part of our Undemocratic: Secrecy and Power vs. The People series for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism was the increased fast-tracking of bills under Gov. Scott Walker. In his first two years, after Republicans took over the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature, one out of every four bills was introduced and passed in less than two months, according to the analysis by UW-Madison graduate journalism student Teodor Teofilov.


Among the fast-tracked bills that session were some of the most consequential in state history. They included redistricting, which is still tied up in a court battle that could set the national benchmark for how far majority parties can go in drawing lines to ensure their own members’ election.


More recently, in the 2017-18 session, Teofilov’s analysis found much less fast-tracking. But one of the bills that did pass quickly awarded more than $3 billion in state taxpayer money to Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn — believed to be the biggest state subsidy of a foreign company ever in the United States.


Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was especially dismissive of our fast-tracking story, calling the analysis of 20 years of bill passage “politically motivated and superficial.” He insisted that the Legislature under his leadership had “approved bills in an efficient, effective and transparent manner.”


A few months after this criticism, Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, orchestrated one of the fastest fast-tracks ever — just over five days (including Saturday and Sunday) from bill introduction to final passage.


Hundreds of people jammed Capitol hearing rooms on Dec. 3 as the Republican leaders aimed to hobble the incoming Democratic administrations of Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul.


Efficient? Yes. Effective? Perhaps. Transparent? Hardly.


The bills — which Fitzgerald had said publicly were little more than legislative “inside baseball” — were instead sweeping efforts to shift power to the Legislature from the executive branch, limit early voting and enact major changes to road spending, agency oversight and public benefits.


As GOP lawmakers entered the hearing room Monday, protesters booed and shouted, “You’re changing our democracy!”


But Vos and Fitzgerald did not hear those chants. They declined to attend the hearing to discuss their bills. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, likened the process to a “third-world dictatorship.” News of Wisconsin’s lame-duck session maneuvers made national news.


On Wednesday, Dec. 5, after the package of bills passed, Evers called the lawmakers “power-hungry” and accused them of overriding the will of voters “while hidden away from the very people they represent.”


It would be difficult to craft a more fitting exclamation point to our “Undemocratic” series.


Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Dee J. Hall is the council’s secretary and managing editor of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Civil Discourse: An Occasional Attempt to Restore Civility to Our Civic Discourse

By Roger Utnehmer


Sore losers and lame ducks are about to try to steal a Supreme Court seat, restrict voting in Wisconsin and subvert the will of the people expressed in the elections of Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.


Republican legislative leaders are attempting to take power away from Evers and Kaul, rig the 2020 Supreme Court race to favor a conservative justice and make it more difficult for Wisconsin citizens to vote. The special legislative session starting Tuesday should be repudiated as the unconstitutional power grab that it is.


Legislative leaders have stated publicly that spending $7 million of taxpayer money to move a Supreme Court election to March will benefit their conservative candidate. Combined with their effort to further restrict absentee voting, Republican legislators are shamefully making it more difficult for people to vote. Democracy is better served when more people participate in the process, not less.


Restricting the power of a newly-elected governor as Republicans propose reeks of being sore losers. The same kind of power grab in North Carolina was ruled unconstitutional.


The special legislative session should be canceled. Legislators need to respect the will of the people who elected Evers and Kaul.

And at the very least they should leave legislating to regular sessions when the process is transparent and deliberative.


That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.

GOP legislators should resign immediately

By Donald Freix


While Representative Joel Kitchens and state senate elect and current Representative Andre Jacque were posing for pictures over a monetary gift to a worker training project for which they have not been reported as having had anything to do with, we see precisely defined the term, “two empty suits.”


Failing to speak to their constituents, as their GOP legislative leadership, Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald crafted legislation to attack the separation of state powers and to enshrine such things as voter suppression and tax giveaways to their wealthy election campaign donors, along with depriving the new (unnamed as yet) State Superintendent of Public Instruction of constitutional authority and autonomy, “Mr Education,” Joel Kitchens and Andre Jacque smile for the camera.


Joel Kitchens has not yet said a word to the local press about any of this GOP legislative betrayal of the formerly great state of Wisconsin and all her citizens as of his Friday “email update,” wishing us all a great weekend. Wasting taxpayer money on informing us about local events, his job is not tourist ambassador nor gossip columnist. If not rank incompetence or deliberate obstruction to hide current GOP legislative machinations, this amounts to complete and abject failure of his sworn duty and responsibility to his constituents, and that means every voter in this district, bar none.


If Kitchens doesn’t release an immediate press release today, stridently condemning all of the lame duck extraordinary session legislation, even for no other reason than on the simplest terms of rushing these bill quickly through to avoid public scrutiny, he is complicit in this blatant abuse of power, and tendering his immediate resignation from the Assembly should be his only alternative choice.


Every unconstitutionally gerrymandered GOP state legislator should be calling out this blatant power grab for what it is, stridently and publicly refusing to support it in any respect and should be calling for a legislative vote to replace their current leadership in Madison, or resign their legislative seats. Nothing short of unmitigated and total condemnation of this lame duck process and its intentions should be tolerated by any voter in this state. Bowing to GOP fascist authoritarians is not bipartisanship, people. Don’t believe it coming from the lips of any GOP legislator not fully condemning their leadership today. They’d unequivocally be liars and certified political cowards.


Donald Freix


Fish Creek, WI

Civil Discourse: An Occasional Attempt to Restore Civility to Our Civic Discourse

By Roger Utnehmer


Picking the Right People New Governor’s First Challenge


As Governor-elect Tony Evers populates his administration with appointments he would be wise to follow the practice of former Governor Tommy Thompson.


Thompson’s first major appointment as a Republican governor was a Democratic state senator, Tim Cullen, to head the Department of Health and Social Services. Doing so fulfilled a pledge Thompson made to be a governor of all the people, not just those who voted for him. Thompson crossed the political aisle many times. He compromised. Tommy Thompson worked well with members of the opposition. His appointments occasionally created opportunity for fellow Republicans to replace Democratic legislators but he produced an environment of comity and bipartisan civility in state government that is missing today.


Tony Evers can help return a more civil government to Wisconsin. Appointing respected Republicans to positions of power will demonstrate confidence and strength.


Former state senator Dale Schultz should be considered. He knows his way around the capitol has a reputation for independence and integrity. Schultz would make a great secretary of Health and Family Services, Administration or Revenue.


Former State Rep and Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb could step back into his former position and work effectively to restore Wisconsin’s crumbling infrastructure. Gottlieb, like Thompson, recognized the need to raise and index the gas tax.


Few Republicans in Wisconsin know how to navigate both the state and federal governments as well as Dave Anderson from Wausau. Evers would have an instant entree into the offices of Republican legislators, and many Democrats as well, if he hired Dave Anderson to work in his administration.


And if there is one Walker appointment worth keeping in a new administration it is Stephanie Klett at the Department of Tourism. If her enthusiasm could be taxed we would never have to worry about balancing a state budget.


Those without political affiliation could also contribute to a successful Evers administration.


Kewaunee County board member Lee Luft would make an outstanding head of the Department of Natural Resources. Luft is well-informed and passionate about air and water quality. His background in the paper industry makes him a good choice to balance job creation and environmental common-sense.


Few farmers are as articulate as Door County’s Rich Olson. His strong advocacy for family farms would make him one of Wisconsin’s most effective secretaries of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The family farm is vanishing fast. A family farmer heading this important agency would say strongly that Tony Evers stands with them.


Education played a big role in Evers’ victory. Returning former UW Board of Regent member Mark Bradley would be wise. His experience and knowledge of higher education would assure continuity and historical perspective. Evers’ second appointment to the important Board of Regents should be former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton. Her service to Wisconsin is not over. Her talents need to be tapped to make Wisconsin better.


An important appointment will be Secretary of the Department of Corrections, a problem-plagued agency in need of reform. The DOC now expends more money than the entire UW system. For too long Wisconsin politicians have been “tough” on crime at the expense of being “smart” on crime. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections needs a leader who appreciates restorative justice, recidivism and the sociology of crime. If I were Tony Evers I’d ask former State Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske to either serve long enough to change the direction of the DOC or recommend someone who can. Geske is an internationally-recognized expert on restorative justice whose voice in changing corrections policy would be invaluable.


Picking the right people is the primary challenge for a new administration. Some of these suggestions could make Tony Evers as effective as many Wisconsin governors who have come before him.


That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.


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