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The future's up for grabs in the town of Linn



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May 05, 2010 | 08:07 AM
On April 19, moments before David Bollweg's resignation as town chairman, someone told me town of Linn politics are becoming as bad as they are in the city of Lake Geneva.

I recall part of my response was the current state of Linn politics is nothing compared to what's going on in Lake Geneva. At the time, I was thinking about how the city faces lawsuits totalling more than $150 million. Currently, the town of Linn owes a former police lieutenant $75,000.

But now, I think that person is right. After all, at the regular Linn Town Board meeting April 12 and the annual town meeting April 13, Walworth County Sheriff's Department deputies stood at the doors because of concerns from the public, according to Bollweg.

There also are interesting similarites between Lake Geneva and the town of Linn. The former leaders of both communities sparked love/hate reactions from their constituents. Their performances in their respectful offices caused the emergence of special interest groups which took a by-any-means-necessary approach toward accomplishing their goals.

In Linn, this group wanted two town officials gone. The group scored its first major victory April 19 when Bollweg resigned. And yes, it's because of what the board called "the infamous mower." Small peanuts compared to city politics — well, at least it should've been.

Who could have predicted how big the landslide would be after Linn Police Chief Dennis Wisniewski sold the lawn mower to a police detective's relative for between $200 and $250? Then Linn Police Lt. Terry O'Brien blew the whistle on the sale, but Walworth County District Attorney Phillip Koss decided not to pursue criminal charges against Wisniewski. However, on a recommendation from Koss, the Linn Town Board gave Wisniewski a three-day suspension more than one year ago. Last summer, Wisniewski filed charges against O'Brien. The town's Police Committee found O'Brien guilty of four of those charges, demoted him to patrolman and suspended him until January. O'Brien tried to return to work, but that was easier said than done. Ultimately, the town and O'Brien negotiated a separation agreement. Now, the town will pay O'Brien $75,000.

One man lost his job because of the sale, another resigned. And the fallout from this sale continues. On April 13, resident Jim Keeler rattled off numerous reasons why he said Wisniewski should be fired, accusing him of everything from swearing and belittling other police officers to operating a squad car while under the influence of pain medication and sleeping on duty. However, Keeler's motion wasn't official, and it appears Wisniewski will retain his job at least for the time being.

One thing I agree with Bollweg on is the remaining Town Board is headed in the right direction with its new commitment to improving communications with the Police Department. But until these charges against Wisniewski can be proven, it's time for everyone to move past the mower sale and channel their energies in a more productive manner.

There are more important issues out there, such as improving protective service response times on the north shore or even the potential hazard of paint chips being dumped in Geneva Lake. I also have heard — and read on our Web site — statements to the effect that people are afraid of police retribution. One person even told me some Linn residents are afraid to leave their homes. Perhaps a lack of fresh air is their problem.

But say what you want about this group which prompted Bollweg to resign, at least they proved people won't stand idly by anymore, that they're watching what town officials doing.

And say what you want about Bollweg, but his advice to take the job one day at a time is spot-on. Linn needs a chairperson with thick skin, patience and the ability to see the forest through the trees. The town's future is at stake here. The real question is will a new chairperson bring improvements to the town or will Linn continue to be compared to Lake Geneva?

Steve Targo is the assistant editor of the Regional News.

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