Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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History from perspective of ex-alderman

May 02, 2013

Letter to the Editor:

Yes, as you say, Mr. Halverson, "It all depends on how you look at it." Let me share with you some of what I saw in the years that I served on the Lake Geneva City Council.

For starters, shortly after I was elected in April of 2006, I became uncomfortable with the city council's review of and control of the city's finances. I proposed that we have an audit committee (a few local people with accounting and business experience) which would review at least on a yearly basis the city's financial controls, etc. The rest of the council disagreed, and so after rejecting the proposed audit committee, the city discovered that over $100,000 dollars was stolen allegedly and single-handedly by one library staff. Yet, what the files showed were credit card invoices that had been altered and then signed off on by library and city hall staff. Paying from an original invoice is one of the most basic internal controls not followed by staff. The continued demand for extensive accountability was and is still interpreted by the newspaper as divisive.

Then we had a city employee who had asked Mr. Jordan what to do with the "coins in the fountain," but never got an answer. The employee took the coins from the fountain to the city's bank where they were counted and cash was paid out to the employee who then gave it to the head of the Street Department where it was used for what? Is this "divisive?"

Then I saw that while we were in the middle of the largest development proposal in the city's history know as the Hummel project, Mayor Shepstone's proposal to fill Mrs. Russell's vacant seat on the city council. The seat had been vacant since the summer of 2007. It came to the attention of the city council that it was the city council that had to elect a person to fill the vacancy — that the mayor did not have any say unless to break a tie vote of the council. The mayor let it be known he was supporting Mr. Krause whose views on development were the opposite Mrs. Russell's. And so with Mr. Dunham's support, Mr. Krause was appointed to fill the vacant seat. Those supporting the Hummel project now had four votes supporting the proposed development, and Mayor Shepstone would then break the tie.

Now that would be bad enough but Mr. Krause at the time was on the plan commission and was one of the seven plan commission members who had spent hours listening to testimony about the most controversial development proposal that the city had ever dealt with. Why did the city council remove a person from the plan commission in the middle of its process?

Well, it seems that Mr. Dunham either by a reading of the tea leaves or more directly had informed Mayor Shepstone that he would be voting against the Hummel project. There were three suspected "no" votes on the city council, and if Mr. Dunham voted "no," then the proposed development would fail, since there were only seven city council members. Thus, Mayor Shepstone had to fill the vacant seat with a "yes" person, so that he, Mayor Shepstone, could break the tie that was anticipated. Who is divisive in your middle-ground view, Mr. Halverson?

Removing Mr. Krause from the plan commission created yet another problem. Now the plan commission would be tied, and if that happened, it would take six "yes" votes on the city council to approve the Hummel project. So it became clear that the now-vacant plan commission seat would have to be filled since at best there were only four "yes" votes on the city council. That's right, at the Monday night city council meeting before the continuation of the Hummel project hearing at Badger High School on Tuesday night, Mayor Shepstone appointed Dennis Lyon to fill the vacant seat. Mr. Lyon did not even appear at the Monday night council meeting which was customary on such important appointments. When I asked Mayor Shepstone the questions I would have asked Mr. Lyon, had he had the courtesy to appear before the public and the city souncil, Mayor Shepstone became upset with me for implying that he was just filling the vacant plan commission seat with someone who would vote "yes" on the Hummel project. The next night at the end of the hearing Mr. Dunham made the motion to approve the Hummel project and Mr. Lyon voted yes. Yes, and WHO is divisive, Mr. Halverson?

Unfortunately, this is only starters because what happens next is more unbelievable.

The vote was set for the second Monday in December 2007. The city council chambers were packed. When the Hummel project was called on the agenda, Mr. Chesen, alderman at the time, moved that the city hold a referendum on the question, and it was seconded.

It was a shock to say the least. Why put off the vote when they had the votes to approve the project?

City Attorney Mr. Braden spoke forcefully against the referendum and yet never suggested to the city council that we go into closed session where he could go into detail about the reasons for his advice. It was clear that the city council was not following the city's ordinances on this matter. The motion to have a referendum was passed.

I had assumed that Mr. Chesen would not have made such a motion without the approval of the city attorney or at least a heads up to the city attorney about it. Why propose a referendum, especially if the city attorney did not even know about it?

Now, it seems that Mr. Chesen and Mr. Magee, who co-sponsored the agenda item, had a problem.

Mr. Chesen was running for mayor, and Mr. Magee had an opponent as well. They wanted "their" folks to win. One can deduce from the action that it was assumed that anyone voting to approve the Hummel project would not be re-elected in the spring election, and so the vote on the Hummel project would have to be put off. Yes, and WHO is divisive?

It is history what happened on April 1, 2008. Mr. Chesen was elected mayor, but Mr. Magee was replaced by Ms. Roehrer and Mr. Spellman was re-elected, but most importantly, 75 percent of the citizens of Lake Geneva who voted had voted against the Hummel project.

They had lost. They had only three "yes" votes supporting the development. So rather than approving the development when they had a chance and "falling on their swords" so to speak, they tried to have their cake and eat it too.

The City Council voted "no" on the Hummel project. The citizens of Lake Geneva when given the chance to speak had spoken clearly and loudly.

The Clincher: On Thursday. July 30, 2009, Ms. Fesenmaier informed the city clerk that she would be missing the committee of the whole meeting of Aug. 3 and the city council meeting of Aug. 10. The committee of the whole agenda was changed on Sunday announcing that a special announcement would be made.

On Monday, Aug. 3, Mr. Dunham announced that he was resigning effective Friday, Aug. 7, 2009. Included on the agenda for the city council meeting of Aug. 10 which was distributed on Friday, Aug. 7, was an item to consider replacing Mr. Dunham whose resignation was only effective that day.

Mr. Chesen, when talking to a reporter for the Lake Geneva Regional News following the announcement, had indicated that he had to nominate a replacement, forgetting that the mayor's only say in the filling of a vacant seat on the city council would be to break a tie vote of the city council.

With Ms. Fesenmaier on vacation, the city council meeting of Aug. 10, 2009, would have six members present and three from each side, which would allow Mr. Chesen to break the tie.

What Mr. Chesen did not know is that Mr. Spellman had made plans in January of 2009 to be camping with his family starting the Friday, Aug. 7, 2009, and did not intend to be at the meeting himself. Both the finance committee meeting and the city council meeting were called off because there was no quorum present.

This had happened at least one other time and no big deal was made of it. When it happened this time, Mr. Chesen became very angry and again ignoring the long- term practice of setting special city council meeting only after all the city council members had been contacted to determine if a quorum would be present, Mr. Chesen called a special meeting for Tuesday morning.

When it became known that Mr. Tolar could not make the morning meeting, it was rescheduled for early Tuesday afternoon where Mayor Chesen again attacked Mr. Spellman and Ms. Roehrer. Mr. Chesen then left town for the next week.

Yes, and WHO are the divisive ones, Mr. Halverson?

On Aug. 24 after hearing testimony supporting and opposing the election of Mr. Condos, the city council of Lake Geneva filled the vacant city council seat by electing Mr. Condos by a vote of four to three. That council NEVER met!!

Mr. Chesen suspended those he disagreed with from the council, and the four choosing not to challenge Mr. Chesen by attempting to take their seats at the city council meeting of Sept.14, 2009. They each had their fears of what would have happened.

Most unfortunately, ALL of the other City officers sat back and watched as Mayor Chesen destroyed the duly-elected government of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Yes, WHO are the DIVISIVE ones???

Tom Spellman

Lake Geneva