Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Linn has new chiefs
Cates, Smith head town’s police, fire departments

by Steve Targo

January 19, 2012

LINN — The town has two new chiefs, but “new” may not be the best word to describe them.

On Jan. 9. the Linn Town Board approved Mark Cates and Jason Smith as the new police and fire chiefs, respectively.

They have taken over the positions previously held by former police chief Dennis Wisniewski and former fire chief Tim Rasch.

Although Wisniewski entered retirement Jan. 6, Rasch said during a Jan. 11 telephone interview he remains a member of the Linn Fire and EMS Department.

Cates and Smith are seasoned veterans.

During a telephone interview Monday, Smith said he has served on the Linn Fire Department since 1992.

He has been the department’s treasurer, secretary, lieutenant, captain and, for the last two years, second assistant chief.

“I think I can do the department some good as chief,” Smith said.

Not only has Cates served on the Linn Police Department since 1987, he’s a police training instructor and has been a state park ranger at Big Foot Beach State Park and an emergency medical technician.

“If you look at the years I’ve been here, I felt if there was any time in my career for this to happen (becoming police chief), this would be the time,” Cates said during a telephone interview Friday. “Hopefully, I can move forward positively.”

When it comes to selecting a town police and fire chief, the process differs.

For fire chief, Smith said department members elect a new chief and other officers.

Then, the Linn Town Board decides on finalizing those election winners as the officials.

On Jan. 9, the board did so unanimously.

But it was up to just the five Town Board members to select a new police chief.

During a Jan. 11 telephone interview, Linn Chairman Jim Weiss said the first question board members had to answer was whether to hire from within the department.

“The board investigated whether there was any interest in the position,” Weiss said. “Mark had expressed a willingness to talk about it.”

Weiss also said he felt good about Cates for the job. Apparently, so did the board. Again, on Jan. 9, the vote was unanimous for Cates.

“Everybody was very comfortable with Mark,” Weiss said. “He’s a longtime officer in Linn, very well-respected. … He knows the community, he knows the residents, he knows the existing officers.

“He has a very calm demeanor and appears to have good focus to help develop all of the officers within the department.”


Cates and Smith are replacing people who served their departments for several years.

Wisniewski was a town of Linn police officer for 22-1/2 years. In March 2007, the Linn Town Board selected him to be the next police chief, replacing former chief Gerald Kerns.

Cates was hired as a part-time Linn police officer in 1987. He went full-time in 2000.

But before that, in the late 1980s, Cates also was a ranger at Big Foot and worked part-time for the Geneva Lake Law Enforcement Agency.

“I grew up in this area,” he said. “My family had a dairy farm south of Zenda, down on State Line Road. That’s where I was born. I went to Reek School, then went to Walworth Grade School and graduated from Big Foot High School. We had moved back to Linn and I graduated from Big Foot in 1980.”

Also before 2000, Cates was a certified wastewater treatment plant operator who worked in Fontana.

“Also, during that time, I think it was around ‘81, ‘82, I became an EMT and I was on the town of Linn rescue squad,” he said.

Currently, Cates also is a firearms and “simunitions” instructor.

Simunitions combines firearms training with scenarios to “bring more reality into” the police-based exercises, he said.

Cates said he enjoys diversity, and he liked being an EMT, but the continuing education requirements grew harder to fit into his schedule.

However, when he would respond to accident calls as an EMT, he said seeing other police officers on the scene opened his eyes to a different profession which would still allow him to help people.

“That’s when I realized being a police officer you could help people out,” Cates said. “It’s not just writing people tickets, it’s helping them.”

He said he likes the community and its people and one of his goals as the new police chief is to improve communication with everyone in the town.

“It’s a pretty spread-out area … a very wide range of people we deal with,” Cates said. “We deal with multimillionaires and the middle class (and) we want to treat everyone the same.”

More about his goals for the department will appear in a future edition of the Regional News.

But last week, Cates and Weiss expressed excitement about the transition and the changes it may bring.

“I think we’re all looking forward to working together and creating a unified cooperation with the chief, all of the town’s police officers and the Town Board,” Weiss said.

“I appreciate this chance,” Cates said. “Hopefully I can work well with the people of the township and the Town Board.”

Fire chief

As for the Linn Fire and EMS Department, Smith said he didn’t want to make “a big deal” about his step up in the ranks.

“I don’t have any major goals or changes (to make) other than to just keep everybody working together,” Smith said.

He is replacing Rasch, who joined the Linn Fire Department in 1995 and became chief in 2004.

On Jan. 11, Rasch said he believes the newly installed officers will do a good job.