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Port Washington

Residents rap Port council for closed meetings PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 08 March 2017 19:44

They tell aldermen repeated closed sessions leave public in the dark, may violate law, but city attorney defends practice

A Port Washington woman on Tuesday questioned the legality of the many closed sessions the Common Council has held over the past year and warned officials that these meetings have left the public disenfranchised.

“I have heard the confusion and the frustration all around me, and I have seen it expressed here in this chamber firsthand,” said Kim Haskell, 767 W. Grand Ave.

“The more I talked to people and asked why they didn’t go to council meetings or watch them on TV, I heard almost unanimously that they gave up because anything they were interested in was not discussed in open session. It was all done behind closed doors.”

That feeling was echoed by several others at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I feel as a resident of this city I am shut out,” said Barb Martzahl, 505 N. Montgomery St. “I am denied access. I am denied information. It’s not an opinion — it’s a fact. You’re taking what is public and turning it into an old boys club.”

Mike Strauss, 238 E. Norport Dr., said, “I’m of the age for voting. I think I should know what’s going on.”

Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St., said the council has held an “excessive” number of closed sessions, and noted that this contributes to the growing animosity between officials and the public.

“When people’s perceptions are what they are, something’s wrong,” she said. “There’s no good communication, and that needs to be repaired.”

Haskell, a litigation paralegal, said before the meeting that some residents are so frustrated they are considering filing a complaint with the district attorney’s office over the closed sessions.

Haskell said she began researching the closed sessions while trying to learn more about proposed developments in the city’s marina district, and said she was shocked to find the Common Council held 19 closed session meetings during 2016. Only three council meetings during the year did not include a closed session.

Virtually all these sessions had to do with developments in the harbor or south bluff areas, Haskell said.

“I have no doubt this council believes it has had good reason to go into closed session to discuss the proposed developments,” she said.

However, Haskell said, while the Open Meetings Law allows governmental bodies to meet in closed sessions for a limited number of reasons, the law is expected to be interpreted narrowly.

“It appears the council has been applying an overly broad interpretation of the allowed exceptions based on a misunderstanding of the law,” Haskell said.

She cited case law, Supreme Court opinions and the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Compliance Guide in making her case, and noted that while officials may want to close a meeting doesn’t mean they can.

She urged aldermen not to hold Tuesday’s planned closed session “to allow this body time to assess its past and future compliance with the extremely limited exceptions to an open meeting.  

“Holding your deliberations publicly allows the residents of Port Washington be an informed electorate, which is the mandate of the Wisconsin Open Meeting Law,” she said.

City Attorney Eric Eberhardt disagreed with Haskell’s interpretation of the law, saying, “I want to assure the public that in deciding whether a closed session is permitted we vigilantly do apply the law. We take the Open Meeting Law seriously.”

Eberhardt agreed that there have been many closed sessions held during the past year, but said that is because there have been more development proposals involving city land or investment than ever before.

“This is an unprecedented time,” he said, adding that if the city had been contemplating the sale of a single piece of land to one developer, perhaps only one such meeting would be necessary.

And, Eberhardt said, in the case of the proposed Blues Factory development, “there was an utter change in the identity of the developer midstream.” 

He said that the council is allowed to conduct a closed session for negotiating, investing public funds or specified public business, where competitive or bargaining reasons require one. 

“It is contrary to the public interest to discuss the price (of property) in a public session,” Eberhardt said as an example. “Common sense says you ought not do it.”

He noted that the council’s closed session Tuesday dealt with financial aspects of three proposals to buy city-owned bluff land.

“They (the financial aspects of the proposals) are wildly different, and that’s what this council needs to consider, how the city will benefit financially and intangibly,” Eberhardt said. “That’s the business of a closed session and the law sanctions that.”

A second reason for Tuesday’s closed session was negotiations for the sale of a city-owned car-trailer parking lot, Eberhardt noted, adding “the terms are just now being formed.”

City says yes to half of dock railing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 01 March 2017 19:43

Port aldermen agree to spend $81,486 for upgrade that will cover western portion of lakefront promenade

A long-awaited railing will be installed along half the promenade at Port Washington’s Coal Dock Park this spring.

After a long debate Feb. 22, the Common Council unanimously agreed to pay Badger Railing $81,486 for the upgrade.

The company’s bid was the lowest of four submitted for the project, which will cover the western 588 feet of the promenade.

But the railing, which has been hotly debated since the park opened in 2013, continued to be a hot topic for aldermen.

Ald. Dave Larson opened the discussion by saying, “I’m still not sure I’m fully in favor of this railing.”

While the city will be using $45,000 in grants, $29,000 from its Coal Dock Park borrowing and $4,000 in donations to cover the majority of the cost, it will still be spending $15,000 of its own money for the railing, Larson said.

“In terms of priorities and where we’re putting our money, I’m just not sure this is where we should spend our money,” he said. 

He noted that there are no railings along the breakwater, which is narrow and exposed to the rough lake and traversed by numerous residents and visitors of all ages. 

Navy Pier in Chicago, the San Antonio Riverwalk and other facilities don’t have railings, Larson added.

Ald. Mike Ehrlich asked whether the city would be open to additional liability if it made “a conscious decision” not to install the railing. That’s not the case, City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said.

Ald. Kevin Rudser, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board, said the committee wants to see the railing installed, noting it has pushed for that to happen since the park opened.

If anyone were to fall off the promenade, he said, they would travel 18 feet into water with a swift current, Rudser said.

But while there was a significant outcry for the railing the first year the park was open, he said, “Since then it’s kind of gone away. Does time show we don’t need it?”

City Administrator Mark Grams said the biggest issue may be the idea of turning down a state grant for which the city has applied.

If the city changed its mind at a later date and decided to install a railing, he said, “You’re never going to get a grant for that railing. Why would the state give you another grant when you already gave one back?”

The city does plan to apply for another grant to help pay to extend the railing along the easternmost 560 feet of the promenade, Grams said.

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, chairman of the Coal Dock Park Committee, noted that the committee originally decided not to install a railing along the promenade for two reasons: the 18-foot walkway was so wide members felt it was not needed because the public would stay far from the edge, and because it envisioned boats mooring there and requiring unfettered access to the dock.

“Originally we envisioned boat traffic to be a lot more intense than it is,” Vanden Noven said.

If the railing is installed, he said, it would be set four feet back from the edge with gates to allow boats to moor along the promenade.

Vanden Noven said he could see both sides of the issue, but acknowledged his wife refuses to allow their family, which includes two young children, to walk the promenade because of the lack of a railing. 

Mayor Tom Mlada noted that the organizers of festivals held in Coal Dock Park have said a railing would be beneficial.

“We should probably be consistent and take the grant,” Vanden Noven said.

Ald. Paul Neumyer acknowledged the difficulty in obtaining grant funds in making the motion to accept the grant.

“We’re trying to get young families down there. I think it’s a good preventative measure,” Neumyer said. 

The contract calls for the railing to be installed by June 30.

Ansay alters plans for marina area apartments PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 20:13

Developer scraps plans for 44-unit luxury building, focuses on smaller project elsewhere in lakefront district

Ansay Development’s plan for a 44-unit luxury apartment building planned to be built between Pier and Jackson streets in Port Washington’s marina district has been scrapped, officials said last week.

Instead, the firm intends to build a smaller apartment complex on the former Victor’s restaurant property one block to the south, which it owns, City Administrator Mark Grams told the Plan Commission and Joint Review Board on Feb. 16.

“We have no plans for how many apartments there are going to be,” Grams said. “We  know it’s going to be smaller.”

Company officials indicated it could be a 22 to 24-unit building, he said, although that’s subject to change.

Grams said Ansay officials indicated the reason for the change is simple — “Basically, the numbers don’t work out for them,” he said.

The property where the apartments were to be built is owned by Charlie Puckett, and Grams said Puckett and his wife have indicated they will likely develop that property sometime in the future.

The couple has suggested they would like to build brownstones, Grams said, although they did not rule out an apartment building. 

The change in the company’s plan came abruptly Thursday morning, forcing the city to delay expected action on amendments to the downtown tax incremental financing district.

The amendments include the addition of five parcels, including both the land where the apartment building was to be constructed and the new site, as well as development incentives for these projects.

The financial projections for the district need to be changed now that the proposed development has changed, Grams said.

To accommodate Ansay’s original plan, officials had included funds in the TIF plan to move a sewer line on a city-owned parking lot, $600,000 to acquire the Victor’s property, and millions of dollars in development incentives, Grams said.

Now, those numbers are in flux, and the impact on the entire TIF district needs to be recalculated to ensure the district will be financially viable, he said.

Christy Cramer of Trilogy Consulting, the city’s TIF consultant, said the original amendments to the plan showed the district would be economically feasible.

At first glance, she said, the plan may also work without the 44-unit apartment building proposed by Ansay.

“It appears it’s going to be slightly better with the changes,” she said.

Ansay’s plans for the marina district have changed several times since it was first proposed last year. 

The latest proposal, made in December, was a $38 million development that included 14 row houses to be built on the former Victor’s restaurant site and adjoining city parking lot, 44 luxury apartments one block to the north and a six-story “Marina Shores” building for a restaurant, stores and commercial operations on the NewPort Shores property. This plan would have required $7.73 million in TIF funding.

Grams said Ansay has indicated its plans for the Marina Shores building are proceeding.

Grams told the Joint Review Board and Plan Commission that he hopes to get the updated numbers sometime this week.

The Plan Commission, which had been expected to act on the TIF amendments last week, would then hold a special meeting to consider the changes to the plan.

The Common Council is expected to act on the TIF amendments during its Tuesday, March 6, meeting, with the Joint Review Board acting on it within 30 days.

Man charged after standoff with SWAT team PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 20:11

A 48-year-old man who authorities say held officers at bay for nearly six hours after firing several shots from a .40-caliber handgun outside his Grand Avenue house in Port Washington late last month now faces a felony charge filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court.

Richard W. Conrad was charged last week with failing to comply with officers who were trying to arrest him.

He also faces misdemeanor counts of possessing a firearm while intoxicated and disorderly conduct.

The standoff began around 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, after Conrad’s neighbor called police to report that Conrad had fired several shots outside his home at 911 W. Grand Ave. and made comments about being “done living” and wanting to “end it,” according to the complaint.

Police blocked off the area and told area residents to seek shelter in their homes and stay away from windows.

The Ozaukee County SWAT team was called and attempted numerous times to contact Conrad, who lived alone, by telephone but were unsuccessful.

As the standoff wore on, officers decided to fire tear gas canisters into the house.

Port Washington Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said officers eventually saw Conrad, who appeared unarmed, walking through the house. They were able to talk to him and he invited them inside. The officers declined but because Conrad was near the door they were able take him into custody.

Conrad appeared to be drunk, officers said, and a test administered at a hospital showed he had a blood alcohol level of .33, more than four times the .08 threshold for intoxication, the complaint states.

Authorities recovered a number of guns from Conrad’s house, Hingiss said.

The standoff ended just after midnight Monday, Jan. 30.

During Conrad’s initial court appearance Monday, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy set his bail at $5,000, ordered him not to consume alcohol and to wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet

The felony Conrad faces is punishable by a maximum 1-1/2 years in prison and two years of extended supervision.

Teen not barred from school for locker room horseplay video PDF Print E-mail
Written by bill Schanen IV   
Thursday, 09 February 2017 00:37

Prosecutor seeks restrictions but judge doesn’t ban contact with Port High, schoolmate

The question in an Ozaukee County courtroom Tuesday wasn’t what amount of bail to set for Tanner R. Meinel but the conditions the 17-year-old Port Washington High School student charged with a felony for making a video of locker room shenanigans and posting it on Snapchat will have to live by while his case is pending.

Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Sisley, who said he didn’t know if Meinel was in school, recommended he be prohibited from having contact with Port High and the 16-year-old he recorded on the video.

That, Meinel’s attorney Matt Last said,  would be a problem. Meinel, who after the Nov. 10 locker room incident was described  by Thad Gabrielse, Port High’s dean of students and athletic director, as a “very good kid” who was “fooling around and didn’t think,” is finishing his senior year at the school.

At the very least, Sisley said, Meinel should be prohibited from having contact with the 16-year-old in the video.

Last, however, said that both teenagers are members of the Port High wrestling team, and the no-contact order proposed by Sisley would mean Meinel would have to quit the team.

Both teenagers have described each other as friends in police reports and comments made to Ozaukee Press.

Sisley relented after reading a report that indicated the 16-year-old did not want a court order prohibiting Meinel from having contact with him.

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland said he saw no need for such an order.

“I’m not going to interfere with the authority of the principal and the coach at the school,” he said.

The only condition set by Voiland is that Meinel not have a cell phone with a camera.

Last said, “Mr. Meinel no longer has a cell phone.”

Instead of a cash bond, Voiland set Meinel’s bail at a $2,500 signature bond. By signing a signature bond, a defendant does not have to post cash but promises to pay the amount of the bond if he violates the conditions of his bail.

On Dec. 29, Meinel was charged with capturing an image of nudity in a locker room under a statute referred to as Wisconsin’s revenge porn law, inspired by jilted lovers who post nude photos of their exes online to exact revenge. The felony Meinel faces is punishable by a maximum 1-1/2 years in prison and two years of extended supervision.

Meinel is accused of recording a cell phone video that shows the naked backside of the 16-year-old as he was retrieving his underwear in a school locker room after phy-ed class, then posting it to Snapchat, the popular mobile app that typically self-deletes images and videos 10 seconds after they’re opened.

According to a Port Washington Police Department report, a student who received the Snapchat video reported it to Gabrielse. School officials then notified police of the incident, which occurred around 10:20 a.m. on Nov. 10.

Administrators said they were obligated to report the incident to police because the video was posted on the Internet, but added that they didn’t think doing so would result in one of their students being charged with a felony.

“It was definitely a surprise to us,” Supt. Michael Weber said last month. “We thought if anything he might face a misdemeanor or just receive a warning.

“Sometimes people get caught up in the law, and it’s not fair and it’s not right.”

Among the students interviewed by officer Eric Leet after the incident was the 16-year-old, who said he was showering when two other students started joking around by pretending they were going to throw his underwear in the shower.

A short time later, the 16-year-old said, he exited the shower and found his underwear hanging from a speaker box. He retrieved his underwear, then noticed Meinel making a video of him with his cell phone. He said he did not agree to be recorded on video or to have the video distributed and was embarrassed by the incident, according to the police report.

“He indicated that although he didn’t want to get anyone in trouble over the matter ... he was disturbed by the video and its distribution,” Leet wrote in the report.

Meinel admitted taking the video and posting it on Snapchat after happening upon the scene, but said he meant no harm to the teenager shown in the video, whom he considered a friend.

“He (Meinel) indicated that he wasn’t trying to embarrass (the 16-year-old) and that he believed they were actually friends,” Leet wrote in his report. “He stated that it was just kind of a funny scene and he sent it out as more of a joke.”

Leet spoke with other students who confirmed that the “horseplay” with the underwear was not done to stage the video taken by Meinel. The officer then told administrators that he considered the creation of the video and its distribution “very serious,” adding that he would be “looking at and considering a request for criminal charges,” according to the report.

Ultimately, Leet asked the district attorney to charge Meinel with the felony he now faces.

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