Taxpayers scold Sauk County Board for advisory referendum debates

August 24, 2018

Taxpayers issued two clear orders Tuesday to the Sauk County Board: Stop wasting time on national issues and start acting like grownups.

The board and its Executive Committee endured a thorough scolding from residents tired of their local representatives placing politically charged issues before them in the form of advisory referendums. During public comment periods at meetings of the full board and its Executive and Legislative Committee, multiple citizens asked the entire board to resign.

“The public is concerned with the level of rancor,” Jim Lombard said. “Disagreement has become destruction.”

Denny Smith asked whether the board was preparing for the Baraboo River Rendezvous, a fur trade-era re-enactment.

“From what I have read and heard, some of you must be planning on participating in the upcoming events, as you seem to be grinding your axes and sharpening your knives and pitchforks,” he said.

Noting that Circus World is about to close its summer performance season, Smith said, “Please don’t bring the clown show in here. Now will you bozos get back to work, please?”

Some residents spoke in favor of placing national issues such as gun control and gerrymandering on the local ballot.

“It allows the people to voice their opinions,” Trisha Henderson said.

“It makes people think,” said Dan Holzman, a former county supervisor. “Freedom of speech is the greatest thing.”

But most chided the board for engaging in childish infighting and shady maneuvering. Politics made strange bedfellows as constituents of various political stripes agreed the board shouldn’t concern itself with federal matters.

“It’s time that a lot of you started acting like adults rather than like children playing king of the mountain on the playground,” said Pat Nash, a News Republic columnist.

Carolyn Bonanno said she was disappointed to see the mud-slinging common on the national level reach local government.

“It is easy to be divisive and argumentative,” she said. “It is difficult to compromise.”

James Sheriff was among several speakers who urged the board to focus on the county’s business, rather than on matters typically decided by the courts. These, he said, include the influence of money on political campaigns, as well as the legalization of marijuana for medical use.

“The Sauk County Board can do nothing, or very little, about them,” he said.

“I don’t believe they are things that are germane to the workings of Sauk County,” Bob Nurre said.

“We’ve got to get away from the partisan bickering,” said Eric Peterson, another former county supervisor. “I really wish you guys would get off your politics and get back to county business.”

Supervisor Jean Berlin of Hillpoint joined the chorus. “This saddens me to no end,” she said of the board’s infighting. “We’re here to perform a duty, to serve our people.”

Aaron Evert, husband of County Clerk Becky Evert, spoke at about 8 p.m. and noted the board had accomplished little in two hours. The meeting’s first hour was dedicated to a debate over whether a gun rights referendum could be approved despite being pulled from the agenda. Its second hour consisted of a tongue-lashing from citizens.

“Get with the program, guys, or leave,” Evert said.

“Shame on all of you,” former Supervisor Becky Hovde said in calling for the entire board’s resignations. “You are very small fish in a very big ocean, and I wouldn’t be proud to make a big muck in that ocean.”

Supervisor Bill Hambrecht of Prairie du Sac said robust attendance at Tuesday’s meetings indicates intense public interest in the issues under consideration.

“They care about these things, they’re important,” he said during the Executive and Legislative Committee meeting. “If it wasn’t important, we wouldn’t have 40 to 50 people in the room.”

Late in the board meeting, supervisors considered — and sent back to the drawing board — standards for placing referendums on the ballot. Their goal was to avoid unnecessary conflict.

“I think the previous referenda have been a source of divisiveness,” said Supervisor Chuck Whitsell of Wisconsin Dells.

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