Sauk County Board mostly unites against hate

December 20, 2018

Sauk County Board members — at least most of them — went on record Tuesday in support of the Baraboo community’s effort to stamp out hatred and intolerance.

The board voted 25-3 in favor of a resolution declaring the county stands united with Baraboo city and school leaders in their response to a controversial photo that shows teenage boys jokingly mimicking a Nazi salute.

The picture, taken by a parent before prom in May, drew international attention after it surfaced on social media last month. It caused current and former Baraboo students to come forward about prior instances of racial intolerance and bullying by their peers.

Community leaders have organized a series of meetings to discuss and respond to the controversy. But not everyone believes the effort is justified.

Supervisor Chuck Spencer of Baraboo, who voted against the resolution Tuesday, said it was “predicated on a hysterical reaction to a misunderstanding of the collective intent of a group of great young men.” He said he believes Sauk County residents harbor less hatred than people elsewhere.

Spencer also said it would be hypocritical for county supervisors to support the resolution, given the board’s history of combative political scheming and sniping. He said supervisors from opposing factions despise each other so much, they attend separate bars to socialize after monthly meetings.

“In the last three years, on the third Tuesday of each month, there’s no place in my life of 70 years that I’ve experienced more vindictive, bitter and hateful fellowship than I have in this room,” Spencer said.

He concluded with a quote from the Bible, saying that the “heart is deceitful above all things” and that the resolution won’t change what is in supervisors’ hearts.

“There’s only one person that can change our hearts, and that’s Jesus Christ,” Spencer said.

Supervisor Tim McCumber of Merrimac said he wanted to be certain that the phrase “united against hate” was not capitalized within the resolution, so that the county did not appear to be endorsing a specific campaign.

McCumber was assured that the first letter of each of those three words was not capitalized, and he then voted in favor of the proposal.

A Madison-based nonprofit group called United Against Hate has been outspoken in support of the Baraboo community’s response to the controversial photo.

The organization, which opposes hatred and bigotry, seeks a nation that is “not divided between white, black, brown, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, LGBT and numerous other groups,” according to its website.

Sauk County Board Chairman Peter Vedro of Baraboo said he proposed the resolution to back the city and school efforts. He suggested the board can show its support, despite its own internal strife.

“With all due respect to Supervisor Spencer and in agreement with him, I think there’s a separation between those two,” Vedro said.

Spencer was joined in opposing the resolution by Supervisors John Dietz of Rock Springs and Brian Peper of Loganville. Supervisors David Riek of Spring Green and Bob Newport of La Valle abstained from the vote. Supervisor John Miller of Baraboo was not in attendance.

In 2011, the board drew criticism from Jewish leaders after a supervisor used the phrase “jewed ’em down” at a meeting to describe the county’s interaction with a contractor.

The board’s leadership at the time refused to formally condemn the remark or demand an apology, equating it with other instances of foul language.

The supervisor who made the remark, the late Virgil Hartje of La Valle, said it was merely a “business term” and that he didn’t intend it to be offensive. He reluctantly apologized after weeks of pressure.

County seeks support

In other business Tuesday, the board voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling on state lawmakers to increase aid and oversight for child protective services.

Sauk County Human Services Director Dan Brattset told supervisors the state mandates that counties provide the service, but does not provide adequate funding. He said other counties are considering similar resolutions.

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