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Sauk County denies gun rights referendum as more open meetings questions are raised

August 23, 2018

After an hourlong discussion that included a failed ruling appeal and an unsuccessful call for its chairman’s resignation, the Sauk County Board opted against pushing for an advisory referendum on gun rights Tuesday.

If a referendum is to appear on the November ballot, the board will have to hold a special meeting and approve the measure’s wording by Aug. 28.

The board’s Executive and Legislative Committee voted just before the full board meeting to rescind an agenda item calling for a referendum on protecting the “state and federal Constitutional right to bear arms.” Because the committee’s vote removed the referendum discussion from the board’s agenda, acting on it would’ve violated the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Following advice from the county’s attorney, Chairman Peter Vedro of Baraboo ruled that some supervisors’ attempts to circumvent the committee vote and take up the matter was out of order. Government bodies must post agendas a day in advance.

“If it is not on the agenda, adequate notice has not been given,” Corporation Counsel Daniel Olson said.

An attempt to appeal the chairman’s ruling against allowing the matter to go before the full board failed 12-18.

Motion rescinded

During the committee meeting, Supervisor Bill Hambrecht of Prairie du Sac sought to withdraw his Aug. 7 motion to put the referendum question before the full board. He thought the “hyperpartisan wording” of an earlier draft had been changed, and hadn’t meant to support it.

Because he made the motion to push the referendum forward, he was allowed to rescind it at the special meeting held Tuesday to address the matter. This rankled several supervisors, who made a push via email to oust Vedro. The county published the email conversation because it included enough supervisors to constitute a quorum, and qualified as an open meeting.

“I am sorry it stirred up this whirlwind of a hornet’s nest,” Hambrecht told the committee, which voted 4-1 to rescind its recommendation that the full board consider supporting the referendum, effectively removing it from the board agenda.

Supervisor Wally Czuprynko of Wisconsin Dells, who led the effort to oust the chairman by starting an email chain that included most — but not all — of the board, accused Vedro of employing “back-room dealings” to get the referendum measure stricken. He challenged the chairman to “be a man” and allow the referendum to move forward.

“You orchestrated this entire maneuver,” Czuprynko said. “Once again, you are using your authority to manipulate.”

Vedro countered that he consulted with Olson on the proper procedure for rescinding a motion.

Out of order

Supervisors complained that their hands were tied by a committee vote that happened just minutes before the full board met.

“I don’t know how we’re supposed to give the public notice when a meeting happens at 5 o’clock,” said Supervisor Marty Krueger of Reedsburg, whom Vedro replaced as board chairman in April.

Some supervisors sought to circumvent the committee’s vote. Supervisor Tim McCumber of Merrimac called for the matter to be discharged from the committee and taken up by the full board. Relying on Olson’s advice, Vedro ruled McCumber’s motion out of order.

Citing Robert’s Rules of Order, Supervisor Brian Peper of Loganville appealed Vedro’s ruling, a move that put the matter to a vote of the full board. Olson repeatedly reminded the board that state law is a higher authority than Robert’s Rules. He and Vedro cautioned supervisors that taking up a matter not on the agenda could be prosecuted as a violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Following Robert’s Rules “does not immunize anyone from the potential consequences of a violation of that law,” Olson said.

“Robert’s Rules will help you run a meeting, but it won’t get you out of hot water with the Open Meetings Law,” said Supervisor Chuck Whitsell of Wisconsin Dells.

Effort stalls

Typically a formality, approval of the board’s agenda involved a flurry of denied motions and a request from Supervisor David Moore of Wisconsin Dells that Vedro resign.

A recent petition among board supervisors sought to oust Vedro, as the approval of politically charged referendums since his April election has created rancor and division. The petition was not enough to force the election of a new chair. Moore said more people signed the petition than voted Vedro into the chairman’s seat.

“This is a matter of leadership,” Moore said.

“I appreciate your offer and I decline, thank you,” Vedro said.

Czuprynko moved to amend the agenda to include the stricken referendum measure, a motion Vedro ruled out of order.

McCumber said the timing of the committee’s action and the constraints of the Open Meetings Law left supervisors who support the gun rights referendum powerless. “There’s absolutely no way that this has been framed that we can move it forward,” he said.

Vedro said a resolution supporting the referendum could be resubmitted to the Executive and Legislative Committee. If approved, it would move to the full board.

Supervisors noted the deadline to get referendums listed on the November ballot is a week away, requiring a special meeting to consider the gun rights measure.

Supervisor Scott Von Asten of Baraboo asked his colleagues to “put big boy pants on” and work through proper channels. “There is a legal way to do this,” he said.

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