The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Monday approved on a 23-4 vote a resolution that — after public input, an amendment, and a brief recess to research a legal issue raised by the amendment and then an amendment to that amendment — that calls for a delay in private companies utilizing the eminent domain law until the state legislature has conducted a legislative review of that law.
The resolution in its final form had stronger language included in it than what was initially presented to the board Monday.
The issue of the eminent domain law drew a large contingent of supporters and protesters at the Board of Supervisor’s November 2017 meeting. At that meeting, about 40 employees of Enbridge, an international oil and pipeline company that has pipelines in Jefferson County, other parts of Wisconsin and in other states, tried to influence the Board of Supervisors into not supporting a more stringent resolution that was introduced at that evening; that resolution referred specifically to Enbridge and was originally based on a resolution created by the Wood County Board of Supervisors. There were also numerous supporters of that the more stringent resolution present at that meeting.
The discussion that night concluded when the board sent the resolution back to the Executive Committee (formerly known as the Rules and Administration Committee) for further review.
On Tuesday, there were no Enbridge employees or supporters present, however, seven county residents spoke out on the resolution but a total of 28 people wearing “no eminent domain for private gain” stickers showed their support. The speakers made their remarks during the public comment portion of the meeting prior to Board of Supervisor’s vote on the issue.
The original resolution introduced Tuesday noted that Wisconsin statutes, in 2015, were amended so eminent domain powers — which historically allowed government agencies, utility companies or other statutorily designated corporations to condemn and acquire private land for a greater public good — have been granted to businesses that transmit oil or oil-related products through pipelines. Those pipeline companies still need to have Public Service Commission approval to invoke condemnation authority; however, those companies no longer have to actually be based or licensed in Wisconsin to seek approval.
The resolution noted that “eminent domain has historically been used sparingly for ensuring the public good with a provable need and just compensation” but since it has now been expanded so that business entities can condemn private property “the future impacts on owners of private property could be significant.”
The resolution called for the state legislature to conduct a “legislative review of the current eminent domain law” that will also “assist the legislature in determining whether or not further amendment of the Wisconsin eminent domain law is necessary.” It also asked the review to cover “the current and future impacts on owners or private property.”
The residents who spoke prior to the board’s vote claimed that the resolution as presented was not nearly strong enough to send a message to state legislators.
Linda Ottenbacher said that she lives adjacent to an Enbridge pipeline and that the issue was not about oil but about the law. “A private business should not be able to take our home and force us to move,” she said. She also presented a petition of 120 signatures agreeing the law needs changed.
Jae Ames spoke about how the Executive Committee did not take residents opinions into account, saying that the “decision had already been made” by the committee to support the weakened resolution presented. He warned the board that voters would remember their decision.
John Peoppel said that he fought Enbridge over seven years and paid $80,000 in legal fees.
Paul Wehling quoted Thomas Jefferson on the equal rights of every citizen and asked the board to support a moratorium on eminent domain petitions as at least four other counties in the state have done. He added that it “does not make sense” to ask state legislators to review the law that they intentionally weakened. “The fox is already in the hen house,” he said.
Resident Aaron Buchannon re-emphasized that point, noting that the resolution “needed to be thought out better.”
Ronni Monroe said that the board should add something to the resolution so that landowners’ rights were protected and that the “safety of the people in the corridor”” be protected.
Dianne Heerhold noted that there was a solar energy company seeking to put a very large solar panel facility in the northern part of the county that was not seeking eminent domain powers.
Eric Kernan questioned why the board was not standing for its citizens. Noting that he was once told he should talk to state representatives and county supervisors, his reply was “We are citizens here. We live here. We pay taxes here, and we need help here.” He also said it was wrong to assume residents were not also contacting their state legislators over the issue.
Once the resolution was introduced to the board, supervisor Walt Christensen offered an amendment to the resolution that asked for Governor Scott Walker to direct the Public Works Commission to place a moratorium on eminent domain petitions.
Supervisor Jim Mode raised the question if the governor had authority over the commission. This led to a brief recess so assistant corporation counsel Yalena Zarwell (filling in for counsel J. Blair Ward) could research the answer. Upon reconvening, Zarwell said that her initial research indicated that the governor did not have authority over the commission; its authority came from the legislature.
Mode then asked to have the issue sent back to the committee once more; however, since the amendment was still on the floor, the board had to act on that first. During the recess, Christensen re-worded his amendment expecting Zarwell’s finding, and he offered it as an amendment to the amendment.
His new version did not change anything in the existing resolution, however, it added a clause that read “Additionally, the Board of Supervisors further requests a delay in granting petitions to condemn property by eminent domain that would not have been allowed prior to 2015 until the legislature has conducted a legislative review.”
The board’s vote on that amendment passed on a 20-7 vote. Mode once more called for the resolution to be sent back to the committee. That motion failed on a 13 yes-14 no vote, which meant that the board had to vote on the resolution which now included Christensen’s amendment.
During the discussion, supervisor Steve Nass noted that they board had to do something even though it may already be too late, citing that Foxconn has already used eminent domain powers. After Nass spoke, the board took its vote which led to the 23-4 passage. The supporters in the room literally applauded the result.
Voting against the resolution were Supervisors George Jaeckel, Matthew Foelker, Jim Schroeder and Roger Lindl; Lindl was appointed to be the District 24 supervisor earlier Tuesday as the replacement for former supervisor Alyssa Spaanem, who resigned from the board on June 29. Supervisors Dwayne Morris, James Braughler and Peter Hartz were unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
A copy of the resolution will be sent to Governor Scott Walker, all the elected state representatives who represent Jefferson County at the state Capitol and the Public Service Commission.
Christensen was asked, after the vote, if he was happy his amendment passed and why he made it.
Board chairperson Jim Schroeder also commented on the vote after the meeting. He found himself in the rare position of being on the losing side of a board vote. He was asked, despite his opposition to the resolution, if this was still the best decision for the board to have made.
“Well, the best option is always the option that the majority approves,” Schroeder said. “That’s why we are here; to establish the will of the majority while respecting the rights of the minority that need to be heard. So, democracy at work.”
In other matters Tuesday, the board:
• Approved a resolution calling for more state support for the Office of Public Defenders. The resolution noted that public defenders’ offices throughout Wisconsin are understaffed, and when necessary, private attorneys are appointed to serve as public defenders. However, Wisconsin has the lowest compensation for those appointed attorneys in the nation, which is $40 per hour; that rate has remained static since 1995. Due to that figure, many private lawyers are not willing to assist the Office of Public Defender. Therefore, counties across the nation are forced to pay much higher per hour rates for those private attorneys to serve as public defenders.
The resolution passed Tuesday states that Jefferson County supports “providing sufficient resources to the Office of Public Defender to ensure that the criminal justice system operates effectively and efficiently,” and that is supports “a rate or reimbursement for assigned public defender private attorneys to a market rate” that will be let cases be held in a “timely and efficient manner.”
A copy of the resolution will be sent to Governor Scott Walker, all the elected state representatives who represent Jefferson County, as well as the Wisconsin Counties Association so that they can “assist in this endeavor.”
• Acting on the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Committee, the board denied a petition by Barbara Rockwell, filed by Deborah Rockwell, to rezone two acres from A-1 to A-3 zoning on Marshall Road in Cold Spring. Rockwell wished to build a house on the site, but the committee determined the land to be prime agricultural land and thus should not be built upon according to county zoning and planning regulations. The location already had two non-prime property splits.
Deborah Rockwell spoke out against the denial during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting prior to the board’s vote. The vote was done by voice-vote, and only supervisor Mary Roberts voted against the denial.
The board approved all other zoning change requests that had been reviewed by the committee, as it routinely does.
• Approved a $69,980 contract with Richter Heating and Air Conditioning to replace piping, refrigerant reclamation and two condensing units/coils for the Human Services building. Richter was the lowest of three bidders on the project.
• Officially changed the name of the Criminal Justice Collaborating Council to the Community Justice Collaborating Council in order “to more accurately reflect the diverse scope of services” that the council provides, which includes oversight of the county’s Alcohol Treatment Court. Within the same action, the board increased the council’s membership from 13 to 17 since it now includes members from the county’s corporation counsel’s office, Health Department and Child Support Office.
• Appointed attorneys Robert C. Kosloske, Jr. and Norman L. Goeschko to represent the interests of the public in cases that involve the termination of parental rights.
• Heard six annual reports from various department heads. Giving reports were Veterans’ Service director Yvonne Duesterhoeft; Child Support director Stacee Jensen; Emergency Management director Donna Haugom; Sheriff Paul Milbrath, Clerk of Court Carla Robinson and Presiding Judge William Hue.
• In personnel matters, approved the elimination of a vacant legal secretary position and replacing it with an administrative assistant position. The change will allow the existing legal secretaries to concentrate more on the technical/legal aspect of their duties.
• Acknowledged the retirement of Denise Grossman, who retired with just under 33 years of employment in the county.
• Confirmed board chairperson Jim Schroeder’s appointment of Supervisor Augie Tietz to the Veteran’s Service Commission.
Schroeder also appointed environmental health specialist Tyler Kubicek to the Local Emergency Planning Committee.
• It was announced that Supervisor Alyssa Spaanem, who represented District 24, resigned from the Board of Supervisors effective on June 29. The board then confirmed Schroeder’s appointment of Roger Lindl to complete the remainder of Spaanem’s term. Lindl was sworn-in to office immediately following the confirmation, and he will serve on the Building and Grounds, Fair Park and Solid Waste/Air Quality committees.
• The three contestants of the Fairest of the Fair 2019 were introduced to the board. The contestants are 2018 Fairest of the Fair Kiley Eck, Natalie Ciciva Libby Knoebel. The new Fairest of the Fair will be announced on Sunday at the Jefferson County Fair.