To the Editor:
March 9, 2017 I attended an open meeting of the Vilas County Land and Water Conservation Committee held in the boardroom of the Vilas County Courthouse in Eagle River. At this meeting, I witnessed what I consider to be a direct violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and a violation of Article 1, § 1, and 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution. To better understand what I am writing this letter about I am going to quote from each of these documents.
United States Constitution: First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Wisconsin State Constitution: Article 1, Section 1:
All people are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Article 1, Section 4:
The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.
The critical parts of the items quoted are these:
1. Congress shall make no law regarding … the right of the people to peaceably assemble and, petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
2. To secure these rights … governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
3. The right of the people … to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall not be abridged.
On March 7, without prior notice to the committee, the chair of the land and water conservation committee, Kim Simac, arbitrarily removed from the Agenda the Resolution that had been tabled at the Feb. 9, 2017 committee meeting. That resolution was on the table so that the Chair, who did not agree with the resolution, could arrange a meeting with Senator Tiffany and all interested parties to work out any differences that they might have. Chair Simac did not arrange that meeting. Rather, because she did not like and did not agree with the Resolution she removed it from the Agenda and requested the Corporation Counsel, Jack Albert, to prepare a legal opinion justifying her action.
She asked the Corporation Counsel, John R (Jack) Albert for a legal opinion on the “legal status” of the proposed Resolution, as well as on the subject matter jurisdiction of the resolution related to the standing committee of the Vilas County Board of Supervisors. The Petition is to the County Board to pass a Resolution to the members of our State Legislature to Return Local Control over Shoreland Zoning to our counties and townships and to restore our historic Lake Classification System as it existed before the passage of Act 55 in July, 2015.
The Corp Counsel read his “Legal Opinion” to the committee. It quickly became apparent that Attorney Albert is confused about the purpose of the Resolution and the purpose of the County Board’s action on the Zoning Ordinance. The Corp Counsel totally misread the meaning of the action of the County board in their unanimous approval of the new Shoreland Zoning Ordinance at the January County Board meeting.
The Vilas County Board had to pass that ordinance or they would be in violation of State Law and subject to any penalties the State might wish to bring against the County.
Attorney Jack Albert then spoke up reinforcing what he had said in his opinion, that the resolution had nothing to do with the subject matter of the Committee. The Committee deals with Land and Water Conservation in Vilas County.
The Resolution is a petition signed by seven town boards of Vilas County and 27 Vilas County Lake Associations, and by two town lakes committees and the annual meetings of St. Germain area lakes, Sayner-St. Germain Fish and Wildlife Club and the Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association.
The town governments and lake associations that signed the petition to have the resolution taken up did what the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin have empowered them to do:
They are petitioning their government to redress a grievance that they believe occurred when the State passed in the 2015 budget, Act 55, repealing loca control over zoning.
Chair Simac refused to allow anyone to speak during the letters and comment section of the agenda even though Nielsen and Ritter moved and seconded a motion to allow John Richter to speak. She did not recognize the motion.
Just before the meeting ended, the Corp counsel spoke up and said that nobody could speak because the committee was past that point in the Agenda. Finally Chair Simac decided she would allow John Richter to speak for a couple of minutes. Attorney Albert then started verbally attacking John Richter and Carolyn Ritter who again spoke up regarding the resolution and Petition.
It might be interesting for the readers to know that 77 percent of the taxes paid in Vilas County are paid by taxpayers who own Lake Front Property on the waters of Vilas County.
J. Sheehan Donoghue