I DON’T CARE WHAT I WROTE!
Lake Geneva city attorney Dan Draper stated those words most forcefully at the combined Lake Geneva City Council and Plan Commission meeting, chaired by Mayor Tom Hartz, dealing with the three concepts submitted for changing the comprehensive plan with respect to the Hillmoor property. The crowd of 56 citizens allowed to view the proceedings (as the meeting was deliberately held in the second story of the city municipal building where there is no audio or video feed) erupted into open derision and laughter.
The writing that the city attorney had done years earlier involved his interpretation of an applicable ordinance with respect to the illegality of holding such meetings, and voting during them, without having first scheduled and notified citizens of a public hearing on the matter. That ordinance is there to assure that no secret votes are taken and that everything about how city tax dollars are spent is above board and revealed. The last item on Wednesday’s agenda was a vote. The combined elected and appointed representatives of the public were scheduled to vote on which of the concept plans (three were presented; two allowing for a change of zoning and higher density development, and one involving leaving the property of Hillmoor as it is).
For whatever strange reason, in order to confirm the legality of the coming vote that night, Dan Draper stood up, moved forward and took control of the microphone. He gave his legal opinion to everyone present, including Lake Geneva City Activist Richard Malmin. When Draper was done, still out of order and without permission, Richard spoke. He quoted the previous opinion Mr. Draper had rendered years earlier about the very same ordinance and then pointed out that Mr. Draper was totally contradicting himself in presenting his current interpretation.
No city attorney could have become more flustered than Mr. Draper did. After making his idiotic and nearly cataclysmic comment (“I don’t care what I
wrote”) he quietly, with a red face, returned to his seat. To the credit of Tom Hartz, Mr. Malmin was not prevented from speaking, even though the public comment portion of the meeting had passed. Again, to the mayor’s credit, no vote was held. The vote was not even discussed. When it came to that last part of the meeting the only thing that was discussed was about how the meeting had gone on for two hours and everyone wanted to go home. That was it. No vote, and no discussion about a vote, even on into the future.
That 56 citizens showed up, along with 6 members of the media, was plain for everyone to see. That the city council was seated with six members of its body with their backs directly to the audience was not missed either. There could be no clearer non-verbal statement by city leadership that the citizens who now gather at these meetings are not considered important. The gesture was foolish, however, as that seating merely angered the public attending, and they spoke even more strongly about opposing the coming development of Hillmoor than they might have otherwise done. For the first time, however, as presented in citizen’s comments, the idea of purchasing the Hillmoor property came back onto the table.
The sanctuary in Williams Bay was used as an example of how a community can purchase a property and then have volunteers and donors support all the expenses of its maintenance and continuance. This definitive meeting brought some good things forward that have remained undiscussed for some time. Mayor Tom Hartz proved himself to be a wily, smart, adroit player in his role. Dan Draper proved that he’s probably in need of stepping down and going back to practicing law for private companies and citizens. The voting issue was defeated, and once more the power of citizens showing up and speaking their minds was evident throughout the evening.