Letters to the Editor:
Letter to the Editor from Terry O’Neill, Lake Geneva Activist
“Closed Sessions” by governmental bodies are held for the primary purpose of keeping the session’s contents hidden from the public, which makes them an obstacle to an informed public. After the closing of the doors to a “Closed Session”, the communications that occur cannot be repeated beyond those doors, which creates a “Bubble of Silence, Doubt and Suspicion about the Closed Session”. Although its contents cannot be revealed, what has transpired in the “Closed Session” may be used to instruct, direct and specify actions to be taken outside of the closed session. When one is a part of a closed session and one feels that what is being discussed or the action to be taken (legal or otherwise) is not right, there are very few options for them.
Having been in that situation and being legally bound to not reveal what went on in the “Closed Session”, I sought legal advice. After reviewing the options and consequences, I decided it was best to remain silent. However, thanks to Care for Lake Geneva Inc. and the settlement agreement that they reached with the City of Lake Geneva and approved by the current City Council, I am able to reveal what went on in the Geneva Ridge “Closed Sessions”. A sincere “Thank You” to the Care for Lake Geneva Inc.
But it is a shame that it took 4 years of court costs and legal fees on both side of the issue to open the Geneva Ridge “Closed Sessions” to the public, when all it would have taken was a simple vote of the City Council at any time during the four years to open them. On April 18th, 2011 in the Plan Commission meeting minutes “Attorney Draper stated that this proposal (the proposed change to the Comprehensive Plan as requested by Mark Sansonetti on behalf of Geneva Ridge Joint Venture) did not come forward in conjunction with the lawsuit that is being considered. This proposal is separate from that case.” However, later in the year that was no longer true as the attorney from the city’s insurance company pointed out in a “Closed Session”. Acting on Geneva Ridge’s proposed change to the Comprehensive Plan was the Key point stipulated that the city needed to do prior to the August 31st, 2011 deadline to comply with the “Deal” or the “Deal” was OFF. This statement “or the “Deal” was OFF” told me that there was a settlement “Deal”.
But in the “Closed Session” we were not given nor shown a copy of the settlement “Deal”, although three stipulated points of the “Deal” were discussed. In retrospect a copy of the “Deal” should have been provided to the City Council, but it like other critical information was not provided to the City Council members. As the insurance company’s part of the “Deal”, they would be paying $2.1 million dollars to Geneva Ridge on completion of both the City of Lake Geneva’s and Geneva Ridge’s parts of the “Deal”. It was strongly stressed that if the insurance company’s paying of the $2.1 million to Geneva Ridge was made public the “Deal” was OFF and that issue was stressed several times in the closed sessions. Why, keeping the monetary issue a secret was so important was not explained nor apparent at that time other than it would end the “Deal”. The insurance company’s attorney also made the comment that he did not see why Geneva Ridge would accept such a small amount ($2.1 million) when their attorney fees probably exceed that amount. [Note: The lawsuit was for about $125 million dollars so a $2.1 million dollar settlement did seem very small.]
As the city’s part of the deal, it was said that the city only needed the city council to vote on Geneva Ridge’s Comprehensive Plan change request before the deadline of Aug. 31, 2011; However, when discussing Geneva Ridges part of the “Deal” [dropping the law suit and all charges against the city and city official], the attorney was asked what happens if the requested change is denied, we were told that Geneva Ridge was not bound to the agreement “that Geneva Ridge could still not settle”, but that he expected that they would honor their commitment. Then as an afterthought he added that they were not bound even if it were passed. This told me that Geneva Ridge had not actually committed to the “Deal” being describe to us, but Geneva Ridge could wait until the outcome of the vote was decided before accepting or denying the “Deal”, which to me made it clear (without it ever being officially stated) that the settlement with Geneva Ridge was really dependent on the City Council passing the Comprehensive Plan Change (not just voting on it). Which also explains why Geneva Ridge might accept such a low dollar value as part of the settlement on just a vote by the city council, because it would only apply and be accepted by Geneva Ridge if their requested Comprehensive Plan change was passed by the City Council, which would significantly increase the value of the their land by millions of dollars. As Geneva Ridge’s part of the “Deal” they would drop the law suit and all legal action against the city of Lake Geneva, city officials, (which included 5 of the 8 voting members of the city council) etc., provided they receive $2.1 million form the insurance company, and Lake Geneva meet its part of the “Deal”; however, as pointed out, they were not bound by the “Deal”, even if the city met its requirements but could make their decision after they knew the results of the city’s vote on their Comprehensive Plan change request.
The citizens of Lake Geneva should be aware and know that the comments made by former Alderman O’Neill in his Part I Letter to the editor this week has very serious criminal and civil potential charges as a part of it’s revelations.
What former Alderman O’Neill is revealing is a pattern of understanding, complacency and conspiracy to commit, on the part of City Attorney Dan Draper, Mayor Jim Connors and the members of the city council in 2011 who voted for Hummel’s demanded changes to the Lake Geneva Comprehensive Plan, a very important violation of Wisconsin Law called “contract zoning”.
From State of Wisconsin:
A contract made by a zoning authority to zone or rezone or not to zone is illegal and the ordinance is void because a municipality may not surrender its governmental powers and functions or thus inhibit the exercise of its police or legislative powers.
The critical factor in contract zoning is a contractual obligation binding the local legislative body to pass the rezoning amendment if the landowner’s contractual promises are kept. To enforce such a contract would require that a court order a legislative body to legislate, a requirement that offends the court’s sense of separation of powers between the judicial and the legislative branches of government.
In the case in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court defined contract zoning, the Court concluded that the elements of contract zoning were not present in the case. The case involved a shopping center developer who sought to have the zoning of a parcel of land changed from neighborhood shopping to local business, in order to use the parcel for a bowling alley. The residents in the immediate vicinity approved of the bowling alley but opposed other uses allowable in the local business district. The neighbors pressured city hall to defeat the rezoning. Out of this conflict an agreement was reached between the homeowners and developers which provided that the neighbors would drop their opposition to the rezoning in return for deed restrictions being filed by the developer limiting the use of the parcel to a bowling alley.
Being aware of this agreement and now free from neighborhood opposition, the city rezoned the land to the local business district. The property was later sold to another party, who purchased it to construct a car wash, not knowing of the deed restrictions. The person wishing to build the car wash challenged the restrictions, arguing that they were part of a contract to rezone the property and, therefore, were invalid. The court ruled that it was not contract zoning. While the Court declared contract zoning invalid, the Court defined it as being limited to instances where the local governing body binds itself to pass a rezoning.