On August 12, 2019, the City Council went into a closed session under Wis. Stat. 19.85(1)(g) to confer with legal counsel for advice concerning strategy with respect to litigation in which the city is, or is likely to, become involved. Although not stated, this sounds a lot like concern over possible litigation, if the upcoming Comprehensive Plan vote does not permit the future commercial/residential development of the Hillmoor property. Although calling a closed session to give an alderperson precautionary advice to limit one’s liability to litigation is OK, it by itself also tends to be intimidating and applies an increased awareness of the external pressure that is being applied to one’s decision.
The similarities between the Hillmoor issue and the Hummel issue gives one a sickening déjà vu feeling with only little hope. Some of the key players are even the same, Tom Hartz, Doug Skates, Cindy Flower, Michael Slavney and Dan Draper.
In the Hummel settlement, although not officially stated, it should have been obvious to anyone who read a proposed settlement agreement (that neither party would sign) that there was an understood agreement that if Hummel property land use was changed to permit commercial/residential development by a certain date (which it was) that the lawsuit would be dropped (which it was) and the city’s insurance company would pay x dollars (which it did). In that lawsuit 5 of the city’s alderpersons were listed as part of the lawsuit, which could have made an unethical conflict of interest for them to be voting on changing the land use of the Hummel property especially as it appeared to be part of the settlement agreement to drop the lawsuit against themselves (and all other city officials).
There is a key difference between what could be the “understood” steps to the Hummel settlement and the current Hillmoor settlement. That difference is in the order and the way in which the law-suits were dropped. In the Hummel situation, the alderpersons had to change the land use before the settlement could be made and the lawsuit dropped. If it did not pass, nothing changed and the lawsuit was still there and against all of those involved including alderpersons and other city officials. In the Hillmoor situation, any worry about previous involvement in the lawsuit is dropped first, so no matter what the Hillmoor vote is all city officials whose actions were involved in creating the law-suit are now freed of their responsibility. However, the litigation part against the just actions of the city aldermen can be reopened in the Hillmoor lawsuit if the change is not made to the Hillmoor land use to permit commercial/residential development of the property.
So some city officials have been exempted from any further litigation, and instead, this leaves all alderpersons liable for litigation if they do not approve a change to the land use designation of the Hillmoor property to permit commercial and residential development of that property. City officials have not only sold out on the most valuable property that the city once owned rights to but they have also sold out on the city council by putting them in a situation in which if they do not approve a land-use change to the Hillmoor property they can expect to be sued, and with an insurance company whose primary concern is itself and not the residents, it looks like Hillmoor, the city council, and residents are being sent down the White River route with neither an anchor nor a paddle.