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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo Council Names Gardon New Fire Chief

Issue Date: December 5, 2019

"It's tough to fill the shoes of a legend, and Chief Anderson has been a legend for 31 years," Chuck Gardon told Peshtigo City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 3, shortly after being unanimously approved to take over the position of Fire Chief after Anderson's retirement becomes official on Sunday Dec. 22.

Gardon said he started with the city's volunteer fire department in November of 1980 and has been a member ever since, moving up through the ranks from firefighter to Lieutenant, Junior Captain, Senior Captain, 2nd Assistant Chief and 1st Assistant Chief.

Gardon said the fire department has come a long way during those years, and credited that to Chief Anderson and support from the City Council that "has provided us with the equipment we need to do our jobs on a daily basis."

Gardon had been recommended for the position by the Council's Personnel Committee after a closed session interview on Tuesday, Nov. 19 but the name of their selection had been withheld.

At the Council meeting, Alderman Debbie Sievert, as committee chair, moved to appoint Gardon to the position of chief. Alderman John Berendt noted that Anderson had suggested three possible candidates for the chief position and asked if they had interviewed either of the other candidates. Sievert said they had not, "Chuck has been with the department forever and he has come up through the ranks to the Assistant Chief post." She said Anderson had named Gardon to be second in command as Assistant Chief, a position he has held for several years. Once he takes over as chief Chuck can appoint whoever he wants to fill the Assistant Chief post and name other officers for the department, Sievert added.

The Council's unanimous vote of approval drew a round of applause from everyone in the room. Spectators present included several members of the fire department, including the two other department officers that Anderson had suggested as possible candidates for the chief position.

Fire in the very early hours of Monday, Dec. 2 had destroyed a home in Peshtigo and all its contents, Victims of that fire had not been insured and had escaped with only the clothes they were wearing. Mayor Cathi Malke declared at the end of the council meeting that, "on behalf of the entire Council, our thoughts and prayers are with that family." She said people are in the process of setting up a "Go Fund Me" appeal for them, but said for now at least, contributions of money, clothing or household goods for them will be accepted at the municipal building.

Needs are mostly for now clothing for the four victims.

As a last item at the meeting Malke noted that Peshtigo Crossing Guard Gail Bantes has been nominated for honors as America's Favorite Crossing Guard by the Safe Kids Coalition of Marinette County. Safe Kids Wisconsin and Worldwide reached out to Marinette County to suggest that Bantes be nominated after learning about her act of heroism that saved two children from being struck by a vehicle by pushing them out of the way and taking the hit herself. Bantes, 82, was hospitalized for a broken back she suffered in that incident.

Malke asked everyone to go to the "America's Favorite Crossing Guard by Safe Kids" website at "www.safekids.org/crossing-guard" once a day from now until until Thursday, Dec. 12 to cast a vote that will help Bantes be selected as America's favorite crossing guard.

In other business at the meeting, Council unanimously approved Malke's appointments of Debbie Felker to the Board of Appeals, Mary Lock to the Plan Commission, and Beverly Kain, Irene Marquardt, Barbara Thompson, Mary H. Gansebom, Mary Seidl, Deidre McCormick, Shirley Olson, Donna Biernasz, Sharon Zehren, Sheryl Gaugh, Lisa Gregersen, Teresa Krautkramer, Darla Chaney, Judith Stehle, Francis Sanders, Joan Berth, Barbara Hay, Judy Johannes, Gail Bantes, Kathy Kane, Marquita Limberg, Joyce Caebe, Sharon Kasbohm, Catherine Bartels and Katie Berman to the Election Board.

Also approved without dissent was the list of fees for the coming year that includes an increase in fee from $5 to $7 for non-campers to use the Badger Park dump station, and adds a $5 fee for copies of police reports.

Elected official pay for terms starting in April of 2020 was approved as recommended by the Personnel Committee. This includes pay of $16,500 for the mayor, plus a $2,000 budget for expenses; $2,000 per year for council members plus $30 per council and committee meeting and training seminars plus $25 per month for expenses; $3,300.21 for municipal judge plus $25 per month for expenses, and $50 per meeting for Board of Review. Pay of election inspectors was set at $10.50 per hour, and pay for other city employees and committee members was approved as recommended.

Also in line with the Personnel Committee recommendations, Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal was authorized to carry over 15 vacation days, Police Lieutenant Jarod Phillips was authorized to carry over up to 36 hours of vacation time, and Police Chief Rick Badgley was authorize to carry over half of any remaining vacation time he has coming at the end of 2019 and be paid out for any remainder from the general fund.

Operators' licenses were approved for Amanda Roberts and Donna Hayes.

In his report, Parks and Recreation Director Shawn Northrop expressed "a big thank you" to his wife, Rena, for searching the Green Bay area for the perfect Santa Chair. He said she found it, purchased it from Goodwill for $3 and now has donated it to the city. Northrop also thanked Michael and Theresa Keith for refurbishing the new Santa chair before it was delivered to the municipal building, where it is now waiting for Santa. Northrop also thanked the Kieths for making a new Santa bag to go with the chair.

Christmas decorations continue to be put up. Northrop said he has heard a lot of compliments on the garland on the bridge, and thanked Debbie Felker and Malke for helping put it up.

He added that the lighted Christmas trees hanging from the city's wooden light poles look a bit brighter this year because the original light bulbs have been replaced with LED lights. This cost a little at the start, but the new bulbs will save money in electricity in addition to giving off a brighter glow for the holiday season.

Northrop also thanked Public Works Director George Cowell for providing support to the Parks and Recreation Department for getting the light poles decorated with the trees, hanging holiday banners and stringing the new lighted garland. He added that city hall is next on the decorating list, and hinted broadly that any help would be appreciated.

Northrop had been authorized by the Parks and Recreation Committee to continue looking into the possibility of developing the city owned property along US 41 and Schacht Road as a Veterans and First Responders Memorial Park. He had subsequently spoken with Cathi Karmsz of the DNR to discover any obstacles to the project. Northrop said there would be none in naming of the area, and they just would have to a void the small section deemed a wetland area when developing the park. He said if and when it was decided to construct any monuments they would need to contact the DNR again to go through the proper procedures to be sure there is no impact on the wetland area.

At the committee meeting Northrop had noted there were some large old trees in danger of falling at Badger Park, and at the Council meeting he reported that one of the oldest and largest had split and fallen since then. The piece that split off revealed a large amount of rot and a huge hollow area in the remainder of the tree, so it too will need to come down soon. "That was my favorite tree," Northrop declared. He is working with Eugene Frank to get the remainder of the tree removed as soon as possible to eliminate the danger of it falling on someone.

Council approved a recommendation from Northrop to enter a 2-year contract with Astra Campground Manager, to handle reservations for Badger Park Campgrounds.The contract approval is subject to a prior review by City Attorney David Spangenberg.

Before the vote, Northrop explained the contract agreement with Astra will remove glitches from the reservations process for Badger Park campsites by contracting with national website service Astra Campground Manager to process all reservations. He said using the service will eliminate double booking problems that have occasionally occurred in the past, particularly during Historical Day weekend. The $3.50 per site fee charged by the website will be deducted by the city's current $37 fee for a night in the campground, but the 2.5 percent charge for using a credit or debit card will be absorbed by the camper. This comes to about 68 cents per night. All reservation fees will be paid in advance. He said in addition to eliminating the over booking problems, using the web site will put Badger Park on the national scene.

Malke noted over the years Peshtigo has lost thousands and thousands of dollars in campground fees due to campers who make reservations and then do not show up and do not pay for the sites.

Alderman Debbie Sievert asked about people who may not have a credit card, and Northrop said campers can still stop at the park or at the Municipal Building and pay with cash or a check, but then either he or the campground host will need to enter the reservation at the Astra site.

Malke noted that in past years the city had lost a great deal of money due to campers who reserved campsites and then never paid for them.

In connection with the parks and Recreation report, Alderman Mike Behnke asked if former Parks and Recreation Director David Zahn was collecting unemployment benefits, and Malke said he is not. His application had been denied.

George Cowell reported the city's new recycling carts have arrived in two semi loads and members of his crew spent two very busy days unloading and assembling the 1,100 carts with the help of Darryl Joy and Michael Biehl. Each cart is numbered and will be registered when delivered to homes rental units with up to four apartments throughout the city. First recycling collection with the automated cart system is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 13.

The heavy, wet and deep snow that fell on Saturday night and Sunday caused some problems for city crews, even with chains on the vehicles some got stuck anyway. The new snowblower could not handle the heavy wet snow on the bridge sidewalk so the bucket loader was put back to work for that purpose.

A problem with water in Badger Park has been resolved. Two lift stations developed problems due to the repeated power failures on Sunday and Monday but the city's two generators kept them both in operation. In addition to the tree that fell in Badger Park, two other trees fell due the heavy snow and will need to be cleaned up.

Cowell thanked the city crew for all their hard work dealing with the snow on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, as did Malke.

Cowell said the city has received a $1,500 grant from American Transmission Company to use for planting new trees along the Peshtigo River from the boat launch to Trout Creek. There is no requirement for a matching expenditure.

Cowell said the West Park Drive resurfacing grant application has been submitted to the state, while Malke is still working on the larger Multi-Modal Grant application in hopes they can get money somewhere for the West Park Drive improvement project.

Malke thanked Behnke for writing a letter of support for the Multi-Modal grant application, which is being submitted in cooperation with Peshtigo School District through the Safe Routes To School portion of the program. Participation in the program was approved at the November Council meeting and also has been approved by Peshtigo School Board. If it comes to reality the project will eliminate some dangerous crossings for kids walking to the Elementary Learning Center from West Park Drive, and greatly improve safety for students when they are picked up or dropped off for school.


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