Crivitz Continues Quest For Sex Offender Rules
Like other communities in Marinette County and probably all across Wisconsin, the Village of Crivitz is finding it difficult to come up with an ordinance that will comply with Wisconsin law and at the same time protect citizens from having known sex offenders, particularly those identified as sexually violent persons (SVPs), move into dwellings near those of children or vulnerable adults or places where they regularly gather, such as parks, schools and churches.
Members of the Crivitz Village Board's Public Safety Committee were informed at their meeting on Monday, July 10 that in the opinion of Village Attorney Richard Boren, their current ordinance regulating residency for known sex offenders "is unconstitutional and unenforceable."
The issue has come to the forefront in many Marinette County communities since a home in a residential area of rural Pound with 18 children living nearby was identified as suitable for offenders being placed on supervised release by the Wisconsin Department of Health after long prison terms followed by long stays in the state mental hospital at Mauston. A new state law passed last year in effect negated all existing local sex offender residency ordinances. A new sex offender residency law is expected to be adopted as part of the pending state budget, but details at this point are not certain.
Other discussion at the meeting included possible purchase of a 2006 M350 truck for the fire department; communications difficulties encountered during the June 11 storm and proposed solutions; Fire Department purchase of a remote hydrant valve that in effect replaces a firefighter, and best use of funds remaining from a $50,000 public safety grant the village received last year.
The sex offender residency issue had been discussed at the committee's June meeting and was tabled until July to allow time to confer with Boren and do additional research.
Village Clerk Marilyn Padgett said since then she had done considerable research, and Boren's letter to the committee showed that he had done so as well.
The letter was mostly bad news in regard to what the committee had hoped to accomplish, and Boren concluded his letter with the comment, "As I tell all my clients, unfortunately you are paying me to tell you what you have to hear - not what you want to hear!"
In a letter confirming his conversation with Padgett, Boren outlined Wisconsin Chapter 980, which he said places severe restrictions on where a sexually violent person can reside in the community. The residences must be not less than 1,500 feet from any school premise, child care facility, public park, place of worship or youth center, and if the person committed the offense against an at risk or elderly adult, not less than 1,500 feet from a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Also, if the person is a serious child sex offender, the placement must be put into a residence that is not on a property adjacent to where child's primary residence exists unless the residences are at least 1,500 feet apart. However, to be considered adjacent, the properties must share a common property line, so the dwelling can be directly across the street from the home of a child, or very near if there is an intervening property, which is the situation of the dwelling in the Town of Pound where an unnamed investor has purchased a home that the DOH has found suitable for their sex offender supervised release program.
None of the restrictions apply if the child or vulnerable person moves into the prohibited area after the SVP is living there.
"Chapter 980 also preempts and supersedes any local ordinance that attempts to further or differently restrict where a "sex offender' may reside or attempts to regulate who may rent a residence to a sex offender. There is some question as to whether "sex offender' means an SVP or applies to all sex offenders," Boren's letter went on.
Therefore, he said, the current local ordinance is certainly preempted and invalid as it applies to an SVP. He added that in his opinion, "it is also an unconstitutional restriction on where a general registered sex offender may reside regardless of whether or not the Crivitz ordinance is preempted by chapter 980."
"Such local ordinances have routinely been declared unconstitutional and any attempt to enforce such an ordinance would expose the village to potential legal liability," he warned, adding, "If it is any comfort, non-SVP sex offenders are generally, relatively low risk according to one expert that I talked to."
Boren concluded by again advising that the village's current ordinance should not be enforced in any manner. He suggested the village could adopt an ordinance prohibiting all registered sex offenders from loitering or being present with no legitimate purpose at or near places where children are present such as schools, licensed childcare centers, playgrounds, parks and licensed entertainment facilities, and said he will be working on a draft ordinance to this effect for future review and approval.
"So," Padgett commented, "You cannot do anything except prohibit them from being present or loitering where children congregate."
Village President John Deschane said state law sets the residency limit at 1,500 feet from schools, churches, parks, etc., while the current village ordinance says 2,000 feet, "which pretty much excludes the entire village."
Padgett said with the new state law the village can no longer restrict when SVPs will live, the state has exclusive control. "You can't do anything except prohibit them from being present or loitering where children congregate," she repeated.
Padgett added there is a disturbing trend in the last two years or so for people in Madison to adopt laws that go back in time and make regulations municipalities already have in place null and void. She commented that this is happening in a state that supposedly has "home rule".
"So, as of now, we do not have an ordinance," Trustee Dick Kaminski commented.
"Right!" Padgett agreed. "If someone from Probation and Parole or someone on the sex offender registry calls and asks where they can live, we have to tell them there are no restrictions."
Police Chief Mike Frievalt remarked that a sex offender was recently placed on his road and no one even knew about it. He said after finding out he notified others in the neighborhood.
That issue was tabled until the next meeting, when the committee expects to consider the sex offender loitering ordinance that Boren is working on.
Fire Chief Rudi Jensen at the start of the meeting described a 2006 M350 truck the department is purchasing at a good price. However, the box is rusty and a flat rack would be more usable for them. Witt Ford is getting them prices on a new bed, since there are no used ones available. Jensen said they also could use it as is for two years or so, and then replace the box. Committee Chair Duane Swanson asked him to also get a price on having a new box fabricated.
Jensen reported the Fire Department had been saving money from the Oktoberfest fund raiser to pay for a remote hydrant valve, that generally costs $3,000. Then they had an opportunity to buy a demonstrator model for $1,500, and they bought it. He said the department was hoping the village would kick in $750, which would leave them $750 of their DNR grant money to spend on something else. He said the hydrant tool in effect replaces one firefighter. They can hook up the valve and then go to fight the fire, turning the hydrant on and off from wherever the water is being used.
Kurt Kostuch suggested somewhat in jest that if the department would pay half the cost of the truck, the village would pay half the cost of the valve. However, Swanson quickly moved to purchase half of the valve, and that proposal will go to the village board.
Monthly police, fire and animal control reports were distributed.
There was one complaint about a dog at large. Frievalt said the animal was apprehended and the owner claimed it. The police report showed 57 cases, and the fire department responded to eight calls. However responses during and after the June 11 storm were treated as one call. Nine of the department's 18 firefighters responded and helped village employees with cleanup efforts after helping remove hazards resulting from fallen trees and downed electric wires.
The storm pointed up a need for a better communications system. Cell phones were pretty much useless due to the volume of calls.
Jensen said the fire department was hoping to create more of a command center by adding a ratio with which they could communicate with county officers, village employees, rescue squad workers, and other responders.
Frievalt suggested the fire department should get a base station and use the 100 watt repeater on the village antenna. He suggested the village police and fire department could work together from locations at the village hall and the fire station where there is a generator for backup.
"When the storm happened there was virtually no cell phone communication," Frievalt declared. He suggested the fire department and police department could use separate frequencies.
Padgett said during and after the storm the fire department was acting like the Public Work support staff, and helping do whatever needed to be done.
Frievalt said there were trees down, people were guarding downed wires, people inside houses were screaming for help. He suggested there should be portable radios for the Public Works staff. Police and most of the firefighters already have radios.
Padgett felt there also should be a radio in the hands of the emergency shelter director, and the radios should be assigned by title, not by name. She said the village hall is a designated shelter, and recalled a few years ago when the fugitives involved in a shooting and high speed chase on Hwy. 141 were still being pursued she was called on to open the shelter for some Middle Inlet residents who were not allowed to return home.
Frievalt noted during the June 11 storm everything went smoothly, everyone worked together, "and the only hiccup was the lack of communications because cell phone towers were overloaded."
Deschane said he would like to see public works, police, firefighters and the village clerk meet to discuss what system they would like and come back with a recommendation.
Frievalt said the system he proposed would cost about $600 for updates to the police radios and $2,000 for the fire department base station and radios, and they still have about $9,000 left from the grant. Padgett said that was because the fire department had saved a great deal of money on the truck.
Frievalt commented that one of their best recent purchases were the orange plastic traffic cones. He said after the storm, because there were enough of the cones, workers were able to place them at hazard sites quickly and move on. This helped immensely with overall safety for the village during the after storm cleanup.
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