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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Supervisors Cannot Address 980 Committee

Issue Date: June 3, 2021

With the June 10 deadline fast approaching, Marinette County continues to be without a suitable dwelling for a soon-to-be-released 袤" sex offender. If no plan is submitted to the state Department of Health by that date, Marinette County could be subject to fines of up to $1,000 per day.

The Marinette County 980 Committee met in closed session for nearly an hour on Thursday, May 27 and then adjourned without taking action other than to schedule another meeting for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 9, one day before the deadline.

Members of the Marinette County 980 Committee present for the May 27 meeting were County Administrator John LeFebvre, Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison, Sheriff Jerry Sauve, Health and Human Services Director Glenn Sartorelli, Land Information Department Director Tim Oestreich, and Probation/Parole Officer Chad Poverski. Michael Chase, Contract Specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, participated by phone.

Others on hand for the meeting included Lt. Chris Lesperance of the Marinette County Sheriff's Department, County Board Chair John Guarisco, County Board Supervisor Don Pazynski, Peshtigo Town Chair Cindy Boyle, Town of Peshtigo citizens Andrea Maxwell and Vicki Bergeson, and Town of Middle Inlet residents Ilene and Harry Goltz, and representatives of the local news media.

At the County Board meeting on March 30, responding to pleas from about 100 people whose families would be affected, supervisors had overwhelmingly voted down a proposal from County Administrator John LeFebvre to put a pre-built home for the 980 sex offender on a county-owned property on Mud Brook Road in the Town of Lake.

(See related article, with legal description of a 980 sex offender, elsewhere in today's Peshtigo Times.)

The search for an alternative solution has been going on since then, with the stated hope that a private investor will offer a property that can be leased to the state as a home for up to two sex offenders - the maximum allowed by the state for the 980 offenders being re-introduced to society under tight restrictions. Restrictions for the first year include ankle bracelets and being forbidden to venture outdoors, even onto a porch or into the yard, without direct supervision.

Currently Marinette County has one privately owned residence for 980 offenders, located in a rural residential area in the Town of Pound. There have been a total of four offenders assigned there since the program began, and its limit of two at a time is filled.

County Board Supervisor Don Pazynski, who represents a portion of the Town of Peshtigo, has repeatedly suggested that the county put a pre-built or mobile home on part of the 20-county-owned site of the Jail/Law Enforcement Center in the City of Marinette as a residence for 980 offenders. LeFebvre has repeatedly argued that the jail property is adjacent to a mobile home park with children, and a church, and therefore would not meet the state's restrictions on living arrangements for 980 offenders. He has also said the city would need to approve a zoning variance to allow a dwelling on the property, and the re-zoning process would take longer than the June 10 deadline allows.

The subject came to the forefront again during LeFebvre's monthly report at the County Board meeting on Tuesday, May 25, and at a 980 Committee meeting on Thursday, May 27.

"There are no good, viable options that we currently have," LeFebvre told County Board on Tuesday. He said whenever a possible property is identified, Sheriff's officers must visit neighbors to find out if there are children living on adjacent properties. He said every day he gets calls or reaches out to try to find an option, and added that he and Mattison have been working very hard to find a solution before the June 10 deadline. He said the Sheriff's Department has investigated perhaps 10 locations, and he had objecting calls in regard to only three of them.

"This isn't going away," Mattison said in regard to the sex offender residence, and added, "as a FYI"..."County Board decided to not fund the house (on Mud Brook road) because the news media was all over that..."

Pazynski declared it is the responsibility of supervisors to try to minimize the effect of the laws, and to try to find the most neutral site possible. At least one site in the Town of Peshtigo district that Pazynski represents is being considered as a possible 980 residence site. Pazynski said the county owns 20 acres at the Law Enforcement Center, and while he realizes they may need part of it for a new jail pod someday, he felt they could use part of the property now as a 980 residence site. He asked if the required 1,500 feet from the residence of a child is measured building to building or lot to lot.

He noted the LEC site adjoins the Town of Peshtigo, but as it is also the site of the jail officers could respond in very little time if needed, and other services are located nearby.

LeFebvre said the distance is measured lot to lot, and the northeast corner of the Law Enforcement property is adjacent to a 95-unit mobile home park, "so the 20 acres - as a 20-acre parcel - does not meet the criteria."

The possibility of carving the a suitable lot from the 20 acres was not addressed, partly because the discussion was cut off by Mattison, who stated the issue was not on the agenda except as part of the administrator's report.

Guarisco suggested Pazynski and other supervisors who wanted to discuss the issue should attend the 980 Committee meeting on May 27, when the agenda provided for public comment.

Mattison told County Board she and LeFebvre have been doing everything they can, and had talked to everyone they could, repeated that the issue was not on the agenda except as part of LeFebvre's report, and suggested getting it on the agenda for the 980 Committee.

"So...I'm speechless!!!" Pazynski exclaimed.

Then, at the 980 Committee meeting two days later, Pazynski was speechless again. Several members of the public were allowed to address the committee, but Mattison, who serves as committee chair as well as legal counsel for the county, said supervisors are elected officials who are not allowed to speak during time for public comment, so Pazynski would not be allowed to speak.

Boyle, as Peshtigo Town Chair, asked the committee to suspend the rules so their County Board Supervisor could speak.

Mattison declared, "..it is not that easy." She said supervisors are not members of the public, and he addresses it at County Board.

Boyle asked if that was a County Board rule or law, and if it could be changed.

She also asked why the public was not being allowed to know the name of the vendor who might be offering a property on Shore Drive in the Town of Peshtigo as 980 residence site. She said it is located in a highly populated rural residential area, and said property owners there are already under extreme stress over PFAS groundwater contamination issues and do not deserve added problems. She said there is extreme opposition to locating it anywhere in the Town of Peshtigo, but especially at the proposed Shore Drive location.

Maxwell, speaking on behalf of herself, her family and her neighbors, mentioned loss of property values, which she said has been very high due to PFAS issues, and now this.

Pazynski asked if the committee would suspend the rules and allow him to speak, and Mattison said they would not, adding that she had sent him an e-mail, and that she would be happy to discuss the issue with him "at a future date."

"In other words, you're saying I should shut up!" Pazynski declared.

The committee then voted to go into closed, executive session, and at 9:47 a.m., less than 15 minutes after the meeting was called to order, the 15 people present moved out into the hallway and doors to the meeting room were closed.

Two members of the public, Ilene and Harry Goltz, said their home on Trellis Lane in Middle Inlet is adjacent to a property there that the county has taken for unpaid taxes. They had offered to buy the property from the county, or to pay the back taxes so the owners could keep it, but said this is not allowed.

By law, when the county takes property for back taxes, if it is sold at all it must be made available to everyone through a bidding process.

Discussion by Town of Peshtigo residents in the hallway was that one of the houses on Shore Drive being considered is located near the Shore Crest Tavern, about half a mile from the old hospital, which is very near the Marinette city limits and the Marinette Campus of UW-Green Bay.

After spending just under an hour in closed session the 980 Committee returned to open session. Mattison asked for a motion to take no action on recommending a placement, and that was done by unanimous voice vote. The next meeting was set for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 9 and the meeting was adjourned at 12:38 p.m. It had been called to order at 11:30 a.m.

After adjournment, Pazynski provided the Peshtigo Times with a written comment declaring that closed meeting sessions are not always best, and stated, "There are times when an open meeting is far more fair, regardless of the issue...Therefore, I offer the following comment, "If you do not communicate - people will speculate - and - to communicate properly it is imperative you know your audience. If communication to the public is blocked via closed session you are in essence losing any good will you may have maintained thus far."

He added, "The county has experienced several potential 980 sites to no avail. Opposition to the first site was strong. Opposition to the second was even stronger. The public has become more aware and more knowledgeable of consequences regarding this issue and have become even more so each passing day. The Committee should not keep citizens away from discussion for such an important issue because whatever site is ultimately selected, it must be as neutral as possible. The public should not be forced to accept a 980 sex offender in a tightly populated residential area."

He concluded, "By engaging in a closed session the Committee will be dismissing the public by showing a lack of desire for communication. If we think we have strong opposition now - remember - if you do not communicate - people will speculate...And then..you lose control of the message."


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