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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Cowell Retiring From Peshtigo Public Works Director Position

Issue Date: January 6, 2022

Public Works Director George Cowell concluded his monthly activities report to Peshtigo City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 4 by announcing that this would be the last Council meeting he would attend in his official capacity as head of the city's Department of Public Works. Later in the meeting the Council voted without dissent to approve Cowell's retirement effective Feb. 28.

Cowell said after the meeting that he has 22 days of vacation to use before his official retirement date. By the time of the February Council meeting he will be skiing in Colorado. He has been Peshtigo Public Works Director for 12 years, and has served in municipal capacities since graduating from college in 1982.

In his report, Cowell said the lab audit of the wastewater treatment plant had been completed, and expressed thanks to Rick Sparks that an excellent report had been achieved. He said there had been a lot of snow to deal with, including one storm with 12 inches of heavy wet snow that required calling in some extra help.

Cowell said he has applied again for a grant for improvements to West Park Drive, and regardless, that project will be advertised or construction to begin right after the end of the current school year.

Later in the meeting, when reporting for the Personnel Committee, Alderman Brigitte Schmidt made the motion to accept Cowell's retirement, and extended thanks for his many years of service. "Thank you for all you've done for the city," she told Cowell. "In the years I've been here, you've always been there when we needed you."

Mayor Cathi Malke also expressed thanks to Cowell, and said she had not learned until that afternoon that this would be his last official Council meeting or she would have ordered a cake. As it was, Council took a break to congratulate Cowell on his retirement and share cupcakes before going into closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss a pending property purchase.

After the closed session, the four aldermen present voted to accept a vacant land purchase offer from Rudy and Charice Pilot that was executed on Dec. 27. Price is $125,000, with the city to pay all closing costs. Funds for the purchase are to come from the city's revolving loan fund. Motion to buy the land was made by Alderman Katie Berman and seconded by Schmidt. The only other aldermen present were Keith Klimek and Rick Berth. Aldermen Debbie Schmidt and John Berendt were absent and excused.

After brief discussion Council approved a request from Peshtigo Lions Club to operate a small concession stand during the walleye run as they did last year. The stand last year was located in the parking area near the foot of the fish viewing platform. Malke noted the concession stand was heavily used last year, and the food served was delicious.

In a letter to the Council, Lions Club President Jim Tress said the walleye run and the Fish Viewing Walkway have become major attractions for the city. "As several hundred people enter our community, it is important to display our hospitality and give them a reason to return or relocate here. The Peshtigo Lions club would again like to help in doing that.

He said the stand will operate during hours to be determined by need, in the area where it was last year. They will serve coffee, hot chocolate, soda, water, burgers, brats and hot dogs, and money raised will enable the Lions to raise funds to give back to the community. "One of our major projects is the development of the Recreation Area and Family Fishing Hole at the North entrance to the city." He concluded, "Last year we had great support by the Community and look forward to serving them again."

Tom Gryzwa, speaking for the Lions Club, said Peshtigo residents and visitors alike enjoyed the stand and the food it served, and it seemed to connect everyone. It was open for 14 days, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and some people ate there every day. Gryzwa said the Lions Club will use the money for the city and various organizations, with most of it going for improvements by the fishing pond. Among other things, they are buying picnic tables and developing recreational trails there.

Berth asked if the stand will again be plugged into the city's electric service, and Gryzwa said it will, and added that they were plugged into that outlet last year also, and made a donation back to the city that was more than enough to cover the cost of electricity.

At the start of the meeting Council approved a correction to minutes of the Dec. 7 meeting as requested by Berth. Berth stated he and Berman had voted against a motion to approve the Healing Patriots' request to use the Henry Drees Community Center at no charge for a fundraiser on Feb. 12. The original minutes, before the correction, said the vote in favor of the request was 6 to 0.

Even with two aldermen absent, all chairs at the Council table were filled, with the absent aldermen replaced by student aldermen Abbey Graf and Bailey Kempka. The two Peshtigo Middle School students were sitting in for extra credit in their 8th grade history class study of civic responsibilities and duties.

Malke said she invited them to participate as student aldermen after learning the two regular aldermen would not be on hand, and felt it would be a good way for them to get a feel of how city government operates.

Graf said her father is a truck driver and her mother is employed at a bank. Kempka said her parents are both volunteer firefighters who do things for the city, and added she is proud of them for that: "I appreciate what they do and why they do it."

Filing deadline for the four city offices to be filled in the April elections was 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 4. Competition has developed for two of the elected positions. Incumbent Mayor Cathi Malke is being challenged by incumbent District 1 Alderman Richard H. Berth III. Berth is also seeking return to that office, and is being challenged by Chris Rohde. Incumbent District 2 Alderman John Berendt is not seeking return to office, and Allan England is unopposed to fill that spot on City Council. Incumbent Katie Berman is unopposed to return as District 3 Alderman.

With the student aldermen drawing names, Malke's name was selected to appear first on the ballot for Mayor, followed by Berth, and Berth's name will appear first on the ballot for District 1 Alderman, followed by Rohde.

With little discussion and no dissent, Council approved Mackenzie Cardinal as a new firefighter with the city Fire Department as requested by Fire Chief Chuck Gardon, and approved Class A Fermented Malt Beverage and Intoxicating Liquor licenses for Peshtigo Apparel Co. & More, LLC. Before the vote Berth asked if Police Chief Fred Popp approved the license, and Popp said he did, and he had done a background check on license holder Jason Malke.

Klimek moved to approve November 2021 budget transfers and adjustments as recommended by the Finance Committee. When vote was called, Berth attempted to abstain, but was advised by Kasal that abstentions are allowed only if there is personal financial interest in the outcome. Berth objected, declaring he did not know enough about the transfers and adjustments to cast a vote.

"If you have questions, it is your responsibility to come in ahead of time and get answers," Malke told him.

Berth said since he could not abstain he would vote no, so the decision was 3 in favor of following the committee recommendation and Berth opposed.

Transfers totaled $160,695.91 in revenues from loans and donations that were transferred to their intended accounts. The donations included donations to the fire department of $1,391 from Faith Lutheran Church, $198 from Iola Old Car Show, and $2,400 from Tri-Tec; $1,390 in flower donations for planters, $9,000 donations toward the Fish Viewing Platform in 2021, and $28,816.91 from Peshtigo Wild Goose ADA for the handicapped pier. Loans were $94,500 for Parks and Recreation improvements, and two loans, one for $15,700 and one for $7,300 for Fire Department ISO recommendations.

Without dissent Council approved the list of 2022 Capital Outlay Items with a total price tag of $141,815 as recommended by the Finance Committee. To pay for it, there will be a short term loan for $116,045, plus $9,579 from the Street Equipment Outlay Fund and the $16,191 balance from the Capital Improvement Fund.

On the approved list for capital improvements are $1,500 for picnic tables, $6,000 for fire department radios, $9,000 for fire department Roll and Rack System, $55,000 for a new police vehicle, $10,000 for police department cameras, $700 for police department kits, $2,500 for police department shield, $11,000 for two police department radios, $765 for police department road spikes, $5,350 for the police department Lexipol program, and $40,000 for a vehicle lift for the Public Works Department.


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