Is Mount Pleasant the most dysfunctional village in Wisconsin? Probably not, but the Foxconn juggernaut has made our maladjusted Village Hall a lot more visible. People who have watched local politics will tell you the Village’s reputation is well earned and was years in the making.
Our embarrassing reputation has made it difficult to find people willing to work at Village Hall - a renown snake pit according to former employees. And even though almost everyone acknowledges our unfortunate reputation, no one takes responsibility for it - least of all many of the current Village Trustees on the Village Board.
If you have sat on the Village Board of Trustees for as long as some trustees have, you might want to stop moaning about all the bad things people say about our local government - because you have been riding shotgun in the clown car too long to be innocent of some of the blame.
Now that another election day upon us, it’s interesting that four of the candidates running for trustee seats are running as a “team.” They have even spent a boatload of cash to make giant, unreadable yard signs which advertise a cry to “end the stalemate” and “move Mount Pleasant forward.”
Of course, most of us are a little dizzy and motion sick from the speed at which Mount Pleasant is moving forward. What “stalemate” are candidates, Bud Eastman, Ram Bhatia, Anna Marie Clausen, and Skip Leonard referencing?
My guess the “stalemate” is the one in which Eastman, Bhatia and Clausen were each nominated by David DeGroot to serve as trustees to fill his vacant seat and were declined by the three other trustees, leaving it unfilled until this year’s special election.
Not exactly a wide community concern since the “stalemated” board was finally able to hire a Village Administrator, Human Resource Manager, Village Finance Director and new Village legal counsel over the last several months.
You may recall, before Dave DeGroot was even sworn as Village President in last April, he told local press he was halting the search for the Administrator and Human Resources positions. Turns out he didn’t have the authority, and trustees, Feest, Hansen and Otwaska forced him to move forward on it.
With a six man board - DeGroot didn’t have the votes to get his way. He spent the next few months embarrassing himself trying to nominate his friends and business associates - some with whom he had significant financial connections - before Feest, Hansen and Otwaska made the case to take it to an election this spring.
They said it was a more fair and democratic solution to allow voters to decide. Naturally, DeGroot was the lone vote against it.
The truth is, for all its controversy, the “stalemate” worked. No side or faction of trustees had the majority and they were forced to work together. After years of flip flopping factions having control - which germinated the original seeds of dysfunction - no one had control and some things got done.
Not everything was perfect - this is Mount Pleasant after all.
There was the board censure of DeGroot in late summer. After trying to have Al Gardner removed by the Police Chief during a village meeting for replying to an insult DeGroot made to him during public comments, and refusing to allow me to speak at all until I submitted a written and oral apology to him first - two things he has no authority to do - trustees Hansen and Feest got tired of his abuse. DeGroot said he would have them removed too.
The recording made Milwaukee news. As the censure came down, Anna Marie Clausen was there to speak - saying she supported the president.
When a local delegation traveled to Japan last summer to see Foxconn facilities, DeGroot decided to travel along too. Instead of traveling coach on the international flight like everyone else, DeGroot upgraded his seats - at double the cost - paid for by village residents.
The complimentary champagne was not appreciated by his travel companions.
Then there is the website. Since last May, Dave DeGroot has penned a public website about me, trustees Feest, Hansen, and Otwaska which as sexually harassed, verbally abused and intimidated us. The website is registered privately, so I may never be able to prove he writes it, but he doesn’t really hide his identity at all.
It’s disgusting, creepy and the work of someone who really needs professional help.
What may be worse, Anna Marie Clausen encouraged people to read the website with a link on her campaign Facebook page for six months before she finally took it down - only after I started speaking out about it and using her name in connection to it.
Now, more than ever, we need to elect trustees who will ask questions, demand answers and become policy makers that will create a stronger local government. We need to do better than the Castlewood “breakfast club” of friends who are largely responsible for the mismanagement and lack of policies which has plagued Village Hall.
Clausen, Eastman, Bhatia and Leonard are running as a team - they don’t hide it - it’s their election strategy. Saying you’re a “team-player” is usually a positive thing unless you know something more about the team.
Gary Feest, the lone incumbent on ballot, should be given credit for taking a risk in saying the deadlocked board might be the best thing to happen in years. He was right, and he should be re-elected as Trustee #4. He is thoughtful and independent. Gary always votes his conscience. Feest’s opponent, Skip Leonard is an ambivalent candidate at best. He has hinted to more than a couple of people he might drop out.
Don Schulz is the right choice for Trustee #2. As a previous Supervisor and Trustee, Don wants to see strategic planning for Fire and EMS and is never afraid to challenge and ask questions - unlike his opponent, Bud Eastman. Eastman has sat on the Police and Fire Commission for years which has never produced any long term planning or reviews - and is the biggest budget item in the village. Eastman’s previous nomination to the board by DeGroot says it all.
Ram Bhatia has spent a small fortune on yard signs, making him the most visible in the special election for Trustee #5. He says he is a peacemaker and open minded - but in his primary debate, I found him to be arrogant. He repeatedly referenced his degrees to qualify himself as if his opponent, Dr. John Martini, was uneducated. His recent behavior at the Carthage Foxconn panel discussion - where he criticized and shamed a panelist for talking too long and being too “political” proved to me my first impression of him at the debate was not hasty. Dr. John Martini is a compassionate and caring man. He listens before he speaks - he considers other opinions. Mount Pleasant can’t afford more bullies on the board.
Lastly, Anna Marie Clausen wants the seat back she lost to John Hansen two years ago. That Hansen has enthusiastically endorsed her opponent, Tom Giese for Trustee #6, is probably enough information. Hansen has been dogged in promoting policy updates and better review processes - or ANY review processes. The reality is, Giese dropped into the race like a dream come true. An international businessman, having lived and conducted business in Singapore and an MBA from Northwestern - Giese is the guy everyone wished would run. Clausen is a DeGroot/Gleason/Wahlen disciple and sees no reason to change. She is better left to run Mount Pleasant Days. When it comes to the Village, she is there to support her president not the people. Mount Pleasant would be lucky to have Tom Giese on the board.
If we are ever going end the dysfunction at Village Hall - we have to elect some new people. We need independent people, young people, smart people. We need to break the lock this group has on Village Hall. Our ‘stalemated” board has succeeded in bringing in new and professional staff - they deserve a chance to thrive.
Early voting begins Monday, March 19th during regular business hours at Village Hall through March 30th. Election day is April 3rd. Please vote.
(Photo: David DeGroot, Ram Bhatia, Van Wanggaard, Anna Marie Clausen & Bud Eastman at candidate fundraiser hosted by Wanggaard.)