City of Reedsburg allows Recall Walker petitioners to use Rec Center
Post by Meagan Porter on 11/23/2011 11:00am
This article originally appeared in the November 24, 2011 issue of the Reedsburg Independent, a weekly print newspaper covering the Reedsburg, Wis. area and is reprinted here with permission.
A group collecting signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker has been granted permission to use the City of Reedsburg’s Recreation Center, located in the basement of city hall.
The decision, made by the parks and recreation committee on Tuesday of last week, was based on the fact that the city does not have any written rules governing the use of city-owned buildings, an issue the committee is set to take up at its regular meeting in December.
The committee’s 3-2 decision was upheld at a special meeting of the city council on Thursday when the council adjourned without taking action on the issue.
City attorney Jim Gerlach said he was unable to find any specific legal authority relating to recall petitioners using public buildings, and that it was his opinion that the city should not override the parks and recreation committee’s decision.
“I don’t think the council can change the historic precedent it has adhered to, which is to allow the parks and recreation committee to make decisions regarding the use of it,” he told the council. Gerlach explained that while parks and sidewalks are considered open public forum places, they can be regulated with rules and policies. He recommended the city establish written regulations at a future meeting.
Typically groups looking to use city-owned spaces submit an application to parks and recreation director Matt Scott, who usually approves them unless he thinks it’s an unusual case, Gerlach said.
Scott relayed at the parks and recreation committee meeting that he didn’t feel comfortable making a decision on his own regarding the application.
The local Recall Walker effort kicked off last Tuesday with a rally on the sidewalk in front of the public library. Volunteers from the Reedsburg Area Progressives and Reedsburg Area Concerned Citizens collected nearly 1,000 signatures as of press time on Tuesday. The groups are supported by United Wisconsin and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
Their interest in the Rec Center space was for the benefit of community members, explained volunteer Bill Waser. “It’s the citizens we’re worried about,” he said. “When it gets snowier and icier, we don’t want anyone slipping. We want to allow the little old ladies, the older people, a place to sign where they don’t have to freeze their hands.”
The group maintains that their request was not politically motivated. “We’re not doing a political activity, we’re doing a public service,” said volunteer John Dietz. “The political activity will be the campaign itself.”
The parks and recreation committee approved the use of the Rec Center provided they be inside only during business hours and not disrupt any of the regular activities going on in the space.
Last Thursday, Mayor Dave Estes called a special meeting of the city council, saying that he had received a lot of phone calls from citizens and aldermen regarding the ruling. “The main goal of the meeting was to get everyone on the same page,” he explained. “The standpoint of the city always has been and always will be that we’re neutral with any political agenda. This is not about who is in favor of or against any political idea.”
The Republican Party of Sauk County (RSPC) responded to the decision on Thursday in an email to the city and subsequent press release “demanding the discontinuance of the city’s primary voting location as a base for the Democrats and Recall Walker union activists.”
“Allowing such divisive political [activity] in the very location your constituents vote not only gives the perception the City of Reedsburg sponsors such activities, it creates an environment that taints the political process,” reads the press release. “State law protects voters from political activity during polling hours - integrity protects your voters the rest of the hours.”
On Saturday, the RPSC requested use of “same room with similar accommodations,” stating that they “lack private space to perform our public service to the community that allows us to demonstrate why we think a recall against Governor Walker is not only wrong but will be extremely costly to taxpayers.”
City clerk/treasurer Anna Meister said on Monday that the usage request from the RPSC was granted. “They are allowed to use the space during business hours because the precedent was already set,” she said in an interview. Meister was not aware of their specific plans and said they had not set up as of the building closing on Monday evening.