I Hate Signs … But We Are Where We Are

You don’t like the proliferation of campaign yard signs? Neither do I.

For decades, Mequon had relatively simple ordinances about campaign yard signs. No signs on public property. Campaigners needed permission before posting a sign on private property. Signs had to be a certain size, and there were limits to how many signs that could be posted on a property. Signs needed to come down after elections. There were scofflaws who broke these ordinances, but they generally worked okay. Most people were happy. They had a means for expressing their preferences.

Years ago, it came to the city’s attention that court decisions called into question some of the rules. At the advice of the city attorney, the city stopped telling people to take down large signs and stopped telling people how many signs they could put on private property. However, the city maintained the rest of the rules. I reminded people of the basic rules last year before the presidential election in this post.

People who are “aghast” and “shocked” that there are large signs posted during this election either were not here for prior elections, were not paying attention or, frankly, are being dishonest. There have been large signs at every election going back to at least the 2016 presidential election (I believe even earlier). There have been about 10 elections (or more) during this period. There were large Trump and Biden signs just last year. Some of the people now complaining about the large signs worked on those campaigns.

When I was elected mayor, I asked that the city put the issue of campaign signs on the list of items to be addressed by staff and the common council. It took a while, but they began that process earlier this year (well before the recall petition started).

After that, the recall petition started, and the petition signers decided to collect signatures on public property. There were many complaints, but the city took no steps to stop them. The city recognized they had the constitutional right to do so.

But they also posted signs while collecting signatures. Based on the ordinances described above, the city attorney advised that such signs were not allowed. It was the same advice given a year earlier with the Evers recall, and the same position the city had taken for more than a decade, including with the Walker and Darling recalls.

I therefore posted this on July 16, 2021.

One of the recall organizers engaged the Wisconsin Institute of Law and
Liberty (WILL) and threatened to sue the city. The city engaged outside, unbiased counsel to advise the city. The city then stopped enforcing the ordinance regarding public property due to a variety of defects in the ordinances.

As a result, the city learned that the Supreme Court has ruled that political signage cannot be treated differently than other signs. A separate ordinance category for political signs is, in the Court’s opinion, unconstitutional. But that is what the city has – a political signage ordinance. Sec. 62-8(a)(4) of the Mequon Code of Ordinances. The city came to the realization that it cannot enforce any of the political sign ordinance.

So, until the sign code is redrafted, the police department and the city inspectors will not be enforcing the political sign ordinance except:

  •  If a sign poses a safety hazard. The police department has already had one homeowner move a sign.
  •  If someone posts a sign on private property (e.g., homes, businesses, empty fields, houses of worship, entrances to subdivisions, private golf courses, etc.) without permission.
  •  If someone posts a sign during polling hours on any public property on election day within 100 feet of an entrance to a building containing a polling place. That is prohibited by state law.

If the city took any other action, it would be subject to lawsuits by either the pro-recall or the pro-school board campaigns, or both. The city cannot enforce an illegal ordinance. Instead, the city is going to follow the law and the guidance of its attorneys to come to a legal and proper result.

The common council is going to be asked tomorrow evening (October 12, 2021) to approve the engagement of an attorney to advise the city on corrections to the sign code. It took a little time to find someone with expertise to advise the city. More importantly, the city administrator, city attorney and I wanted to find someone who is not involved locally so that he or she would not be accused of skewing their advice to one group or another. We believe we found that person. In case you are wondering, I do not know him.

If you believe that this has been skewed based on my or anyone else’s preferences regarding this recall election, you are sadly mistaken and are seeing this through your own partisan lenses. I trust that most people, even if they do not like all the signs, will understand.

Why Did I Join in the Letter Regarding the Recall?

I have carefully stayed out, at least publicly, of national, state, county and school issues as mayor. I think that is the right thing to do. Nobody wants to hear from me on issues that have nothing to do with why I was elected.

I have made exceptions only when something has a real impact on the operation or ordinances of the city. Therefore, I thought long and hard before deciding to say anything about the recall.

If the very same issues were raised during a regularly scheduled election, I would not have commented publicly. Whether I agree or disagree on the issues raised, they are fair game in a regularly scheduled election. Moreover, I do not believe that I have any particular knowledge regarding these issues. Like most residents, I have opinions, but they are not entitled to any more weight than anyone else’s.

However, the recall process has direct impacts on the city. Even though the city will be reimbursed, a sizable number of staff will be taken away from their regular responsibilities over the next month, causing the clerk’s office to be delayed in other responsibilities. Moreover, if this becomes a regular occurrence (remember, this is the second recall effort in as many years), it will impact the city’s staffing. I expect, if this recall is successful, there will be more. Finally, this recall has impacted how everyone approaches government on all levels.

I firmly believe, as the letter I signed states:

“Recall elections are an important tool in a democracy. There must be a way for voters to remove elected officials who have used their office for personal gain, who have committed crimes, fraud or some other malfeasance or misconduct, or who unambiguously lied to achieve office.

There have been none of those allegations. Instead, the recall organizers have raised policy concerns. Policy differences, even those that are serious, should be resolved at regularly scheduled elections.”

Contrary to the assertions of some, I am not engaging in political gamesmanship (although I will never be able to convince them of that). My position is consistent with the position I took during the Scott Walker and Alberta Darling recalls. Here is some of what I posted on Facebook at the time of the Walker recall.

My position has not changed. I wonder how many of my fellow Walker-supporters who argued that was an improper use of the recall process are being consistent?

I have received all sorts of reminders that my seat is up for election in April. I recognize that. I have neither announced I am running nor announced I am not. That does not matter (it never has with respect to any decision I have made or position I have taken).

It obviously would have been easier for me if I had stayed quiet. However, I try to do the right thing, and the chips will fall where they might when and if I decide to run. I have a lot of faith in the people of Mequon to elect a good representative in April.

Marijuana in Mequon

A Mequon resident is trying to convince local officials to eliminate or minimize fines for marijuana use and possession or even to decriminalize marijuana. He contacted me and subsequently has suggested that I am open to his position. I want to clarify what I said.

I told the resident that marijuana is a state and federal issue and not a local issue. Therefore, like other issues that have no bearing on the operation of our community, I am not going to take a position. I do not believe local government should chime in on issues that have nothing to do with the proper role of local government.

The resident suggested that there is a groundswell of support for his position and that there are (unnamed) aldermen who agree with him. I told him that any aldermen is free to propose a change. I did not, and do not, suggest that any alderman should do so.

To be clear, I am certain that local government has no authority to decriminalize marijuana use or possession. State government defines crimes.

Also to be clear, I would strenuously oppose any local proposal that would be inconsistent with state law. As I told the resident, state law requires the mayor to “take care that city ordinances and state laws are observed and enforced.”

The City and its law enforcement officers should not treat people who violate marijuana laws differently than violators of other similar laws.

The issue of medical marijuana use, or the use of marijuana generally, should be decided by our state government, not by city government. We should not have a patchwork of inconsistent local laws. I am not an elected state official; therefore, I am not going to take a public position on how the state should handle these issues. I am not going to get involved in an issue that would be so divisive when it is not the proper role of the City.

911 Comments

I was humbled that the Festivals Committee asked me to provide the remarks at yeterday’s 911 Commemoration. I had hoped we could find someone with a greater connection or greater insight but, at the end of the day, I tried my best. Hopefully, the American Legion and Cub Scout color guards, Homestead band and fire department bell ringing added the substance and gravitas that I could not.

A few people asked afterward for the text of my comments. The facts of 911 were worth reviewing. Here they are:

[GENERAL WELCOME COMMENTS]

It has been 20 years since 911. About ¼ of Americans were not alive on that fateful day. I suspect, for the rest of us, that day is permanently imprinted on our memories. I have more vivid memories of that day than I have of the births of my daughters, my wedding and the deaths of my parents.

But it is worth reviewing what happened.

Terrorists hijacked and crashed four passenger planes, two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one into a field in Pennsylvania/

236 passengers and crew were murdered on those four planes.

Those deaths were horrible by themselves, but even worse was the tragedy on the ground.

All told 2,753 people were murdered at the World Trade Center, 184 at the Pentagon and 40 in Pennsylvania.

Of the 2,977 people who were murdered, 2,605 were U.S. citizens and 372 were citizens of other countries. More than 90 countries lost citizens in the attacks.

The victims ranged in age from 2 to 85, and came from almost every state, including 12 from Wisconsin.

Of those who died, 344 were firefighters and 72 were law enforcement officers. Most of these brave men and women died coming to the scene to save others.

THE TRAGEDY DID NOT STOP WITH THE DEAD.

Almost 10,000 were treated for injuries immediately.

At least 10 pregnancies were lost. 

Over 30,000 people were subsequently treated for medical conditions related to 911. About 1,200 people have been diagnosed with cancer caused by the toxins from the World Trade Center. Close to 300 first responders have died from cancer from the toxins, bring the total first responders killed to about 700.

The economy went into a tailspin.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought at least in part based on the attacks, resulting in the deaths of over 6,700 American service men and women, at least 100,000 allies and hundreds of thousands of others.

A special word about the first responders. They were the heroes of the day. About 700 died as a result, but they helped at least 14,000 vacate the Towers, saved thousands of others in the area and found 27 people in the rubble.

911 was one of the worst days in American history, yet there might might have been three bright spots.

  1. First, in the days after the attacks, it did not matter if you were liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. We all were Americans. We need to get back that.
  2. Second, America learned from these attacks and have prevented countless others since then.
  3. Third, we recognized the courage of our own first responders.

But those lessons came at a terrible cost.

In remembrance of those who died on 911, including those brave men and women who ran to the danger to save others, and the tragedy that befell their families, I ask you to join me in a moment of prayer or silence.

[MOMENT OF SILENCE, FIRE DEPARTMENT BELL TOLLING, PRESENTATION OF COLORS]

After:

Thank you for coming. [BRIEFLY REITERATE THREE LESSONS]

Finally, it is not enough to just remember those who died. We should remember to say thank you to our own brave service mean and women, our fire fighters and our police officers. And, no matter what, we need to adequately fund those services so they can stay safe while keeping us safe. They do so every day.

I ask you to join me in giving a round of applause to our very own first responders.

LET YOUR ALDERMAN KNOW MEQUON NEEDS TERM LIMITS

On Tuesday, August 14, the Common Council will consider an ordinance I proposed that would create term limits for the mayor and alderman. The ordinance would limit any person from holding any one office for more than 12 consecutive years.

My proposal is considered a “charter ordinance”; therefore, it will require six of the eight aldermen to vote to pass it. That might not happen unless you let your alderman know that you support term limits.

If you support term limits for Congress, and most people do, you should support term limits locally.

In most every instance in communities in Wisconsin and around the country, when voters are allowed to vote by referendum on term limits, they vote to approve them. I suspect that would happen here, but voters are unlikely to get the chance, Mequon has few referendums. Plus, if the Common Council says no to this proposed ordinance, how likely do you think they are to put the question on a ballot? I expect they know what the result would be.

I should note that this proposal is not directed at any particular alderman. The longest tenured alderman, Dale Mayr, is my very close friend. Moreover, to ensure it is not personal, the new ordinance would only kick-in after an existing alderman or the mayor is elected four more times (I promise you I will not run four times – I term limited myself as an alderman). Instead, this is a Good Government proposal that, in the long run, will serve our community well.

Since January 1, 2000, incumbent aldermen have sought reelection 49 times. They won 48 times. Only one incumbent, in 2006, lost. Incumbents are 48-1.

We have been fortunate to have mostly very good people holding office. But that good?

Even on a local level, it is much easier to win reelection as an incumbent. Remember, 48-1. Incumbents have better name recognition. Plus, people in Mequon have been blessed with generally good government. They therefore attribute that good government to incumbents (even incumbents who contribute little) because most people do not know who contributes. Even when they do not like something at City Hall, they often blame it on those “other people” on the Common Council. After all, their aldermen – the man or woman who lives down the street – is a good person (this is one of the same reasons congressional incumbents often win).

Incumbents rarely have challengers. Most potential officeholders see the task of defeating an incumbent as too great. They do not want to throw mud or go negative, and that is usually what is required to defeat an incumbent.

Term limits ensure that, at least occasionally, seats are contested. Most of the time, when there is an open seat, a couple of people run. Issues are discussed. Voters are engaged. New ideas are at least considered and possible deficiencies at City Hall are debated. Democracy is engaged.

Opponents (mostly officeholders and their families) have arguments against term limits. Their arguments hold little water.

ARGUMENT: Term limits are anti-democratic.
THE TRUTH: Poppycock. Voters get a choice. In fact, with term limits, they are more likely to have a choice. Measures to encourage contested, vigorous and positive campaigns are the essence of democracy. Term limits do that. It is true that every 12 years they might be “deprived” of one potential candidate. However, it is pure arrogance to suggest that the incumbent is so special that he or she needs to be retained. The last time I looked, none of our elected officials – me included – walks on water.

ARGUMENT: Term limits are only needed for partisan races because of the pernicious influence of money in politics.
THE TRUTH: Even though our elections are not determined by money, our results are the same – incumbents keep their offices regardless of the contributions they make. Remember, 48-1. There is a power to incumbency.

ARGUMENT: Experience is lost through term limits.
THE TRUTH: Experience is important. It takes a couple of years to understand how city government works (and how It can be improved); however, smart people can catch on and make a difference fairly quickly (certainly by the end of their first term). If someone takes multiple terms to figure it out, they probably should not be holding office. Because we only elect one-third of the Common Council each year, and the ordinance would allow four terms of three years each, the majority of the Common Council will always be experienced.

ARGUMENT: Institutional memory and “Old Mequon” are lost through term limits.
THE TRUTH: Voters will always be able to elect long term residents. For many of us, that would be one of the things we consider when voting (I am a 40+ year resident). Plus, even without term limits, most of the current Common Council has not lived in Mequon for 25+ years, yet most do not want radical changes. The Common Council reflects the residents of the community.

SIGN ORDINANCE AND FREE SPEECH: An open letter to the Common Council

Colleagues:

I strongly dislike yard signs. I wish that I never had to use them (but our system of elections makes them necessary). They are ugly and can be divisive.

But, when making public policy, regardless of our personal preferences, our first obligation as elected officials is to do no harm to the constitutional rights of our residents.

On August 10, the Common Council will consider an ordinance that revises our sign code with respect to yard signs. The proposed ordinance says that the owners of a home can display no more than four signs at any time, and no sign at a residence can be larger than 18” x 24”. Personally, I like the changes; however, there are more important principles involved than any of our personal views.

The courts have made it clear that a community cannot prohibit yard signs, limit the content of yard signs or limit the amount of time yard signs can be posted. The courts are clear that those sorts of prohibitions violate people’s First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court has stated that “signs are a form of expression protected by the Free Speech Clause.” A community can prohibit signs from blocking the views of cars and pedestrians or creating other safety hazards. A community can prohibit signs on public property (Mequon does). Although not quite as clear, it appears a community can restrict the size of signs.

It is not clear that the courts will uphold a restriction on the number of signs a person can post. Based on the reasoning of the existing decisions, I do not think a limit of four is permissible (admittedly, the City Attorney disagrees). If the ordinance is adopted, Mequon could be sued, and I think there is a reasonable likelihood that Mequon would lose and be liable for restricting the constitutional rights of its residents.

In November 2020, there were eight offices on the ballot (president, congress, state senate, state assembly, district attorney, county treasurer, county clerk and register of deeds). There could have been more. For example, one nearby community had a referendum question on the ballot, and some years there are other offices. Also, there were many issues in 2020 that had residents very concerned.

Is it right that government tells a very interested resident that he or she cannot post a sign for every candidate and issue that he or she supports?

And what about homes where, for example, a husband supports one group of candidates and a wife supports another? I have seen many instances when a home has signs for both candidates for the same office. Should government impose restrictions that require residents of the same home to wrestle over which candidates’ signs can be posted?

Advocates for the restriction glibly suggest that homeowners can put more than one candidate on each sign; therefore, their rights are not restricted. That would require homemade signs, or residents would have to incur the cost of having decent signs made. That is totally unrealistic. It is not how people do yard signs. The print might become so small as to be illegible. If so, government rules requiring that might also be unconstitutional. Plus, a bunch of homemade signs would likely be even more unsightly.

Most people will not junk up their yards with a dozen yard signs. Some will. I do not believe we have the right to tell them they cannot. We hope they will not, and we hope candidates have enough respect for our community that they will not overdo their signs.

Again, I do not like yard signs. But democracy is not always pretty.

To paraphrase Justice Brandeis, imposing restrictions on speech we do not like is not the solution; instead, the solution is to have fewer restrictions so everyone can express themselves. And as the Supreme Court said, while striking down a residential sign ordinance in 1994:

A special respect for individual liberty in the home has long been part of our culture and our law; that principle has special resonance when the government seeks to constrain a person’s ability to speak there.”

I strongly urge you to consider offering an amendment on August 10 to remove the four-sign limit from the proposed ordinance. I believe the proposed restrictions would violate the oath we each took to “support the constitution of the United States.”

I also am requesting that residents contact you to let you know what they think.

John

Political Activity (including Recalls) and Public Property

I have received many calls and emails about the signature gathering in front of the library and the pool. Some people are unhappy that any political activity is allowed. Others are unhappy that the canvassers have been required to remove signs and banners.

The City of Mequon takes no position regarding any candidate or petition process. Rather, it only fairly and impartially applies the law.

People have the right to collect signatures or pass out literature on public property. Those are free speech and gathering rights guarantied under the Constution. The City has no ordinance prohibiting those activities and, according to the courts, if it did, it would be unenforcable.

People also have the right to sit at tables and chairs on public property (assuming they do not obstruct walkways or pose other safety concerns). Mequon could enact an ordinance prohibiting people from bringing chairs and tables into the parks or onto other public property. But Mequon has no ordinance like that. If it did, the ordinance would need to prohibit anyone from bringing a table or chairs (including, for example, a lawn chair for sunbathing or watching kids). An ordinance like that cannot just be directed at political activities.

Mequon has ordinances, however, that prohibit posting signs and banners on public property, either on or into the ground or attached to any item. Those ordinances are enforceable because they are not directed at political activities. The City enforces them in this instance because it would enforce them under any other circumstance.

The sign prohibitions, however, do not apply to signs carried by people. People may carry protest or advocacy signs.

The City and Police Department have been consistent in enforcing these standards. The City and Police Department acknowledge the right of people to collect signatures, sit at tables and chairs and carry signs. The City and Police Department have not, however, otherwise allowed signs or banners in the parks or in road rights-of-way.

The City and Police Department are applying the same rules for the current situation as they did for the Walker recall and the Evers recall.

WHAT CAN THE MAYOR DO?

At least once a week, someone writes me wanting me to do something, or demanding I do something, for which I have absolutely no authority. They believe a Mayor has more authority than I actually do. There is a lot of confusion. This is my attempt to clear things up.

YOU HAVE A CONCERN ABOUT …

SOMEONE AT CITY HALL, A PLOW DRIVER OR OTHER EMPLOYEE

The Mayor has no authority to hire, fire, discipline or direct City employees (except the limited role for police and fire described below). In some communities, the Mayor is in charge of operations. However, many years ago, the Common Council passed ordinances that delegate those roles to a full time professional administrator. The belief was that a part time Mayor does not have the time to oversee employees and, in some instances, would not have the temperament or skills to do so. In fact, there is no elected official who has any authority over city employees.

If you have a concern, I welcome hearing about it. I can use my influence to try to fix things. If concerns are sufficiently significant, I can let the Common Council know and it can intervene. But I cannot fix things directly. Good or bad, that is the way it is unless the Common Council changes ordinances.

Fortunately, Mequon’s employees as a group are dedicated public servants.

THE CITY ADMINISTRATOR

The Mayor also does not have authority over the City Administrator. The same ordinances that give the City Administrator authority over City Hall employees give the Common Council authority over the City Administrator. Although the Mayor chairs the Common Council, the Mayor does not get a vote except in case of a tie. Theoretically, putting the Common Council in charge of the City Administrator is good. Everyone is represented by their aldermen. However, aldermen have little day-to-day contact with City Hall operations. Plus, management by committee is cumbersome and slow.

Again, if you have a concern, I welcome hearing about it. I can use my influence to try to fix things. If concerns are sufficiently significant, I can let the Common Council know and it can intervene as a group. But I cannot fix things directly. Good or bad, that is the way it is.

Fortunately, Mequon has been blessed with very professional City Administrators.

THE LIBRARY

Neither the Mayor nor the Common Council has any authority over the library. Under state law, the Common Council cannot set any policies at the library.The library board is a totally independent body. The Common Council is not even allowed to withhold funding if it disagrees with decisions of the library board. Under state law, the city is required to maintain the library and cannot reduce funding. The only options, as I understand them, are:

  1. Refuse to increase funding; or
  2. A nuclear option. The Common Council could eliminate the local library and then contribute the funds to a regional library that is likely to be less responsive to local concerns.

If you disagree with library decisions, contact library board members. They are local volunteers and are interested in hearing what their neighbors think.

Fortunately, Mequon has a very dedicated library board and staff.

MEQUON POLICE, FIRE OR AMBULANCE

Interestingly, considering how little authority the Mayor has with respect to the employees described above, the Mayor is the head of the police and fire departments under state law. Our ambulance services are part of the fire department. The Mayor may make orders, provided they are lawful, governing those departments. Of course, the Mayor likely has no qualifications for that role. Good mayors use that authority lightly.

Although the Mayor is the head of those departments, the Mayor still may not hire, fire or discipline. That authority is vested by state law in the Police and Fire Commission. However, the Police and Fire Commission is supposed to take action if a lawful order, including a lawful order by the Mayor, is disobeyed.

Finally, the budget of those departments is controlled by the Common Council, not the Mayor.

Fortunately, Mequon has dedicated, ethical and professional police officers and fire and ambulance staff and a very good Police and Fire Commission.

THE CITY BUDGET AND POLICIES

The Mayor does not set the City Budget or establish City policies. Those authorities are vested in the Common Council. The Mayor can recommend things, and I very frequently do, but aldermen are the decision makers.

POLICIES DURING A PANDEMIC OR OTHER DECLARED EMERGENCY

The Mayor may make temporary orders, but they are subject to review or denial by the Common Council at its next meeting. So, in Mequon, the Mayor has limited, temporary authority even in an emergency.

THE SCHOOLS

The Mayor has absolutely no authority over the schools. People frequently ask me to do something about school policy. I have no such authority. Under state law, the school district has its own board. They do not report to the City, and certainly not to the Mayor.

CITY COMMITTEES

City committees (the planning commission, the parks board, etc.) make many decision in Mequon. People argue that the Mayor appoints the member to those committees, so the committees really are the Mayor’s puppets.

Although it is true that the Mayor makes most of the appointments, for the following reasons that does not lead to committees voting the way the Mayor would prefer:

  1. The Mayor has no authority to tell City committee members what to do or how to vote.
  2. There are well over 125 appointments. There are not enough volunteers to allow the Mayor to make appointments based primarily on philosophy or policy positions. I, like prior mayors, try to appoint professionally qualified, honest, civil volunteers. If I imposed voting litmus tests, the positions would never be filled.
  3. Most committee members’ terms are three years (the Police and Fire Commission terms are five years), so it takes at least three years before all members have been appointed by the Mayor.
  4. If a committee member is taking positions contrary to those of the Mayor, the Mayor cannot remove him or her until his or her term expires.

SO, WHY HAVE A MAYOR?

The Mequon Mayor has very little direct authority. The Mequon Mayor (1) is the chair of the Common Council (but cannot vote unless there is a tie), the Planning Commission and the sewer and water utility boards and can impact their agendas; (2) can veto legislation, subject to being overridden by six aldermen; (3) is the head of the police and fire departments; (4) can create temporary or ad hoc committees; (5) can declare a temporary emergency and make interim rules; (6) makes appointments subject to Common Council approval; and (7) can propose legislation. That is about all of the formal authority.

Mayors in some other communities have much more authority for operations under their ordinances. Mequon laws give most of that authority to aldermen and the City Administrator.

However, a good Mayor can communicate with the public, staff and the Common Council in a way that ultimately prompts action. The Mayor is the only elected City official who provides a voice for all residents, and if he or she does the job correctly, is the only elected official sufficiently involved at City Hall to know, at least on a macro basis, how most functions of City government are handled. Finally, a qualified Mayor should have the personal and professional skills to understand how things should be done and, if they are not being done that way, to propose policy changes.

In some ways, being the Mequon Mayor effectively takes as much or more time than being the Mayor in other communities. To have an impact, I still need to be involved in most of the same matters, but convincing others can take more time than making decisions.

I am always happy to hear from people and try to help when their issues involve city government and its services.

Masks in Mequon

The state mask mandate is over. What does that mean for Mequon?

Businesses and Institutions

Businesses, houses of worship and other private buildings have an absolute right to require masks. People who refuse to wear one one despite signs requiring them or requests by management to do so are trespassing and, if they otherwise resist, are committing disorderly conduct. The Mequon Police Department will support the management of these private places and, if called by management, arrest trespassers and people who act disorderly.

City Buildings and City Employees

Masks will continue to be required at City Hall and the Public Safety Building (I assume the library also, but that is separately managed). City employees will continue to wear masks when entering other buildings or approaching the public. This will continue at least until city employees and the majority of the community have had a chance to be immunized. I assume that point will occur in May or June.

What about a Local Mask Mandate?

I will not be proposing or proclaiming one. The Common Council could, but I doubt that will happen.

I always wear a mask when I enter a building (even though I hate wearing them). I believe people should continue to do so until more people have been vaccinated. It is the responsible thing to do. I also believe businesses, houses of worship and other places should continue to require masks. I trust most are responsible and will do so.

Back in July, when the mask mandate was first imposed, there was no vaccine on the horizon, and it was certain that infections, hospitalizations and deaths would increase as the fall and winter approached. That happened.

However, regardless of what you think about that mask mandate, there is no doubt that things have changed.

Today, about 32% of the state has already had at least one shot (I expect our local rate is much higher), our most vulnerable populations have had time to get vaccinated, the early difficulties in getting a vaccine have passed, there have unofficially been opportunities for others to be vaccinated and, as of tomorrow, anyone is officially eligible to be vaccinated. There is no pressure in our local hospitals, and there have been few deaths since the beginning of the year in our county. With roughly a third of the adult population having been vaccinated, and another 10% (577,195) having been confirmed as having had the virus (and likely twice that many, or more, actually having had it), the chance of contracting the virus has decreased. Also, we are going into the outdoor months of the year.

Government should not pass rules because people could act irresponsibly. Laws are usually only passed when people have acted irresponsibly and the public good demands it.

To date, most people in Mequon have acted responsibly, and it is not because of a mandate. The police were not looking for violators. There have been no arrests or prosecutions.

Plus, people are now better able to protect themselves. Government should not pass rules to protect people from their own poor decisions.

Could this change?

I hope not. If people do the right thing, there will be no reason to consider it.

So, is it time to go back to normal?

No, definitely not. However, I have confidence that most of our community will continue to act responsibly. People can keep themselves and their families reasonably safe if they take proper precautions and act responsibly.

People should continue to social distance, use good hygiene and wear masks.

In my opinion, businesses, houses of worship and other institutions should continue doing what they have been doing. They do not need a mandate to do so.

If some business or place stops requiring masks, people can exercise their most powerful tool. They can leave and politely let management know why.

People should get the vaccine. The preponderance of the data is clear that the vaccines are safe. If people do not get the vaccine, the consequences will be on them.

The time for going back to normal, or near normal, is near, perhaps weeks or only a month or so away, but we are not there yet.

Mequon to Host Vaccination Clinics

Beginning Wednesday, March 31, Midland Health, a local vaccination company, will be holding a dozen COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Mequon City Hall from 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on specific days throughout the month of April. Although the City is unable to directly distribute vaccines, we found this unique opportunity to partner with an authorized distributor.

You can find more information here:

https://www.ci.mequon.wi.us/community/page/city-mequon-host-twelve-covid-19-vaccination-clinics

Correction: Northwest Corner of Highland and Port Washington Roads

I inadvertently posted that the proposed building will be 39,500 square feet. That is inaccurate. The proposal is for 29,500 square feet. I apologize for the error, although it does not change the analysis, just the magnitude by which the building is oversized.

Northwest Corner of Highland and Port Washington Roads

On Tuesday, the Common Council will consider rezoning the northwest corner of Highland and Port Washington Roads for a 29,500 square foot medical office building on about 3.9 acres. I voted against this proposal at the Planning Commission. I do not support this rezoning as proposed. I write to make clear why.

I welcome medical office buildings within our commercial areas. If Ascension had proposed this building south of Highland Road or in the Town Center, I would be a proponent. I hope that, if the proposal is rejected, Ascension will move the proposed clinic to one of the vacant parcels that is designed to accomodate it.

My position is consistent with statements I made when running for office, at the Council consultation, at the subcommittee, at Planning Commission, to neighbors and to the developer. I do not like unpredictability. I do not think it is fair to developers, users or the public. Unpredictability, more than almost anything else, hurts a community’s reputation. We should be clear and consistent.

It is true that the Planning Commission Policy Subcommittee, which I chair, supports Neighborhood Commercial for this corner. Although I would personally be happy if the entire parcel remained residential, I have been supportive of Neighborhood Commercial for a small development on the corner. It would shield the residential development much as the Highland House does. My support for some neighborhood use on that corner dates back to discussions almost a decade ago.

According to Sec. 58-293 (the existing Neighborhood Commercial ordinance), Neighborhood Commercial is supposed to be “office, retail and services designed to serve immediate residential neighborhoods.” Similarly, the proposed Neighborhood Commercial zoning district for North Port Washington Road, as drafted by staff, states that the district is to provide “office and services … providing neighborhood scale services for nearby residential neighborhoods.”

The proposed medical office building is truly unnecessary for the immediate or nearby residential neighborhoods. It is being built to draw people from all of Mequon and nearby communities. That alone, however, would not necessarily lose my support.

My support for rezoning this corner to Neighborhood Commercial has, however, always been conditioned on the size of the parcel being comparable to the size of the commercial properties across the street. One of those parcels is 2.27 acres. The other is 3.01 acres. The proposal before the Council is almost another acre larger. If it was the same size as the Highland House property, there would business property across from business property; instead, it will also be across from residential properties. Nevertheless, even that might not necessarily lose my support.

The size of the building, however, is a bigger issue. The existing Neighborhood Commercial zoning district limits uses by right to 20,000 square feet. The proposed building is basically 50% larger. It would put another big building in a residential neighborhood. Although exceeding 20,000 square feet is possible with a PUD rezoning, it is not allowed as a matter of right for a reason. A building larger than 20,000 square feet should be the exception rather than the rule. This will be a very large building. A larger building might be appropriate if it is absolutely necessary for a particular use and the use meets some particular objective. Although the proposed building looks very nice, and I would support it and its size in an area designed for general office use, I cannot imagine a compelling city objective that this proposal fulfills in this location. If it deserves the larger size, what proposal would not? The size clearly indicates that the building is designed to draw medical professionals and customers from well beyond “nearby immediate residential neighborhoods.”

I pledged when I ran for this position to do what I can to invigorate Mequon’s existing commercial areas. Adding large scale commercial uses to other areas does not do that. There is a limit to how much commercial development a city with our population can absorb, and Mequon has limited population growth. This building will draw medical tenants away from our existing medical office spaces in areas designed for offices. Adding large scale commercial in one area most likely reduces the demand in others (in addition to changing the nature of this neighborhood).

Then there is the rest of the parcel. I have been very clear that I will not support rezoning the rest to anything other than residential. It is the last significant sewered single-family site on the east side of Mequon. It is the best single-family parcel left in the city. If the developer wanted to gain my support, it would have had the PUD apply to the whole parcel and made it clear that the rest will be single-family. They did not do that, and they have done nothing else to indicate that they plan to have the rest remain single-family. I can only assume that, after this rezoning, they will return with some or all of the high intensity uses they previously showed the Council. They might even use this clinic as an argument that the rest of the parcel should not be single-family.

I note that, under Mequon’s ordinances, the purpose of PUD zoning is to create a development that has “coordinated area site planning, diversified location of structures and/or mixing of compatible uses.” Admittedly, a single building is not precluded, but using it for a single building when most of the parcel is not covered is questionable.

I likely would have supported a 15,000 to 20,000 square foot building on this site with a concurrent commitment to develop the rest as single-family. I would have compromised on lot size and use. I might even have compromised on building size if, for example, it was two-stories and designed to be vertically and architecturally unobtrusive. However, with the lot size and building size, and no approved plan or commitment for the rest of the parcel, I cannot support this proposal. There is too much compromise.

Orders v. Personal Responsibility

Our country has suffered a tremendous loss of life, and many workers and business owners have been hurt. On at least those two points, both Trump and Biden agree.
 
As a result, we are bombarded with arguments about fault and orders and policies. These arguments make for tasty political fodder. Meanwhile, people die, businesses are destroyed and our economy stagnates.
 
Rather than arguing against or for blanket orders – I will leave that to those whose job it is to make those arguments – I implore everyone to exercise personal responsibility.
 
Those who defend orders need to remember they mean nothing without voluntary compliance. There are not enough cops and bureaucrats. Conversely, by not wearing masks and social distancing, opponents of orders provide ammunition, as the virus spreads, to those who advocate for them.
 
Our community has been relatively fortunate. Despite the virus raging across Wisconsin, we have had relatively few deaths, our hospitals have capacity and our infection rate is lower than many places in the state.
 
I have heard many explanations as to why we are doing better than other communities. I am convinced that our residents have done a better job of mask-wearing and social distancing. I have personally seen communities where nobody wears masks. At first they were fine, but most or all now have problems.

We need to keep it up and strive to improve.

It is not cowardice or a threat to liberty to take precautions that might help others.
 
Like many of you, I recoil from rules. I do not believe that it is government’s job to protect me from myself. However, I do not look at the CDC recommendations as rules. I do not follow them because they are required, to virtue signal or primarily to protect myself. Instead, I see them as considerate precautions voluntarily followed by polite, responsible, conservative people who care about others and the Golden Rule. They are the right thing to do.

  • Wear a mask when you are indoors outside of your home.
  • When possible, rather than meeting in-person, reach out virtually to socialize or to conduct business.
  • If an in-person meeting is necessary, wear a mask.
  • Keep your in-person social group small.
  • Stay out of crowds. Do not plan large in-person events.
  • Keep your distance when you are with people other than your family.

Although annoying, these are modest efforts. Most of the best medical minds assure us that these efforts will slow the spread. If they prove to be wrong, and that is possible, we have only been inconvenienced. However, if they are effective and we ignore them, we spread the disease and hasten the deaths, sickness and perhaps long-term chronic illnesses of even more people.

“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.” – Samuel Adams

“It is substantially true that virtue and morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” – George Washington

“To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”– James Madison

Mequon Police Ready to Assist Wauwatosa

The Mequon Police Department stands ready to assist the police in Wauwatosa this evening. So do other departments. There are detailed cooperation agreements among law enforcement agencies. This system ensures that communities can and will rapidly provide necessary reinforcements and that the assisting departments are also able to cover their own communities’ needs. We all are safer because of these men and women.

“SIGN, SIGN, EVERYWHERE A SIGN, BLOCKIN’ OUT THE SCENERY, BREAKIN’ MY MIND…”-Five Man Electric Band (1970)

Some people hate them. Some people proudly display them. Yard signs are part of the American political process.

The City of Mequon respects people’s right to express their political positions by posting signs provided they do so on their own private property.

The City of Mequon, however, does not allow yard signs on public property, and no one has the right to put a yard sign on private property without the owner’s permission.

The Mequon Police Department will remove signs on public property. Public property includes:

  • Parks
  • Library
  • City hall and other facilities
  • School property
  • County property
  • Road rights-of-way

The Police Department will not necessarily be looking for illegally placed signs; however, when it comes across them, or when it receives complaints, it will remove them. Signs placed on public property will be deemed abandoned. They will not be saved for retrieval. The Police Department has already removed and disposed of several for this election.

Determining the area of a road right-of-way is somewhat complicated. Generally, signs are not allowed in the area between a sidewalk and a road or between a drainage ditch and a road.

Private property owners may also dispose of any sign found on their property without permission. The City will not monitor the placement of signs on private property; however, entrance areas to subdivisions and condominiums, business properties, golf courses and undeveloped land are all private property. If you see a yard sign in one of those areas and believe that it is there without permission, call the owner.

Please do not put signs on other people’s property without their permission. It is trespass. And do not remove signs from other people’s property. That is theft. The Police Department will respond to complaints and take enforcement action as necessary.

Civility and Following the Law

“Dirty Jew.” That was what one Mequon resident, enraged his neighbor would post a Biden yard sign, allegedly called the neighbor as he ripped down the neighbor’s sign. The angry resident allegedly got in his neighbor’s face, said he would rip down any replacement signs and told him that “Jews” were the cause of the riots in Portland. He then left and temporarily put up a homemade “Jews 4 Trump” sign in his own front lawn (even though his parents tried to raise him Catholic).

Really?!?

This was absolutely wrong. And, assuming the facts are accurate, it is illegal.

There have always been hateful people with extreme views and awful behavior. Unfortunately, some will always exist.

But over the last few months, some people have excused overt incivility and horrible behavior because an issue is important to them. People picketed the school superintendent’s home – his home where his wife and children live! Some use the term Nazis when referring to Trump supporters. A few of our neighbors gave the finger to Black Lives Matter protesters and asked to have BLM signs banned. Kids made a video mocking George Floyd’s death. People have suggested that supporting our police is somehow an affront to people of color. Small groups on each side of the virus debate have acted vilely toward those with different opinions. People try to shut down discussion about all sorts of topics on social media.

To be clear, I think most Mequon residents abhor this hateful behavior. It is not what we are about.

Yes, we all have the inalienable right to free speech. But having the right to do something does not mean that doing it is right.

There is no societal issue that is improved by hating or demeaning others. Hate and division rarely, if ever, advance a cause and always are destructive.

I stay out of issues when they do not affect city government or its responsibilities. I believe that, as mayor, restraint is necessarily part of my job (one I often dislike). I am supposed to create community, not divide it.

However, incivility is permeating all discussions, including those about city government. And when someone goes onto another’s property and defaces their sign, that rightfully calls the police (the most important service the city provides) into play. Trespass and disorderly conduct are illegal acts (the resident described above was arrested).

Tensions always run high during elections. Even local races become passionate. Presidential elections raise the temperature even higher. Activists, state and national politicians (of both parties) and the media (real and fake) accuse others of ruining our country and imply, in the process, that only people who agree with them have our best interests at heart. They use division to make themselves relevant.

These weeks going into the presidential election, and perhaps the weeks following it, will test our character. Can we recognize that people with whom we disagree are not bad people (even if we believe them to be wrong)? Can we handle our differences civilly?

I truly believe that the vast majority of Mequon residents – people of color and white people; people of all faiths; Republicans, Democrats and independents – are good people. I am hopeful that we can keep our heads.

This election, the discussion about race and our opinions about the virus, as important as they may be, are not so important that we should destroy our community and our humanity.

City government cannot require civility. It can do little about hatefulness. Hopefully, our elected officials will not contribute to it. Mequon’s staff will faithfully conduct the election. All will do their jobs.

But, when people cross the line, as the resident described above did, our fine police department will fully enforce the law. Leave your neighbors’ yard signs alone. Taking them is theft. Do not put signs on public property. It is illegal. Do not put signs on others’ private property. That is trespass. Do not threaten people with whom you disagree. That is assault. Do not provoke fights. That is disorderly conduct. Do not touch your neighbor. At a minimum, it is assault, and it might be battery.

But it is not enough to just comply with the law. Good people follow not just the law, but the Golden Rule. Sometimes, the right thing is to not express an opinion. When we do, we need to be kind. Words matter. Tone matters. Actions matter. It is not easy. I am not perfect, but I am trying. If we all do that, the law becomes unnecessary.

Let’s all pray that we can emerge from this moment without too much damage.

The City’s Emergency Management Committee

Today at 3:00, the City has its biweekly Emergency Management Committee (EMC) meeting. The EMC was designed for various stakeholders to advise the City what the City should do, and what they are doing, in response to the COVID-19 virus. It is not designed for the City to advise the stakeholders.

Representatives on the EMC include me (as mayor). three doctors (one of whom is also an alderman), a State Senator, an Assembly Representative, and a representative of the library, Chamber of Commerce, County Board, Concordia University and Mequon-Thiensville School District.

Today, in response to the school board’s decision to start the school year virtually, members of the community have registered to speak (at last report, 15). I will recognize them to speak.

I will ask, however, that they tailor their comments to advice for the City. The EMC does NOT exist to advise the school district. I recognize that is not what the people who registered want to hear. I will not cut them off so long as their comments for the district are short and provided that the comments are civil. Personal attacks, particularly on an issue like this (which is not the purpose of the meeting) are not acceptable.

I would also note that public comments during a meeting are just that – comments. It is not an opportunity for a back and forth with committee members.

Finally, on Facebook, people have suggested that members of the school board participate on the EMC. They do not. Only Dr. Joynt is a member. Although he advises the school board, he cannot change the policy. The policymakers will not be at the meeting. Therefore, although I always encourage members of the public to participate in the City’s meetings, this will not be the best forum to effectuate change.

Ozaukee County Testing and Contact Tracing

In received the following information from the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department (WOPHD) in response to some questions posed to me. I thought this would be of interest to people in Mequon.

Is there a COVID-219 testing program in Ozaukee County?

Medical providers are conducting testing in our jurisdiction. WOPHD also has a relationship with a provider to conduct testing for certain high priority populations (first responders, health care workers, LTCF residents, etc) and others identified during public health investigations (contact tracing).

How does WOPHD find out about positive (or negative) tests?

We find out about all test results via a state system called the Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System (WEDSS). We receive results for individuals who reside in our jurisdiction. So if someone gets tested but has an address in Racine County, the Racine County Health Department would get their results. The entity that provides the testing generally calls with results as well. Individuals who test at National Guard sites are contacted by the National Guard if they are negative, and the local health department where they reside calls if they are positive. If someone is tested by their doctor, the doctor’s office generally calls with results.

WOPHD always follows-up with positives regardless of whether they were contacted by the test provider.

Is WOPHD doing contact tracing? I know people who were exposed to positive cases, but were never contacted.

WOPHD is absolutely doing contact tracing. WOPHD follows-up with all positives and all close contacts that are identified. In addition to WOPHD department staff, WOPHD has hired 30+ LTE contact tracers to keep up with the case load.

That said, WOPHD can only use the information that people provide to it. So if a positive case doesn’t inform WOPHD of a close contact, WOPHD wouldn’t know about them.

Governor’s Mask Order

Mequon will comply with the Governor’s new mask order unless a court says it is unenforceable. Masks will be required in municipal buildings and facilities.

However, like the enforcement of all laws, enforcement involves discretion. Our police department has limited resources. The police are not going to be on mask patrol and spend the time verifying if people qualify under one of the 14 exceptions specified in the order. Emergency responses, robberies and so forth still have precedence over the mask mandate. Although they will not be looking for violations, if the police are confronted with a violation, they will use education as their primary way to address the situation.

The police will, however, fully support businesses and organizations when patrons become belligerent or disruptive when asked to wear a mask.

The Governor specifically states in his Frequently Asked Questions document that, if people see people who are not wearing masks, they should do nothing. They should not call the police.

Mequon encourages wearing masks, social distancing and compliance with the guidelines of the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department.