The Passing of a True Gentleman


I am compelled to take a break from campaigning to pay tribute to my former colleague, John Hawkins, who passed away this morning. John was only 68. 

 John spent a dozen years as an alderman, and recently agreed to take on the thankless task of helping to mop-up the political mess at the Mequon Police and Fire Commission.

Too often, the term “gentleman” is thrown around without much meaning. It has become a replacement for the word “man.” However, in its truest sense, a gentleman is a chivalrous, courteous, honorable man.

 John Hawkins was a true gentleman. John always treated others with respect. As an alderman, he was the first person to thank city staff when they did a good job. He gave credit to others, even when he deserved a piece of the credit. He believed in decorum and courtesy. He stood when a woman entered the room. He helped others. He rarely raised his voice. In fact, he was generally a man of few words so, when he decided to speak or felt passionately about an issue, people were first surprised, and then they listened.

John was reserved in a way that made some people underestimate him until they got to know him. That was their mistake. John was a bright, educated man. A graduate of Princeton, he had a lengthy career in manufacturing, culminating in almost 20 years as the president of a manufacturing company. He then spent several years teaching.

John did not just talk about family and God and country. He was passionate about and believed in the importance of those things to the depth of his being. He adored his wife Val and the rest of his family. He was devout. And he believed in patriotism. His was not some watered-down or political version of patriotism. He wore a flag lapel pin, not to impress others, but because he knew that he was blessed to live in the greatest country in the world.

John made a significant contribution to our community. He did so out of a belief in service. He never sought attention or accolades. When he “retired” from the Council, he did so with a few words, a tear in his eye and an understandable (but never spoken) pride in the contribution he made. And, when the City needed him again to add some stability to the Police and Fire Commission, he gladly stepped forward.

I am proud to have called John a friend. I wish I had gotten to know him better. I was honored that he was one of the first people to have encouraged me to run for several offices, including mayor. But, even if he had not, he was the kind of person whose passing I would mourn because he was a truly good and decent man.

John, you will be missed. Thank you for your service. Rest in peace and enjoy your reward for a life well-lived.


Since the official start of the campaign season four days ago, dozens of people have asked how they can help, and John has received about 20 new endorsements. That brings his total endorsements to over 250! Unprecedented.

These Mequon residents (see a list by clicking here) support John because they want to ensure that Mequon remains the best community in which to live and work. They know that, to the extent things need improvement (and there are some things that need to be done better), it will take someone with John’s experience and professional skills. It will take a consensus-builder like John who can influence the rest of the Common Council. As importantly, they know that John is honest and will approach the job positively. They realize that political games and negativism divide people and create stalemates.

Please consider endorsing John. It takes less than a minute. Just click here.

Four Candidates for Mayor

voter_buttons_polling_placeToday was the deadline for submitting paperwork to be placed on the ballot. Here in Mequon, the only contested municipal race will be for Mayor.

Ald. Rob Strzelczyk will be running unopposed for reelection in the First District. He was first elected in 2013 and was reelected in 2016.

Jeffrey Hansher will be running unopposed in the Fourth District. I currently hold that seat.

Congratulations to both Ald, Strzelczyk and Mr. Hansher. I look forward to working with both of you.

There will be a total of four candidates (including me) running for Mayor. Therefore, there will be a primary election on February 19 to narrow the field to two candidates. The general election will be held on April 2.

I welcome the other candidates to the race. Our system of government works best when voters are given a choice.

I intend to run on my record, the facts and what I intend to accomplish. I hope all of the candidates have the same plan. Too many recent elections have devolved into personal attacks. Too many candidates talk about their opponents instead of discussing what they plan to do for the City. In all of my elections, I have avoided that kind of campaigning.

I seek your support. Together, we will ensure Mequon continues to be the great place we love. We can keep taxes low and have great police, fire and ambulance departments, maintain roads, improve city services and plan for Mequon’s future.

If you are willing to do endorse my candidacy, please click here, and thank you. To see a list of the names of those people who have endorsed my candidacy, please click here.

If you want more information about my candidacty, please review this website, email me at, or call me at 262-242-7462.

Please Consider Serving as 4th District Alderman

Neighbors in the Fourth District:

Mequon’s Aldermanic Fourth District needs one or more good aldermanic candidates. Maybe you could be that person. Or maybe you have a family member or friend who should run.

I will not be running for reelection. As you might know, I am running for Mayor. The election is in April. You can learn more at my campaign website (click here) or by emailing me at

An alderman must be 18 or over and live in the Fourth District. You can see a map of the Fourth District by clicking here.

There are no other mandatory requirements. However, I am passionate about this community. I hope our next alderman will share that passion. Mequon is a great place! An alderman should want to serve the community and know something about it. The last time I decided not to run, I put together a list of thoughts and suggestions about being a public official. You can read that list by clicking here.

Aldermen are members of the Common Council. The Common Council meets in the evening on the second Tuesday of every month. Additionally, aldermen serve on one or two committees and are part of the appropriations committee and sewer and water boards. Generally, those meetings are also on Tuesday evenings. On average, an alderman has meetings on two Tuesdays per month. Each meeting requires some reading beforehand of a substantial package of materials put together by city staff.

Beyond that, an alderman can be as active as she or he wants. For example, I do my email Updates, respond to many emails and phone calls, initiate new ordinances and resolutions, and attend a variety of other community meetings. Some aldermen limit their activities beyond the required Common Council meetings. You can make what you want out of the position.

The term of office is three years.

Getting on the ballot is easy. There are two simple forms you need to fill out. Those forms can be acquired from the City Clerk. After submitting those papers, you then must obtain nomination signatures from at least 20 of your neighbors in the Fourth District. Nomination papers cannot be circulated until December 1. They must be submitted by January 2.

If there are more than two candidates, a primary will be held on February 19. The general election will be held on April 2. The term of office begins on April 16.

If you have questions about serving, or about how to run for election, please email or call me.

Being an alderman is a commitment, but serving the community has been (and hopefully will continue to be) rewarding for me. Maybe it will be for you also.

Please, give it some thought. Or pass this on to someone who might be interested.


PS If you like the job I have done as your alderman, and are willing to allow me to use your name in my list of people who have publicly endorsed me as Mequon’s next Mayor, please click here.

Four Amazing Award Recipients

Tonight I attended the Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce “Celebrate Your Community” annual awards dinner. Congratulations to the winners – Business of the Year: the cheel (a great restaurant); Citizen of the Year: Tim Vertz (marketing professional extraordinaire and a guy who does a lot for our community); Distringuished Service: Connie Pukaite (former common council member, former mayor and a contributor to so much of our community for 51 years); and Next Generation Leadership: Tony Navarre (special education teacher, Homestead hockey coach, assistant soccer coach and cancer survivor – quite a role model). Our community is fortunate to have such great leaders and contributors!

Police Department Information Technology

The Mequon Common Council strives very hard to budget efficiently. Some expenditures save money in the long run and create efficiencies. At tonight’s Appropriations Committee meeting, I am going to ask that we include money in the budget for information technology assistance for the Mequon Police Department.  Most of that work is being done by Captains and a Sergeant.

All of us, in our jobs, are heavily dependent on computers and computer-related equipment. However, most of us, if our computer goes down, can work around it, using someone else’s desktop or a smart phone, or we can allow some projects to wait.

Law enforcement cannot wait. Computerized fingerprinting, electronic citation reporting and so forth must be done on time. We do not want our patrol officers to go without body cameras. We cannot allow them to be unconnected on patrol.

In its 2017 study, a staffing consultant engaged by the City said:

One key issue, however, that somewhat extends beyond the scope of this public safety study, is the impact of part-time City assistance in Information Technology support. This part-time service has created a need for sworn staff to become adept at IT-related operational support, and while this has sufficed with existing staff, such expectation that future staff will have these skill sets is not reasonable. As such, the City should explore how the provision of overall IT services can be better facilitated.

The current method of handling Police Department Information Technology is costly and takes sworn officers away from law enforcement and management. It hinders public safety.

Currently, two Captains and a Sergeant are handling the IT needs of the department. A Captain costs the City approximately $137,000 per year, plus holiday pay, comp, workers comp, uniforms and training. A Sergeant costs only about $10,000 less. These high-priced personnel should not be repairing equipment, and these IT responsibilities take them away from their law enforcement and administrative responsibilities.

To just keep the systems running, it requires, on average, a few hours of sworn officers’ time each day. Additionally, the systems and the servers must be updated, backed-up and serviced.

Technology is now a large part of law enforcement. The implementation of in-car squad cameras, officer worn body cameras, computer records management systems, in-car laptops and printers, computerized fingerprinting, electronic citation and accident reporting, in-house surveillance camera systems and all the equipment necessary to keep and maintain these systems. Programs include Digital Ally Video System, Emergency Medical Dispatch System, Pro Phoenix Records Management System, Badger TraCS Citation System, LiveScan Fingerprint Identification System, Cellebrite Phone Forensics System and HIKVISION and numerous other programs and systems.

All this technology takes specialized training. Very little is similar to the technology being used by other departments.

Captain Patrick Pryor, when he was a sergeant, was the department IT person for over 10 years. He was assisted by Len McCaw (IT Advocate) and Jim Green (SPSI/ProShip). Pryor grew into the position as the array of computer equipment and programs grew. The department’s technology needs have increased significantly.

When Pryor was promoted to Captain in 2017, he tried to turn the tasks over to Sergeant Mark Riley. Riley lacked Pryor’s knowledge and skills, so Pryor and Riley shared the responsibilities. Subsequently, with Chief Graff’s retirement, Riley was also promoted to Captain. Sergeant Mark Kastens assumed some of the responsibilities, but he has even fewer computer skills. Therefore, Captains Pryor and Riley have been assisting Sergeant Kastens with day-to-day computer issues, taking time away from their job responsibilities.

The department currently uses Len McCaw (IT Advocate) as much as it can, but he has significant City Hall responsibilities and more projects than he can handle. He is unable to address the department’s day-to-day needs on a consistent, as-need basis. Moreover, Len must be brought up to speed on many systems.

When I was asking about this funding need, Captain Pryor was fixing a printer in a squad car. Is that appropriate for a command officer who costs the City over $65 per hour?

The department needs a full or part time person, or a contracted person, who can provide consistent assistance on a near day-to-day basis. The person would need to learn the various police-specific equipment.

Adding such a person would enhance police services. It would have the side benefit of freeing up some of Len McCaw’s time to address other city technology needs.

If safety services truly are our highest priority, we should enable our sworn officers to spend their time handling their law enforcement and administrative responsibilities. We do not ask them to repair their squad cars. Why do we ask them to handle these responsibilities?

A State Program That Can Help Mequon – We Just Need to Ask (I Am Asking)

Mequon has a variety of manufacturers (examples include Rockwell, Gateway Plastics and Charter) who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxes and use almost no city services. They also cost the school district nothing. What is our one challenge in keeping them here?

Good workers.

These businesses pay well and provide good, clean jobs, many of which have upward mobility opportunities. They contribute to our community. If we lose them, we would need to replace their taxes with either higher taxes. And Mequon does not have a ready labor pool.

The State of Wisconsin has introduced a program to recruit veterans leaving the military. These are hard-working people who show up for work. Many have trades skills. They are trained to be leaders.

Read more here:

As this article notes:

The pool of potential candidates is large — 200,000 to 250,000 people move from active duty to civilian life each year, according to the Department of Defense. Many employers covet veterans because of their work ethic and leadership qualities.

Wisconsin has perhaps the best veterans benefits in the country. Plus, we have an unparalleled way of life.

The state is touting generous GI Bill educational benefits and good schools for their children; jobs that align with military training; employers who give incentives to veterans; low housing costs; and refundable property tax credits for eligible veterans.

Plus, the state has six VA Medical Centers and 18 VA community-based outreach clinics, veterans service officers in every county to help with claims and benefits.

Wisconsin also boasts plenty of hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities, modest average commutes and, of course, lots of state-brewed beer

Wisconsin is the first state to go after this market. It could pose great dividends.

And, if Wisconsin can do it, why can’t we piggyback on these efforts? Available Mequon jobs are family supporting.

I have reached out to the administration to see if we can benefit.

This is win-win. We can help our businesses, help our veterans, and help our tax base without putting a strain on our services.

Homestead Ranked 2019’s Best College Prep Public High School in Wisconsin

Congratulations to Homestead High School for being ranked the BEST college prep public high school in Wisconsin. One of the top reasons (among so many) why Mequon is a great community. Read more by clicking here.

Mequon-Thiensville Memorial Day 2018

Memorial-DayI was privileged to stand-in for the Mayor this morning and deliver remarks on behalf of the City at the annual Memorial Day ceremony. If you have never attended, please consider it next year.  The parade is short and sweet, and the ceremony is meaningful. It adds some context to this holiday.

I am always moved by the veterans I meet at this event. Today, there was at least one WWII veteran and veterans from every conflict and time since then. My 87-year-old father-in-law, Dave Albert, who survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War, and who has severe mobility issues, attended.

On behalf of the City, I thanked the public, the Village of Thiensville, the Howard J. Schroeder American Legion Post 457, its Ladies Auxiliary and the veterans in attendance. Then I delivered the following remarks. It is a humbling experience trying to adequately put into words the collective gratitude of a community.

In 1969, when I was six years old, my mother, at age 41, flew on an airplane for the first time. She got on that plane to fly to California to attend the funeral of her youngest brother, Major Richard Beattie of the United States Air Force. Dick Beattie was a pilot and died flying his B-52. He was 33.

Dick left a wife and two sons, Kevin (7) and Brock (6).

Dick never saw Kevin and Brock grow up, never had a chance to grow old with his wife Ann, and never had a chance to spoil his grandchildren.

Close to 50 million Americans have served the cause of freedom and more than 1.2 million have died to preserve our liberty.

It is staggering to think of 1.2 million lives cut tragically short. It is staggering to think of the tragedy suffered by 1.2 million families, the children never born, the weddings missed, the friends lost. It is staggering to think of the contributions those 1.2 million people could have made to science, business, the arts and our communities.

1.2 million is such a large number that it becomes just a statistic. So I like to personalize it, thinking about the price paid by Dick, his wife Ann and sons Brock and Kevin. I remember my mother’s tears. I expect that many of us have friends or relatives that make this more personal.

These 1.2 million people gave their lives for something.

From Bunker Hill to Gettysburg and beyond, our first century was devoted to securing our country to making it free. For the past century, starting with the Battle of Hammel in the First World War, continuing with World War II, and including the countless actions and battles since, through the most recent military death in March in Syria, our brave men and women have toiled and died not just for our country and our freedoms but to make the whole world free. We live in a country that uses force reluctantly, but is prepared to use it for freedom and liberation.

While Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember and say thank you, it should serve a greater purpose. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” We must “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Ronald Reagan put it in more modern terms on one Memorial Day when he said:

Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we—in a less final, less heroic way—be willing to give of ourselves.

The men and women we honor today recognized that it is worth fighting for freedom and that, if we fail to oppose tyrants – those who would take away freedom – tyranny will prevail, freedom will be lost and the American Experiment will have failed.

Let us remember them. They have, with their blood, paid a tremendous price for our freedoms. But to make their deaths meaningful, we must carry on their work. We must be prepared to oppose those outside and inside our country who are willing to empower government at the price of our individual freedoms. We must oppose tyranny wherever it exists. We must recognize that our freedoms are never safe from those who desire to impose their will on us.

In that way, we honor those who, with their deaths, made the down payment for our freedoms.

Thank you to our veterans, living and dead, and God Bless America.


Mequon’s Open Spaces

Open SpacesThere are many things that make Mequon great: its outstanding schools, its low taxes, its diverse housing stock (including some very upscale homes), its array of restaurants and shops and its community events. Together, these make for a unique community.

However, the coup de gras that knocks out its competitors is its amazing open spaces. Mequon is adjacent to the largest city in the state, yet much of Mequon has a rural feel. Part of Mequon is actually rural. We have some beautiful farms and, hopefully, many will remain for generations. However, Mequon has also planned for the future.

The Village of Grafton is 5.1 square miles. Within Mequon, there are approximately 5.1 square miles of land that is permanently preserved (about 3,100 to 3,200 acres). That is about 11% of the City’s total land mass. Those 5.1 square miles do not include our golf courses, the green areas around the high school and MATC, the setback of homes and businesses from roads, wetlands, private soccer facilities and other green areas.

Mequon’s 5.1 square miles of green space is made up of nature preserves, parks and land subject to conservation easements. Click here to see a map (there are a few more properties that should be marked on the map).

Mequon is unlikely to purchase much in the way of additional parks. However, Mequon can balance future development with green space.

Drive north on Wauwatosa Road to the area between Bonniwell and Pioneer Roads.  The entire eastern side of that mile of Wauwatosa Road, and three-quarters of the western side of the road, look like perfect places for future subdivisions. The east side alone has almost 100 acres of open space. What many people do not realize is that all of that land is fully developed. Nothing more will be built there. What you see is permanently preserved.  The developers of Hawks Landing, Hawks Bluff, Legacy Hills and Twin Oaks subdivisions put the home sites in a small part of the land they were developing, and deed restricted the remaining land.

Similar arrangements exist, for example, on the south side (County Line Road) and north side (Donges Bay Road) of Huntington Park subdivision, on the south side (Highland Road) of Cobblestone subdivision and on the north side of Ville du Parc subdivision (Highland Road). These are remarkably different subdivisions, but all of them left green space along major roads, giving the area a rural feel.

It would not be right to take away property owners’ ability to develop their properties or to make all developments fit one pattern. And, new development keeps a community healthy. However, Mequon should balance future development with the preservation of green space.  It might not be right for every development (depending on location and the attributes of the property), but it is right for many, particularly in the un-sewered areas (north and west sides) of the city.




dollar signThe next time you review your charitable giving, please consider giving locally. Mequon has many excellent organizations that enhance our community.

Each of us is bombarded by requests for money. There are many excellent choices that make our world better, from organizations that want to cure disease, to veterans groups, to conservation organizations, to groups that fight poverty. The list is almost endless.

Our houses of worship, schools and youth organizations also request and deserve our contributions (perhaps even most of our contributions). (Click here for a prior post regarding houses of worship, and I plan a future post on school and youth organizations).

However, there are some organizations that are vital to the fabric of our community, and they are too often overlooked. We could make such a difference if each of us would set aside even 10-20% of our charitable giving for these groups.

Here are a few. I am certain I will miss many, so I hope readers will remind me of them, and I can update this list.

Mequon Community Foundation (a great way to designate a gift to our parks, our police, our fire department or any community activity)

Our Heritage
Freistadt Heritage Foundation
Friends of Jonathan Clark House
Mequon-Thiensville Historical Society
Mequon Nature Preserve

Our Veterans
American Legion Howard J. Schroeder Post 457

Our Community Events
Community Fun Events (Family Fun Before the 4th)
Gathering on the Green
Mequon Festivals Committee

All of Us
Weyenberg Public Library Foundation

We have many great service clubs (Lions, Optimists, Rotary, etc.) that do great things, but their focus is generally local and beyond. Besides, they have whole clubs to market their activities. I will likely do a post devoted to them. There are also many great state and county organizations that devote some of the resources to our community (Family Sharing, the Adult Literacy Center, etc). Mequon is also the home to many generous family foundations and professional associations. THANK YOU to all of them.

However, this list is devoted to civic organizations devoted only to Mequon-Thiensville. They are often overlooked.

Mequon Police Department is There to Help

Mequon Police Department
This Mequon PD badge has a slogan on it – “Service Trust Justice.” Note that it starts with “Service.”

Sometimes we overlook the fine services our city employees provide.  Unfortunately, sometimes we do not know about them. I received the following note today from a Mequon resident. It was enlightening to me. If you know someone who could use this particular service, please pass this on to him or her. 



I’d like to tell you about a great interaction with Mequon PD today. Officer Darren Selk is my new hero. I’ve sent him a message via the city website so he hopefully knows my gratitude.

My husband has mobility issues as you know from previous emails about handicapped parking spots. He’s also a fall risk. He fell today at home, I couldn’t get him up and our wonderful neighbor was there to help us. God bless great neighbors!

Later….I Wondered what I would do if our call list of friends and neighbors weren’t available.

I stopped at the Mequon PD to ask about help if it was a situation that was not emergency but something I couldn’t handle on my own. Office Selk took all our information and flagged our address in the confidential data base. “Lift Assist” is another new phrase for my vocabulary. He was so kind and caring as he took my information. The non emergency phone number for Mequon PD is entered in all of our phones.

What a great service for our city. I’m hoping we never need to use it. Grateful if we do.

Thank you and Officer Selk for your service.


My Role on the Mequon Common Council

Tonight, my colleagues on the Common Council elected me to be President of the Council. I am honored, particularly considering that only two of the aldermen served with me prior to my self-imposed three years away from the Council.

To some degree, being President is an honorific. The first responsibility is to nominate alderman for various committees. That happened tonight. The other primary responsibility is to serve when the Mayor is absent.

However, I plan to assume a third responsibility. I want to work this coming year on building collegiality among my colleagues. Collegiality does not mean we have to agree. We should not when we do not. However, we should work with each other, and with City staff, professionally and amicably. In my first decade on the Council, that was a hallmark of the Council. Lately, that has not always been the case. Our three newest Council members have a lot to offer and have the opportunity to accomplish great things. However, they and the rest of us will be less effective if we deal with each other with suspicion and hostility. Federal and state lawmakers act that way, and see how functional they are.

At the beginning of each Council year, I give some thought about my role as a member of the Common Council. I made these remarks (click here) when I left the Council five years ago, and again when I ran two years ago. They still hold true today.






Thank You, Candidates

Every year, we have a bunch of people who step forward to give their time to our county, city and school district. These people are not looking for jobs. Most have full-time jobs or are retired. Unless they are delusional, and I know most are not, they are not looking for power, money or fame. These positions give the officeholders none of those things.

Instead, they are offering their time and talent as a public service. Our institutions would not work without them.

Yet, in order to give their time and talent, they spend money and many hours campaigning. They also subject themselves to the electorate, a process that can be humbling and nerve-racking. Moreover, and often worse, they subject themselves to accusation and mud thrown their way (again, all for the opportunity to serve others). Most do it honorably.

Tonight, the following 17 Mequonites (and one Thiensvillian) had their names on a ballot. Win or lose, each made a contribution by running. Please join me in thanking them (names of the people who will take office are italicized):

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 19         Bruce Ross and LeRoy Haeuser

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 20         Patrick Marchese and Noel Williams

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 21         Justin Strom and Bob Walerstein

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 23         David Henrichs

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 24         Janette Braverman

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 26         Jennifer Rothstein

Mequon Alderman District 6                          Brian Schneider and Lewis Chamoy

Mequon Alderman District 7                          Kathleen Schneider and Chris Schelble

Mequon Alderman District 8                          Andrew Nerbun and Kim Steinbrenner

Mequon-Thiensville  School Board                John Daniels, Paula Taebel and Shelley Burns

I look forward to serving with Brian, Kathleen and Andrew, and hope to have opportunities to build relationships with the other bodies through the other officeholders.

Upcoming Mequon Common Council Election – Please Vote


If you live in District 6, 7 or 8 (southeastern Mequon and along the lake south of Highland), please remember that there is a contested election for the Common Council in your area. Early voting has started at City Hall and runs through Friday, March 30. Election Day is Tuesday, April 3.

We need Common Council members who appreciate our great community and want to improve Mequon rather than tearing it down. We can keep taxes low, have great police, fire and ambulance departments, maintain roads, improve the City’s services and plan for the future without being divisive. I hope that whoever is elected will work toward those ends.

Read about the candidates by clicking on the following links:

District 6: Brian Schneider and Lewis Chamoy

District 7: Chris Schelble and Kathleen Schneider (inc.)

District 8: Kim Steinbrenner and Andrew Nerbun (inc.)



Anonymous Websites and Emails: A Right, Yes, But What Do They Say About the Writers?

I receive a lot of emails from Mequon residents as a result of my Updates, Facebook page and website posts. I try to respond to all of them. Many of the writers and I agree, but not always. Most of the writers are polite and thoughtful. I try to be the same.

Occasionally, however, someone writes anonymously. Those writers have an email address that does not identify them and, almost always, are uncivil and condescending. I usually respond and ask who I am writing to. I never receive a response.

From time to time, someone does this on a grander scale. They create a website with a civic-minded organizational name and distribute emails under that name. They do not identify themselves; instead, they say something like “we are residents and neighbors who are concerned about the future of Mequon.” Invariably, such people (usually, it is only one or two people) spread half-truths and try to inflame the public. Often they do this for self-gain: political aspiration, personal aggrandizement or to advance a cause in which they have a personal interest.

In the language of today’s political debate, this is often “Fake News.” According to the Urban Dictionary, the people who do this are “Trolls” (“one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument”).

These “concerned” residents have an absolute right to do this. But, what does it say about the writers? Are they afraid to put their names with their accusations? Isn’t this just a form of cowardice?

Mequon has a new group circulating this kind of stuff. I am not going to post the name of their website – why give them publicity?

The irony is that they “demand transparency.”

However, one of these writers has left a traceable trail. I know who he is. I expect that this is a precursor to a run for office. I challenge him and his other “concerned” residents to come out of hiding and put their names on their website and emails.

Debates should be civil and public, not cloaked in anonymity.

New State Law Alters Mequon’s Zoning Powers

The Wisconsin legislature recently made significant changes to the rules regarding conditional use permits. The changes are likely, over time, to have profound impacts on Mequon’s planning and zoning authority. Based on these changes, it is time for a comprehensive review of Mequon’s conditional use ordinances.

Zoning Classifications

Under most zoning codes, including Mequon’s, uses in a zoning district fall within three basic categories: permitted uses, conditional uses and accessory uses. A permitted use is a use that is automatically, without discretion, allowed in the zoning district. So, for example, professional and business offices are allowed as a matter of right in Mequon’s B-3 zoning district. Accessory uses are uses that are allowed in conjunction with a permitted or allowed conditional use. So, for example, a parking garage is not allowed as a standalone use in the B-3 district but is allowed to be built with an office building.

A conditional use is a use that might be allowed in a district under certain conditions. Mequon’s zoning code lists various conditional uses for its zoning districts. The Planning Commission reviews applications for conditional uses and determines whether the particular proposed conditional use is appropriate in the particular location.

So, for example, restaurants are allowed in certain zoning districts as conditional uses. When the City receives an application for a restaurant in one of those districts, it reviews whether the use is compatible with surrounding uses (e.g., is it next to single-family homes), whether noise or light will bother adjoining uses, hours of operation, and so forth. The City approves, denies or conditions the application.

Mequon’s ordinances contain a wide variety of conditional uses: agricultural uses in residential districts; commercial hatcheries and greenhouses in agricultural districts; houses of worship in many zoning classifications; residential quarters for owners in some business districts; warehousing and distribution centers; and a myriad of other uses.

Law Change

Under the new statute, it is virtually impossible to deny a conditional use application. The statute provides that  “if an applicant for a conditional use permit meets or agrees to meet all of the requirements and conditions specified in the city ordinance or those imposed by the city zoning board, the city shall grant the conditional use permit.” In the past, the Planning Commission denied some applications because the particular use did not fit the particular property. Now, the Planning Commission may only impose conditions. If the applicant is willing to accept those conditions, the applicant is entitled to the conditional use permit.

However, the law does not stop there. It significantly limits the conditions that can be imposed by the Planning Commission.

First, the new law requires that standards governing conditional uses be “reasonable and, to the extent practicable, measurable….” This requirement is certain to lead to  litigation. Mequon has considered all sorts of factors, including odors, aesthetics, safety and similar factors when considering conditional uses. Most of these factors are not measurable. The statute does not clarify what is intended by “to the extent practicable.”

Second, any conditions imposed by the Planning Commission must be reasonable and the decision to approve or deny must be based on “substantial evidence.” The Planning Commission cannot impose conditions that are not mandated by our ordinances, such as hours of operation, ventilation or other conditions, unless there is “substantial evidence” that such conditions are necessary and reasonable. It is no longer enough that the City always requires such conditions.

Third, the new law prohibits the Planning Commission from deciding an application for a conditional use on “personal preferences or speculation.” Although we allow and require public testimony, the Planning Commission cannot, under the new law, make its decision based on that testimony unless, perhaps, the person providing the testimony is an acknowledged expert. It might be common sense that a particular use will harm adjoining property values (and our ordinances allow a denial based on such harm); however, under the new law, and the court decision that prompted it, denying a use based on common sense is likely to end up in a court challenge, and unless the decision is based on “measurable” standards with “substantial evidence,” the City would likely lose such a challenge.

Arguably, the changes are in large part a good thing. They prevent communities from being arbitrary. However, Mequon’s conditional use process, when fairly applied, has avoided bad uses and one property owner from harming another.

Again, the City should comprehensively review its conditional use ordinances. Mequon’s ordinances were written under the old statue. Unless we tighten those ordinances, we will likely face expensive litigation and may have unanticipated uses forced on the community that might harm and change the nature of our commercial and residential districts.

The City could consider eliminating some conditional uses in some districts; changing some conditional uses to permitted uses with more exact standards; establishing precise standards for conditional uses that have proven to be problematic; eliminating criteria that are no longer enforceable; establishing evidence that applicants must provide with applications; and requiring grants to be in writing with specific findings of fact that have been reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission.