Developer’s rights were violated
I am writing as legal counsel for Main Street Waunakee, LLC, the developer that recently filed a lawsuit against the Village of Waunakee.
It is not my client’s desire to go after the Village, but my client’s rights and the rights of property owners were legally violated. Accordingly, in October, Main Street Waunakee filed a Notice of Claim with the Village of Waunakee, the Board of Trustees, President Chris Zellner and Trustee Erin Moran. The Village recently denied that Claim. In addition, Main Street Waunakee, has filed a lawsuit challenging the Village’s decision to deny Main Street’s requested rezoning.
As detailed in the Complaint and Notice of Claim, my client’s primary concerns are: (1) violations of the law and ethical obligations by Village President Chris Zellner and Village board member Erin Moran; and (2) the Village’s discrimination against my client, compared to other developers, i.e. Chris Zellner’s brother’s company in particular.
Initially Chris Zellner told my client’s representative that my client had a “nice plan” and “quality project” and that he was supportive of the redevelopment. Then Zellner flipped his position after talking with his brother. At this time Zellner’s brother, through LZ Ventures, was working to propose a multi-family development in the Village. In Chris Zellner’s own words at a public meeting, his brother didn’t like Main Street Waunakee’s plans and that was the reason Chris Zellner was going to personally stop my client’s development from getting approved, which Zellner followed through on. Unknown to the public, early on my client filed a written complaint with the Village about Zellner’s conflict of interest. Zellner initially recused himself following such complaint. Soon after such recusal, Zellner actively participated in future meetings (without recusal), including making the final motion to reject my client’s zoning request, despite previously publicly acknowledging his need to recuse himself.
Trustee Erin Moran, campaigned upon opposing my client’s development, which was located directly across the street from her residence and her mother’s property. Ms. Moran made numerous statements against my client’s project prior to the hearings and ran her campaign solely on opposing my client. Moran’s prejudgment of my client demonstrates she had no intention of giving my client any fair consideration.
Both Zellner and Moran were required by law (Wisconsin Supreme Court precedent) to recuse themselves given not just their direct conflicts of interest, but also because they demonstrated on numerous occasions a pre-bias in advance of the hearings. They poisoned the well so to speak, chumming up negative public opinion, negatively influencing other members and staff.
Furthermore, at the last hearing, the Village Board also violated the open meetings law by voting to deny any changes requested by my client in the future as to the Village comprehensive plan, an action that was not publicly noticed in advance or listed on the agenda, which are both required under Wisconsin law. This action was clear evidence of unequal and illegal treatment of my client. Notably my client has not made any such requests and the Village Board has no idea what those requests might concern. The only purpose of the motion was to deny my client the right to petition the Village and to deny my client a fair hearing on future requests, no matter the type of request.
In Wisconsin, applicants before public bodies have the right to expect fair and equal treatment, to expect unbiased, merit-based evaluation of proposals, and to hold up the rights of property owners and applicants regardless of political pressure. That’s the very essence of having a constitutional democracy; to protect citizens from heavy handed government officials who are “out to get you” before you even get to a fair hearing.
My client’s concern is not with those who opposed; they have every right to voice their opinions. My client’s concern is with publicly elected and appointed Village officials who never gave my client the chance at a fair and impartial hearing because they themselves tainted the process.
Main Street Waunakee, LLC
F. Taylor Brengel, Legal Counsel
The best men (and women) can be
There has been much controversy recently around a Gillette commercial. Watching it, I found myself surprised that it could incite such disagreement. The commercial reframed the slogan “the best a man can get” with a change to “the best men can be.” In the commercial they not only call out many of the male gender stereotypes that limit boys into a rigid definition of what it means to be a man, but also go beyond the negative and reminded us that we can (and many do) take action to be better.
As I tried to understand how there could be opposition to the message in this commercial, I read some of the comments and my dismay only deepened as I came across “Men’s Rights Groups.” They appeared to take issue with tone of the commercial as anti-male and their arguments support an extreme view of masculinity. Some posts overtly stated that the excuse “boys will be boys” is acceptable and justification for inappropriate behavior. I found it stunning not only that these groups exist but given their focus on overt masculinity that they could be so incredibly fragile as to find this commercial threatening.
At the end of the day, this is not just about women and girls. This is about boys too. Boys are limited in very different ways than girls, trapped in a narrow definition of manhood and masculinity. As the father of two boys with a third on the way, I often find myself thinking about how to raise my boys to be good men. The reminder at the end of the video as a dad steps in to prevent a child being bullied while his son looks on is that our every action influences how our children view what it is to be a man.
We can all be better. I definitely can be. All of us, men and women alike, have room to be better. That should not be controversial! I hope this sparks conversation. I hope this helps our community and our society to consider the harm behind conforming to a definition of masculinity that fails to hold men accountable and limits who they can be. For my part, I will continue in my quest to be better for my family, my friends, but above all to be a role model for my boys. And I may just consider beginning to shave my beard…
Let’s make our voices heard
A year and a half ago, I barely knew how local government meetings worked. At the beginning of every village meeting, there is a public comment time. I’ve noticed over the past year that there are relatively few people that take advantage of this opportunity. Many people I’ve talked with do not realize that public comments can be made at meetings other than Village Board and Plan Commission. There is a public comment period for items not on the agenda at nearly every village meeting, including Parks, Public Works, and Finance Committee, just to name a few. You can discuss nearly any issue, whether it be about a pothole in your street or simply thanking another citizen who volunteered at a recent event. The School Board also has a public comment period for items on the agenda. I’ve also heard that many believe you must be present at one of these meetings to make a comment.
However, the village allows you to email your comment before a meeting to email@example.com or by going to Village Hall and filling out a comment sheet. Submitting a comment doesn’t require you to jump through many hoops and can take five minutes or less of your time. Let’s make a New Year’s resolution as a community to take further advantage of the public comment period in 2019 and make our voices heard.
Waunakee High School Student
Contested elections are good for democracy
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to compete for your vote for the Waunakee Village Board of Trustees on April 2, 2019. I would like to share why I am running with you.
Our community is facing thorny issues: funding shortfalls for roads and parks, decisions on how we grow, village incentives, new resident engagement, and housing affordability. As I have learned more about the village, I found myself wanting deeper analyses and holistic approaches to these issues. I plan to live here for another 50 years. I want good planning and sound judgement that is committed to improving the quality of life in the village.
As our community changes, how we address these challenges matters. Do we allow them to divide us or do we find ways to reframe the issue as an opportunity? I believe Waunakee can transform problems into prospects for innovation. We have amazing people living here to make that possible.
In my day job, I work with many organizations collaboratively to make changes in their operations. It isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons. The biggest lesson is to gather support early and often. Early conversations and negotiations with the organization, person, or people impacted by the change on key principals, values, and resources begins to reframe the change from threatening to exciting. I will bring these skills in change management and collaboration to village hall.
Finally, I believe elected officials are servants of the people. I believe they need to lead by discussing opportunities and challenges with open hearts and minds. Transparency, accountability, and responsiveness to resident concerns are important to me. I don’t care if you’ve lived in Waunakee your whole life or moved here recently. Once you join team Waunakee you have a say in shaping our village.
If we find a path forward together, we can discover answers today that make our future brighter.