The town of Christiana wants to sell to the Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission the site of a pizza restaurant the Cambridge fire and EMS station is proposed to expand onto.
The town of Christiana bought the site adjacent to the station, on West Main Street in Cambridge, for $280,000 in 2019. It did so with written understanding from four other area towns and villages that it shares annual fire and EMS costs with, and that have beenproposed to share the $6.5 million cost of the station expansion, that they would pay Christiana back over time with a small amount of interest.
Things got complicated when an April 6 referendum to fund its portion of the station expansion costs, and to authorize the land purchase, failed in Christiana.
The referendum was held, in part, to placate some local residents who said the restaurant site purchase was done illegally, without first holding a vote at a Christiana town electors meeting.
And, the local residents pointed out, the 5-way restaurant site purchase agreement said successful referendums were needed in all five towns and villages, or it would become null and void.
The local residents said they were willing to forgive the misstep by Christiana if the referendums passed; but they failed in Christiana, Cambridge and Oakland, only being approved by voters in Rockdale and the town of Lake Mills.
Christiana Town Chairman Mark Cook told the fire and EMS commission on May 27 that the town’s attorney suggested it enter into a land contract with the commission, in which the town would initially continue to hold the deed. Ultimately, the commission would become the owner, paying the town $280,000 in the process.
“We don’t owe any money on it, we paid cash,” Cook said. “And we aren’t looking to make any money on it, we just don’t want to own it.”
“I would give it to you if I could figure out how to pull that off, but my lawyer says I can’t,” Cook continued.
Cook said he expects the Christiana town board, at its next meeting on June 8, to vote on a sale recommendation to take to the fire and EMS commission. The commission’s next meeting is Aug. 24. Local town and village boards would also have to ultimately approve the plan.
In other matters on May 27, fire and EMS commission chairman Eugene Kapsner, also Oakland town chairman, apologized for misconstruing that a recently formed Building Review Committee, charged with reviewing the station plans following the failed referendums, could meet behind closed doors and without publicly posting its agendas.
“I was under the assumption that we had an ad hoc committee and that ad hoc committees did not require posting and open meetings,” Kapsner said. Since then, “we have found out from the (Wisconsin) Towns Association attorneys that, being there’s an appointment from each municipality, it is a government body,” whose meetings must be open and posted.
“I am sorry about that,” Kapsner said.
The Cambridge News and Deerfield Independent has filed a formal complaint with the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, alleging that the Building Review Committee’s kick-off meeting on May 13 violated the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, for not being posted and for internal email communication from Fire Chief Terry Johnson to committee members, that the newspaper obtained, that said it would be closed to the public. Facing pressure to do so, Johnson ultimately opened the meeting but it was never posted. He has said the committee will meet in open session going forward.
Committee sizeCambridge Village President Mark McNally also questioned who decided prior to the Building Review Committee’s May 13 meeting to increase it from 11 to 13 members.
McNally said there was no action to that effect at the most recent meeting of the fire and EMS commission, which the committee reports to.
“I’m just wondering where the authority came from to change that?” McNally said.
Kapsner said the decision was made by yet another committee, that he acknowledged has never noticed its meetings and never released minutes. He and Johnson said it has been meeting monthly, sometimes weekly, for at least 4-5 years.
Attending have been — at least — Kapsner, Johnson and Devin Flanigan from Keller, Inc., the Kaukauna design-build firm hired by the commission for the station expansion project.
Kapsner said he has been attending those meeting since January. He said it meets the definition of an ad hoc committee allowed to meet behind closed doors without public notice.
“I discussed it with Terry and Devin at the previous building committee meeting,” Kapsner said, regarding the decision to add two more at-large members to the new Building Review Commitee. “And we decided on four.”
“Has anyone scribed the notes, is there anything (that has been made public) about your discussions that have taken place?” McNally questioned.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Kapsner said.
“I just don’t know what’s being covered…to the extent that there are items of a substantial nature,” McNally said. “If there are meetings that are going on I would appreciate minutes of whatever was discussed.”
In response to the exchange, the commission voted to add two at-large members to the committee.
McNally also questioned why Flanigan has, at the Building Review Committee’s first two meetings, acted as the facilitator. He called that a conflict of interest for a hired contractor.
In response, the commission asked that the committee, at its next meeting on June 3, elect a chairperson to run the meetings.
The commission also discussed the timeline to re-vote on a station expansion proposal.
Flanigan said if the goal is to begin construction in the spring of 2022, referendums or special town voter meetings will have to be held by early September.
If community informational meetings are to happen prior to that, they would have to be scheduled soon, commission members acknowledged.
Julie Nelles and Dave Schroeder, the Rockdale and town of Lake Mills representatives to the commission, said because their April referendums passed, they don’t need to have such a vote again.
Kapsner said it’s ultimately up to the Oakland town board, but he would expect to hold a special town voter meeting, not a referendum.
Cook and McNally said they would expect referendums to be scheduled in Cambridge and Christiana.
Kapsner said it’s critical for those votes to happen by fall.
“If we set this to the next spring election you’re going to set this project back a year. The price is not going to be the same as it is now,” Kapsner said.
Building Review Committee member Sheila Palinkas questioned, however, whether her group, that thus far has only met twice, can complete everything it’s charged with by late summer. A timeline distributed prior to its first meeting stretched to November, she pointed out.
“There is no way the work that this committee is doing can be done in time to force a September deadline,” Palinkas said.