As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Waunakee Village Board has again extended its emergency declaration, directing all department heads to monitor expenditures so they can be recaptured by any relief efforts and giving the village president and administrator executive authority to implement measures to respond to the crisis.
This third extension of the declaration was approved on a 6-1 vote at the Sept. 8 village board meeting although one trustee questioned the broad scope of emergency authority on the part of the village president and administrator.
“I see this whole thing as being too broad. It covers too many possibilities,” Trustee Nila Frye said.
Frye indicated that the board had discussed the Get Out and Try… Waunakee campaign at a previous meeting, but what the board would vote on Sept. 8 would be a change from that discussion.
In particular, the Sept. 8 meeting agenda sought a vote to allow banners for the campaign to be placed on private property and for a variation from the sign code regulations.
Village Administrator Todd Schmidt recalled Frye asking at a previous meeting if signs used in the campaign would be “legally constructed and installed.”
Frye remembered the answer at the meeting as “yes, absolutely,” she said. She said information such as this could have factored into how she voted at that last meeting, indicating that the answer at the last board meeting was not truthful.
“And then an executive decision was made,” Frye said. “I see it as rewarding an answer that wasn’t true as it was stated.”
Schmidt said at the time, his and the campaign organizers’ understanding was that the signs would meet all regulations.
Kleinmaier said the resolution could be changed to give the entire village board, rather than only the village president and administrator, executive authority.
“To me, it doesn’t seem like you have a concern necessarily with the village board exercising powers under the stature; it’s more the concern about things that would happen in between village board meetings that would be taken administratively,” he said.
The discussion ended, however, when Trustee Kristin Runge moved to extend the emergency declaration as written, the board voted in favor of it, with only Frye dissenting.
The vote was identical on a motion to ratify the village president’s emergency allowance of a variation from the sign code regulations related to “Get Out and Try” banners to be placed on private property.
Village President Chris Zellner said residents had asked about allowing the variation, and he provided some background, noting that he was contacted by Waunakee Chamber of Commerce Director Ellen Schaaf and Jennifer Tasker of the Opportunas Agency about posting signage for the campaign.
“They told me that timing was important to help our business community, and that they were hoping to start working on the production of the banners as soon as possible,” Zellner said.
At that time, Zellner contacted the village attorney to see if the emergency declaration allowed him to authorize them to proceed with banners, he said. While the attorney indicated that it did, he also suggested the item be placed on the Sept. 8 board meeting agenda for action.
“In the interim, I informed Jennifer and Ellen, that due to the deep and devastating impacts of COVID, I would approve the banner request with the understanding that village staff confirm sightline safety of the location and any other safety concerns,” Zellner said.
Kleinmaier noted that he had seen comments from others indicated that the action by the village board would be inconsistent with the code or would be suspending its sign ordinance.
He suggested a motion allowing the banners for only 30 days and requiring them to be no more than 4 feet by 8 feet.
The location of the signs would be on private property, with none in the road right of way and none creating vision issues, Kleinmaier said. The anticipated installation date would be Sept. 14 and they would remain for 30 days to be consistent with the ordinances.
The board would allow this under the executive authority to help local businesses due to the “extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances caused by COVID-19,” Kleinmaier said.
“The power that is granted to the village board under the resolutions we’ve adopted is an emergency power and includes general authority to order whatever is necessary and expedient for the health, safety, protection and welfare of persons and property in the village,” Kleinmaier said. “We’ve been told our businesses are suffering.”
He added that language in the village code specifically allows these types of banners and signs, such as for WaunaFest and WaunaBOOM. But that language deals with special events and are approved by the zoning administrator.
Still, the village board could approve the signs under the extraordinary circumstances caused by COVID.
Zellner asked Tasker and Schaaf to discuss the size of the signs.
Tasker said she believed that the signs would comply with the ordinances, but a design came up and she asked if the signs could be placed.
Schaaf said the intention was to help local businesses.
“We’re putting a lot of effort into this marketing plan,” she said, adding that when the design was revealed, she contacted Zellner to see if installation would be possible.
Businesses “are hurting,” Schaaf said. “Some do not even know if they will be here next month.”
Zellner said he is not only concerned about the businesses, but also the citizens who work at them and the services they provide.
Trustee Phil Willems said he feels the banners would fall into the category of those for WaunaFest and Wauktoberfest but that the village should not relax other sign restrictions.
Runge added that forming a vibrant business community takes decades.
“The care and feeding of that community is really important right now,” Runge said.