New Life Assembly of God again to be considered for voting site

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Elliot Hughes
Friday, October 23, 2015

JANESVILLE--New Life Assembly of God church is back into consideration as a polling place for the city.

City Hall has been trying to establish new polling places for several wards since the summer. In August, after council member Sam Liebert stated he'd rather not use the church as a poll site, the church's pastor, the Rev. Michael Jackson, withdrew his offer to use the building's gym.

But the agenda packet for the council's Monday meeting has New Life back in the running.

“They just offered it up,” said Dave Godek, the city's clerk-treasurer.

The council is expected to establish new polling locations for 15 wards on Monday: 5, 6, 11, 12, 19 and 20-29. It would affect 16,400 registered voters.

Liebert's comments in August, when he stated he had separation of church and state issues with using a church as a polling site, sparked a dust-up between him and Jackson, which led to Jackson's once-withdrawn offer.

The Gazette obtained an email exchange between the two from August in which Jackson accused Liebert of discrimination because First Lutheran Church already acts as a polling site. Their dialogue even spilled over into an argument comparing racial discrimination to religious discrimination.

Liebert, who earlier this week announced his candidacy for Rock County clerk, said Friday he and Jackson have since resolved their issues, but he still would rather not use New Life as a polling site.

“I respect his point of view,” Liebert said. “We respectfully left it there. It's my own philosophical belief that there should be a line between the two (church and state). For something like elections, I think it's appropriate to have that separation.”

The Gazette was not able to reach Jackson for comment Friday.

The need to find new polling sites began in the spring, when the Janesville School District notified the city that it would prefer three of its elementary schools not be used as polling sites. The district cited security concerns.

At about the same time, Rotary Botanical Gardens also informed the city that it would prefer to stop hosting voters. City officials said they were told the voting hurt the gardens' revenue.

In October, the city received notice that a fourth elementary school--Harmony Elementary, which is in the Milton School District but inside Janesville city limits--also wants to do away with polls.

When the council first considered a proposal to switch around polling locations in August, it decided to table the matter for a variety of reasons. Several members preferred to stay in the elementary schools, believing the safety concerns were blown out of proportion.

Only Liebert said he had an issue with New Life, specifically over separation of church and state.

City staff is proposing three polling options for the council to consider. Those proposals use various combinations of New Life, Franklin Middle School, the Hedberg Public Library, Blain's Farm and Fleet, the Ramada Inn, the Pontiac Convention Center and the Holiday Inn as the new locations.

The three specific proposals can be found at gazettextra.com/polling.

The Holiday Inn and Pontiac Convention Center would ask for a fee of $450 and $500, respectively, for use of their spaces, according to city documents. No other current or proposed location is paid or has requested compensation from the city.

Last updated: 5:31 pm Friday, October 23, 2015

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