Our Views: Thumbs up/down for Monday, Jan. 9
Thumbs up to Judge James Daley. He more than doubled a plea agreement's recommendation to sentence a sexual predator to five years in prison—handing out a 12-year sentence to Berne P. Moran. Moran assaulted a girl over three days at a campground near Milton in 2012 and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. He also allegedly assaulted someone else at the campground, though charges were never filed in that case. In another incident, Moran lured an 18-year-old inmate to his jail cell last year and would not let him leave. Daley, who doesn't have a reputation for ignoring plea agreements, said he gave the longer sentence so that the victims would be adults by the time Moran leaves prison. Daley made the right call, and perhaps the larger question is: Why did Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan negotiate with Moran's attorney to recommend only a five-year sentence? Moran could have been sentenced to a maximum 40 years in prison.
Thumbs up to Milton-Lader settlement. The best part about the settlement approved by the Milton City Council to end its dispute with Councilwoman Nancy Lader is the invitation to be extended to the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. The city and Lader plan to jointly ask the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council to hold a public forum in Milton to educate residents on the state's open meetings and open records laws. We hope Milton council members attend the forum and grab front-row seats. They need to learn to make open government—not political theater—their top priority. Milton officials seem to have a penchant for manufacturing drama, instead of concentrating on boring budgets and city projects. Don't forget to tune in to next week's episode of “As the World of Milton Turns.” (Cue the dramatic music.)
Thumbs down to “dark store” schemes. Lawyers continue to succeed in siphoning taxpayer dollars from municipal coffers through dark store litigation, which has cost Janesville more than $130,000 since 2011. The lawsuits claim that the owners of big box stores should pay no more in property taxes than the owners of closed, vacant stores. As anyone who has negotiated a commercial lease knows, vacant properties are often worth less than active ones for good reason, but some slick lawyers are nevertheless winning in court, most recently $306,000 for a Walgreens in Oshkosh. The solution is to prohibit municipal assessors from valuing active stores at the same rate as similar dark stores, and it's up to the Legislature to intervene. In the meantime, beware of lawyers coming to a town near you peddling unfair legal tactics.
Thumbs down to higher hunting license fees. The state Department of Natural Resources picked an odd time for proposing to raise hunting fees. The number of gun deer licenses dipped below 600,000 last year for the first time since 1976, and the downward trend shows no sign of slowing. There are likely several reasons for lower hunting participation, but increasing the price of licenses from $24 to $28 could further discourage hunting. At the same time, the DNR probably has little choice because of a projected $4 million to $6 million budget gap. The DNR and Legislature should work to guarantee that new revenue from higher fees goes toward wildlife management and improving the hunting experience.