You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Rock County Board opposes town of Beloit's desire to become a village


The Rock County Board voted unanimously Thursday to oppose the town of Beloit’s petition to incorporate as a village.

Board members’ opposition is driven by $1.1 million in tax revenue from the expanding Alliant Energy plant, which would go to the county if the town does not incorporate as the village of Riverside.

The resolution gives the county “a seat at the table,” board Chairman Russ Podzilni said. The county has no power to stop or expedite the process for incorporation, but it can offer an opinion on how the move could affect the county.

The incorporation plan is all about money, Podzilni said. The county board is obligated to consider the welfare of the 160,000 people in the county, not just the 6,200 in the town, he said.

Rock County currently receives two-thirds of the tax revenue from the Alliant Energy plant, while the town receives one-third. That would flip if the town incorporates.

Beloit Town Board Supervisor George Rath said the town would not force the county to take a cut in funding the year it incorporates.

He said the incorporation is not all about money, despite public opinion. The town wants to give residents control over where they live and prevent future annexation from the city of Beloit, he said.

The county board’s vote comes two days after the city of Beloit sent a letter to the town, asking for additional mediation with a neutral facilitator.

City Manager Lori Luther said the city and town need to discuss boundary negotiations, city growth and future shared resources.

Ultimately, individual landowners—not the city—are behind requests for annexation, Luther said.

The city wants what is best for everyone, Luther said. She expressed concern that residents on the town’s west side will not have a voice in the process.

Residents west of Afton Road will not initially be included in a future village because of population density requirements.

Rath said town officials have been in talks with west-side residents on how the proposed village could share resources with them.

Town Board Chairwoman Diane Greenlee, who spoke for absent Town Administrator Ian Haas, said she thinks more dialogue is needed between county and town officials.

Some county board members said Thursday they needed time to learn more about the incorporation plan.

An initial motion to table the vote ended in a tie. A second motion to table it was voted down, which eventually led to the unanimous vote on the resolution.

County board member Dave Homan said the town has not discussed how incorporation would affect the adjacent town of Rock. He had hoped to table the motion until that communication occurred.

Other county board members also raised concerns, including Louis Peer, who said he hopes the town includes west-side residents in the future, after incorporation.

Board member Brian Knudson called the issue a “one-million-dollar heartburn” and said he wished the board’s decision did not have to boil down to money.

The town has filed for incorporation in Rock County Court. The city of Beloit’s letter asks that the court postpone action on the petition pending mediation.

The city requests that the town respond within a week of Jan. 23.

top story
Home invasion planner gets 12-year prison sentence


Sterling R. Olsen was 18 when he planned a robbery at a Janesville home two years ago, leading to a night of terror he says he never intended.

But the horror lives on for the family’s members, who have increased their counseling visits to deal with the memories, the mother told Rock County Judge James Daley at Olsen’s sentencing Thursday.

Olsen, 20, of 117 E. Racine St., Janesville, was sentenced on charges of party to armed robbery, burglary, false imprisonment, criminal damage and theft.

Daley said although Olsen was never in the house and things didn’t go as intended, none of it would have happened if Olsen hadn’t planned it.

Daley gave Olsen 12 years in prison and six years of extended supervision. That’s the longest prison term of any of the defendants sentenced so far.

It’s a stiffer sentence than recommended by the state Department of Corrections—eight years plus five years of supervision—or prosecutor Rich Sullivan, who recommended 10 years plus six of supervision.

The mother called Olsen a coward and said her family was terrorized when masked men entered their home, tied them up, pointed guns at them and threatened their lives.

“That will forever haunt us,” she said.

About 20 people sat with the family in court Thursday. They were just a portion of the support group her family has needed, the mother said. She told Olsen to turn and look at them, and he did.

Neighbor Scott Schroeder, who sheltered the family after the robbers left, likened Olsen’s actions to that of an arsonist who starts a fire that scars a family. These scars are on the inside, he said.

“You are a coward,” said Schroeder, clearly angered. “... I hope when you go to prison, they find you are a coward, as well.”

Sullivan said it was fortunate the invaders didn’t kill anyone.

“It was going that way,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Olsen was trying to get revenge on the mother’s adult son, Brody Feggestad.

Feggestad had shown Olsen a wad of cash, and Olsen stole some of it from Feggestad. Later, Feggestad slapped Olsen when Olsen couldn’t pay it back, Sullivan said.

Olsen then conceived the plan to rob Feggestad of the money Olsen believed was in the house on Janesville’s east side, Sullivan said.

Olsen recruited a “monster,” Damien Hewlett, and four others to carry out the plan, Sullivan said.

Hewlett, said to be the cruelest of the home invaders, knew where to get handguns with laser pointers used in the invasion. The idea was to scare their victims into submission.

Daley sentenced Hewlett in September to seven years in prison and 13 years of extended supervision.

The youngest member of the family, a 12-year-old girl, was dragged from under a bed where she had hidden, Sullivan noted.

The girl wouldn’t enter the house afterward, Sullivan said, and the family had to abandon its “dream home.”

“It will impact her. It’s impacted the relationships in this family. Who wouldn’t doubt that it wouldn’t?” Sullivan said.

The neighborhood, where people once left their doors open, is also changed forever, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Olsen gave a statement about the robbery only after he saw that he needed to help himself, Sullivan said.

Defense attorney Lane Fitzgerald disagreed, saying Olsen had a constitutional right to wait until he had a lawyer before revealing what he knew.

Fitzgerald said that as Olsen monitored what was going on at the house via cellphone and realized what was happening to the girl and the rest of the family, he cried.

What Olsen did was wrong, but if he had realized what was going to happen, he never would have done it, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said his client is not beyond redemption. He called for three years in prison and six more of supervision.

Olsen said he was sorry.

“I’m not this type of person,” he said. “I wasn’t always looked at as this kind of person. I was doing good before this.”

Daley said Olsen told his five co-conspirators they could rip off a drug dealer, Feggestad.

Feggestad was not at the house, and the invaders repeatedly threatened the family to get them to reveal where the money was—thousands of dollars, they believed—according to the complaint.

They ended up taking various items of value.

“I will not forget the horror the family experienced while going through this whole thing,” Daley said. “.. You set that in motion.”

As Olsen stood, he asked Daley if he could hug his brother, seated behind him. Daley said he was now in the custody of sheriff’s deputies.

Olsen asked the deputy.

“No,” was the answer as the deputy escorted Olsen out the door.

The cases against two more defendants in the home invasion remain pending.

Nathan A. Natal of Beloit is scheduled for sentencing Wednesday, Feb. 28.

The case of Keyon M. McEachin of Beloit is continuing.

top story
City manager brags on Janesville in State of the City address


City officials have heard critics express a distressing critique about Janesville: It’s the city of slow and no.

City Manager Mark Freitag used his state of the city speech Thursday night to lay out his case against that description.

Freitag delivered the annual address to a room full of residents, staff and government officials to give a “macro view” of what strategic goals the city met in 2017 and what’s in store for 2018 and beyond.

The city manager spent the vast majority of his hour-long speech reviewing Janesville’s accomplishments from last year, many of which show it’s not a city of slow and no, he said.

Freitag read a glowing email from Steve Doran, a developer behind local hotel and retail development projects set in motion last year.

Doran had nothing but positive things to say about working with the city, especially Economic Development Director Gale Price, Building and Development Services Manager Tom Clippert and Planning Services Manager Duane Cherek.

“If not for your staff, their business-like mentality and willingness to creatively problem solve, I don’t think this project would ever had come to fruition,” Freitag read from Doran’s email.

After reading the email, Freitag awarded each of the staffers mentioned a city coin.

“We got a good thing going on in Janesville right now,” he said.

Freitag shared other 2017 statistics to illustrate his point:

  • Tax increment financing deals led to 88 new jobs and 287,000 square feet of newly developed space. The city issued 93 more home permits and 208 more building permits last year than it did in 2016, Freitag said.
  • The city will soon see the former General Motors plant redeveloped. The city also will conduct a feasibility study this year for an indoor sports complex, he said.
  • The median home value has increased, as has income. Unemployment dropped a full percentage point. The poverty rate also dropped, and while it’s still above the state average, it’s lower than the national average, Freitag said.

Things are booming downtown as well, Freitag said.

“Momentum is the key word,” he said.

Last year, the city completed the first phase of improvements to the west side of the town square and completely removed the parking deck that once spanned the Rock River between the Milwaukee and Court street bridges.

Before the year is done, a fountain will be built on the west side, a new fitness court will be installed nearby, River Street will be converted into a festival street, and Court Street will be converted to two-way traffic, Freitag said.

In 2019, the east side of the town square will be complete, and a pedestrian bridge over the river will be built to connect the two sides. It will be a beautiful part of downtown residents will visit for photos or to show off to visitors, Freitag said.

“This is where you’re gonna go,” he said.

Park Place Performs!, which launched a year ago, gives residents and staff an easy way to track how the city is accomplishing its strategic goals. Also last year, the city allowed residents to receive water utility bills through email and pay them online for the first time.

“We finally hit the 21st century,” Freitag joked.

Despite some snags, the city is moving toward removing the Monterey Dam and restoring the affected shoreline. The plan is to remove the dam and fix the shoreline this year and attend to the Monterey lagoon next year, Freitag said.

The city is seeing its lowest crime rate in 25 years. Law enforcement safely handled the manhunt for Joseph Jakubowski, the largest incident of its kind in Janesville’s history. For the first time, the Janesville Fire Department last year responded to more than 10,000 calls for service, but the city will hire firefighters in March to help balance the workload, Freitag said.

Despite the successes, Janesville still faces challenges, Freitag said.

One is a low share of state revenue, which is only slightly offset by an additional $583,000 the city will receive annually through 2022.

If the city were to climb one rank among peer cities in how much state-shared revenue it receives, Janesville would get another $6 million annually, Freitag said.

Other challenges include the loss of institutional knowledge when longtime city employees retire, increasing costs to provide services, and a lack of resources to meet community expectations, he said.

Freitag ended his address by calling on residents to volunteer. About 600 residents volunteer to help the city throughout the year, and that help is “critical,” Freitag said.

“When I think about 2017, that was a heck of a year,” Freitag said. “Janesville is open for business, and we’re going to get the job done.”

Gazette at a Glance for Jan. 26, 2018

Local • 2A-3A, 6A-7A

Procession for Marine planned

The body of Ethan Barclay-Weberpal, the Marine killed last week at a California military base, is coming home tonight, and police invite the public to line the procession route. Barclay-Weberpal’s casket will be driven from Milwaukee to Janesville beginning around 6:15 p.m.

Man gets charge reduced

A Janesville man charged as party to a murder in April 2014 was sentenced Thursday in Rock County Court to probation and jail time on a reduced charge. A big part of the reasoning for the sentence is that Ronald L. Hicks, 32, gave a full statement about the shooting that led to the conviction of his co-defendant, Laquann J. Kendall of Beloit. Authorities also seem to doubt Hicks was involved in killing.

Nation/World • 6B

Trump wanted Mueller fired

President Donald Trump wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether his campaign colluded with Russian officials in the election, last June but didn’t after the White House counsel threatened to quit, according to a New York Times report.

Sports • 1B-3B

Brewers add two outfielders

First, the Milwaukee Brewers first traded a group of prospects to the Miami Marlins on Thursday to acquire outfielder Christian Yelich. After that, they finalized a deal with outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who spent the last seven seasons with Kansas City after breaking into the majors with the Brewers for 43 games in 2010. The moves gave the Brewers a surplus of major league outfielders—for now.


Mark Freitag