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Magnolia board selects spokesman

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ANN MARIE AMES
February 15, 2008
— The three-person Magnolia Town Board on Tuesday night named Supervisor Dave Olsen as the board’s media spokesman.

Supervisor Kurt Bartlett said the position will bring consistency to the board’s interaction with reporters.


“Basically, he’s a spokesman for the town board so that (reporters) are not trying to come in and interview all of us and get us to turn on each other,” Bartlett said. “We want to have a consistent focus that this is how the town board image is projected, and (these are) the things that we say, and we would like Dave to be our spokesman.”


Olsen said he would field calls from The Janesville Gazette or local radio stations because he works in downtown Janesville.


He said his position is merely to state facts or events and that any opinions would be his own.


“It would be my opinion,” Olsen said. “If (reporters) have a question about what’s going on at meetings or, say, with the septic system, I could answer it.”


Any reporters seeking opinions from Bartlett or Chairwoman Fern McCoy would have to call Bartlett or McCoy, he said.


Wisconsin Towns Association Director Richard Stadelmen said town boards don’t often appoint spokespersons, likely because town boards don’t receive much media attention.


The majority of a board, however, can choose to have one person relay a position that the board agrees on, he said. That doesn’t prevent a board member in the minority from speaking to the media about his or her viewpoint, he said.


Appointing a spokesperson is a recommended practice and policy in cases of a disaster or an emergency, he said.


After the meeting, Olsen admitted the town might have jumped the gun Tuesday night when it moved to begin posting minutes and agendas at the Eager Free Public Library, 39 W. Main St., Evansville.


Resident Sandy Trustem suggested posting the documents during the public comment part of the meeting. The board took action on the item, which is not allowed if the item is not on an agenda.


If the board wants to take action, the item will have to be placed on an agenda.


Bob Dreps, attorney for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, agreed: “The open meeting laws require that the town give advance notice of the subject matter of its meeting. They are prohibited from acting on any matter that was not included in the public notice.’’


Dreps added: “It’s appropriate to have an agenda for citizen comment. They can hear the comment and can even have some discussion, but should avoid taking action on something because it wasn’t on the agenda.”


Nitrate levels unsafe at Magnolia Town Hall

Nitrate levels at the Magnolia Town Hall, 14729 W. County A, Evansville, are unsafe for infants and pregnant women.


But the hall’s limited use is under the radar of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, so the town will not be penalized or forced to act, said Rick Wietersen, groundwater program manager with the Rock County Health Department.


On Jan. 17, the town hall well tested at 16.3 parts per million of nitrates, Wietersen said. The standard for safe drinking water is 10 ppm.


The well did not test positive for bacteria.


Wietersen said the town could—but is not required to—post signs warning town hall visitors of high nitrate levels. Or the town could simply turn off the water in the kitchen, he said.


Other options would be to buy a reverse osmosis purifier or drill a new well. The purifiers cost between $500 and $1,000, Wietersen said.


Drilling a new well is not a guarantee that nitrate levels will improve.


Wietersen recommends annual bacteria tests for all private wells. Well owners in areas with high nitrate levels should test annually, too. Residents in areas with low nitrate levels can test every two or three years, he said.



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