Legion steps up to help as Marine fights City Hall
If you go
The Whitewater City Council on Tuesday is expected to hear a presentation about sewer backup claims and municipal liability from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities Mutual Insurance Company and possibly give direction to city staff on 1st Lt. Joseph Cull's claim for damages.
The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 312 W. Whitewater St., Whitewater.
If you're interested in helping 1st Lt. Joseph Cull, e-mail email@example.com.
A fundraiser tentatively is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 24, at the American Legion Hall, 292 S. Wisconsin St., Whitewater. Details still are being worked out.
WHITEWATER A local American Legion group is "very interested" in helping a local Marine battling the city of Whitewater over damage to his home from a sewer backup this summer.
Joseph Cull, 27, a first lieutenant serving in Afghanistan, owns a duplex in the 200 block of Park Street. He bought the house in 2005 while he was a student at UW-Whitewater.
He expected the city to cover the costs of cleanup and repair after a clogged city sewer pipe filled his basement with water and sewage in early July. The city filed a claim for the damage with its insurance company, but the claim was denied, and the city has maintained it is not responsible for damages, which is estimated at $20,000.
In an Aug. 28 report to city residents, City Manager Kevin Brunner said a municipality is not liable for damage to private property unless the municipality had prior knowledge of a problem and did nothing to fix it.
Brunner said the city was unaware of any blockage in the sewer main adjacent to Cull's property, which is why the city's insurance company denied a claim for damages.
The Support Our Troops Committee of the Walworth County Council of the American Legion is organizing efforts to help Cull.
Bob Webster, spokesman for the group, said the group is disappointed with how the city has handled the situation.
"It seems to me it's an injustice to a citizen—a taxpayer—by his community," he said. "Even without the fact that he's in the military and serving in Afghanistan, it's an injustice and an example of a local government not living up to its responsibility."
Webster said the group, which includes the Whitewater American Legion post, is considering helping with legal counsel and fundraising. The group would like the city and its insurance company to reconsider their position.
"We'd really like to give the city one last chance to do the right thing," he said. "We think they should start by resubmitting the claim and putting intense pressure on the insurance company to rethink their decision."
Webster said if the claim still is denied, the group would start fundraising.
The group already has received a number of phone calls and e-mails from people interested in helping, including a Janesville woman who said she is coordinating a letter-writing campaign to pressure the city to reconsider its decision to deny the claim.
Several fellow Marines, some of whom previously served with Cull, also are upset with the city and have started organizing efforts to help Cull.
"The reason for denying claim didn't make sense to me," said Nick Vento, a former Marine who served with Cull in Iraq about five years ago. "The blockage wasn't on his property, and to deny claim and put him at fault seems ridiculous."
Vento said he and his friends are trying to be a voice for Cull while he is serving overseas.
"There's not a heck of a lot he can do from Afghanistan," he said. "We always look after one another, and this is something I wanted to do for him. I'm just trying to be his voice of reason."
Vento has been in contact with Webster and the Support Our Troops Committee. He contacted U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold to see if they can lobby the city to change its position.
Cull wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette on Friday that he is "truly grateful" to those who have come forward and offered their help.
Cull said it took the city almost a month to reply to an e-mail he sent them; the city replied the same day a story about his problem aired on WISC-TV Channel 3 in Madison.
"Since that time, the city has sent me an e-mail offering well wishes and empty gestures of help," he wrote. "I find all of these things appalling, and it certainly walks the fine line of an insult. ...Don't attempt to extend gratitude, and an expression of goodwill, when you refused to even assist in the cleanup."