Neither positively nor negatively, the Elkhorn Plan Commission advanced a proposal to bring a domestic violence shelter to the city’s downtown during a standing-room-only meeting Thursday.
The plan from New Beginnings APFV to turn a former medical building at 20 N. Church St. into what would become the county’s only domestic violence shelter now goes to the city council for consideration.
A vote to recommend the project favorably if certain conditions were met failed after a 3-3 tie. Then Mayor Howie Reynolds suggested sending the project to the council with a neutral recommendation, a motion that passed 4-2 after Reynolds switched his vote.
About 17 people spoke during the public comment period, with slightly more speaking in favor of than against the proposal. And some opponents emphasized they support having a shelter somewhere, just not at the proposed location.
At various points, Reynolds had to enforce certain rules on the energized crowd, such as when people could ask questions and to whom they should be sharing their thoughts—to the commission, not one another.
Some opponents questioned how the shelter fit within city ordinances and zoning. Reynolds and Tom Myrin, a council and commission member, expressed concerns with such details, too.
A lawyer with New Beginnings said this wasn’t just a legal question, but a moral one. Other advocates made similar points.
“It is vital. We need it in Walworth County,” New Beginnings Board President Janis Scharnott said. “It is shameful that we have no place for these folks to go.”
The effort comes in a county where three homicides since December have been acts of domestic violence no more than 5 miles apart from one another.
“Gone from this Earth are a beloved nurse, an energetic behavioral therapist and a friend of a female victim,” said Heidi Lloyd, executive director at New Beginnings. “They did not deserve this. No one deserves this.”
On Nov. 1, about a month before one of the homicides, New Beginnings officials appeared before the plan commission for the first time. Since then, Scharnott said they wanted time to address concerns from that meeting with more data and expert opinions.
New Beginnings contacted officials at 35 Wisconsin domestic violence shelters in February and March and asked a series of questions, including some to gauge safety concerns voiced by some residents.
In the last five years, the respondents said no domestic violence perpetrator or other person came to the shelter and acted violently, according to a letter Scharnott wrote that was submitted to the city.
One shelter reported a drunk person threw a rock at a window to get a victim’s attention but left immediately when police were called, the letter states. Some threats come over the phone, but callers don’t usually follow through.
“All shelters were very clear that in 5 years no weapons had been threatened or used at their location,” the letter states.
One question asked if any neighbors suffered injury or property damage, and each respondent said “no.”
All shelters had security, and many are public about their locations, which experts have said is not a problem because domestic violence usually happens in secrecy.
New Beginnings also submitted a report prepared by Thomas Hausner & Associates. The report, written by Hausner, who used to work for the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, gives several security recommendations.
But the report also says having the shelter is worth whatever small risk might exist.
“Although the Domestic Violence Center may have a slight possibility of drawing the suspect, who the Victim is trying to avoid, the potential of harm could be far greater if we do not allow the Center to open so we can provide a safe haven for the Victims,” the report states.
Scharnott said the plan has support from local law enforcement officials. She read from a letter signed by Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen and Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell.
“For the greater community good, we feel the former Aurora medical building is an appropriate site,” she read. “And we are in favor of the city granting a conditional-use permit to allow the support center and shelter to open.”
As it stands now, the plan calls for four available units for women and children. Scharnott estimated it would be considered “full” if it housed about 12 people at one time.
Lloyd, the executive director, said this would make it one of the smallest shelters in Wisconsin.
Emergency stays at the shelter would range from one night to several weeks, depending on the need. New Beginnings would help attendees find temporary housing elsewhere and continue to offer support services.
A community petition supporting the project got 806 signatures—318 of which were from Elkhorn, Scharnott said.
One emphatic supporter was former Whitewater Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher, who shared a story of a friend with four kids who called her during a domestic violence situation.
She needed to flee and did not have a place to go.
“This is real. This is a real story. This happens every day,” she said. “We need this shelter.”
Reynolds said after the meeting it is too soon to take up the matter at the council’s meeting Monday, so the subject could come up at the next one.
Jerome Patrick “Pat” Flynn III
August John Hartlaub
Richard A. Klementz
Allen C. Lehman
Barb E. Nehls
Anne C. Nelson
President Donald Trump backed down Thursday from his fight to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, denouncing Democrats and “extremely unfriendly” courts while essentially conceding defeat on a priority issue for his administration and re-election campaign.
Further efforts to add a citizenship question would delay the legally mandated census because of the expected court battles, Trump said in the White House Rose Garden.
Instead, he said, he would issue an executive order telling the Homeland Security Department, the Social Security Administration and other federal departments to share records with the Census Bureau to allow them to develop estimates of the total noncitizen population, something those agencies mostly already do.
Even if the federal government gathers such data, it will not have the same impact as census numbers, which are used to determine where to spend federal dollars and how many members of Congress each state gets.
In a statement, the Justice Department officially acknowledged the defeat, saying it would “promptly inform the courts that the government will not include a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census.”
Trump, who hates to admit failure, insisted that “we are not backing down” even as he seethed that the successful legal challenge was “part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen.”
It wasn’t the first time Trump has vowed to fight a pitched battle, only to back down while claiming victory. The president also retreated after a 35-day partial government shutdown in a fight with Congress over building a border wall and in several disputes with Mexico when he threatened to close the border or levy punitive tariffs.
Speaking under cloudy skies, Trump foreshadowed his intent to use the issue in his 2020 re-election campaign, casting the courts as insufficiently conservative and in need of further overhaul.
“Are you a citizen of the United States?” Trump said sarcastically, imitating a census taker. “Oh, jeez, I’m sorry, I just can’t answer that question.”
Attorney General William Barr also tried to put a victorious patina on the retreat, offering Trump lavish praise.
“Congratulations, again, Mr. President, on taking this effective action,” he said.
Trump’s critics were as jubilant as he was angry.
“Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper,” Dale Ho, the head of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, who argued the case in the Supreme Court, said in a statement.
“He’s backing down and taking the option that he rejected more than a year ago. Trump may claim victory today, but this is nothing short of a total, humiliating defeat for him and his administration,” he added.
The Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago, in a 5-4 decision, that the Trump administration’s rationale for adding a question about citizenship to the census was “contrived.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who cast the deciding vote in the case, left Trump a slim opening if his administration could quickly come up with a legally plausible reason for adding the question.
The issue has enormous importance to states with large immigrant populations.
Experts had warned that adding a citizenship question would probably cause many immigrants to not respond to the census at all, lowering population counts in states where their numbers are high and giving relatively more power to states with lower immigrant populations.
In the days since the high court’s ruling, Trump struck a defiant tone, insisting he would find a way to add the controversial question to the census.
The timing, however, made that process difficult. The administration had told courts that it needed to begin printing census forms by July 1, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, announced last week that it had begun printing forms without the citizenship question.
Trump has been reluctant to give up the fight—an important one to his political base—not only because it could help Republican states gain more influence but also because it touches on the immigration issue at the heart of his re-election campaign.
Administration officials had explored a variety of ways to try to revive the citizenship question, but Justice Department lawyers had told the White House their proposals were unlikely to work.
And Trump’s shifting legal strategies have frustrated lower-court judges, who have demanded more consistent answers from administration lawyers caught off-guard by Trump’s tweets.
The option that the president touted during his Rose Garden remarks—using official records to determine how many noncitizens live in the United States—is precisely what Census Bureau officials proposed more than a year ago when Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the bureau, suggested adding a question about citizenship to the population count.
Using records from the Social Security Administration, the IRS and other federal agencies, government statisticians can already estimate about 90% of the noncitizen population, rivaling the accuracy that the census would provide, the bureau’s chief scientist told Ross in a memo that became part of the court record.
That approach would be cost-effective and would provide the information the government might need without causing some people to refuse to answer the census, the memo said. Ross rejected that approach.
Administration critics have cited the memo ever since as evidence that what others saw as a problem—a potential undercount of both legal and undocumented immigrants and other minority groups on the census—was precisely what the administration was hoping to achieve.
Trump portrayed his executive order as necessary to allow federal agencies to share data with the Census Bureau. Most already do, although the census has been negotiating with the Department of Homeland Security over access to some citizenship and naturalization records.
In defending the need for accurate data on the number and location of noncitizens in the country, both Trump and Barr alluded to the possibility that some states might choose to draw congressional districts on the basis of citizen population only.
Under the Constitution, the number of congressional districts allocated to each state is based on “counting the whole number of persons,” and the same count of total population is currently used to draw district lines in all states.
But some conservatives have advocated that states switch to a citizen-based population count to draw district lines.
In states like Texas, where the idea has been actively considered, such a move would sharply shift political power away from cities with large immigrant populations—and mostly Democratic representatives—in favor of more Republican rural areas.
The Supreme Court has left open the issue of whether the Constitution would allow a switch to citizen-based districting.
About an hour before he was scheduled to speak, Trump showed his frustration over the issue during a speech to conservative social media activists.
“We spend $20 billion on a census,” he said. “‘How many toilets do they have? … What’s their roof made of?’… The only thing we can’t ask is, ‘Are you a citizen of the United States?’”
Earlier in the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that the chamber would vote next week to hold Barr and Ross in contempt for their refusal to turn over documents related to the administration’s efforts to add the citizenship question to the census.
Pam Snow worried each storm that rolled through Milton would be the one to peel off her shingles.
The roof of Snow’s house on Basswood Lane had not been replaced in 21 years, and she was nervous bad weather would leave her and her dog Emmylou under water.
When Snow read about the city’s new residential exterior grant program in the Milton Courier, she knew it would be in her best interest to apply, she said.
Snow was the first person to complete a project with grant money in the program’s inaugural year.
City Administrator Al Hulick said the program’s success has prompted the city to do it again next year with a more formalized application process.
Only $1,000 remains available of the $25,000 the city offered in grants this year, Hulick said.
Snow’s grant application shows her roof prior to being fixed, looking patchy and in spots loose and detached from the house.
The proposal from a contractor Pam submitted with her application said Pam’s roof showed evidence of hail damage. The chimney needed to be removed. The project totaled $6,500.
The program provides matching grants up to $5,000 for qualifying residents looking to improve the exterior of their homes with projects that would make aesthetic improvements visible from a public right-of-way. The program is funded with TIF dollars.
The city has approved seven projects since the program launched in April, Hulick said.
More people applied for the program than the city had funds for, Hulick said. Those who did not receive funding this year are encouraged to apply in 2020.
Snow and her late husband, Irvin Snow, built the house in 1976, she said.
Snow likely would have waited longer to replace her roof had she not received $3,250 from the city, which was half the cost of the project, she said.
The process to receive the grant went quickly and smoothly, Snow said. She encouraged anyone who qualifies to apply.
Snow said she is proud of how her home looks and has received many compliments from neighbors.
Hulick believes the intent of the program has been effectuated.
The city council and Mayor Anissa Welch have committed to improving the city’s housing stock, Hulick said.
“It is not only benefiting those property owners but also owners in the vicinity,” Hulick said.