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YMCA board president resigns, citing 'complex, emotional' issues

JANESVILLE

The president of the YMCA of Northern Rock County board has resigned, saying he lacks the expertise to deal with a board that has become “divided” under a cloud of concerns by Y members.

Jeff Jensen took the helm late last year but resigned from the 14-person board Saturday, according to an email Jensen provided The Gazette.

Jensen steps down amid an outcry by members who claim the Y’s governance and financial dealings lack transparency and as a group of members has been threatening to sue the Y over an open records request it says the Y has not adequately responded to.

One group member said Tuesday the group is backing off its threats to sue for the time being.

Jensen wrote that his resignation is “immediate” and comes as the board has become “divided” over “complex and emotional issues” he says he “lacks the expertise and experience” to handle.

Jensen’s resignation letter reads:

“This letter evidences my decision to resign as a member of the Board of Directors of the YMCA of Northern Rock County effective immediately. I have been a part of this organization since 2018 and over that time have developed a deep respect for all of you, as well as the staff that serves our members. I joined the Board because I believed in the mission of the YMCA and all it does for the community. I still believe in that mission today.

“Currently, our organization is dealing with a situation that has divided the Board and threatens our ability to effectively serve our members. The issues confronting our board are complex, emotional and predate my time with the organization. At this time, the board and the organization need a level of expertise and experience that I do not possess.”

The Gazette on Sunday reported multiple instances in which former Y board members and Y members say they were terminated or had their memberships suspended after they pressed for more accountability and transparency regarding the Y’s finances and governance.

The Y recently announced Jensen would be the board’s new president, replacing Jason Engledow. Jensen manages Festival Foods in Janesville.

Three former board members say Engledow, a banker and Cedarburg resident, unilaterally terminated them from the board in 2017 and 2018 without a board vote and without offering clear reasons for their dismissals.

Some of the former board members said their ousters came after they pressed the board, Engledow and Y CEO Tom Den Boer for transparency on financial matters and a clearer view of the Y’s rules of governance.

The board and its executive leadership have not responded to multiple Gazette inquiries about concerns by Y members and former board members.

Jensen on Tuesday did not immediately respond to a reporter’s request for further comment on his decision to resign.

The board on Tuesday did not immediately respond to a reporter’s request for comment on whether the Y has selected a new board president, and whether other board members have resigned.

Paul Murphy, a member of a five-person group calling itself “Concerned Y Members,” said his group was prepared to file a lawsuit Tuesday to try to force the board to release documents his group has been requesting since December 2018, including board meeting minutes, a full list of Y members, detailed financial filings and other documents.

Last week, Jensen fulfilled part of the group’s request by providing the Y’s bylaws and its nonprofit IRS 990 filings. But in an email to the group, Jensen denied board minutes and member information, citing privacy concerns but not providing any legal basis for denying that part of the group’s request.

An attorney in the group then emailed the board, saying Jensen’s response was “wholly inadequate” and didn’t comply with the law.

Jensen resigned a few days later.

The group, among other things, has been trying to learn whether former board members were “wrongfully dismissed” after they pressed board officials and Y executives for transparency and for information they say the Y is obligated to provide its board and members under state law, Murphy has said.

Murphy has said the group had given the Y until Tuesday morning to fulfill its whole request, and the group was prepared to sue if it did not receive the records.

Tuesday evening, Murphy said the board has not formally fulfilled the group’s whole request. But for now, he said, his group has backed away from filing for a court order.

“We are not proceeding with a court order at this time,” he said. “We believe that there is a majority of the board members that are still left standing that are doing positive things for the best interests of the Y.”

Murphy declined to elaborate, but he said he believes the board is scheduled for its regular monthly meeting later this week.

“We’re hoping that we don’t have to” file a lawsuit, Murphy said. “We’re prepared to proceed. We’re hoping we do not have to.”


Education
Isaac Strong: Craig students raise money for sick boy

JANESVILLE

When people say “kids these days,” they’re often complaining about young people’s character, work ethic and values.

When Janesville police officer Justin Stubbendick says “kids these days,” he’s usually praising their character, work ethic and values.

A gymnasium full of Craig High School students proved his point Tuesday when they gathered to honor 4-year-old Isaac Johnson, a boy whose story inspired them to raise $10,000 for his medical treatment.

Isaac was diagnosed with high-risk stage 4 neuroblastoma, a type of cancer, in March 2017. He has endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, two stem-cell transplants, 27 radiation treatments and five rounds of immunotherapy, according to his GoFundMe page.

Isaac’s tenacity inspired Stubbendick.

“Isaac is my superhero,” the police officer said.

But Stubbendick, who has been helping the family since the beginning, was running out of fundraising ideas. He contacted Craig resource officer Brian Foster. From there, Craig seniors Sam Smith, Taylor Salmon and Claire Mikkelson took over.

Every year, the seniors plan some kind of fundraising drive, Mikkelson explained.

One year, the drive was for Project 16:49, an organization that helps homeless youth. Another year it benefited the Cougar Closet, a service that helps Craig students in need.

This year, it was for Isaac.

Students raised money through the winter dance, penny wars and raffles with gift cards from local businesses. They also received donations from JP Cullen, Blackhawk Community Credit Union and Modern Woodmen, a fraternal benefit organization.

On Tuesday, Isaac, his brother Tyler, 10, and his mother, Debbie Johnson, walked to the Craig gym accompanied by Batman—he’s Isaac’s favorite superhero—Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore and several other police officers.

They were followed by the Craig High School band, which worked its way through the “Batman” theme several times.

In the gym, Isaac was given a long standing ovation by a bunch of high school kids he had never met.

Throughout the ceremony, the 4-year-old stuck pretty close to his mom and appeared overwhelmed by all the attention.

His mother, who knew about the ceremony in advance, still seemed surprised and moved.

“They didn’t know us,” she said. “It’s amazing.”


Crime
Man charged in sale of gun used in suicide at Edgerton house party

JANESVILLE

Prosecutors charged an Edgerton man Tuesday with selling a gun later used by a teen to shoot himself at an Edgerton house party.

Corey J. Nicks, 24, of 1040 Hain Road, was charged in Rock County Court with providing a dangerous weapon to a person under 18.

An 18-year-old used the weapon to shoot himself during a party at a residence Sept. 16, according to Edgerton police reports obtained by The Gazette, but the teen did not get the gun directly from Nicks, according to the criminal complaint.

The handgun was reported stolen July 10 from an Edgerton resident who had left it in an unlocked pickup truck outside his residence, according to the criminal complaint.

Nicks told police he bought the gun from a Beloit man and traded it to a 17-year-old Edgerton boy for marijuana, according to the criminal complaint.

Police suspect the 17-year-old, identified in the complaint with the initials B.F., supplied the gun to the 18-year-old.

One of those at the residence where the teen shot himself told police she thought he got the gun from B.F., whom she said sold firearms using his Facebook page.

The complaint does not indicate if B.F. will be charged in the incident.

The shooting occurred in the kitchen where several of the 12 to 15 party-goers were gathered in Edgerton, according to police reports.

The man died about three weeks later at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville, according to the reports.

Two people questioned by police immediately following the incident said the man showed them the gun hours before he shot himself.

Three people told police they saw the man upset and crying at the party. Two of those people said he made suicidal comments hours before the shooting.

According to police reports, officers found the man lying on the kitchen floor and a small, black semi-automatic handgun on the floor near his feet.

Alcohol was served at the party, and at least two witnesses said the teen had been drinking, reports indicated.

One of the homeowners, who were hosting the party, asked the teen to leave after he showed her the gun because she doesn’t like firearms, according to reports.

Nicks’ initial court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday.

Nicks is charged as a repeat offender, which increases the prison term if he is convicted to a maximum five year and six months.


Government
Black business owner claims fine was ‘done with a discriminatory purpose’

ELKHORN

An African-American man who lives in Elkhorn says the nearly $4,000 in zoning citations he received after hosting a private event were racially motivated because those violations are rarely if ever enforced on others.

Lawyers for John Neighbors, 36, filed a notice of claim with Walworth County in October seeking $500,000 for emotional injury and $3 million in punitive damages for how the county punished Neighbors for hosting party-goers during a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre.

The Walworth County Board denied the claim last month, and county zoning officials dispute Neighbors’ assertions, saying they have issued citations for a similar campground violation before. The official who issued the citations said the Neighbors case was not racially motivated.

Two former Walworth County prosecutors representing Neighbors say what their client did is “rampant” throughout the county but never enforced.

The county cited Neighbors, however, for not having a conditional-use permit when he hosted people on his property in June when Dead & Company performed at the East Troy theater about 3 miles away.

Neighbors, a business owner who has been in the area for 19 years, told The Gazette on Tuesday his property was not open to the general public and that all money from attendees was used for accommodations and not for personal profit.

Daniel Necci, who was the Walworth County District Attorney until 2016, and Cody Horlacher, who is in the state Assembly and also used to work in the DA’s office, want a judge to dismiss the citations for selective prosecution of “broad” ordinances.

“It stinks,” Necci told The Gazette. “It stinks to high hell.”

‘Solely because

of his race’

Prior to the June weekend, Neighbors reached out to a sheriff’s deputy, a county judge and those who lived near his 25-acre tree farm at W3936 County ES north of Elkhorn, court documents say.

Neighbors said he had security workers for the property, and they searched cars to make sure no guns or “riffraff” came back from the concert. He said he did not want people who were drinking getting hurt during the weekend.

Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Senior Zoning Officer Nicholas Sigmund gave Neighbors two citations for each of the three days. He cited Neighbors for not having a conditional-use permit and for having a campground in an A-2 district.

Later in the summer, Neighbors’ attorneys filed open records requests for all similar citations in the last 10 years. None that match what Neighbors was in trouble for on private property came up, Necci said.

Necci filed the notice of claim Oct. 15, and Horlacher on Jan. 3 filed a motion to dismiss the citations for selective prosecution.

The case file includes five affidavits from law enforcement officials and others saying they have witnessed “innumerable” instances of camping on private grounds that were in full view of public roadways and/or landowners.

One affidavit from Town of Linn Police Chief James Bushey says he has personally asked the county to investigate a campground. They “failed to prosecute said campground.”

Figures from the 2010 census show Walworth County is 1.3 percent African-American, and the percentage of business owners who are black is likely even smaller, the motion states.

“Mr. Neighbors was prosecuted solely because of his race,” the motion states.

“Simply, Mr. Neighbors has demonstrated that L.U.R.M.’s (Land Use and Resource Management) actions had a discriminatory effect and that they were done with a discriminatory purpose.”

County responds

Sigmund, the Land Use and Resource Management official, said he issued the citations to Neighbors after a complaint was given to the county. Sigmund said there was one complainant.

Sigmund viewed the property after receiving the complaint and issued the six citations a few days later. Sigmund said he has met Neighbors several times and that race wasn’t a factor in the decision.

County officials say they do not patrol for zoning violations and they are primarily tipped off to violations through complaints. Sigmund said the county hasn’t received any complaints “remotely close” in similarity to the one against Neighbors in the past few years, with the exception of one filed in July 2016.

That complaint was filed against a commercially zoned property in Delavan that had a conditional use permit to operate 12 camping sites. The county ultimately issued three citations to the property owner, claiming there were more than 12 sites—one complainant wrote there were more than 200 tents on the property—and that those sites did not meet the standards outlined in county code.

Sigmund said the citations given to Neighbors and the Delavan property are similar.

“The issues are all the same with anything like this. There’s issues about sanitation and traffic and safety and fire and water and fireworks and parking,” Sigmund said.

Necci disagrees. He said the two incidents are “entirely different” because the Delavan property is commercially zoned. Neighbors’ property is zoned as an agricultural land district, and Necci said camping on similar properties happens “everywhere” in the county.

“What we’re talking about is all the people all over the county, all the good ol’ boys, all the folks having campouts in their backyard. ... All of them are eligible to be cited,” Necci said.

The one person in a decade they decided to cite for it happens to be an African-American gentleman. ... I don’t believe any reasonable person is going to believe that over the course of a decade, the only person ever complained about was John Neighbors.”

Sigmund said there has been a dip in activity near Alpine Valley in the past few years. There were no concerts there in 2017, he said, and the majority of camping events occur during multiday outdoor concerts at the music venue.

Sigmund said a set of citations were issued to two properties in East Troy in 2002 for camping violations. Sigmund said to his knowledge those are the only other citations issued by the county for similar camping violations in recent history.

‘Injustice’

Neighbors has not yet decided if he wants to file a lawsuit, Necci said, but filing the notice of claim leaves that option open.

At this time, Neighbors is set to appear on Feb. 4 and 5 for a court trial on his citations.

The Elkhorn man said this was not the first “injustice” he has faced. But other times, he has had to “turn the other cheek” in order to move on with his work.

Neighbors said he has “worked really hard” to get everything he owns. He has gone for permits before and paid his taxes and other dues when required.

“So if it was something that was that bad, I just felt like a warning or something could have been better than slapping me with $4,000 worth of fines,” he said.


Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 16, 2019

Allan L. Bestul

Ronald R. Brown

Edsel Leland Fishel

Jean M. Giese

Ricky Guy “Rick” Hall

Dr. John F. Kozlowicz

Tyler J. Smith

Catherine G. Stewart

Orva L. Suprise

Alexander Ulbrich


Angela Major 

Evansville's Gunner katzenmeyer, right, and Edgerton's Ryen Hazzard, left, look one another in the eye before wrestling Tuesday, January 15, 2019, at Edgerton High School.