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YMCA members threaten lawsuit for access to Y's records

JANESVILLE

A group of YMCA members is threatening legal action if the Y does not release financial documents and other records the group requested in December.

In a letter sent Friday to the YMCA of North Rock County Board of Directors and CEO Tom Den Boer, five YMCA members warn that state statutes require the Y to respond to a request the group made Dec. 20 for a slew of documents.

The group sent a Dec. 20 letter seeking the Y’s financial and tax records, board meeting minutes and other documents.

The group is led by Paul Murphy, a YMCA member whose membership was suspended last month after he repeatedly asked the Y’s board for access to its bylaws.

Murphy on Friday told The Gazette none of the members have received any of the materials they asked for—including nonprofit IRS tax filings that the YMCA is bound by state law to release to any of its members.

He said no board member has directly reached out to anyone from his group since its first letter last month.

The group’s first request was undersigned by 52 current and former YMCA members and board members, according to a copy obtained by The Gazette.

The members said in their Friday letter they are giving the Y’s board and its executive leadership until Tuesday, Jan. 15, to supply the documents. If the Y doesn’t, the group said it’s prepared to sue the YMCA and pursue the records through a court order, according to the latest letter.

The letter characterizes itself as a “demand” for information.

“This letter is a more thorough explanation of the action that we as a group can take,” Murphy said. “It clarifies to the board what the Wisconsin state statute says and how we can proceed through a court order to get those items if they don’t meet the request.”

Murphy’s group has said it is concerned with the Y’s governance after several YMCA board members were removed in the last two years and several members had their memberships abruptly canceled.

Some board members have said they were removed abruptly and without a vote by the board. They said their terminations from the board came after they questioned the Y board about its inner workings, asked for the Y to be more transparent about its finances or questioned if the Y’s board was handling board member termination in accordance with its bylaws.

YMCA Board President Jeffrey Jensen and Den Boer did not immediately respond to a Gazette inquiry on Friday, and the Y has not responded to an open records request The Gazette filed this week seeking access to the Y’s bylaws and its most recent IRS tax filings.

The Y responded to the concerned members’ Dec. 20 letter with a response delivered Dec. 22 and signed by Jensen.

Jensen’s response, which was obtained by The Gazette, told Murphy’s group its concerns already had been addressed earlier in the year and that the group could access the Y’s financial information through Guidestar, a third-party database that collects nonprofit financial information.

The note from Jensen also told Murphy’s group to stop emailing Y board members. Jensen suggested the group was “unauthorized” to send emails to the board.

The Friday letter from Murphy’s group cites state statutes governing access to records for corporations and nonprofit groups. The group says the statutes require the YMCA to disclose financial information, bylaws, board meeting minutes and other documents to any member who asks for them.

The group’s letter also cites a state statute it says gives the YMCA’s member authority to call a special meeting of members to air concerns to the board and bring proposed policy changes for discussion.

“This is a grassroots effort,” Murphy said. “On the short term, what we’re trying to do is ensure that the organization is complying with its bylaws and its not-for-profit status. We want to bring transparency to the organization, and we want to make sure that all members can feel welcome at the YMCA and that voices can be heard with dignity and respect.”

Murphy is one of several Y members his group says have pushed for transparency at the Y and ended up later barred from the Y’s facilities in Janesville and Milton after their memberships were placed under administrative review by Den Boer.

Murphy, a local bicycling event promoter who has been a Y member on and off since the 1980s, has said he refuses to meet with Den Boer until he’s given a documented reason why his membership was suspended.

Murphy said he hired a lawyer over the matter of his own suspension, but he said that’s a matter separate from his group’s request for information.

On Friday, Murphy said his group was on the fence over whether to send another letter urging release for Y documents it requested or to simply file a lawsuit to try to force the Y to comply.

The group, which comprises local businessmen, finance professionals and an attorney—most of them longtime members of the Y—opted instead to send the Y another letter.

“You get four or five guys where we’re thinking with our heart. We want to show that we’re not these evil five guys that are trying to take the Y down,” Murphy said. “So let’s give them one more chance. If they don’t take this serious, I guess they don’t get it.”


Crime
UPDATE: Janesville police investigate Friday attempted bank robbery

JANESVILLE

Police are investigating what appears to be an attempted robbery of the Wisconsin River Bank, 1101 N. Parker Drive, shortly after 11 a.m. Friday.

A man who might have been wearing a mask did not display a weapon or threaten anyone and did not get any money before fleeing the bank on a motorcycle, said police Sgt. Dean Sukus.

Bank employees told police a man entered the bank, went behind the counter and tried to to open drawers to steal money, according to a police news release.

Employees confronted the man, who fled on foot, according to the release.

No money was taken, and no one was injured.

Officer Robert Gruenwald happened to be parked in a lot at Hyatt Street and Parker Drive when he saw a dirt bike-type motorcycle jump a curb and speed from the area south of the bank, according to the release.

Gruenwald was following the motorcycle when he heard the call about the robbery and followed the bike through Traxler Park, tried to stop it, and the driver fled, according to the release.

Several Janesville officers pursued the motorcycle on South Main Street and across the Racine Street bridge into the Fourth Ward neighborhood, Sukus said.

The motorcycle went into backyards in the 300 block of South Jackson Street, where the driver was stopped by a fence, and police arrested him, according to the release.

The man, identified as Daniel L. Landis, 38, of Brandon in central Wisconsin, had a “facsimile firearm” in a bag, according to the release.

Landis was arrested on charges of attempted armed robbery, possession of a facsimile firearm, fleeing and a parole violation.

He was held at the Rock County Jail.


Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 5, 2019

Betty Joyce Hardy

Carolyn Mowbray

Robert G. Pettibone


Angela Major 

Big Foot’s Viola Larson (20), left, tries to hang onto the ball while under pressure from Evansville defenders Paige Banks (44), center, and McKenzie Fillner (20), right, on Friday, January 4, 2019, at Evansville High School.


Trump, Dems remain far apart

WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders remained far from agreement over his demand for money for a border wall after another White House meeting, an impasse that has blocked funding for many government operations and forced a partial shutdown now 2 weeks old.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic minority leader, said after the talks in the privacy of the White House Situation Room that Trump told the group he would be willing to keep the affected government agencies closed for “months or even years.”

“I did say that, absolutely I said that,” Trump told reporters later. “I don’t think it will, but I am prepared.” He added, “I hope it doesn’t go on even beyond a few more days.”

The Democrats insisted that negotiating over border security could only follow after funding and opening the quarter of the government that is now shuttered. “We really cannot resolve this until we open up government,” said the new House Speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. “We made that clear to the president.”

The president and top Democrats each put the burden on the other to end the stalemate. Neither appeared to feel much pressure from their respective supporters to give ground even as roughly 450,000 federal employees had to work without pay and another 380,000 are unpaid on furlough. But cracks have opened in support among Republicans in Congress for the president’s hard line.

Trump, speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden following the meeting, expressed more optimism than Pelosi and Schumer about resolving the shutdown impasse, possibly through meetings among aides that will continue through the weekend. Even so, he refused to budge from his demand, calling conditions at the border “a dangerous, horrible disaster.”

“We’ve done a great job,” he said. “But you can’t really do the kind of job we have to do unless you have a major, powerful barrier.”

He added, “We won’t be opening (the government) until it’s solved.”

Trump suggested he could declare a national emergency to build a wall unilaterally without congressional approval. “I may do it,” he said. “We could call a national emergency and build it very quickly. That’s another way to do it. But if we can do it through a negotiated process, that’s better.”

In recent days, White House aides had signaled openness to a compromise offering Democrats legal protections for so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States illegally years ago as children, in exchange for more wall funding. But Trump, who has contradicted his aides several times, has not suggested such a trade and Democrats, now holding the leverage of their new House majority, have ruled it out.

As the shutdown has stretched on, Trump has dug in more firmly. Though Vice President Mike Pence complained this week that Democrats never responded to him over the holidays about a proposal reducing the funding demand to about $2.5 billion for wall construction, the president subsequently scoffed at the notion that he would accept that amount—he blamed “fake news” for misportraying his position—and publicly stuck to his demand for $5.6 billion.

Democratic leaders, too, stuck to a hard line.

Late Thursday, hours after her election as speaker, Pelosi reiterated to reporters that a wall between countries is “an immorality.” Asked if Democrats would even give Trump a dollar for a border wall, she responded: “A dollar? Yeah. One dollar.”

She spoke after House Democrats, newly in charge of the chamber after eight years of Republican control, passed measures to reopen the government and to approve $1.3 billion for border security funding that explicitly ruled out spending on a wall.

But the Senate, which approved a similar proposal just over two weeks ago when Republicans assumed Trump would go along, won’t consider the two House bills. Wary of the White House’s mixed signals, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate won’t vote on any proposal until it’s clear Trump will sign it.

When Trump addressed reporters after the meeting with Democrats, McConnell was conspicuously missing among the Republican congressional leaders who flanked the president in the White House Rose Garden. A spokesman for McConnell said he would have attended had he been asked.

At one point last month before the shutdown Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, seemed to suggest Trump was backing off his wall money demand altogether by claiming that he would be able to find the $5 billion he wanted in other government accounts.

Following a backlash from backers including conservative pundits Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, who criticized Trump for caving, the president reversed course and said no to the package approved unanimously by the Senate, forcing the shutdown that began on Dec. 22.

Trump has attempted to put pressure on Democrats by claiming there is an ongoing “humanitarian crisis” at the border because of a wave of illegal immigrants, as well as an unsubstantiated influx of terrorists and criminals.

In his remarks to reporters, Trump falsely said his administration had “built a brand new wall in San Diego.” The border barriers there were first built in the 1990s. Customs and Border Protection has been upgrading some fencing, including a long-planned 14-mile stretch in western San Diego County on which construction began in June. Democrats have already agreed to appropriate money for that project and similar ones.

Trump, who now says a barrier could be of steel bars or fencing, disputed a reporter’s suggestion that he promised during his campaign that he would build a wall of concrete. He did, however, at one point telling campaign supporters, “No windows, no nothing—precast concrete going very high.” The other day, he tweeted that “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED.”

Speaking of the Obama-era program for Dreamers, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the president also falsely said that President Barack Obama, when he signed the executive order to defer deportations for about 700,000 young immigrants, “admitted” that “this isn’t going to work.” He implied that Obama agreed with him that the order exceeded the president’s authority. Obama did not say anything of the sort, but instead he defended DACA’s legality even as he acknowledged a president’s executive authority had limits.

On Friday, just before resuming talks with Democrats, Trump sent a letter to all members of Congress with information that his homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, had presented days earlier to congressional leaders. Pelosi and Schumer, Trump wrote, “did not want to hear the presentation at the time.”

Trump argued that “it is essential that we make decisions based upon the facts on the ground—not ideology and rhetoric—and that we listen to the law enforcement personnel on the front lines.”

While Trump and congressional allies believe that fighting for border wall funding is a political winner with their party’s base, a few Republicans facing difficult re-election bids in competitive states in 2020 are signaling opposition to the prolonged shutdown.

Polling so far has shown that the general public blames Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown more than they blame congressional Democrats. And spending taxpayer money on a border wall is an unpopular idea with most Americans.

A survey last month by the nonpartisan Quinnipiac University, for example, found that voters nationwide opposed shutting down the government over money for the wall by nearly 2-1.

The same polls also show, however, that the wall remains popular with Trump’s core supporters, which is the audience the president has consistently focused on.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican senator for 2020, was the first to call for re-opening the government and leaving the fight over border wall funding for later.


Gov. Scott Walker's allies, opponents reflect on his eight years in office

Eight years ago, Scott Walker was sworn in as Wisconsin’s 45th governor and declared: “Under our administration, state government will do only what is necessary—no more, no less.”

It turned out, he was underselling the conservative revolution that was about to begin.

Walker’s tenure was controversial and consequential, a dramatic break from Wisconsin’s traditions.

His years in office will echo across decades.

“Scott Walker did not sit back and let the world pass by him and watch the parade pass by,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Rochester Republican. “He was the leader of the parade.”

But not everyone was cheering.

“Unfortunately, I truly feel like he decided to be a cookie-cutter Republican,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from rural Dane County who served with Walker in the Legislature in the 1990s. “Everything he did was to position himself for president, and we all had to, unfortunately, endure that.”

Walker, 51, leaves office Monday and will be moving out of the governor’s mansion and to the Milwaukee area. In recent days, he announced he had signed on with a speaker’s bureau and plans to travel the country promoting lowering taxes, shifting power from the federal government to the states and re-electing President Donald Trump.

A second political act? Don’t rule it out. Walker told The Associated Press on Friday he wouldn’t rule out running for governor or U.S. Senate in 2022.

Walker won three races for governor—two general elections and a recall.

He had a failed presidential bid in 2015, the 71-day campaign sapping his popularity back home.

A third term was a political bridge too far and in November, he lost to state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, a Democrat.

And yet ... the broad brush strokes of Walker’s years in office remain vivid.

From Act 10 to Foxconn

The state that first recognized collective bargaining for public workers in 1959 became the epicenter of a showdown with unions during Walker’s first weeks in office. Protests snarled the state Capitol and catapulted Walker to national prominence.

Walker and Republicans pushed through Act 10, which all but ended collective bargaining for most public-sector workers.

Other anti-union measures would follow over the years. One made Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state that bars labor contracts requiring nonunion workers to pay union fees. Another ended a requirement that contractors pay union-scale wages when they work on government construction projects.

Walker and Republicans enacted big tax cuts, expanded private school vouchers and froze tuition at UW System campuses.

They passed laws on concealed carry for gun owners, voter identification at the polls, limits on abortion and work requirements for those receiving public benefits. They redrew legislative districts to help them win elections and hold their big majorities in the Legislature.

Walker came nowhere near his vow to create 250,000 jobs during his first term,but during his eight years, unemployment plummeted as Wisconsin and the rest of the country bounced back from the Great Recession.

Walker never issued a pardon and never visited a prison as governor, even Lincoln Hills School for Boys, a youth facility wracked by lawsuits and a long-running criminal investigation into prisoner abuse and child neglect.

The proponent of small government, of letting the market determine the winners and losers of capitalism, used $4 billion in public subsidies to lure Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group to Wisconsin.

And the governor who used every lever of power while in office, ended his term by signing lame-duck legislation to crimp the power of his Democratic successor.

Transforming government

Looking back over a half-century of Wisconsin political history, Vos said, Walker and Republican Tommy Thompson stand out as governors who transformed the way government operates.

“And I think Gov. Walker, as you look over the next 50 years, people will say that’s a guy who made a big difference in an eight-year term,” Vos said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Juneau Republican, said there’s “no avoiding” the impact of Act 10 on those in the Capitol and across the state.

But there were other areas that stood out, he said, including Walker’s focus “on making sure the state was in (a) good financial position.

“He always tried to hold the line on property taxes,” Fitzgerald said. “Having a rainy-day fund, eliminating the deficit, it’s the stuff that put the state in a good position that the rest of the states in the Midwest look at and envy right now. He was driven by that. He wanted to make sure the state was in a good place fiscally. And it is.”

Democratic views

When he first took office, Walker vowed Wisconsin was open for business, a phrase he would repeat constantly during his tenure. Evers, who served with Walker and established a good working partnership, had a grudging respect for the governor’s focus on business.

“Certainly he has helped Wisconsin’s business climate and I think that’s an important part of his legacy,” Evers said. “You know, there’s a flip side to that. Making the state more business-friendly also creates problems with the environment and other issues, so I’ll be seeking more balance.”

But he said Walker divided the state, too.

“There’s no question he did not bring the state together,” Evers said. “He started his job pitting people against each other and he did right up to the end when he signed that (lame-duck) legislation. So I think that’s part of his legacy, not a positive part of it.”

Mahlon Mitchell, the state firefighters union president who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor, said Walker’s legacy “will be remembered as one of division and deceit, all because of political ambition.”

Rep. David Bowen, a Milwaukee Democrat, said Walker didn’t pay enough attention to Milwaukee County—a community Walker once led as county executive.

“His divide-and-conquer mentality was effective to the point where he made us seem like we were an island, that we weren’t truly a part of the state of Wisconsin,” Bowen said. “He was very much opposed to Milwaukee growth and sustainability.”

Bowen said Walker didn’t do enough to improve African-American graduation rates or reduce the state’s prison population, saying he “over-incarcerated the entire state.”

Another Milwaukee Democrat, Rep. David Crowley, said Walker portrayed Milwaukee as a problem without addressing its underlying needs.

“Us continuing to be the No. 1 worst place to raise a black child and continuing to be leading No. 1 and No. 2 in many staggering statistics that negatively impact people of color—Walker has not done anything (on that),” he said.

Walker and his backers disagree, arguing Walker worked hard to help the state’s largest city. His administration gave tax incentives to Komatsu Mining Corp. for a corporate campus that will help redevelop the city’s Harbor District. And Walker put together a bipartisan deal to provide public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee.

Rural-urban divide

One divide has been evident in the state for years: the rural-urban split. It was most recently studied by Katherine J. Cramer, a UW-Madison political scientist and author of “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.”

“There have always been tensions between rural Wisconsin and Madison and Milwaukee,” she said. “What changed is now those tensions are on the surface and very obvious to people. I think Gov. Walker, depending on where you stand, he either exacerbated that divide or he drew attention to some of the injustices a lot of people have been feeling for a while in rural Wisconsin.”

Cramer said one of the big things that happened under Walker “is a shift in how we as Wisconsinites think about government.”

“Some people may say that’s gradual or has been coming for a long time,” she said. “His administration marks a change between Wisconsin as a place that thought of itself as a clean government, open government state.”

Cramer said Wisconsin was “a state in which people were proud to be a modest state with above-average public institutions to now a place where that is not necessarily what we can claim anymore.”

Instead, she said, Walker “tried to focus on being open to business and using market mechanisms to achieve our ends. He’s not necessarily the first governor to make some of those shifts but was open about it.”

Economic record

Noah Williams, director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy, said that overall, “the economic record under Walker is very strong.”

On policy, Williams said, the Walker administration’s manufacturing and agriculture tax credit helped the economy, along with “holding the line on taxes and regulations.” The tax credit effectively eliminated income taxes for manufacturers and farmers.

State Sen. Alberta Darling, a River Hills Republican and co-chairwoman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, said the reforms instituted under Walker were necessary to move the state forward economically.

As bitter as the fight over Act 10 was, Darling said it ultimately saved teaching jobs by allowing local school boards to save money.

Throughout that fight and others, Darling said Walker would “always come back to the comment, it’s the right thing to do.”

“And I think he really believed he was there as a servant,” she said. “He really had a mission. He was driven by values and would always come back to, it’s the right thing to do. Some saw that as strident. I saw that as being mission-driven.”

Asked if Walker left any unfinished business, Darling said, it was “to go further, to make sure we reduce the tax burden on individuals so people could have more of their own money and thrive.”

“We are on the right track. We have to do much more or we won’t stay there,” she said.

Pocan saw the Walker years in a different way.

“He kind of took the office in a way that was more about Scott Walker than the people of Wisconsin,” Pocan said. “I think, ultimately, it showed. He never had huge amounts of support. I don’t think he’s leaving and people are saying, ‘We’re going to miss that Scott Walker.’ You hear that about Tommy Thompson, but you don’t hear that about Scott Walker.”

Asked if Walker was a historic governor, Pocan called him “historically insignificant,” adding that he didn’t introduce any big ideas.

“What he did was very significant around damaging workers and unions but his governorship overall as a positive will go down as a big nothing,” Pocan said.

As the Walker era closes, Vos sees the governor’s critics and supporters agreeing on at least one thing.

“I just look at this and think to myself, there’s a lot of people who are going to be happy that Scott Walker is leaving because he was too darn effective,” Vos said. “And there are a lot of people who are sad he’s leaving because he was too effective. Whether you like him or not, there seems to be a common thread: He was able to get a lot done in an eight-year tenure.”