Politics are a problem when it comes to running the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
At least that seems to be the opinion of Jude Maurer, a sheriff’s office captain and candidate for sheriff.
“No politics, no entitlements, no controversies” was the slogan Maurer voiced at least twice at a candidates forum Wednesday in a packed board room at the Kolak Education Center.
Maurer suggested that politics have kept county law enforcement from merging the three SWAT teams maintained by Janesville and Beloit police and the sheriff’s office.
Maurer said he would work to merge the units to save money, something he said has been discussed for years but didn’t happen because of “the power play.”
Maurer said he is running as a Republican not out of political leanings, but because he was told if he ran as a Democrat, he would be an also-ran in the primary, and the person who ran previously—apparently candidate Gary Groelle—would win.
Maurer said he would not be a career sheriff, and he would serve either one or two four-year terms before retiring.
Maurer, Groelle and Troy Knudson are the three sheriff candidates. Groelle and Knudson face off in the Aug. 14 primary. Maurer faces the winner in the Nov. 6 election.
Knudson said he is “very pleased with how the sheriff’s office is operating,” but he called for improvements, including more training so deputies are better prepared for encounters with members of minority groups.
When asked about fears among local Latinos about unfair arrests and being deported, the candidates all indicated they would not change current practices.
Knudson said fairness and justice are important to him, but violent criminals must be “removed,” and he would work with federal authorities to do that.
The sheriff’s office doesn’t and won’t participate in federal “sweeps” to find undocumented people, however, Knudson said.
Maurer said the sheriff’s office will notify authorities if it learns about people here without legal status but won’t detain people for immigration issues unless federal officials place a “hold” on them and make arrangements for transfer.
Groelle appeared to agree and said, “We’re not a department that’s going to go out and knock on doors looking for individuals to bring those in because they’re immigrants or may not have the status that’s required.”
Groelle said it’s important to forge partnerships and trust before crises occur.
Groelle said he would form a minority council to talk about problems and work on preventing future problems.
Groelle also said he would do two things in cooperation with Janesville police: hold a joint National Night Out and develop a “DROP program” like Janesville’s. DROP assigns an officer to reach out to drug addicts to guide them to the help they need.
Knudson called for the community to come together to address problems that are driving up the incarceration rate, including mental health, poverty and “issues with the minority community.”
Knudson said when taking over the jail, he started a book drive to improve reading materials for inmates, and he introduced eye masks and earplugs so inmates can sleep better in the face of security lights and doors banging.
Maurer said jail conditions have improved over the years, and they are “not only according to statute but it’s also in accordance with just human dignity, and I believe we’ve been doing a fine job with that.”
Groelle said he wants to improve on the visits allowed inmates, which now are over a phone or video screen and not in person.
Groelle said he would investigate recreation options for inmates, including a yard, and would like to lower prices charged for phone calls and food in jail.
Knudson said he also would like to investigate a yard.
As the Monterey lagoon drains away through the partially demolished Monterey Dam, residents flock to the dam to witness its demise.
On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of onlookers came and went. Some were there to watch the dam’s demolition, which picked up again Wednesday with work going on under the Center Avenue bridge.
Others were there to fish a slack pool in Rock River next to roiling rapids rushing over sections of the partially demolished dam. A few hundred feet away, a worker in a backhoe with a jackhammer tip moved through the river and chiseled away at the 170-year old spillway.
Visitors on Wednesday voiced hope, uncertainty and opposition to the city’s removal of the dam.
One man, who would identify himself only as “Jeff” watched a crowd of about 25 people mill around. He said he never figured so much attention would come to a dam he said has been mostly ignored.
“I’ve been coming out here years for fishing. I come every day in the summer. Every day. I’ve never seen most of these people before,” he said. “Some people are crying. I seen them crying. I’ve never even seen them out here until last week.”
Janesville resident Philip Schuman stopped while on a bike ride to check out the action at the dam.
Schuman said his wife didn’t want to see the dam removed, but he said he’s been more open to the idea.
He looked over at an area of Monterey lagoon that has become a soup of slack water and mud flats since the dam tear out started.
“Right now, it looks like a big mess. I’ll give you that. I can see how people might be upset,” Schuman said. “But I can see the big picture. It’s going to be better, an improvement, I think.”
Schuman said he has seen city plans that show the dam’s removal would dry out the Monterey lagoon and allow the city to eventually create a pond and establish a “riparian savanna” on drained land that in the last few days has become mudflats. South of the dam, an area along the river’s north shore would be built up with spoils from the dam to become a picnic area with a fishing platform, according to city plans.
“I think it’ll be nice, although it’s going to take a long time and a lot of money,” Schuman said.
While riding his bike, Schuman said, he has often seen turtles with bottle-shaped noses and flat shells sunning themselves along the concrete wall at the edge of the lagoon. That’s near areas that are now mudflats.
Schuman hasn’t seen the turtles in days. He’s unsure if they’ve been scared off by gawkers or if they took off for other reasons.
“Maybe they just swam off to another part of the river,” he said.
Janesville resident K. Andreah Briarmoon, who has been a vocal opponent of the dam’s removal, was at the demolition Wednesday.
Briarmoon called the city’s process, including the council’s vote to OK the dam’s removal, “embarrassing.” She said anyone watching the demolition was witnessing “millions of dollars of damage.”
Briarmoon said she believes the city would be better suited to decide on such issues if it was run under an aldermanic ward system of government. She said she thinks at-large council members have no incentive to listen to neighbors who opposed the dam’s tear out.
She said an “out of touch” city council “pulled off a fiasco” by signing off on the dam’s removal.
Quin Studer, who lives along the river several blocks west of the Monterey Dam, said he’s not heard much talk in his neighborhood about the dam’s tear out.
Studer said his family likes to fish along the river. He’s glad the dam’s being removed because he believes it will improve water quality and the fishery. Already, Studer said, the dam’s partial removal has calmed the section of river near his house.
“It’s flowing faster, but it looks calmer, less turbulent,” Studer said. “We’re excited to see this. It will be nice to see the river return to its original, natural environment.”
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President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Russia is no longer targeting the United States, contradicting his top intelligence adviser’s warning days ago that “the lights are blinking red” about cyberattacks and reigniting bipartisan concerns over his recent embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The president’s flat “no” came in response to a reporter’s question during a White House meeting with the Cabinet. Two hours later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was only saying “no” to answering any questions, yet the reporter and others disputed her claim.
“Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?” the reporter asked as a small media group was being ushered out of the room.
“No,” Trump responded, looking directly at the questioner. He went on to say, “We are doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia.”
The president’s apparent denial of an ongoing threat from Russia contradicted his chief intelligence adviser, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who on Friday compared warning signs of cyberattacks by Russia to intelligence rumblings before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, has also said that Russia has not been deterred from continuing its campaign of hacking and disinformation that helped scramble the presidential race two years ago.
“We are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself,” he said.
The day after Coats issued his warning, Trump expressed his doubts in an interview with “CBS Evening News.”
“I don’t know if I agree with that,” he said. “I’d have to look.”
The White House did not seek to clarify that remark. But when Trump’s answer Wednesday immediately spawned a new round of news reports suggesting a president at odds with his intelligence advisers, and partial to Russia, the White House was forced to restart damage control efforts that began after his widely panned performance at a summit with Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
After Sanders told reporters at a White House briefing that Trump was not denying that Russia is targeting the United States, but merely ruling out answering any questions, reporters disputed her version.
Cecilia Vega, the ABC reporter who asked the question, said on Twitter, “Getting a lot of questions about my exchange” with Trump. “Yes, he was looking directly at me when he spoke. Yes, I believe he heard me clearly. He answered two of my questions.”
After Trump’s initial response to her, Vega immediately followed by asking, to clarify, “No? You don’t believe that to be the case?”
“No,” Trump replied again, twice.
Similarly, the White House pool report distributed to media outlets broadly said Trump was answering Vega, not indicating that he didn’t want to take questions. “Your pooler stands by that report,” the correspondent wrote after Sanders’ briefing.
The latest episode threatened to undo Trump’s efforts to tamp down the bipartisan furor over his Helsinki appearance.
During a joint news conference alongside the Russian president, Trump seemed to accept Putin’s denials over the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. He also declined to publicly warn Putin not to attempt similar tactics in the future, while blaming the United States for bad relations with Moscow.
On Tuesday, after returning to Washington and facing the resulting uproar, Trump partially reversed himself, saying he misspoke and that he meant to say he does believe Russia interfered.
He also undercut that statement by immediately suggesting that other parties could be interfering as well, something unsupported by intelligence evidence.
Trump added, “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” when midterm elections that will determine control of Congress will be held.
But his statement Wednesday cast doubt on whether the president understands the threat and plans to defend against it.
“He is not willing to accept the reality of the threat,” said Michael Hayden, who served as CIA director under President George W. Bush and as head of the National Security Agency under Bush and President Bill Clinton. “He has not issued anything like what the government needs to mount a whole-of-government response to what the Russians are doing.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., tweeted on Wednesday that he believes “the Russians are at it again.”
“It’s imperative we get to the bottom of what is going on so we can be prepared to protect ourselves in advance of the 2018 elections,” he said.