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In-person voting begins

JANESVILLE

Dozens of people lined up outside Janesville City Hall on the first day of early voting Tuesday morning, some waiting as long as an hour to take their turn.

Some said they felt more confident their vote would be registered than if they had used a mail-in absentee vote.

Cornelius Sinclair said he prefers voting in person “because at least I can see where my vote’s going.

“At least I saw it go in the box,” he added with a chuckle.

Voting is important “to make things better for each and every individual American,” the former truck driver said.

Sinclair was one of 648 people who voted Tuesday. City Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek said he expected a similar number today.

A line went out the door most of the day, Godek said, with the shortest lines after 4 p.m.

“I’m getting all this propaganda that the votes may not be counted, so I want to make sure my vote goes right into the machine,” said an older woman, Jara O’Brien.

O’Brien’s friend, Mary Johnson, said she was hoping to avoid a line, which didn’t happen, but she voted early in 2016 and found it convenient.

Voting started at 7:30 a.m. Godek said people starting lining up at 7:10.

Thirty-six people were in line at 10:15 a.m. The line extended to 55 people an hour later. Individuals or family groups wore masks and largely maintained distance from those in front of them.

Godek said he was pleased with how the day went. He planned to tweak the process to speed it up.

One glitch was a couple who stood in line only to find that they could not vote because they don’t live in the city. They live in the town of Janesville, so they have to vote through their town clerk, Godek noted.

Godek plans to post a sign saying only city residents may vote at City Hall.

The line extended into the building’s underground parking garage, where workers at four computer stations processed ballots and envelopes—a process different from Election Day voting.

But in-person absentee voting appears popular. Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said her office took calls all day from people asking where they could vote early.

Back in the Janesville waiting line, Bryce Cordier, 26, said this was the second election in which he has voted. The first was in 2016.

“It’s very important. I don’t like what I’ve seen in the last four years. It’s a very big election. The younger generation needs to be heard,” Cordier said.

Cordier said he ordered a mail-in ballot on the state website myvote.wi.gov, but no ballot showed up, so he called and was told he could get a new one sent out or could vote in person. He said he decided to make sure by going in person.

Godek said that out of 16,000-plus absentee ballots sent out, only 25 didn’t show up. Sometimes the problem was that the voter had moved.

Cordier emerged from the building after about an hour in line and said the wait was worthwhile.

Tom Ellis, a middle-aged man, said he had requested an absentee ballot but received a form to request a ballot, so he decided to skip the bureaucracy and take advantage of having the day off Tuesday.

“It’s probably the most important time to vote in my life, right now,” Ellis said. Asked why, he said, “It’s just the way the world is.”

David Innis of Janesville stationed himself across the street, in front of the police department, to promote a Citizens Climate Lobby initiative and give out free masks.

Innis said he gave away three or four masks, but most people brought their own.

A man in a pickup truck called to Innis sarcastically, saying he hoped he didn’t pollute the air by driving to that spot. Innis replied calmly that he drives an electric-powered car.

Innis said afterward the man did not bother him; at least he was thinking about the issue.

Innis is a supporter of the Democratic challenger for president, Joe Biden, and had a Biden sign on his car, which he parked across from the City Hall voting entrance. He said a city official told him to move it farther away, which he did.

State law forbids campaign signs on public property or car-top carriers or campaign buttons bearing campaign messages within 100 feet of a polling place.

Biden, of course, is the main challenger to Republican President Donald Trump. The ballot also includes state legislative races and local spending referendums. To see what’s on your ballot, go online to myvote.wi.gov and click on “What’s on my ballot?”


Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 21, 2020

Jackson Sylvester Adams

Aletha J. Ash

Jean Ann (Sittler) Brummel

Alice M. Bruner

Gary J. Calkins

Ruth A. Eisentraut

Leo George “Lee” Marklein

Frank Joseph Monestero

Donald Lee Quarterman

Helen Elizabeth Spencer


Government
top story centerpiece
Janesville council member to propose grants to help restaurants serve outdoors

JANESVILLE

Janesville City Council member Paul Benson plans to propose a grant program that would help restaurants and bars outfit their establishments to serve patrons outdoors during cold weather.

Funding for the program would be granted as an amendment to the 2021 budget, which the council is workshopping for December approval.

Benson’s amendment would allocate $50,000 from the city’s general fund in 2021 to support 25 grants of $2,000 each to help bars and restaurants make changes that would allow outdoor seating in colder months.

An example would be buying outdoor propane heaters, Benson said in an email to The Gazette.

Benson’s reason for the amendment, he said, is two-fold. It would help slow the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging people to gather outside rather than inside, and it would help responsible business owners retain customers.

Outdoor gatherings are considered safer because there is more ventilation and it is easier to social distance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Face coverings and social distancing are still recommended at outdoor gatherings, according to the CDC.

Under an emergency order from Gov. Tony Evers, the state currently requires businesses such as bars and restaurants to limit indoor patrons to 25% of their buildings’ capacities. The order is in effect until Nov. 6.

If the amendment is approved, the city grants would not be available until 2021, Benson said.

He said council member Jim Farrell supports the amendment.

“But I just feel like we (the council) have to do something,” Benson said. “I’m sure we will still be dealing with this in February, March, April, when there are enough ‘nice’ days that people will be willing to sit outside.”

Benson said he got input from three downtown restaurant owners before drafting the amendment. He declined to name the business owners.

One restaurant owner, he said, cannot afford to buy heaters or other equipment because the business was shut down for two months earlier this year.

Details on the approval process for the grants would be left up to city staff, with guidance saying businesses need to submit plans for how they would use the money, Benson said.

This would not be the city’s first program aimed at helping businesses through the pandemic.

The city in June began offering $5,000 microloans for businesses that did not qualify for other loan programs.

The city also streamlined its process for restaurants and bars to get approval for outdoor seating. The ordinance for the new process will sunset Oct. 30.

No plans have been proposed yet to extend the ordinance past Oct. 30, said Maggie Darr, assistant to the city manager.

Temporary outdoor seating had been approved for Applebee’s; Barkley’s Burgers, Brews & Dawgs; Whiskey Ranch; Rock County Brewing Company; O’Riley & Conway’s Irish Pub; and Lark.

The city’s proposed 2021 budget is balanced as of the initial budget presentation Oct. 13.

The budget calls for a 2.1% reduction in spending compared to 2020 and a 0.6% increase in the tax levy.

The council will meet Thursday night for a budget study session, where proposed amendments could be discussed further.


Paul Benson


Crime
top story
Janesville man sentenced to probation for secretly recording teenage girl, her mother

JANESVILLE

A teenage girl told a Rock County judge she doesn’t feel like justice was served against the 71-year-old Janesville man she knows who secretly put a camera in her bedroom and in that of her mother.

She called the punishment for Jack D. Fleming, “insulting,” adding that “the justice system failed me.”

“I went through a tremendous amount of stress that not only took a toll on my mental health but my physical health as well,” she said. “It’s crazy how our bodies react to stress. For me, my hair started falling out, and I developed two herniated discs in my spine, which hurt 24/7.”

But Assistant District Attorney Richard Sullivan said Fleming, a Vietnam War veteran who has been a plumber for about 50 years, was an extremely low risk to reoffend.

Despite being older than most other defendants who appear in court on criminal cases, Fleming’s criminal record before this incident was nonexistent. Officials were appreciative of his level of remorse, too.

Fleming needed punishment for his actions, which the prosecutor said he got. There’s prison time hanging over his head if he fails during probation. But punishment isn’t the only factor that goes into these decisions.

Fleming on Tuesday reached an agreement with the district attorney’s office to plead no contest to three misdemeanors—two counts of disorderly conduct as acts of domestic abuse and one count of invading privacy by using a surveillance device.

Fleming also pleaded guilty to a single felony count of invading privacy of someone younger than 18, but that conviction will be held open if he is able to successfully complete three years of probation, a term that includes 120 days of jail with work-release privileges.

Judge John Wood also ordered Fleming to complete sex offender treatment, which was part of the plea agreement. Sullivan added that there is no sex offender registration available under the charges in this case.

On March 9, the girl and her mother showed police two iPhone charging docks that had cameras in them, according to the criminal complaint. Fleming had bought new iPhones in September 2019, and the charging docks came the next month.

Fleming put one of the docks on the girl’s bedroom desk, where it could capture video of her dressing and undressing, the complaint states.

Wood said holding open the felony charge, which is an incentive for Fleming to behave, is striking a “delicate balance between punishment and rehabilitation.”

“I’ve sentenced a number of people over the years that I’ve been the judge on … sex-offense-related charges, and I think this is a proportionate sentence based upon all the facts and circumstances that I’m aware of here,” he said.

Sullivan said he believes in the scientifically tested risk assessments they use. Even if they can’t predict with 100% certainty, they’re reliable, he said.

“She (the evaluator) gave the defendant one of the lowest scores I’ve ever seen,” he said of Fleming, adding that simply being caught is often a sufficient deterrent for such low-risk offenders, especially in sex crimes.

None of this is to take away from the pain and suffering the girl and her mother have been through, the judge and the prosecutor emphasized.

Nonetheless, the girl and her mother expressed frustration that their claims weren’t adequately or completely investigated.

Responding later, Sullivan said: “Certainly, if there is more criminal activity that needs to be investigated, we certainly will do that if we know about that.”

The mother’s statement, which someone else read in court, said she is both “depressed and under constant stress.”

“My daughter hasn’t kissed a boy, yet, but was already exploited by a pervert,” she wrote.

The girl, who said she didn’t want to take the case to trial because she’s exhausted and couldn’t risk him being found not guilty, said it would not be fair to call what Fleming did a “mistake or an accident.”

“A ‘mistake’ is forgetting your wallet at home. A ‘mistake’ is putting your shirt inside out,” the girl said. “You know what’s not a ‘mistake?’ Buying a camera disguised as a phone charger, setting it up in a teenage girl’s bedroom and then watching her God knows how many times, both dressed and undressed.”

Fleming said Tuesday he was “very, very sorry” for his actions.

“If I could, I would take it all back. But I can’t,” he said, appearing via video from his lawyer’s office. “I want to help them in any way I can.”

One avenue to provide help could come in the form of restitution for some of the girl’s and her mother’s ongoing counseling needs. How much Fleming should pay will be determined at a hearing in about three months.

“It breaks my heart to hear them say that they’ve gone through all this,” he said. “I can tell you it hurts me deeply that I’ve hurt them in this way. I’m so sorry for my behavior, and I can assure you this is never going to happen again to anybody else.”