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Rock County Board sets new district map that favors board incumbents

JANESVILLE

When voters look at their ballots in April, they’re likely to see familiar county board supervisor names.

The county board on Thursday voted 17-9 for a redistricting plan that keeps the district boundaries as close as possible to the rule of one district, one incumbent.

The result, some board members have acknowledged, is that incumbents are more likely to be reelected, which is what they wanted.

A redistricting committee handed the board a different plan three weeks ago. That plan for the 29 supervisory districts included seven districts that would have had no incumbents and five districts that would have had two or three incumbents.

Some board members argued they needed to preserve as much continuity and knowledge about county business as possible, so they asked that new maps be drawn to give incumbents a better chance at reelection.

A minority of board members argued that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.

Voting for the revised, incumbent-friendly maps were Mary Beaver, Ron Bomkamp, Pam Bostwick, Richard Bostwick, Tom Brien, Wayne Gustina, Brian Knudson, Kevin Leavy, Mary Mawhinney, Louis Peer, Russ Podzilni, Robert Potter, Yuri Rashkin, Danette Rynes, Kathy Schulz, Jacob Taylor and Bob Yeomans. Three board members were absent.

They voted after hearing from 10 speakers and letter writers who all favored the committee’s initial map.

Ryan McCue, who said he was speaking as a private resident and not as deputy city manager of Janesville, said the board’s decision, while not based on political affiliation, amounted to gerrymandering because it favored a particular group of candidates, the incumbents.

“Gerrymandering is the greatest sin against democracy,” McCue told the board.

The board heard a presentation from the county planning department’s mapping expert Jennifer Borlick, who described shifting blocks of residents from district to district in her effort to follow the board’s direction to protect incumbents.

Borlick could not place one incumbent in every single district, no matter how hard she tried. The new District 8, which borders the west and south sides of Janesville, ended up with two incumbents who live there. And three other new districts, 11, 12 and 13 in the Beloit area, will have five incumbents among them.

Some board members seemed interested in using the original maps but modified in the Beloit area as shown in the revised maps. Board member Genia Stevens said the Beloit revisions would better represent people of color in Beloit.

But in a series of procedural votes, board members steered away from a hybrid solution.

Board member William Wilson argued for the original maps and against preserving incumbents. He said he looked at board minutes from 2011’s redistricting discussions and found that only nine board members from that time were still on the board.

The board is likely to see that kind of turnover again, Wilson said.

Board member Wes Davis, who also served on the ad hoc committee and supported the original maps, wrote a note at the end of the meeting: “I feel like I’m in an old, horse-drawn cart being dragged into a muddy swamp by a well intentioned horse. ... We as a board must follow what is dictated by the census blocks and community growth patterns. To do otherwise is to deny progress to future generations of Wisconsinites.”

Those in favor of helping incumbents didn’t say much about their position, but they had made those points at their last meeting.

Board member Leavy asked how the board was to explain its actions on the complicated map-drawing process to the public. County Administrator Josh Smith suggested they explain it to their constituents when they ask for their votes in the spring.

The law requires each district to be as close as possible to 5,644 residents, which is the result of dividing the county’s 2020 population by 29 supervisory districts. The map chosen came within 4.38% of that requirement, well within the legally established maximum deviation of 10%, Borlick said.

The committee also tried to make sure that municipal boundaries were followed as much as possible and that minority populations and other communities of interest were not marginalized by being all packed together in one district or divided into so many districts that their voices were diluted.

The county maps will be sent to municipalities that are required to use them to draw new voting wards. The maps should be ready for candidates in many local races who need to decide about running in the spring election.

Candidates begin taking out papers to run Dec. 1. They must file their nomination signatures by Jan. 4 in order to be included on the ballot.

On Oct. 8, this story was corrected to reflect the following.

A story on Page 1A Friday gave an incorrect number for the Rock County Board members who voted against the new county board district maps at Thursday’s meeting.

The vote was 17-9 in favor of the new maps.


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Long-running City Hall project expected to wrap up in November

JANESVILLE

By November, a long-running construction project that has left the main entryway to the plaza at Janesville City Hall torn up and cordoned off from the public for more than two years finally will wrap up.

It’s been an almost 30-month-long process that’s been fraught with weather delays and legal action by the city of Janesville against the contractor who the city said placed a faulty water barrier that allowed water to leak under the plaza.

But a city engineering official said the contractor, Klobucar Construction, finally will finish renovation of the underground parking area and the large entryway plaza above it.

Payne said the work being done now is less than a month away from completion. He said that according to an updated timeline provided by Klobucar, the project “remains on schedule to be completed in early November.”

For the time being, the plaza entry remains cordoned off by construction fencing. Passersby can see large, white foam blocks cut to be laid out over a black underlayer. Payne said the foam blocks will give shape to the plaza’s raised, pedestrian-accessible ramp and sidewalk areas.

Anthony Wahl 

Construction on the entrance to Janesville City Hall is scheduled to be finished in the coming weeks. The project began more than two years ago in May of 2019, but had faced delays because of a dispute with the city and general contractor and the difficulties of working during a pandemic.

That’ll finally bring to a conclusion a big portion of $2.9 million in work to fix leaks and erosion to City Hall’s underground parking structures, the plaza surface above and replacement of a waterproof membrane.

The work was initially aimed at fixing holes in the underground parking area, bucking sidewalks and moisture in some offices in City Hall.

That major work came in addition to some new lighting and rehab of the main entry and ground floor lobby, according to a 2020 capital improvement plan.

Payne has said the project earlier this year was projected to run about $240,000 over its earlier $2.6 million price tag, mostly because of leaks to a moisture barrier the city said Klobucar used that the city considered an inappropriate material for the project.

Work on the project froze for most of 2020 due to a dispute between the city and contractor. Wet, harsh weather in 2019 also slowed progress on the project.

Payne told The Gazette earlier this year that Klobucar agreed in 2020 to replace the faulty membrane at City Hall.

Payne said at that time that the project wouldn’t likely become any more costly because of the agreement.

Anthony Wahl 

Construction on the entrance to Janesville City Hall is scheduled to be finished in the coming weeks. The project began more than two years ago in May of 2019, but had faced delays because of a dispute with the city and general contractor and the difficulties of working during a pandemic.


Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 8, 2021

Mark Czech

Shirley Jean Graves

William T. Hills

Ruth M. Kluckman

Charles N. Pinson

Ralph Scott

Terry L. Smith

Marion L. (Smith) Shepstone

John J. Van Den Langenberg

Tamara J. Wofford

Tina Zomer


Former UW-Whitewater student sues UW System over former chancellor's husband's 'assaultive behavior'

A former UW-Whitewater student who said she was sexually harassed by the former chancellor’s husband has filed a lawsuit against the university system alleging UW-Whitewater violated her right to due process and protection from discrimination.

Stephanie Goettl Vander Pas is a former UW-Whitewater student and former Whitewater alderwoman. In 2018, she came forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Pete Hill, husband of then-Chancellor Beverly Kopper.

The lawsuit alleges UW-Whitewater officials were aware of Hill’s sexually abusive behavior against several women but failed to take timely action to stop it.

“From the time she first met Hill, until Hill was banned from campus in 2018, Stephanie was victimized by Hill’s sexually harassing and assaultive behavior,” the complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court said. “Stephanie knew other female UW-Whitewater students were also being victimized by Hill, but like them, Stephanie was afraid to do anything because of the hostile environment created by the unreasonable and deliberate indifference of UW-Whitewater to such conduct, and its history of retaliating against victims.”

The lawsuit argues that UW-Whitewater violated Vander Pas’ rights under Title IX and the equal protection and the due process clauses of the state and U.S. constitutions. She is seeking yet-to-be-determined damages, and other unenumerated financial compensation.

UW-Whitewater spokesman Jeffrey Angileri referred questions to UW System. UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch said Wednesday: “We just received this, and do not comment on pending litigation.”

Vander Pas’ attorney, Lisle Blackbourn, did not respond to an email or phone request for an interview Thursday.

Vander Pas first spoke publicly about her experience in the wake of a September 2018 Journal Sentinel report that revealed Hill had been banned from campus after a sexual harassment investigation.

She is one of several women who have come forward with similar reports of harassment by Hill. Her 2018 allegation launched the third in a series of UW System investigations into Hill’s behavior. By then, two previous investigations were found to “have merit.”

She told the Journal Sentinel then and reiterated in her lawsuit this week that when she was a student government leader from 2009 to 2011, Hill made “increasingly brazen” comments about her appearance and romantic relationships.

She was a city councilwoman, two years out of college in 2015, when she said she bumped into Hill outside a coffee shop and he slid his hand down her back and reached under her skirt to touch her sexually while hugging her.

The lawsuit’s narrative puts Vander Pas’ assault in the context of the stories of the other women who say they were dealing with his abusive behavior, alleging several instances when it appeared university officials were aware of some of Hill’s behavior but did not report it as required.

In April 2019, the UW System released another independent investigation that found that there is “credible evidence that Pete Hill engaged in sexual harassment of both employees and students.”

The review found no witness or document that provided direct evidence that Kopper knew of or facilitated his improper behavior. However, investigators Stephen Hurley and Marcus Berghahn wrote, his behavior appeared to be well-known on campus.

“The large number of complainants suggest that Hill’s unprofessional and improper behavior toward women was pervasive and well-known; indeed, a number of university employees made note of his behavior and took steps to protect one another from Hill,” the 2019 report states. “At best, this suggests that Hill’s behavior was a blindspot for the Chancellor.”

The 2019 investigation also found it took Kopper 84 days to notify her cabinet and the campus of the news that her husband had been banned from campus, another delay that the lawsuit points to as a failure by the university to protect students and employees.

Kopper resigned from her role as chancellor in December 2018.

The 2019 investigation found “at least seven (and potentially up to 10)” women who said they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Hill.

The lawsuit outlines complaints made by 10 anonymous women, in addition to Vander Pas. It alleges Hill’s honorary appointment as Associate of the Chancellor by virtue of his wife’s position, alongside the university’s systematic failure to act, made women reluctant to speak out.

Vander Pas’ lawyer wrote she “was ultimately forced to drop out of her master’s in business administration program due to the mental and physical anguish she suffered as a result of Hill’s harassing and assaultive behavior and public ridicule she endured after reporting Hill’s inappropriate conduct.”

“UW-Whitewater knew about, condoned and ratified Hill’s conduct, repeatedly dismissing or ignoring evidence of Hill’s years-long inappropriate treatment of females, giving Hill unfettered power to harass and assault women, including Stephanie,” the lawsuit states.


Stephanie (Goettl) Vander Pas


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