Rock County Board Chairman Richard Bostwick decided Tuesday to partially open a set of committee meetings to interview candidates for a recently vacated county board seat. However, the county is still not posting public notices for the meetings and is only allowing board supervisors to attend.
In a partial reversal of a process that had been set to roll out completely behind closed doors, Bostwick said Tuesday that he would open a set of five special committee meetings to county supervisors who wish to observe interviews of the candidates.
Under county rules, Bostwick as board chairman is allowed to recommend any candidate he wants to fill a vacated board seat.
But at least one county board member and two statewide open government advocates have criticized a preliminary part of the county’s process. Drawing criticism is Bostwick’s decision to keep closed to the general public the vetting of candidates seeking to serve as Janesville District 21 supervisor until the April 2022 election.
In an interview with The Gazette last week, county board member Wayne Gustina acknowledged that as board chair, Bostwick has the authority to recommend a candidate to the full county board for approval.
Gustina, who is not among the four supervisors Bostwick assigned to the committee, said a committee member told him last week that he could not attend the candidate interviews.
Gustina called Bostwick’s choice to close the meetings to most supervisors and all the public “not very transparent at all.”
On Monday, Bostwick said one of the six candidates for the vacant supervisor seat no longer seeks the open board seat, and another of the candidates has been “quarantined” at home with an illness. While the six candidates were previously identified, Bostwick declined to say who had withdrawn or was ill.
Six candidates are in the running for the Rock County Board of Supervisors' District 23 seat after Doug Wilde resigned in June.
Bostwick said because of the ill candidate he decided to scuttle in-person interviews planned at the Rock County Courthouse on Tuesday. He said he decided to run the screenings virtually, with candidates appearing via Zoom video conference calls Tuesday while the board subcommittee interviewed candidates from a boardroom at the courthouse.
Bostwick said he felt more comfortable allowing supervisors not on the committee to attend the meetings if the candidates appeared virtually.
He said he initially sought to close the meeting to board members not on the panel to make the interviews “more uniform” and to avoid board members attending certain candidate interviews and not others.
After he switched candidate interviews from in-person to virtual, Bostwick said he reached out to Gustina to invite him to attend the meetings.
He said Gustina and board members not on the committee wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the Zoom interviews.
Bostwick said he thinks his naming of a candidate screening committee makes the process more transparent than in years past when he said some former county board chairs unilaterally recommended a candidate to fill a board vacancy without any feedback from the board.
“I don’t do that. I would never do that. I like to form a group and reach consensus. My vote does not count any more than anybody else’s,” Bostwick said. “I don’t know how much more fair I can be.”
Members on the panel will be able to vote on a top candidate alongside Bostwick—a move Bostwick said could help shape his recommendation to fill the seat—a decision he said might be announced later this week.
The full county board still must approve Bostwick’s choice of a board member to fill the vacancy.
Bostwick’s change in course only opens the meetings to county supervisors. The proceedings remained closed to local residents and the media.
Earlier this month, county corporation counsel Rich Greenlee told an Adams Publishing Group reporter that state and federal laws don’t require committees that vet candidates for open board seats to conduct their business at open meetings.
Bostwick told The Gazette on Tuesday that he’s still feeling out the public process of vetting candidates for open seats. Nevertheless, he said his earlier plan was based on the procedures followed by past board chairs and advice from Greenlee.
In a 2017 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled against similar, closed-door local government committee meetings held elsewhere in Wisconsin.
State statute indicates that any appointed or elected local government board member cannot be excluded from a government committee meeting unless the county can cite specific applicable exemptions that allow meeting behind closed doors.
Local governments are typically only allowed to hold closed meetings to discuss confidential personnel issues involving government employees, collective bargaining discussions, buying and selling property or strategy in legal matters that governments are likely to enter into.
The county has not cited any specific state statute that would legally exempt such a committee from conducting board supervisor candidate screenings in open, public session.
The Gazette has requested further guidance from the Open Government office of the state’s Attorney General, but as of Tuesday, the office had not responded.
Walking through the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds entrance near the corner of Randall Avenue and Memorial Drive, a familiar wave of sensory experiences hits you. Near the animal barns are the sounds of bleating sheep and mooing cows—not to mention the smell and sight of animal droppings on the ground (and perhaps your shoe).
The Rock County 4-H Fair is back. After a year lost to the pandemic, the fair’s organizers are looking to provide fairgoers with the excitement they come to expect from the oldest youth 4-H event in the United States.
Heading west past the barns, a more enticing aroma fills the air as the smell of fried food takes over. As children scarf down pizza, ice cream and other fair favorites, parents are seen enjoying time away from the confines of home.
Bryan and Susan Royce and their daughter, Ella, of Janesville, sat under a shaded awning enjoying slices of pepperoni pizza.
“It’s nice to get out, get the kids out and enjoy the summer,” Bryan said.
Ella had plans to get her face painted and had her sights set on a ride with cars she saw a few hundred feet away.
Melissa Smith was watching her children ride the Yo-Yo, an named attraction that spins riders at a rapid pace as they sit in swings high up in the air.
“It’s good to see that the kids can get out and have some fun finally,” Smith said.
After their turn was finished, Smith’s children Macy and Dawson, along with their friend Azura, gleefully recounted their experiences to that point in the day.
Azura said she enjoyed the thrill of the Tilt-a-Whirl she rode earlier.
“It feels like you’re going to crash!” she said.
Dawson enjoyed several of the rides and seeing the animals. For Macy, she was looking forward to all the food she would soon get to eat.
“She has a whole list,” her mother said.
Back at the barns, members of a local 4-H club prepared their cows for a showing later in the week. Matt Haldiman, who is going to be a junior in high school soon and has been involved with his club since third grade, was excited to show his dairy cows after last year’s missed opportunity.
“We had to get them ready still, and it (was difficult) not being able to show them anywhere,” he said.
Aside from all there is to see and do at the fair, the return of the event is helping many who lost out on the revenue generated by the fair. Fair treasurer Bonnie Martin emphasized the impact the weeklong event has on the local economy as a result of people attending from all over Rock County and southern Wisconsin.
“They are buying gas at the gas stations, eating at local restaurants, and they stay in the hotels,” she said.
Despite a drop in exhibitors from 2019, Martin noted a similar number of vendors have returned and the carnival company is back with its usual rides, as well.
Tom Thebault, who oversees the carnival rides at the fair, said his company was significantly impacted by multiple event cancellations throughout the country.
“We had many cancellations, the majority of our staff was laid off for a while,” he said.
However, Thebault is optimistic that things are looking up.
“We’ve seen record crowds, record spending—it’s a great time for the family to get out and enjoy themselves and not think of the more challenging times in life,” he said.
Thebault thinks, ultimately, the turnout has had a “mutually beneficial” effect on both his business and fairgoers.
“People are definitely hellbent on getting out and getting back to normal,” he said.
Other vendors who set up booths also faced differing levels of hardships as a result of the fair being canceled.
Troy Phillips, owner of TNR Heating & Cooling, said he gets additional business from people coming to his booth.
“A lot of what we get (here) is repair work and replacement sales throughout the fair,” he said.
Without the immediate exposure, Phillips said his company saw a dip in those sales.
Phillips has the same optimism, though, and thinks he will “definitely recover” from last year’s losses as a result of his booth this year.
“It’s a weeklong home show for us. We get a residual customer base from it,” he said.
All things considered, this year’s fair is expected to draw big crowds and return a sense of normalcy for fairgoers and participants alike.
“Our exhibitors are very excited to be here this year,” Martin said. “I know our vendors are excited to be here, and I feel the community is excited to come back and enjoy the Rock County 4-H Fair.”
Ruth I. Chrostowski
Betsy Lou (Hauri) Sutherland
Robert E. Wagner
Ka’lani J. Rose Weatherall-McCullum
Janesville police have seized guns in nine incidents this month, and they’re worried.
Nobody was injured, and in most of the instances, no gun was fired, but still …
“This is an abnormal spike,” said Lt. Chad Pearson of the department’s investigations bureau.
The increase in gun incidents raises concern among officers “because you don’t know if they’re armed in any given situation,” Pearson said.
Police always have to consider that people they encounter might be armed, but these days, the public spotlight shines more brightly whenever police use force, Pearson noted.
Unfortunately, the latest spate of gun crimes doesn’t present any pattern that could help police figure out if there are reasons for the presence of guns in more incidents.
“They’ve come from traffic stops, shots-fired calls to disturbances, one at a local tavern, and one in particular was a domestic disturbance,” Pearson said.
Asked if Janesville officers are backing off from policing, as reported in some big cities in response to the intense publicity over questionable police use of force, Pearson said Janesville’s procedures require response to all calls for service.
Janesville police are trained to contain people involved in potentially high-risk situations and take steps to de-escalate any conflict as much as possible to keep the public safe, Pearson said.
Pearson said the most concerning of the recent gun incidents was one in which a person who used drugs or alcohol was also carrying a gun and another that involved a domestic dispute “because most of our homicides in the city of Janesville have occurred from domestic instances.”
Pearson said he has also noticed a number of gun thefts lately, often from unlocked cars.
If the guns are ever recovered, they will most likely turn up in a police investigation, Pearson said.
“If you choose to own a gun, then it is your responsibility to account for it,” Pearson said.
That responsibility means if you carry it with you, take responsibility for what happens if you pull it from its holster and know how to use it, Pearson said.
Gun owners should understand the crimes they could be charged with if they fire a gun, Pearson continued.
Pearson said gun owners should:
The police department asked people to report possible gun crimes by calling the 911 center at 608-757-2244, Janesville Area CrimeStoppers at 608-756-3636 or using the P3 smart phone app.