The Beloit Snappers, Blackhawk Community Credit Union, the Milton School District, the YMCA of Northern Rock County and the Rock County justice system all were at the center of big stories in 2019.
For some, the attention focused on accomplishments. For others, it was controversy.
We picked the people that drove these stories as The Gazette’s newsmakers of 2019.
Rock County juries. Jury trials are relatively rare in Rock County, and murder trials are rarer still. In two trials this year, the juries proved reluctant to issue guilty verdicts.
In Jacob Davenport’s case, the jury acquitted him after a week-long November trial. He was accused of shooting and killing his sometimes-crack cocaine supplier. But the defense used cellphone mapping to convince jurors Davenport likely wasn’t near the murder scene. The defense also succeeded in portraying Davenport as a sympathetic figure, a family man struggling with addiction instead of a thug caught up in a bad drug deal.
In the case of Julian Collazo, fighting among jurors became this trial’s focus. The jury couldn’t reach a consensus on whether Collazo killed Christine Scaccia-
Lubeck, 43, at her Janesville home. A bailiff said the group dynamic had become “toxic.” Physical threats were made, and some jurors were crying, the bailiff reported. The case ended in a mistrial in October, and the prosecution is seeking a new trial. A judge scheduled it to start July 20.
Tim Schigur. The former Milton School District superintendent made news for all the reasons a school district would not prefer. Schigur and former Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz drew scrutiny for their involvement in a scheme to collect bonuses without receiving full board approval. The controversy erupted after a school district employee gave documents to board member Brian Kvapil showing the district’s then-business manager had misgivings about the payments and wanted them reviewed by the full board.
In the end, Schigur and Schuetz resigned but not before collecting $447,000 in severance pay, including $223,000 in “compensatory damages.” All the negotiations took place behind closed doors, and the district never released information explaining what “damages” Schigur and Schuetz incurred.
Sherri Stumpf. The Blackhawk Community Credit Union CEO and president became the face of the organization as it took on multiple developments this year, starting with its plan to donate its building on Kennedy Road to a nonprofit group that provides health care to low-income families. The credit union had intended to build a new office complex in downtown Janesville but scrapped those plans in favor of building its headquarters at the former Moose Lodge site on the Janesville’s west side. The credit union then decided to restore the former Chase Bank on West Milwaukee Street to its former grandeur, transforming it into a Legacy Center to honor GM workers.
The credit union also became a key player in distributing bricks acquired from the demolition of the former GM plant. It stepped up to help residents who wanted mementos from the shuttered factory, and two brick give-aways drew hundreds of people.
Diane Hendricks and Quint Studer. The two community leaders instantly silenced rumblings about the Beloit Snappers looking to leave town with their plan to build a new minor-league stadium in downtown Beloit. Both individuals have a history of supporting local projects, with Hendricks backing several Beloit revitalization projects and Studer redeveloping buildings in downtown Janesville known as Block 42. Under their plan, Studer would buy the Snappers, while Hendricks’ group would finance the stadium’s construction. The $34.2 million plan would require no public financing, officials said.
Tom Den Boer. The former leader of the YMCA of Northern Rock County became a cautionary tale about what can happen when a CEO loses sight of his organization’s mission. We don’t know exactly when Den Boer went astray, but YMCA members in 2019 revolted against his leadership. Controversy around Den Boer surfaced in late 2018 and boiled over with members threatening a lawsuit to obtain financial documents and other records. Den Boer turned combative, claiming accusations against him “have no basis in fact or are founded in innuendo.” The Y board of directors placed him on administrative leave before announcing Feb. 11 the two had “mutually parted ways.”