Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Letters from town

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Last December, Town of Oconomowoc Chairman Robert Hultquist sent a letter along with the property tax bill to his constituents. Most of it was the usual blather that hardly softens the blow of seeing how much local government partially costs. But this time Hulquist decided to add an endorsement for two members of town board up for re-election, one of whom is facing a challenger on the ballot.

Even if it wasn’t against the law (which it is) it doesn’t take a Harvard-trained ethicist to know that using a government-funded mailing to formally endorse political candidates is wrong.

Under pressure, Hultquist is refunding the cost of the mailing to the taxpayers, $368. The less-than-contrite Hultquist is hoping this puts an end to the issue. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes Hultquist,

“I’m paying for every single cent of the entire letter’s cost even though I did feel it wasn’t necessary,” he said Tuesday.

“I didn’t want anyone in the town to feel I was taking advantage of my position.”

I can’t imagine how anyone could think anything else, and if Hultquist were more controversial there would probably be an effort to recall him, arguably justifiable.

My concern is with the reaction of Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel. Schimel told the newspaper, “This is a mistake by an individual who otherwise has been a very good public servant; mistakes do happen.” What if Hultquist was not so good? What if he was semi-competent? Would that make Schimel still call it a “mistake”? Or would Schimel describe it as an abuse of Hultquist’s office?

Schimel went to the state election board (never a good sign) and learned that if he was going to charge Hultquist with anything it would have to be felony misconduct in office. Schimel told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he thought a felony would be “a little heavy-handed.”

I don’t know if Schimel’s been paying attention to what’s been happening in local politics the last few years, but there have been several cases of local government officials abusing their offices to reward friends and punish political enemies, such as in Pewaukee and Muskego. A strong example of what happens when the line is crossed might have a deterrent effect.

More importantly, I don’t think the voters of Waukesha County voted for Brad Schimel because he knew who the really good guys are in the county. They expect, and have every right to expect, a District Attorney who doesn’t look for an easy way out for people who break the law.

I can’t help but contrast Schimel’s performance in this matter with that of his predecessor in the Jefferson Davis matter. Bucher drove Davis from office. There ought to be more of a cost of abusing the privilges of office than $368. Fortunately, Schimel still has time to reconsider and act accordingly.

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