Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Will supervisor’s vote on Walgreens lead to recall?


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Dec 17, 2009; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A    

Will supervisor’s vote on Walgreens lead to recall?

 Town of Waukesha neighbors considering legal action

 (James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.) 

    The town of Waukesha has found an unfortunate way out of a deadlock preventing a change in land use planning necessary for yet another Walgreens to be built. Town Supervisor Steve Smart broke his promise to abstain on the issue and voted in favor of it, allowing the change in land use planning to go to the county board.

    As you may recall, the town was considering changing the use designation of five properties at Sunset Drive and Genesee Road from residential to commercial. The neighboring residents of the subdivision were understandably opposed.

    The plan change made it to the town board for consideration on Oct. 8. With Everett German opposed and Robert Tallinger Sr. in favor, a tie vote would have killed the motion to approve the change, stalling the project. The decision on the land change was postponed. True to his word, Smart abstained.

    Smart really had two reasons for abstaining. He works for a company that does business with the developer. The Realtor that stands the most to gain is owned by Smart’s uncle. A reasonable person would say that Smart made the right call in abstaining, even if it made family gatherings that much more difficult.

    Fast forward to December and, despite his very public pledges, Smart decided to vote for the land use change, claiming he’s not actually voting for the project’s approval.

    Opponents of the proposed Walgreens cried foul and turned to Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel. Schimel looked at the issue and decided Monday that the conflicts of interest were not significant enough to be a legal issue for his office to pursue. As of this writing, Schimel’s decision may not be the final word on the subject as the neighbors consider hiring legal counsel to defend their interests. An alternative may be the recall of Smart.

    Meanwhile, the issue now moves to the Waukesha County Board, who will decide whether to approve the land use change. The county board may have sound reasons to reject the land use change aside from the ethical and legal questions.

    Still left undecided is the location of the longpromised western bypass. One of the plans, and the least expensive, is widening that intersection where the Walgreens is planned. That option for the bypass is not possible if the five properties are developed commercially.

    The other alternatives for the bypass are through the subdivision (expensive eminent domain issues) or through the wetlands (Department of Natural Resources and environmental issues). Either of those options may cost Waukesha County taxpayers millions extra.

    Given the ethical issues, the possible legal complications, and the costs of the bypass, the county board should decide to kick the issue back to the town until the issue can be handled in a responsible manner.

    As for Smart, even if it turns out that he was not legally bound to abstain, clearly there were enough moral reasons for him to not vote for the land use change. He may feel that the land use change is not the same as approving the Walgreens project, but the Walgreens project does not move forward without his vote in favor of the land use change.

    While Smart may not financially benefit directly from the financial fortunes of his uncle, certainly such familial ties would cause most ethical people to abstain. If Smart had any doubts of that, the recent public revulsion over State Treasurer Dawn Marie Sass’ decision to hire her niece should have been enough of a lesson. In the case of Sass, at least her niece only benefitted to the effect of a part-time summer job.

    The smart decision for Smart was his first one when he chose to abstain. If that was no longer a tenable position, then his next step should have been to resign from the board and let his replacement cast the deciding vote. Now his only option is to resign or face the just anger of his neighbors in a recall.

    I am normally loath to endorse the idea of a recall. But when a public official’s sense of right and wrong is so unfortunately skewed, that’s what recalls are for.

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