City of Jefferson -
Jefferson Development Corporation Minutes

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Jefferson Development Corporation Board Meeting, August 17, 1999

This is a partial transcript of the audio recording of the August meeting of the JDC.

Tape recording obtained under an open records request. Transcription by John Foust.

Morgan: Dale Opperman asked for a chance to address the group here when we got started. I think this is all the audience you're going to have.

Opperman: First of all I just want everybody to know I'm not wearing a wire so you don't have to worry about this conversation going any further. [Laughter]. I did want to stop in. Recently it was brought to my attention that some of the members of the JDC feel that I've turned against the JDC. I wanted to come here today, and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to set the record straight because nothing could be further from the truth.

I've been a strong supporter of the JDC since before I was on here, privileged to serve on here, nothing's changed from that time. My top priority is, when it comes down to where are my allegiances, my priority is to the City of Jefferson and the taxpayers, because that's who I'm accountable to, like Pete's accountable to the taxpayers on a County basis. I guess as I look around the room that includes just about everybody in the room here.

What people are asking of the JDC now is that you also be accountable to the public and open to their input. I want to be very clear about this. I think these meetings should be open. That's my personal opinion. Just because we might disagree on this particular issue doesn't mean that I necessarily that I've abandoned my support for the JDC. I think that we can agree to disagree on certain issues and still work together and be supportive of what our goals are.

I guess the reason that I'm bringing this up, is that it's come up obviously more recently. After thinking about it for some time, I really believe that any group or entity that accepts money or relies on public money should be open and accountable to the public. If you don't want the public scrutiny, don't take the public money.

I think there are obviously different ways of operating a board or a commission like this. Some cities do it in different ways, some do it completely private, some people do it completely public and open to everyone. I don't know what the D.A.'s decision is going to be. I think we can be a lot more productive if we worked together than if we worked against one another.

I realize that there might be some differing opinions in the room, but we do know how to structure the meetings so that you can maintain the confidentiality that this group has to have, just like the City Council does it, just like the school board does it.

I'm not convinced that everything that this board discussed or takes action on needs to be or should be kept from the public. I think some of the things regarding philosophy on how we're going to address our land sales should be open to the public input, and made aware of what our philosophy is going to be, especially in regards to the City Council, because as someone who's served on both at the same time here, I know that they don't always get the message across the street that's intended over here, and certainly vice-versa. That's something that a little bit of better communication could help the situation.

It's come down to a matter of now, by, by… I don't want to use the word "stonewalling" but I can't think of a better one of this time. We've got someone who's asking for public accountability, and we've kinda circled the wagons and said "No, I don't think we have to give it to you."

And it's turned into a big black-eye for Jefferson. It really is. It's embarassing. It's just another case of one Jefferson board suing another one. Hopefully it doesn't come to that. But we've got all this conflict here when we should be working together to solve these problems, not creating more of them.

I just wanted to let people know why I stand where I do on this particular issue. I have not given up support of the JDC. I think you guys do a wonder job and something that's necessary for the City, but let's think about working together instead of perpetuating a conflict here. Does anybody have any questions or comments?

van Lieshout: The only comment I have Dale is we can disagree yet still remain civil about everything else, waiting for a certain [???] to come through.The real problem I've had, I'll air it out now because you brought it up, is that I've had conversations with people where I've made that point also, where people have come to me and what don't you do things on this order, there's disagreement on that. Two people have two different things of opinion, let's get ‘em resolved.

And yet at a Chamber of Commerce meeting two meetings ago, was accused basically of running a secret society. And that kind of ad hominem attack is that one I'm taking umbrage at, more than anything else. People can have their opinions about whether meetings should be open or not, but to have those type of attacks on us is where I've really bristled at it. I've seen it time and time again, and that's where I have a falling out. You can agree to disagree, but you don't need to have those kind of attacks on a personal basis, or even attacking the motivation of the people.

Opperman: I couldn't agree with you more Jim. I've been kind of on the same side of being accused of doing things, and it's just, it doesn't hold water. There's no truth to it. You know it and I know it, and I'm not here to defend Mr. Foust, or to explain why he's doing what he's doing. I'm not sure.

I'm saying, I think the guy's raised some valid points. He loses a lot of our attention at City Council when he says you guys are doing this, and you're trying to slip one by, and his methods to what he's trying to accomplish are probably questionable at best, OK?

But he's still out there, and he's not alone. There are other people that feel the same way, and for whatever reason, now there's a person standing up and leading the charge, and what about this, and why can't I be heard. And granted, he's a lot more persistent than most people are. But if we were to open the meetings, let this situation run its course, I think that negativity from his part will dissipate, it's just going to go away. I could be wrong on that. Like I said, I'm not here to defend his methods or what he's doing here, or any attacks on people. I think that's absolutely the wrong way to go, and I think it works both ways. I don't think the best way to get our point across is by saying negative things about him, personally, either.

Morgan: My only comment on the whole thing is not having open meetings, it would be the lack of accountability. This group's always had plenty of accountability both to the Council and the public. One doesn't imply the other.

As I look at the whole issue of closed meetings, granted there's a lot that transpires here there'd be no problem doing it in the public or having the newspaper here. But the issue of closed meetings goes beyond that. It comes down to the, when you have an issue like Generac, when we had three special meetings to buy the Ganser property, those meetings can't be published. We held a couple of them on less than 24 hours notice.

To jump through that kind of hoops, call the meeting, publish it, notify the press, and call it to order and adjourn to closed session, it's actually kind of ridiculous. It becomes a matter of following that procedure just for the sake of ... anyway.

Again, if Mr. Foust could come here, like Dale, and talk to the group in the beginning about his concerns, rather than the approach he's taken, why he'd have a whole lot better reception. He's made a joke out of the whole issue.

Opperman: That's kind of my point, too.

Morgan: I think he's even got the press against him now, frankly.

Opperman: I think this thing is turned into as much a personal issue as much as a civic one. That's unfortunate. Because nobody came here today to carry out physical or personal vendettas against somebody that we disagree with, that's not why we came here today.

Thomsen: Dale, I feel the accountability is here with us, to the City Council. We don't do anything without the City Council knowing it. That's final. The City Council is, that's published. That's my point.

Opperman: OK, I see what you're saying, Pete. But by the same token, I can think of at least three occasions in the last six months where a city council member has asked for a written update on the JDC, and we've been told, "Yeah, I'll get it to you, yeah, I'll get it to you," and we haven't seen it yet. So maybe some of that actual communication we should be getting from the City Administrator and the City Council member that sits on this. Some of it is a periodic update, that's been asked for, like a quarterly update, that's been asked for a number of times, and we used to get it periodically. That's what the Council's looking for. I know John Wagner's asked for it, Peggy Beyer's asked for it. Just an update of what's going on. I know there's some things that you can tell, and I know there's some things you can't.

But if there really isn't anything to talk about, maybe it's time that we get together and re-evaluate the situation and why there isn't anything to talk about, and what can we do differently that would be better for the City of Jefferson.. So what I guess I'm saying is that we'd like a little bit more input or more frequent updates.

Morgan: At our annual meeting held for that purpose, I think we had, we had two Council people, you and Johann were the only two there, I think.

Voices: No, Wagner was there. Collin was there.

Morgan: Yeah, I guess it was the utility people we included this year because they were saying they were in the dark, all we had was Steve Adams from that board there.

Olsen: I guess part of the problem is some frustration on my part, you know, I keep being said, we need reports, alright, but I thought, because, maybe I'm naive, I thought because we had Dave Schornack on this board, had Bob Coffman on this board, that was kinda be the conduit for reporting to the City Council. If there were questions, since they come to every meeting, they can ask specifics. And Dale's right, he, Peg Beyer and John Wagner have all said we want a report, obviously probably a good time to do that is when it comes time to do the budget, which is going to be the next month?

Schornack: We've started on what'll be a four-five month process.

Olsen: But I guess I need some direction from the Council or this Board, what's the actual reporting procedure? I do reports to the Water and Electric department, I do reports to the City Council, I do reports to you guys monthly, but evidently the people on the Council are saying we're not getting reports, and I thought that was Coffman's and Schornack's job. If that's not, then somebody needs to say Morgan, you need to go over and do it.

Morgan: It's whatever, I suppose, whatever, whenever they think they need it.

Schornack: I hear my name called, I feel like I'm getting bloody here. [Laughter]

Morgan: I mean if Peggy asks for something, she doesn't get it in 24 hours, she's going to stay on it ‘til she gets it.

Schornack: I think the Council has been pretty well apprised of what we're doing. The main thing we have been doing is working on the Estelle Ganser property, and the Council has had numerous closed sessions recently on that issue. Everything is going by the Council in taking action, and purchasing properties.

Olsen: I think Pete's got a good point. We don't necessarily have any power. All the power goes to the Council. The council's always the ultimate. I talked with Bob Coffman about this last week. I said "What's the problem?" He said, I don't know what the problem is, the Council is the ultimate presiding authority we have. Everything you guys do comes before us for approval.

Morgan: I think it's the primary issue on the closed meeting thing. Do we have any governmental powers or quasi-governmental powers? It's not an issue of who you meet, or who serves on there, or where the money comes from, it's what kind of power do you have? I think that's what it'll boil down to in the D.A.'s opinion.Olsen: If this board wants me to give them copies of my reports I give Water and Electric, I can do that, that's no big deal. But when I was hired, I was kinda given the idea that I was not to report to the Council. That's why we had a Council member who was here who could take what we do back to the Council.

Morgan: I don't know, when Bob had this job, we kinda had him going back to the Council once in a while. Anyway, that's another thing that won't go away because as soon as we appease one Council with what they want, the whole crowd changes and you've got a new group that wants something else, so we can't over-communicate with them.

Morgan: Any more questions for Dale? Thanks for coming in, Dale.

[Opperman leaves]

Morgan: You know, Bob is not here, I don't know, Coffman's has had far from a perfect attendance record at these things, too, which is unfortunate.

Schornack: I don't know how much more we can tell the Council. I've heard my name numerous times this morning. The things that we can talk about openly here are fairly minimal. Most of our recent meetings have been on the Estelle Ganser property. If you look back at the Council minutes, they had numerous, numerous closed sessions concerning that recently. They've taken Council to buy, I don't know how much more informed the Council can be.

Quite frankly, I've had no Council members and say they are looking for more information. They have not said that to me personally at all. The Mayor gets copies, I believe, Dave, of everything we do here, all the minutes and everything.

Olsen: As does Peg Beyer. It was decided at our CIA meeting, remember, there was a feeling that she was out of the loop, so now she gets… we worked real hard to change it, so she's now getting minutes of all the JDC meetings, and all the Chamber minutes.

???: Does she have access to what's secret, supposedly, what's in closed session?

Olsen: Yes, right. Let me do some leg work. Let me talk to some of the other Council members, like Morgan said, I don't think we can over-communicate, I don't think that's possible. If there's a perception that we need to communicate more, then we'll do that, and if there's a perception that everything's fine, and Dale may the only person who feels there's a problem, we can deal with that, too, I guess. Is that reasonable?

Schornack: I think I know Dave, in the past, usually, we haven't done it for a while, you kind've given them I don't think a written report but maybe just a little oral update, I don't think we've done that in the past, maybe that might help.

Olsen: I'll do that at the next meeting.

Pierce: Why don't you just do it quarterly?

Olsen: That's a good idea, Scott. Anybody got a problem with that? OK. Great idea?

Thomsen: Give them a copy a copy of what you give to the water and electric department.

Olsen: I'm giving those, not monthly, those are more frequent than quarterly. But yeah, I can work something out.

Hamann: What about if a company wants to come here and they want it to be kept confidential? Is that information available or not?

Olsen: For example, I don't think it's in these minutes, but…

Morgan: He sanitizes it, where you…

Olsen: That's a good word, I sanitize it.

Olsen: Exactly.

Pierce: You could give them that in such a way that the discussion is [garbled]. We do that all the time.

Olsen: Exactly.

Morgan: "A large company." [Laughter]

Pierce: We have closed sessions and things, and on everything you'll dot the "I" and cross the "T" on every word that's said in a closed session. At least we do. Maybe you do everything… [Laughter]

Schornack: I don't think we're doing anything differently now with the Council than when Dale sat on this board. I know Bob's not here all the time, but we never, it's very difficult for us to come out of an open council meeting and repeat what was done at the JDC, because most of the time we are dealing with land sales of one nature or another.

Morgan: Let's just, uh, continue with item four, the open meeting update, while we're talking about it. Go ahead and kill that item here. Any more word from the D.A.?

Olsen: The ball's in my court and I apologize. I talked to Dave Wambach and told him that I was going to work on it. I haven't got it to him. I have spent a lot of time working on it, it's not that I haven't done anything, there's just a lot of information out there, it's a lot of work. I've been in contact with the Attorney General's office, I've been in contact with the Freedom of Information Group in Washington D.C., contacted the League of Municipalities, there's a lot of information I need to assimilate and then present to him.

I'm working on my final draft in conjunction with our attorney to make our pitch to say, other than the quasi-governmental powers, which I feel are questionable at best, if you look at all the other factors, kind of a balancing test, we've got case law concerning the Grant County economic development corporation, and the City of Milwaukee economic development corporation, if you ask all those questions, how's it funded, City offices, City employees, how was it started, all those questions, they go down and check them all off, we all sit on the side of the fence that would say we are not subject to the open meetings law.

The only questionable one is, how do we have quasi-governmental power? Now Scott Scheibel in a letter said he thinks we are. Our attorney contends, as do I, that we don't have any of the ultimate authority. The authority is actually at the City Council level, all we do is kind of screen them out. Maybe the District Attorney is gonna rule that the one sentence or three sentences, whatever it is, in the deed restrictions would then generate open meetings and quasi-governmental. But our contention is that it's not the case. I've been working very hard to get together this, and get it back to the District Attorney.

Morgan: I had a conversation on the street with Henry Fischer last week, said he couldn't be here, but he wanted me to relay his thoughts on this subject. He thinks we should get pro-active on that particular issue, that we should address that part of the by-laws that could be the thing, and make that change. Make the verbal change, in our by-laws or deed restrictions or whatever, that could imply that we have some kind of governmental enforcement powers here, and make it, re-work it so it's clear that we're just the arms and the legs of the City or something, that we have no power ourselves. If that was done, you're, that could even be pointed out in your comments to the D.A. that we clarified that, to make it obvious that we have no such powers, that's Henry's thought.

Olsen: I think that if the Board were to do that, I could talk to our attorney or even the City's… No, we don't want to do the City Attorney until our attorney gets done with it. [Laughter] There are procedures. That we could change the wording from "prospective industrial park tenants shall submit plans" blah-blah-blah, to change the wording from "shall" unto "may".

Morgan: It wouldn't have to be "may" it could… in the interest of the City, such things are submitted and approved.

Olsen: The careful thing is you can't give those powers to the JDC.

Morgan: No, right, you can't give them to us, but it needs to be written so that we don't have the ultimate authority on them, that we're sorta just the secretary at the desk that you hand them to, that we're trying to work with a prospect, and help insure them that their plans meet the City's expectations or the City's covenants, are City documents, the City is the enforcement power, and all we are doing is facilitating, helping our prospects walk through the bureaucratic minefield to meet the City's rules.

Olsen: What's so complicated about this is the chronology. The JDC was formed in 1984, the covenants were made in 1988, and the attorney general didn't make an opinion that says quasi-governmental powers until 1991. So from '84 to '91, there was no question the JDC was not subject to open meetings. But in '91, then there became that question because of the possible powers that were given in the deed restrictions. I think in '84, there was no question, in '88 even when the covenants were done which gave the powers to the JDC, there was no determination of that until '91. Currently I'm working on a letter right now, it's gotta be done on a case by case basis. Even if those powers were given, that doesn't necessarily mean the meetings have to be open.

Dempsey: There's no grandfather law? [Laughter] There is on a lot of other things.

Olsen: There is not. Not when it comes to open meetings. The attorney general's made a determination that meetings should be open to the most people in the public, it should be open. But see, that doesn't resolve the issue, because I was taking notes as Dale was here, one of the first things he said was we need to be accountable, open and meetings should be open. Even if we change our deed restrictions so that we can remain private and not open, we're still going to have Dale Opperman and maybe other Council members who would be on the opposite side. So I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, but I think we should be aware that he came this morning and said "Any group that accepts or relies on public money should be open." Those were his words.

So, even changing the deed restrictions wouldn't make the [TAPE STOPPED] I don't think. I'm not saying not to do it, I think we still should still change the deed restrictions. But then I think we need to do some work with the Council, or some Council members, to … I don't mean to throw roadblocks, I'm just…

Schornack: How many Council members have said to you that they had a problem with this not being open.

Olsen: Dale Opperman's the only one.

Thomsen: Mr. Foust.

Morgan: As soon as these meetings are opened up, then there'd be a cry to hold them at 8 o'clock at night rather than 6:30 in the morning. [Laughter.]

Olsen: I think we should. Henry talked to me, Morgan talked to me, I did talk to Bob Coffman. He said that if we asked to have the deed restrictions changed, to take away any chance of those quasi-governmental powers, he would run that through the City Council and he was convinced that it would pass. So that would probably solve our problem with the attorney general, with the district attorney, and Mr. Foust, that would be the only questionable thing based upon my [TAPE STOPPED] research, that would lead us to have open meetings, and if we changed that, and if we changed it now, then in my response to the district attorney I can say we are in the process of changing this because we understand that this may have been a concern.

Dempsey: Mr. Foust won't agree. [Laughter.]

Lewis: I would like to get beyond this. I look at this Board and I go, wow, would I like to have a board like this at my company. I mean, this is incredible. All I look at, I'm here maybe as a little obvious [?] for a small business people around our area, we bring things up, and how will this affect my company and other people like me, Pat's here for the performing arts, Scott's here for the school district. All we are is trying to help the City, help you make decisions. It seems like we could almost do it around a coffee table.

There's things that I bring up, I don't want everything I say, my opinion is going to be skewed to small companies, I'm not going to say "Let's pay everybody $20 an hour," my companies can't afford to do that, we're start-up companies. That's my opinion. I don't want everything I feel written up in the paper. I think I'm here to help the City. That's all I want to do. I don't care about the - do we have to have $15,000 a year from the City?

I'm really bored with it all. I want to get on with it. If I can't help the City, I don't want to be here at 6:45 in the morning. I'm missing some point here. A lot of you guys work for the public, and maybe it's more commonplace to you. I'm here to help. I'm here to wave a flag, like this is going to affect people, if we get this big company in, that's going to take the labor market away. That's what I'm here for. Whatever expertise I can bring. I'm proud to be on this board. I feel honored to be selected. We have our little expertise that we can bring and hopefully help. I would just like whatever we can do to get beyond this point. Do we need the money? Is that the big thing? Because we get public funding to come here? I don't get paid to come here. [Laughter] Dave? I don't mean to be disrespectful. It just seems like, gee, it's been on the agenda, gee, people are coming to talk to us.

Morgan: Any other thoughts on the whole issue of changing the …

Hamann: Dave, since you've been on board, what percentage of the companies that are looking to come here want everything to be kept confidential?

Olsen: I'll give you an anecdote, right? The very first company I worked with, Superior Ag Resources Kraft, and the first thing Mike Mollock [sp?] said to me, the first thing he said is, "So you're the new guy." "Yep, I'm here to help you, I'm here to do whatever I can." He said "Keep our name out of the newspaper." I said "Excuse me?" He said, "We do not want to see our name in the newspaper. I don't know why it happened. It's not your fault, but I tell you Dave, I don't want our name in the newspaper any more."

Hamann: I think that's how most corporations are. That's the reason I feel so strongly we should have the meetings kept confidential. When John Foust was here, I called him up that night and talked to him about it. I don't really understand corporate America, but my father worked for Ladish Malt for fifty years, all they do is soak barley in water and make it into malt. That's all they do. But they have a fence around that place, they have a guard, you cannot get in there, I never knew what was going on. My dad could never talk about that place, that's secret, and that's the way they are, and they're a successful corporation. If they want to be secret, well so be it, we can honor them. I think that any corporation who wants to look at our community and they want that to be kept secret, we should give them that respect.

Olsen: And I know that the JDC was established to be secret, not secret, to be closed, I know that it was, because I talked with Dale McKenna, who was one of the founders, and he said we structured it to be this way. In '88 when the deed restrictions came out, they were still closed. In '91 when the attorney general came up with this new thing and now questions if they can remain closed without changing the deed restrictions.

Lewis: I think that it's just like an honor for our opinion. I want my opinion kept in this room. It's just my advice. I don't want people to know what Steve Lewis thinks.

Olsen: I think we can all appreciate that. I think we can. And as business leaders I think that the last thing we'd want to do is put ourselves in a situation where there might be a quote that's taken out of context and splashed all over the newspaper that says "PremierBank's van Lieshout said this" or "CPA director said this".

Morgan: The bank board would say we don't want van Lieshout on that board. We don't want our employees doing this.

Olsen: Then we lose that expertise.

Morgan: If we were open, just basically called every meeting to order and adjourned to closed session, and asked the press to leave, then you start… you've got to come back in and adjourn the meeting. After setting through a few sessions like that, I imagine the press and the public is gonna be more suspicious. All that does is say "What the hell are they talking about all that time and I can't be in the room?"

Dempsey: And then how would you sneak in and out all the prospective people?

Morgan: Yeah, we've got to have a closed session, no don't leave the room, you've gotta leave the City because we've got some company people coming in. We'd have to be meeting our company meetings up in Crick so that the …

Dempsey: So that somebody didn't follow you. Say so-and-so walked in the building.

Morgan: Yeah, that's the point.

Lewis: That's the point, what do we do to remain, changing that one word?

Olsen: We change the deed restriction.

Lewis: Do we need the financing? We don't spend much money. We do a little landscaping.

Olsen: But the financing isn't even an issue, because we get more than half of our funds, the majority of the funds, from the water and electric department. Once again it was established that way, so that water and electric department is not City Hall, so we can receive those funds and still not have to worry about them.However, even that, the funding, the attorney general has said, that even if an entity receives more than fifty percent of their funding from a public source, that's not necessarily mean they have to be open meetings. I really think the crux of the problem is the deed restrictions.

Thomsen: Alright, let's change it. I make a motion that we change it.

Morgan: It strengthens our case to the District Attorney.

Lewis: I'll second it.

Thomsen: We can guide the prospects through the hoops and let the City Council decide whether they're going to sue them or not, rather than us.

Olsen: The system that works very well is when somebody contacts the City, and they said we're interested in relocating, they send them over to me, and then I'm their advocate, I hold their hand, I walk them through the process. Nothing will change, it will just be on paper, changed so that we don't have this problem.

Morgan: We have a motion. We have a second. Any other discussion? All in favor say "aye". [Aye] All opposed? [Silence][Meeting continues.]