Dear Editor:

March 9, 2017, I attended an open meeting of the Vilas County Land and Water Conservation Committee in the Vilas County Courthouse in Eagle River. 

At this meeting, I witnessed what I consider to be a direct violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and a violation of Article 1, sections 1 and 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution.

U.S. Constitution, First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Wisconsin State Constitution, Article 1, Section 1: “All people are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Wisconsin State Constitution, Article 1, Section 4: “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good and to petition the government or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

The critical parts of the items quoted are these:

1. “Congress shall make no law regarding . . . the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

2. “To secure these rights . . . governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

3. “The right of the people . . . to petition the government or any department thereof, shall not be abridged.”

March 7, without prior notice to the committee, the chairwoman of the Land and Water Conservation Committee, Kim Simac, arbitrarily removed from the agenda the resolution that had been tabled at the Feb. 9, 2017, committee meeting. Because she apparently did not agree with the resolution, she removed it from the agenda and requested corporation counsel Jack Albert to prepare a legal opinion justifying her action.

The petition is to the county board to pass a resolution to the members of our state Legislature to return local control over shoreland zoning to our counties and towns, and to restore our historic lake classification system as it existed before the passage of Act 55 in July of 2015.

It quickly became apparent that attorney Albert is confused about the purpose of the resolution and the purpose of the county board’s action on the zoning ordinance. The Vilas County board had to pass that ordinance or they would be in violation of state law and subject to any penalties the state might wish to bring against the county. The committee deals with land and water conservation in Vilas County.

The resolution is a petition signed by seven town boards of Vilas County and 27 Vilas County lake associations, and by two town lakes committees and the annual meetings of St. Germain Area Lakes, Sayner-St. Germain Fish and Wildlife Club, and the Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association.

The town governments and lake associations that signed the petition to have the resolution taken up did what the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Wisconsin have empowered them to do; they are petitioning their government to redress a grievance that they believe occurred when the state passed, in its 2015 budget, Act 55, repealing local control over zoning.

Simac refused to allow anyone to speak during the letters and comments section of the agenda, even though Supervisor Dennis Nielsen and Supervisor Carolyn Ritter moved and seconded a motion to allow John Richter to speak. She did not recognize the motion.

Finally, Simac decided she would allow Richter to speak for a couple of minutes. 

J. Sheehan Donoghue

Sayner