But finger-pointing won’t likely lead to citations, officials say
By Jennifer Eisenbart
With a high-stakes Burlington Area School District election now less than two weeks away, both sides in a heated battle have stepped up their offense.
At two separate events on BASD grounds last week, people received fliers promoting Larry Anderson and Jim Bousman for School Board.
The fliers were distributed at Band-o-Rama March 11 at Burlington High School, and then also Saturday at the Burlington Home Expo at BHS. On Saturday, the fliers were accompanied by a handout that reminded people about early voting.
The distribution of the fliers drew the ire of WeVote Burlington member Bonnie Ketterhagen. Ketterhagen complained first to the school district and then to the City of Burlington police.
While there are technically no laws against the distribution of the fliers – not even on school grounds, according to Superintendent Peter Smet – Ketterhagen took her case to the police department, wanting the people handing them out cited for littering.
The City of Burlington ordinance, as outlined in 200-2 of the municipal code, says that persons distributing commercial handbills, leaflets, fliers or any other advertising and information material should take “whatever measures that may be necessary to keep such materials from littering public or private property.”
It also states that no one is allowed to throw, discard, place or deposit litter on any public or private property within the city.
Smet confirmed Tuesday that Ketterhagen had contacted him with the complaint last week. When asked initially, Smet said it appeared inappropriate to use school grounds for campaigning.
However, after looking through district policies, Smet said he could not find a specific policy prohibiting it.
“I would like to limit campaigning on school grounds for any office, but that’s my personal view,” Smet said. “It’s nothing any School Board in the history … has done.”
Smet also said no one either asked for or was given permission – or denied it – for distributing the fliers.
That last bit was brought up in a WeVote newsletter that went out Monday, citing the “Paul & Sheila Webber Committee” for distributing the fliers. The newsletter stated that the Webbers violated city ordinances and BASD policies by distributing the fliers.
“After the first known time, at Band-o-Rama on Monday, March 11, 2013, I lodged a complaint (as a private citizen) with Superintendent Peter Smet,” the letter stated. “He stated that the school policy prohibits political activities on school property. My request for equal access to parked cars was denied.”
The letter went on to outline the distribution of the fliers at the Home Expo, and also address planned action should the fliers come out again.
“What will happen on Saturday, March 23, at the pancake breakfast scheduled for BHS?” the letter read. “When an organization ‘rents’ a school, it is up to that organization to enforce BASD school policy.”
The Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast is actually scheduled for Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. The letter went on to thank the “many people who volunteered to help watch, patrol, police and monitor the parking lots during the next few events planned at schools.”
Ketterhagen replied Tuesday evening, repeating that Smet had told her policy prohibited political activities on school property. She also said that there was no registration with BASD for any committee by Paul and Sheila Webber.
However, the fliers that went out Saturday stated at the bottom, “Paid for by Paul and Sheila Webber, not authorized by any candidate, candidate’s agent or committee.”
Ketterhagen also said the actions by the Webbers, which she considers “disrespectful,’ reflect on the candidates they endorse – Anderson and Bousman.
“If elected, will they follow school policy?” Ketterhagen said. She also added, “Are the Wisconsin state laws for electioneering; the Burlington city ordinances; and the BASD policies only for conservatives to follow? The authorities will decide; not me.”
Sheila Webber said Tuesday that the fliers that were distributed were leftovers from a paid insert that was scheduled to be placed in this week’s Wednesday Hi-Liter.
She also added that trying to blame her or her husband for the littering is misplaced.
“If you threw a McDonald’s Cup out your window, they could go back to McDonald’s and say, ‘oh, you’re causing litter,’” Webber said. “If people are throwing them on the ground, they’re causing the litter, not me.
“There was no ill intention at all.”
City of Burlington Police Chief Peter Nimmer said Tuesday that no citations for littering had been issued, and the department looked into whether there was littering by the people distributing the fliers vs. the fliers being dropped on the ground by people who didn’t want them.
Webber said that, because of the lack of a public forum including all candidates, she and her husband felt the need to get the information out to as many people as possible – much as WeVote has been doing through door-to-door campaigning.
“The parents need to step up against this stuff,” she said. “We have to go to the next step. We’ve got to catch as many people (as possible).”
WeVote, in its newsletter, stated that a “get out the vote” effort would be stepped up over the next two weeks until the April 2 election.