ORIGINAL STORY: Following the death of April Weatherston, the Caledonia Village Board plans to talk at its meeting Monday night about appointing a candidate to run against incumbent Ed Willing for the seat they were both pursuing.
The item will be discussed at the Village Board meeting on Monday night under new business and action could be taken by the board if it nominates a substitute candidate.
Weatherston, the wife of Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Caledonia), died two weeks ago from cancer. She announced in December that she was running for the trustee number 4 position against Willing and had planned on continuing to run despite her illness.
Village Can Appoint Candidates
The appointment of choosing a candidate is within the Village Board’s right to do under state statute 8.35, but the move isn’t sitting well with Willing. Caledonia village attorney Elaine Eikes handed Willing a letter on Thursday written by the Village’s attorney that notified him of the board’s intent to find a candidate to run against him. Caledonia village administrator Tom Christensen then asked Willing on Friday to recuse himself from participating in the discussion.
“They say they don’t want to have a blank space on the ballot so that if there are more under votes than I get, then I wouldn’t be elected,” Willing said.
But Willing believes the move is political because he doesn’t see eye-to-eye on a number of issues with the board. He pointed to how a number of other candidates that ran unopposed were elected, and current village trustee Lee Wishau is running unopposed. Inthose situations, though, another candidate was not running against them and then either dropped out or died before the election.
“The Board is choosing our own membership that’s what the purpose of this is,” Willing said.
How The Issue Got On The Agenda
The letter Eikes handed to Willing had an email attached to it from Michael Haas, elections division administrator of the Government Accountability Board. The email pointed out that the ballots have not been printed for the spring election. If April had a committee running her campaign, they could have chosen another candidate to run against Willing. However, since April did not have a committee, the village clerk must notify the board that it needs to “determine whether to name a substitute candidate” and then it has four days to make the appointment.
Caledonia Village President Bob Bradley said that the village received a letter from Caledonia resident Michael Pirk on Friday indicating that he wants to run against Willing. He also underscored that the village is not appointing Pirk to the board and it’s not a conspiracy on the behalf of the board to choose someone to run, but rather that Pirk indicated that he wanted to run.
“April was running for a reason and someone talked him into running against Ed,” Bradley said. “But this started with the GAB when they said that April’s name would need to be taken off of the ballot, it’s not the village board that is doing this. The village didn’t initiate this… but it is politics.”
Bradley said that just because the board appoints a candidate to run on the ballot doesn’t mean Pirk will get the seat because he still needs to do the work of being elected.
Still, Willing has been quite critical of the village board over the past year when trustees chose not to move forward with the Caledonia Independent School District and pursued a study that included Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant. Willing also specifically called out Weatherston for not showing support for a law that could have laid the groundwork for it to happen.
Who Is Mike Pirk?
Pirk, who has been a Caledonia resident since 2001, owns Mike’s Trailers in Mount Pleasant. In his letter to the village board, he noted that he has served on the City of Racine Parks Department Committee, a Racine Unified Committee, Mount Pleasant Sewer & Water Commission, Mount Pleasant Planning Commission, and the Caledonia Sewer & Water Utility.
Pirk acknowledged that he submitted the letter to the board, but declined to talk about why he wanted to run for the office until after the board meeting on Monday.
Tom Weatherston said he believes there was a “quirk in the GAB rules” that allows the Village Board to choose a candidate to run against Willing.
“This is part of democracy,” he said. “It’s my understanding that this guy is going to run. He was going to run in December, but then decided not to because April was running.”
The Caledonia Village Board will discuss the issue at 7 p.m. Monday at the East Side Community Center, 6156 Douglas Ave.