Mount Pleasant Village Trustee Dave DeGroot had a candidate forum all to himself Wednesday night after Village President Jerry Garski declined to participate in the event.

DeGroot is running this year for both his trustee position and president. In his responses to the questions Wednesday night he indicated how he would have handled past issues and how he may handle them in the future.

The event was held by The Racine Taxpayers. The president of the group is Sam Wahlen, son of ousted village administrator Kurt Wahlen.

Garski stayed home because he felt the objectivity of the RTA was in question after Sam Wahlen filed a myriad open records requests asking for specific messages between Garski and his campaign manager, Kelly Gallaher; access to Garski’s campaign Facebook messages; Garski’s campaign bank records; and all communications between Garski and Kurt Wahlen.

“He wanted to look at my personal computer and the computers of some trustees, which is a first,” Garski said in a news release.

Because the public records requests were filed by Sam Wahlen as president of the RTA, Garski “felt uneasy” about participating, according to the release.

Most of the questions at the forum came from crowd members and were heavily focused on past board policies and actions.

DeGroot took his shots at Garski, addressing issues like the Highway V project, the long embattled Campbell Woods Senior Care development and other pressing village issues like the erosion of Lake Michigan bluffs.

HWY V Water And Sewer Disagreement

Questions about the Hwy V controversy were a primary topic at the forum, with DeGroot asserting that residents along the road were on the wrong side of the issue.

The project is the result of an agreement between the Villages of Caledonia and Mount Pleasant, he said.

Sewer and water is being run along Highway V from Caledonia down to Highway 20 in Mount Pleasant as part of a development plan for Caledonia in the immediate future and for Mount Pleasant in a few years. What was supposed to be a closed system would not have cost the residents on Highway V anything. But village officials – including DeGroot – say installing a gravity system instead helps prepare for future commercial development in the area.

Property owners on Highway V in both villages have been vehemently opposed to the special assessments to pay for the project because totals for some homeowners far surpass the value of their properties. Residents also say potential commercial growth and not residential need is behind the project.

“The only thing that was ever asked of the Highway V residents was that they paid the residential equivalent of having the same sized sewer that is in front of anybody else’s yard,” DeGroot said, “And they went ballistic over that.”

DeGroot said the ire over the project came from the huge assessments people saw as a result of the “formula that has worked forever.”

“So if you happen to be a farmer and you have 1,500 ft of footage, you’re gonna have an incredibly high assessment,” DeGroot said.

He added that the agriculture properties had their assessments deferred indefinitely and that residents had assessments deferred for 20 years. He also said that the project would increase the value of their property, eventually.

“The Hwy V people seem to think that they’re getting picked on,” he said. “(They) made a big deal out of it and felt that they should be getting free water and sewer or near free.”

Campbell Woods development vote

DeGroot maintained that the board made the wrong decision voting on the Campbell Woods project.

That decision approved a rezone allowing development of a senior care center in the Campbell Woods neighborhood. DeGroot called the senior care center a “monstrosity” and questioned the board’s proceedings. Specifically, he said the board “ignored” a protest petition circulated by the Campbell Woods residents.

DeGroot clarified that the petition was invalidated by a proximity rule, which made the petition null if the development was over 100 ft away from the nearest building. The developer, Joe Campbell, gave his development plan a buffer zone of 101 ft.

DeGroot also railed against the board for not following the Village Plan Commission’s recommendation not to approve the rezone, which it is not a requirement for a project to move forward. The plan commission is an unelected village body that has no oversight or discretionary authority; it exists to make recommendations. The rezone was recommended by village planning staff for approval every time it came before the commission and board. The rezone was also compliant with village ordinances.

Sources involved with the Campbell Woods homeowners association say many residents of the neighborhood will be voting in a block against candidates that voted for the rezone.

Bluff erosion

In the Summer of 2016, a state of emergency was declared by Racine County with erosion threatening lakeshore properties.

During this time, DeGroot positioned himself as the opposition to village president Garski’s response to the situation. DeGroot maintained his criticisms of Garski during the forum, and clarified for Racine County Eye that his quote, “Sometimes it’s better to do nothing,” to point out the way Garski approached the situation.

“When I said that it was in context of sometimes it’s better to do nothing instead of, ya know, barging in like a bull in the china, cabinet, store and just ham handedly inappropriately just so you can say that you’ve done something,” DeGroot said.

He took umbrage with the manner of response, he added, not that there was a response. DeGroot said some of the methods homeowners were employing to fight the erosion were wrong.

He said the handling of the situation would cause “penalties” for the village down the road, adding, “Maybe not fined penalties.” DeGroot said he saw homeowners violating rules laid out by the DNR for emergency bluff erosion measures, and said he thinks this will make the DNR less amenable in the future.

New village issues

DeGroot railed against the village’s recent attorney fees as the board examined policies and ordinances. Particularly, the possibility of a nepotism rule the board is examining.

DeGroot said it mostly pertains to the fire and police departments, where he said there is a “culture” of family members all working as firefighters or police officer. DeGroot said he didn’t think the rule was needed.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.