The following letter is from Jerry Garski, Mount Pleasant Village President.
When I was elected Mt. Pleasant Village President in April 2015, our village was at a crossroad.
The previous administration had failed to hire and retain a Village Finance Director. Residents in
Lake Park and on Hwy V were in revolt against Village Board decisions they believed were
unfair and conducted in secret. Village policies and governance had not been updated for years
and odd provisions had been added – like repealing the nepotism rule in the personnel
handbook. Several employees were now reporting to and supervised by family members.
This is not how to run a village with an operating budget of more than $18 million per year.
Several days before I was sworn in as village president, the board passed a shocking measure
to give department heads a six month severance package – plus benefits – should any be fired
as a result of my election. We learned later, in addition to this fantastic golden parachute deal,
certain employees were given “contracts” for employment with no ending date for review or
renegotiation. These “contracts” basically guaranteed employment forever.
My ability to change these policies were hampered by the fact that five of the trustees who
passed these measures were still on the board and held the majority vote. Undoing the damage
would take time.
The following April, Gary Feest was re-elected and two new trustees, Jon Hansen and Ken
Otwaska, were elected. Real change could finally begin.
We began by looking at how the village applied assessments to residents for improvements.
Historically, this had been a hodgepodge system. Mt. Pleasant had no real formula that
residents could count on that was fair and consistent. Asking residents to hope for the best in
assessing improvements isn’t good government – that was never more clear than out on Hwy V.
Some property owners were facing assessments which were nearly 40% or more of their
property values. Those kind of numbers were unprecedented in our village.
As a result, I created an ad hoc committee to study assessment procedures and create a
formula that works for everyone. It has been a complicated process which is nearing
We have done away with “golden parachute” severance deals for department heads and we
learned the never-ending “contracts” were illegal – and they are gone now as well.
We are working with village attorneys to restore the nepotism policy that all municipalities follow.
Family members should never report to or be supervised by other family members ever.
Mt. Pleasant lags behind in some best practice policies that need to be implemented.
Department heads will be expected to give regular reports at Village Board meetings. Residents
should be able to hear how and where their money is being spent – from overtime to paper clips
– it is our job to be accountable to you.
I want to be clear that these ideas, which you and I may agree are common sense solutions,
have been resisted and fought against by my opponent, David DeGroot and trustees up for
reelection, Sonny Havn and John Hewitt.
For example; for many years, the village awarded the contract for employee insurance to one
local company without a bid process. Last year, we insisted on getting at least one other bid for
the contract. Another local agency came in with a lower bid which would save us tens of
thousands of dollars each year. When it came time to vote on switching the contract to the less
expensive option, David DeGroot voted no and John Hewitt abstained.
We have had our share of challenges as a community. Last summer’s bluff erosion created an
emergency particularly in Lake Park. Huge chunks of land were sliding into Lake Michigan
putting people’s homes and village utilities at risk.
I brought together state and local leaders as well as federal officials to address the situation.
County Executive Delagrave made a declaration of emergency so Governor Walker could
request assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers. We were able to secure concrete from an
airport runway demolition and got it trucked in for free to help stabilize the most vulnerable
We held a public meeting with representatives from the Army Corps and the DNR which was
attended by residents living on the lake from all over SE Wisconsin. We set up a temporary
office at Village Hall for the DNR so residents could access information and assistance in
At the time, my opponent David DeGroot didn’t understand why we were going to such lengths
and stated in a Village Board meeting that “sometimes it’s just better to do nothing.”
Mr. DeGroot wasn’t joking. I appointed him as chairman of the Civic Affairs Committee just a few
weeks before. His first action on behalf of himself and committee members, Sonny Havn and
John Hewitt, was to cancel Mount Pleasant Day and every meeting after that for the next 10
months. They never met and ultimately did nothing.
We have had plenty to celebrate in Mt. Pleasant over the last two years. We have hired a
Finance Director. Residents can be confident that village funds have professional and qualified
oversight. Our new Community and Development Planning Director, has brought energy and
excitement to a whole host of projects coming to Mt. Pleasant.
We have seen the opening of the Aurora Healthcare expansion, Boucher Chevrolet, Brooks
Tractor, Racine Toyota, Holiday Inn Express and Suites, Racine Hyundai, the Goodwill expansion, the
new InSinkErator Headquarters and the transfer of $43 million in property from Sturtevant to Mt.
Pleasant and much more.
We were especially proud of the dedication of Polzin Park last summer on Mead Street next to
the Mt. Pleasant COP House and two Habitat for Humanity homes. These are wonderful
additions to the Lakeside neighborhood.
Mt. Pleasant once again allows residents to ask questions during meetings and we have
restored respect and transparency to our proceedings. But, we still have much work to do. I
know that my job is not yet finished and that is why I am running for re-election on April 4th.
I am asking voters to allow me to continue this process with your vote on April 4th. I am also
asking voters to send me some help in finishing the job. We need good trustees who put residents
first and who want to make Mt. Pleasant professional and accountable. I ask you to cast your vote
for Chuck Haakma, Dale Steger and John Martini for trustees. We cannot afford to go backwards
and we must work together to move Mt. Pleasant forward.
Mount Pleasant Village President
For more information:
Edit: March 21, 2017
The sentence “Perhaps not coincidentally, the competing agency which had received all those no-bid contracts had employed John Hewitt until he retired.” has been deleted.
CORRECTION. Mr. Hewitt did not work for the same company. I want to be truthful and represent the facts in an honest way. What IS true is if there is any trustee who would understand the advantage of gathering multiple bids for insurance contracts, it would be John Hewitt – and gathering bids was not the practice of the village board until I insisted.
Love what we do?
In addition to our education features, we’ll be kicking off a series of stories highlighting how parents, students, and educators are adapting to the impact of COVID-19 on education. If this is important to you, please consider donating to our education reporting fund. https://business.facebook.com/donate/1846323118855149/3262802717172659/