Here Is Why Anthony Hamilton Is Worthy Of Your Vote For Dane County Sheriff

When it comes to public safety, I have continually opted for the course that best meets the needs of keeping society secure and follows the process of law and order. Even before the past 24 hours, or so, I was already a voter who was planning to cast a November vote for Anthony Hamilton as our next Dane County Sheriff. That decision was based on the clear need for more officers to be hired in the department, and what I consider a stodgy hiring strategy at a time when a public desire for safety increases.

Following news reports this week of a search warrant process that was not carried out in a fashion that we must demand from law enforcement, was just additional evidence as to why a change at the top of the Dane County Sheriff’s Department must take place at the ballot box.

Going into this election I have heard and talked with officers who have spoken about the feeling of being stretched thin with overtime and fewer fellow deputies to meet, at times, the needs of the county. That to me is the central and core issue of this race, and the topic that meets the voters at their home or their place of business.  The citizenry has a rightful expectation to know that law enforcement is staffed to meet the current array of problems that might require their involvement.

We know this summer that Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett stated the staffing situation is such that the department is short 40 deputies.  Though safety reasons were the leading cause for the closing of part of the outdated jail there was also a shortage of staff that aided in making that decision. While arguments can be made about the ways to recruit and hire new deputies, the fact there is such a shortage in the first place is enough concern to drive a voter to make a change in the leadership of the sheriff’s office.

Then the news from yesterday landed with a most embarrassing thud for the county.

Republican Dane County sheriff’s candidate and detective Anthony Hamilton has sued the Sheriff’s Office in federal court alleging that officials conspired to remove him from the SWAT team for raising concerns about a search at a hotel in March 2021 he considered illegal.

Hamilton’s removal from the SWAT team stemmed from an armed standoff at the Magnuson Grand Hotel in Madison where Hamilton and other law enforcement agents searched a hotel room, the lawsuit said. During the search, Hamilton voiced concerns that the search was probably illegal, the lawsuit said.

Sheriff’s officials later lied in their reports about the incident, with Sgt. Mark Schroeder, who participated in the search, saying that he had ordered Hamilton to obtain a warrant, according to the lawsuit.

Law enforcement at the scene first said they had received permission from the hotel’s manager to search the room because no one had been living there. In an interview on Tuesday, Hamilton said he later learned that the hotel had been renting the room off the books, which technically made the search illegal.

The reason this finds me exercised today is that over and over on this blog I have pressed how the process of governing needs to be transparent, and made clear for those who follow the proceedings, so that win or lose, all can state honestly that the rules were known and applied.  The process must not be tainted or altered to get the desired end. From the antics of my local neighborhood association to the pure lunacy of the Donald Trump White House, there is no escaping that process matters. As it was required to do so with the law enforcement matter in which Hamilton was engaged.  What we are again witnessing is a fact. When an established process is tossed aside for expediency it makes for harsh consequences.

For the record, I have not met or talked with either of the contenders for the sheriff’s office this fall.  But I am aware of the distrust that falls upon the shoulders of the men and women who wear the law enforcement uniform, and how that translates into our politics and social tensions.  Dane County simply must have a rational hiring process so a full department can be ready to serve the public, and once hired officers must go about their business of not only serving and protecting, but also burnishing a better image for the public.  I believe our sheriff’s department must do better but can only achieve what is desired with new leadership. 

A new sheriff. 

Anthony Hamilton.

Dane County Fairgrounds Dark At 9 P.M. With Clear Skies

Friday night was a perfect example of summer.  At 9 P.M. it was 76 degrees, winds were calm, and the sky was mostly clear.  It is the weekend of the Dane County Fair.  Teenage couples should have been planning a few trips around the top of the Ferris Wheel, and delighted youngsters ready to show off a prized item in the crafts or animal barn to grandparents who surely would then see the wisdom of buying some cotton candy for a job well done.

But as I drove along Rimrock Road the lights of the rides were off, the cars in the massive parking area were mostly cleared out, there were no sounds of laughter and light-heartedness, and no carnival scents of corn dogs hung in the air.

It was truly disheartening to see what the lowest common denominators in our area achieved.

Last year at the fair—and on a Friday night–about 100 youth brawled in the parking lot that required deputies to step in and respond. It was so out-of-hand that Town of Madison police was called in for assistance. Multiple physical and verbal altercations started between a crowd of minors who gathered in the parking lot. By 9:30 P.M. deputies and fair security began to break up a large crowd of more than 50 people.

The outrageous behavior forced fair officials last year to move up its closing time for its last two nights and mandated minors be accompanied by adults.

That is where we still stand in 2022.

It is pathetic that those with no goals in life other than creating mayhem can throw one of the great traditional events of summer almost out of existence.  There is so much revenue lost to vendors and those who work at the fairs.  It truly hurt inside to see the dark quiet on a Friday night at the fairgrounds.

I grew up in rural Wisconsin where it was a real treat to walk the midway as a boy with the dazzling, flickering, and beckoning lights. Life was not always big and brassy, so when the fair arrived it was truly a big deal. You just always prayed for no rain that weekend! The Saturday night grandstand show would always feature some country artist.  We would meet every year some extended family and it was an event all in its own way in the bleachers. 

Corny?  No. Just living life.  And we did year after year.

When I became an uncle and my small nephews and nieces were not sure about the Scrambler and Tilt-a-Whirl, and some of the adults were not wanting to get light-headed, I was the one who made sure there were fair memories made for a lifetime.

So, yeah, it ticks me off to know that Madison and Dane County kids who would enjoy some of their own traditions and excitements at the fair as the sun sets and the glow of the midway takes over are denied that pleasure due to losers who had to brawl last year.  And did so to such an extent the impact has lasted for a year.

The list of the lowest common denominators among us seems to grow each year. Add those who turned the county fair into a darkened parking lot at 9 P.M. on a grand summer night in Madison.

Let Kids Read…Whatever They Find Interesting

I read a column this week in the Los Angeles Times that again called our attention to banned books. The column also raised a memory from my childhood that strikes at the heart of this issue.

David Ulin composed a tightly written and fast read about the place we find ourselves with the latest pushes for banning books in places all over the nation. We might like to believe that such behavior is located only in red counties and conservative states. But that would be very much mistaken.

In 2018 the Monona Grove School District in Dane County was considering whether it should continue teaching To Kill a Mockingbird after a parent complained that the racially charged language in the novel is inappropriate.  That would suggest some in our area have no more ability to digest and discuss thought-provoking books than people we now argue with about banning James Baldwin. In the end, the school board continued the use of the book in the classroom.

That episode crossed my mind as I read Ulin’s opinion article.

The house where I was raised had an open shelf rule. This meant my brother and I were allowed to read anything, no matter how inappropriate or beyond our years. We never had to ask.

I spent hours of my childhood perusing the volumes on my father’s bookcases at will, trial and error. Histories, thrillers, science fiction, books on politics and culture — all of it was available to me.

I keep thinking about this as more and more school districts participate in what is shaping up to look like an open war against reading. According to “Banned in the USA,” a report issued by the writers’ organization PEN America in April, nearly 1,600 individual books were banned in 26 states between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022.

Among the titles challenged or removed are Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X,” Roxane Gay’s “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” and Robin Benway’s “Far From the Tree.” All are works of abiding literary merit that address issues of identity and race and family — in other words, exactly the kinds of books students should be reading now.

Although the challenging of books and curriculum is hardly new in the United States, what we’re facing now is somewhat different. Of the current bans, PEN notes, “41% (644 individual bans) are tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools.” It is not parents or even school boards driving many of these challenges. It is the power of the state.

I have a visceral reaction when the topic of banning books is raised. To place constraints on an individual as to what can be read and learned and what ideas can be entertained is just unacceptable. Books are a gateway to new concepts and allow for a higher level of reasoning.

My memory of attempted censorship took place when I was in grade school, the 6th grade.

“Do your parents know you are reading this book?”

That question from Mrs. Tunks, a schoolteacher of mine, was as close as book censorship ever came my way.  I still recall the stair steps in the old schoolhouse where she pointed at my copy of The Throne Of Saturn by Allen Drury, and while looking at it sounded her prudish alarm, though for what reason I could never understand. 

Other than the fact the book was 600 pages, and ‘kids’ were not supposed to read anything other than the Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys series–which I blew through in the 4th grade, provides no real explanation for her remark. 

The fact my parents encouraged me to read, as it kept me interested in all sorts of things, did not seem to settle her skeptical mind as to why that book would intrigue me.  A space adventure between the United States and the Soviet Union was high drama for my 6th-grade mind, and I guess for lots of adult readers as well, or it would never have been published.  I finished that book and kept Allen Drury as a writer I have long enjoyed into my adult years.

And when the book was finished dad drove me to our little local library to get another one to read. Those drives were a Friday evening ritual.

Today the hard copy edition of that book sets on my shelf as not only a reminder of a good read but also to underscore a long-held belief of mine.  No one should be censoring reading material for inquisitive minds.

Let young people be exposed to books and ideas!

Pandemic Is Not Over, Regardless Of What People Wish To Believe

Friday night I walked the railroad track that runs alongside McPike Park in Madison as the La Fête De Marquette drew thousands to the large band stage as music wafted over the neighborhood and the aroma of festival food lingered in the humid air. It was as close as I ventured to an event that had been a part of my summer routine since moving to our home on the isthmus in 2007.

Though James and I sit for dinner at outside tables and enjoy the laughter and wide-ranging conversations at cookouts and backyard gatherings I have forgone the big-screen movie magic this summer of Elvis. We wear a mask when grocery shopping or a quick hardware store run, and certainly would not wade into the throngs of closely packed people at a festival. As I looked at the dense crowd I thought of the statistic I read this week reporting only a third of the American population has received at least one booster shot.

COVID is still a real health care concern in the nation. Omicron subvariant BA.5 is racing about and infecting millions in the United States. I understand that many are simply tired of the virus and have made a conscious decision to go about their lives as if the chapter has ended. As I walked past the festival and then onwards for a longer trek in the neighborhood I thought about what might happen should another virulent variant start to spread around the nation.

The concern the public needs to be aware of is the growing number of cases of this latest variant attacking those who previously had contracted COVID. The need to mask up in buildings and movie theatres is not hard to reason, while the slow pacing of more concrete and strict orders from the CDC and governmental units is hard to fathom.

A neighbor who is a believer in science contacted public health offices in Madison and Dane County asking when they might be more vocal about the need to again mask up. It was reported the offices replied they certainly advise awareness of the virus, but would not at this time be more active in their statements.

One does have to ask, given the current fast-spreading variant, what lessons were learned over the past two years about how to deal with and stem an outbreak of disease? This past week the World Health Organization made it quite clear when stating “the virus is running freely”. While it is obvious that large percentages of the population have opted to think the virus is no longer a factor in how they conduct their lives, governments must be mindful of the mission at hand.

While many viruses tend to weaken as they mutate, others do not. Medical professionals have urged governments to be prepared regarding COVID for the “expected wave in the autumn and winter seasons”.

We need to make sure Congress understands that more funding is required so to further study COVID and ensure that the needed medical stockpiles for further outbreaks will be adequate to the needs of the nation. This year President Biden requested $22.5 billion for COVID funding, but due to partisan sniping, our elected officials were only able to appropriate half of the request.

Readers to this little place on the internet highway fully know my resolve in seeing Russian aggression pushed out of Ukraine. The massive amounts of funding to accomplish that end is a bill this nation, along with our international allies, must pay. And Congress, for the most part, has anted up. And quickly.

But that same stridency for missiles and armaments for the Eastern European war must be employed in the fight against the variants of COVID, and whatever future medical mysteries confront our people.

The festival crowd may not know or care that this pandemic continues. Our local, state, and national governments, however, must not only know about the dangers, but act accordingly for the citizens they have a responsibility to protect.

Laws And Decency Matter, Even When Headlines Make For Anger

I was quite taken aback when the promotion for a local television newscast this weekend stated an attack had occurred at an anti-choice office in Madison.

I was also troubled when it was reported recently that a person was arrested outside a county courtroom after making threats to the district attorney.

Early on Sunday someone vandalized and threw two Molotov cocktails into the office of Wisconsin Family Action, located on Madison’s Northeast side. The office suffered fire damage, though it was reported the lobbed ‘cocktails’ did not explode.

Meanwhile, Kenyairra Gadson was sentenced to 13 years in prison after a judge stood firm to the law and measured the shooting and killing of Donivan Lemons with the need for society to have such behavior penalized. It was after that decision Jessica Williams, a victim’s advocate and organizer to not have Gadson serve a prison term, made the threat to Dane County District Attorney Ismael.

Like millions of others nationwide, I am roiled and deeply concerned over the draft opinion from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito as it strives to undo precedent, and alter the relationship privacy has under the decisions of the Court. We know that marriage equality in this nation is the next shot to be fired by conservatives. Such dangerous moves by the conservative element on the Court about Roe v. Wade will have long-lasting and detrimental outcomes on our society.

But knowing that I would never learn how to construct a Molotov cocktail or set my alarm clock to get me to an office that lobbies against abortion at an early hour to so to blow it up. If my arguments were so weak that it took violence for me to demonstrate them I would take up a new cause that centered on using crayons.

Whoever was responsible for the damage of property Sunday will be apprehended, that I have no doubt, and justice will be attained through the legal process. But the larger damage to how we interact with others, even when tensions are extremely high, is not something that will soon be healed.

We do lose something intangible in a democracy when violence replaces spirited dialogue and reasoned debate.

Freedom, Inc. and other advocates were seeking their version of justice regarding Gadson and had every allowance to assemble and speak freely in the weeks leading up to sentencing. They had demanded Dane County Circuit Court Judge Chris Taylor only sentence Gadson to the time she already served over the course of the case.

But when that vocal dissent against the norms of the justice system turned into a person threatening harassment and intimidation an arrest was correctly made.

Part of the larger problem in society is not that we exist in a highly politically polarized nation, but that the skills of too large a section of the nation are severely limited in debating and being able to effectively communicate. It seems to some that tossing a ‘cocktail’ is easier than reaching countless readers via a Letter to The Editor in the local newspaper. It seems that protesting at the private homes of people serving in government is smarter than pouring their energy into the upcoming mid-term elections.

Politics is often filled with raw emotion but it is the reasoned and logical presentation of issues that moves discussions and makes for the movement in the arc of history. The anger that turns to violence is recalled by history as shameful occurrences, not worthy of anything but scorn.

As we move forward in this frothy time of national angst do we wish to be recalled as a mover of historical events akin to the civil rights advocates of the 1960s, or to Bull Conner and his angry pack of dogs?

We all have a choice.

And so it goes.

Will Children Be Able To Sleep Next To Proposed Amazon Facility In Cottage Grove?

As I wrote last week, I am very supportive of Cottage Grove officials who are working to make sure a job-creating Amazon facility is constructed and operating within 18 months. Tonight more reporting of the proposal was covered on local news.

David Stampli also lives a few hundred feet away from the planned facility and he’s also concerned about noise pollution. “I’ve two daughters, nine and 13. (on WKOW News Thursday evening he stated on-air “they keep asking”) How are they going to be able to sleep at night? There’s going to be trucks entering this facility 24/7.”

That reminded me of another father-child ‘conversation’ that many might recall from the pages of history.

In October 1980, President Carter said in his debate with Ronald Reagan, “I asked Amy the other day what the most important issue was. She said, ‘nuclear weaponry and the control of nuclear weapons.'”

Yeah.

And so it goes.

Amazon Perfect For Dane County Employment Growth

Here we go again.

A great opportunity has presented itself for job growth and increased tax revenue for the Madison area and Dane County. But some naysayers are already building their soapboxes so to undermine the effort.

Headlines were made Friday that Amazon is hoping to build in Dane County one of the largest distribution centers in the country. The massive retailer that finds customers in scores of homes nationwide (at least twice a week here with Prime) has proposed a five-story, 3.4 million-square-foot facility on 145 acres near the intersection of County Highway TT and County Highway N, just north of Interstate 94, in Cottage Grove.

And the selling point for the county is that this project would employ 1,500 people. It is hoped that construction could begin this year if local officials sign off on the deal, with the facility opening about 18 months later. Approval for the project has already received preliminary approval from both the Plan Commission and Village Board.

Local news reports have underscored the economic bounce this facility would provide to the county.

The proposed Amazon project, which is taking about half of the land, could mean a full build-out of the property in 10 years and increasing the village’s tax base by $300 million to $400 million.

But reports have also let it be known that there are some residents who are not pleased with the scope of the plan.

As we enter the third year of the COVID pandemic it is more than fair to write that our county has experienced economic hardships. With the disruptions to businesses, jobs, and the bottom lines of owners and workers alike we need true signs of renewal.

Therefore, it was my hope that upon first learning of this proposed plan a united effort from the local community, to the county as a whole, would be squarely behind the idea. Agreeing that job creation, along with an enhanced tax base that is good for everybody seems more than logical.

After all, we have witnessed the destruction of jobs and livelihoods with COVID and it is in the best interests of our area to stir the pot and create some hope for the future. Is that not part of the job of elected officials? So I applaud the people who worked from the beginning to marshall this idea to a top headline in Saturday’s Wisconsin State Journal.

There will be, in addition to the people who reside closest to the proposed site, others who will reject the idea simply because it is Amazon coming to the county. While I can understand the concerns of homeowners who have invested their lives in the community where the facility will be built, I can not find any rationale for thwarting a massive job creation effort because those jobs are not the correct jobs that should be created.

The dialogue from the anti-Amazon folks forgets about the need for more employment opportunities with good-paying jobs. I would like to think–in the same manner which I watch Washington politicians–that the naysayers might try to find a way they could say yes to the plan in question. Or is the rigidity of their views about Amazon the sole determining factor?

Yeah, it takes no time to ponder that question.

I come from perhaps an old-fashioned background concerning local government. In times of turmoil and economic upheaval, there is a need to lift citizens up, show resolve at pointing to better days ahead, and marshal our governing tools to demonstrate hope for the future.

The local people governing in Cottage Grove are doing that very thing.

And they deserve applause from the entire county. After all, the ones who are unemployed or seeking stable work opportunities should have someone on their side, too.

And so it goes.

Eric Mehring Posts Bond, Community Right To Be Mighty Disgruntled After Three Teenagers Killed By Drunk Driver

I believe in the rule of law. I believe in a process to address the ills of society through a prescribed set of actions to ensure society runs smoothly.

But I also believe in common sense.

I cannot think of a more gut-wrenching news story in Dane County over the past couple of decades that can match the horror and sadness than the deaths of three bright, engaging, and intelligent high school guys due to a fiery car crash caused by a drunk driver. Over the many years we have seen all sorts of news reports about shootings, the impact of severe weather, and good people succumbing to deadly diseases.

But nothing has ripped the public so deep than the absolutely needless deaths of Simon Bilessi, Evan Kratochwill, and John “Jack” Miller.

The deaths of these three people were the result of Eric Mehring reportedly driving his car approximately 30 mph over the 45 mph on a two-lane road at night. Oh, yeah, he was also stinking drunk.

Mehring, it was reported in the police account, had a breath alcohol content value of 0.24, which is three times the legal 0.08 blood alcohol content limit. It was also reported that a law enforcement officer on the scene stated Mehring had eyes that were “glossy and bloodshot.”

The court proceeding this week that set Mehring’s bond at an incredulously low $75,000 was met with dismay by the family members of the victims and folks all around this county.

It was obvious what would be the next step in this process.

Mehring was let out of jail after his family posted his bond. Again, I know this is the process that can be used by the defense.

But the gravity of the crime that was committed by this act of drunk driving should have been more than enough to have demanded a bond that would have prohibited Mehring from being free.

I understand in Wisconsin drunk driving is too often seen as a laugh line. Our state statutes are not tough enough as a first offense at driving under the influence is a mere misdemeanor. For too long we have coddled drunk drivers and not been tough on the bartenders who over-serve their patrons.

Why that last point is so ‘out of bounds’ for discussion is yet one more symptom of the larger problem of too much drinking in this state. Alcohol consumption and our view of drinking as acceptable behavior at every turn in life has resulted in a myriad of social problems. That is just a fact.

I have long argued on behalf of stricter laws concerning this broad topic of drunk driving. Such as, that bartenders need to be as mindful of what they turn out into the street to drive home as they are when filling yet another glass of alcohol. If that had been done concerning Meyring this awful nightmare for three teens and their families and friends possibly would not have occurred.

I have been consistent on this blog about needing tougher laws on drinking in this state. As an example, I advocated for the stern law now on the books in Wausau where bartenders need to be sober at their job.

I support outright a requirement that people serving alcohol have none of it in their system. That bill has been introduced in past legislative sessions, once by Democratic State Representative Josh Zepnick.  It does not take long to understand there were plenty of people opposed to that measure. The beer-soaked Tavern League made sure of that. But I suspect many average folks in the state understood the logic of the bill.

What we know is that Mehring was drinking. Someone poured his drinks and took his money. Someone surely watched him leave through the bar door. We can not pretend none of that matters.

The legal process will play out, and in the months ahead, Mehring will face a judge. The penalty phase of the trial will be tough for the family who found it so easy to set Mehring free this weekend.

In the meantime the rest of Dane County continues to have the families of Bilessi, Kratochwill, and Miller in our thoughts and prayers.

And so it goes.