Residents query city leaders during town hallSuperior residents Tuesday took advantage of an opportunity to learn more about city government.
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
Superior residents Tuesday took advantage of an opportunity to learn more about city government.
From parks and recreation to potholes and crime, people spent about 90 minutes asking questions by phone, e-mail and in person at a town hall meeting at the Government Center broadcast live on KUWS and public access television.
City officials answered a wide variety of questions dealing with a broad spectrum of issues. All city department heads and several city councilors attended to address the public’s concerns and questions.
The meeting only hit one sour note. Mayor Dave Ross cut off questioning from one member of the audience who mentioned the marital status of department heads following a discussion of the conviction of the former fire chief for embezzlement.
Parks and public works
Jeff Vito, development and government affairs director, and Jeff Goetzman, assistant public works director, fielded more than a dozen questions ranging from the city’s infrastructure to the city’s logic for eliminating a city engineer position in favor of contracting for the service.
The primary reason for deciding to contract with engineers was “to be efficient and effective in how we are addressing our projects,” Vito said. “The challenge in today’s day and age is to be able to have the expertise in all the specific areas we have to deal with, whether it be road design, landfill design or wastewater design. It’s hard to find one individual who has all those abilities and capabilities.”
Potholes, alleys sidewalks and efforts to get traffic control lights on Tower Avenue in South Superior all were addressed.
Newly elected city councilor Dan Olson said he’s already had conversations with State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, in his effort to change the way Wisconsin evaluates the need for traffic signals on state highways — the longtime barrier to accomplishing the task numerous councilors before him have unsuccessfully challenged. Olson said he’s approaching the problem from a safety standpoint. After all, while the posted speed limit is 25 mph, few ever travel that slowly in spite of enforcement efforts.
Crews have been out for two weeks working to fill potholes, according to Goetzman.
From hopeful plans to get the boat landing on North 21st Street completed by the start of fishing season to plans to rehabilitate the Arrowhead Pier and Center City Park, and continuing efforts to accomplish the city’s master park plan, adopted in 2001, Parks and Recreation Administrator Mary Morgan talked about efforts to enhance the city’s recreational facilities.
Crime and punishment
From issues concerning the police department to those of embezzlement from city coffers, city officials addressed a host of questions.
People questioned why they have to call 911 for nonemergency police calls.
Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters explained it was the result of a cost-saving measure by the city’s police department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. By using a civilian receptionist during business hours and 911 for all police and sheriff’s calls, both departments saved money and were able to put more officers on the streets. Desk officers typically transferred calls to the 911 call center, he said.
Peters also said an alleged case of fraud at the Superior Public Library would be further explained when the investigation concludes.
Finance Director Jean Vito said she would have been surprised if the issue of the former fire chief’s six-year theft scheme hadn’t come up Tuesday night. The former chief, Stephen Gotelaere, was sentenced to eight years prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $239,000 during a six-year kickback scheme.
“What happened is probably the worst thing that can happen as a finance director because part of my duties is the safeguarding of citizen’s taxpayer dollars,” she said. “… None of the comments I have are in defense of myself, but are to help you understand fraud.”
During the scheme, Gotelaere signed off phony invoices and legitimate invoices with phone charges. When the city paid the bill to Gotelaere’s co-conspirator, fire equipment vendor Roger Otto of Chetek, the two split the proceeds.
“It doesn’t matter how many internal controls you have and how good you think they are, if there is one person other than yourself, there is the potential for fraud,” Vito said. In the case of the former fire chief, she said the scheme was between a trusted employee and vendor that resulted in the loss over six years.
A sour note
Vito’s explanation of Gotelaere’s scheme sparked the curiosity about what measures have been implemented to prevent fraud again. Superior property owner Kris Fisher voiced concerns she has heard in the community. However, when she broached the marital relationship between Jeff and Jean Vito, Ross cut off the question.
Ross said he cut her off to keep the meeting civil.
“I have had a lot of contact with Kris Fisher, conversing with her, talking to her about city issues,” Ross said. “I felt she was trying to embarrass the city and she was heading in a direction to do more point-proving … what I didn’t want to do was address the marital status of our employees. This is something we can’t take into account.”
Jeff Vito was the city’s public works director, and Jean Vito the finance director before they married.
Fisher, who has gone nose-to-nose with the city over plans to demolish the former city library on Hammond Avenue and the Palace Theater, said she was trying to find out what safeguards are in place to protect the city from further fraud.
“I hadn’t come with any preconceived agenda,” Fisher said. “… We’ve had a lot of fraud in this city … I tried to recap what she (Jean Vito) was saying.”
Fisher said she meant nothing ill willed, but was trying to find out what the city is doing to address perceptions that exist in the community.
“I’m not implying he’s a bad guy, she’s a bad guy,” Fisher said. “My impression is they are super good at what they do, which is why they are both there and have been there a long time. It’s about perception; so much of everything is about perception. My perception is not that there is anything wrong. How do they then assure … that these are the practices that are in place to ensure that none of the things she listed could take place here.”
Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.