Superior’s City Council has its new president and voted to censure one of its members in a 6-4 vote Tuesday, June 18.
After overruling the mayor’s opinion that a motion to cut cards was out of order, the council voted 6-4 to use a deck of cards to make the decision between nominees, Brent Fennessey and Ruth Ludwig.
“My belief is that by not voting, the councilors are just obstructing the mayor’s right to vote,” Ludwig said. “And I would never personally vote for taking someone’s right to vote away from them and leaving up to chance. We are living in the United States in a democracy and for any of us to vote to take anyone’s right to vote away from them — I just don’t understand.”
Over the course of three meetings in April and May, each councilor expressed a preference for Fennessey or Ludwig in a 5-5 split, but one councilor abstained from voting, and prevented a tie, which Mayor Jim Paine intended to break.
In fact, Ludwig said it was against her principles to participate in a drawing of the cards and asked Paine to do it for her to avoid being an obstructionist.
Paine drew a two of spades after Fennessey drew a four of hearts.
Fennessey will serve as president until April.
The long process to select a president came with fallout after the council sought an opinion from City Attorney Frog Prell concerning the council’s right to resort to a deck of cards to break the deadlock.
Prell found in favor of the method, used only once in the last 50 years to break a tie, according to council minutes dating back to 1978.
Van Sickle criticized Prell’s finding.
On June 13, Van Sickle linked to a Superior Telegram story concerning an opinion by Prell concerning the options for selecting a council president and wrote: “Prell has a long established reputation of repugnant incompetence. No one of merit would take this seriously. The opinion itself is riddled with manipulated and irrelevant citations and plenty of contradictions and worse, pure laziness.”
The resolution to censure Van Sickle was introduced by Councilor Craig Sutherland.
“I am very, very disappointed in my City Council right now,” said Kym Young of Superior. “As a voting member of this community we did not vote you in to slam each other, to do social media attacks, to talk about each other’s personal lives … to be dissenting, be rude — basically build an air of hate in our community.”
As a member of a commission in the city, Young questioned how they could work with a council that can’t work together.
Parish Jones, an attorney and resident in Superior, took issue with Van Sickle’s remarks, stating that Prell is one of the “most knowledgeable municipal attorney’s in the state of Wisconsin.” He said Van Sickle’s remarks warrant an apology and reflects badly on the Council.
“I will not apologize for the legitimate criticisms of the work … City Attorney Prell produces,” Van Sickle said. She said elected officials provide oversight.
“Slander’s not good on both sides,” said Stephan Witherspoon of Superior. “We must come together when we have disagreements — we pull each other aside and we talk about it.”
Sutherland said the last thing he wanted to do was seek censure of Van Sickle, but when he approached the mayor, the mayor brushed it off as criticism of a public official.
“It was a personal attack on one of the city’s employees,” Sutherland said. He said the resolution is about coming together as a Council to condemn the behavior.
“This censure will not detour my right, my responsibility or my duty to speak out,” Van Sickle said. “I will not back down. I told the truth. I have no regrets and I am not sorry.”
Van Sickle had written a resolution to censure Sutherland for code of conduct and ethics violations, a resolution she withdrew Tuesday night at the request of the mayor.
Paine said Sutherland refused to withdraw his resolution.
Immediately after Olson, Fennessy, Sutherland and Councilors Keith Kern, Esther Dalbec and Jack Sweeney voted in favor of the censure, Paine announce he would veto the measure because it was “punishing political speech and fostering an environment in which the Council formally opposes and punishes political speech,” a violation of the First Amendment.
He said the resolution violates the basic tenants of a democracy.
“Government must not punish political speech,” Paine said.