A Superior city councilor won’t be censured after the mayor chose to use his veto power to reject a resolution adopted by a 6-4 split of the Council.
Councilor Craig Sutherland wrote the resolution calling for the censure of Councilor Jenny Van Sickle after she posted a tweet Thursday, June 13, disparaging City Attorney Frog Prell over a legal opinion about how the Council could move past an impasse over selecting a council president.
Van Sickle linked to a Telegram story about the opinion and posted: “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.”
“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 city commission, Young said she doesn’t know how that commission works with a Council that can’t work together.
“Slander’s not good on both sides,” said Stephan Witherspoon of Superior, a former member of the Police and Fire Commission and member of the Mayor’s Commission on Communities of Color. “We must come together when we have disagreements — we pull each other aside and we talk about it.”
Parrish Jones, a Superior attorney and resident, said Van Sickle’s remarks concerning Prell were defamatory and he’s “one of the most knowledgeable municipal attorneys in the state of Wisconsin.” He said it reflects badly for city employees who can expect to be called “repugnant” or “incompetent” if they disagree with Van Sickle, a claim they can’t defend against without risking retaliation.
“Councilor Van Sickle, you owe attorney Prell an apology and you need to retract your statement,” Jones said.
The comment even prompted two former mayors, Dave Ross and Bruce Hagen, to reach out to the Council by email to call Van Sickle’s statement “outrageous.”
Sutherland said the last thing he wanted to do was draft a resolution to censure Van Sickle, but when he approached the mayor about it, 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 Prell was just doing what the Council asked at the recommendation of the mayor.
“It is well within my right to speak out against substandard practices at city hall,” Van Sickle said. Van Sickle said she reached out to Sutherland, after she sought a censure of him, which she withdrew Tuesday night, despite the seriousness of the allegations.
“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.”
Councilors Brent Fennessey, Craig Sutherland, Keith Kern, Esther Dalbec Dan Olson and Jack Sweeney voted in favor of the censure. Councilors Tylor Elm, Ruth Ludwig, Warren Bender and Van Sickle voted against it.
After the vote was taken, Paine announced that he would use his first veto to reject the Council decision to censure Van Sickle. He said the purpose of the resolution was to punish political speech and foster an environment in which the Council punishes political speech.
“This is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and contrary to the values of a representative democracy,” Paine said. “Government must not punish political speech.”
City Clerk Terri Kalan said two-thirds of the Council — seven members — can choose to overturn the mayor’s veto at its next meeting if they choose.
A resolution to censure Sutherland, submitted for consideration by Van Sickle, was never heard after she withdrew it Tuesday night.
The Council meets again July 2.