Residents in the tiny village of Elmwood Park exploded in anger Thursday night over trustees participating in what could turn out to be an illegal meeting.
About 50 village residents attended the meeting, which was also being watched by three Racine County Sheriff's deputies called by the village to help keep order. At the end of the meeting, the deputies escorted Viau out of the building.
At issue is whether or not Village President Audrey Viau had the authority to call a special meeting of the board to re-address a motion that residents say was voted down at the regular board meeting on June 14. As a point of order, only a trustee can request redress and only at the next regular Village Board meeting. Further, the trustee entering the request must have been part of the majority vote during the first go-round.
At the beginning of the meeting, Viau announced that board members were only going to address how to proceed regarding a motion made on June 14 by Trustee David Voss that she said was neither seconded nor voted up or down. Voss read his motion regarding a joint public hearing with the City of Racine over rezoning the property just south of the old Kohl's on Lathrop and Durand.
Walmart is interested in buying the old Kohl's property as well as the residential parcel directly south to put in a 40,000 square foot Neighborhood Market grocery store similar to the one proposed in Mount Pleasant. The parcel would have to be rezoned for commerical use, which first requires a 30-notice for a public hearing since the change means amending Elmwood Park's land use plan.
"This was an illegal meeting," said Trustee Tom Mills. "The president called the meeting when it has to be a board member and only at the next regular meeting."
More, Mills confirmed that he was unaware of the meeting until just a few hours before the 6 pm meeting was called to order.
Voss' motion was immediately seconded and a second later Viau called the vote.
"You can't do that!" they shouted. "You can't call the question without discussion!"
Trustee Brad Jaeck spoke up over the din and made his objection official.
"You cannot call for a vote so quickly without discussion," he said. "This motion does not talk about land use or the issue going to the Planning Commission as approved two weeks ago."
But Dave Cattoi, another trustee, said land use can be addressed at the public hearing.
"This was already voted on at the last meeting," someone shouted. "Where are the minutes from the last meeting?" another resident asked.
Without minutes for reference, there was further chaos, and though resident Nick Haas said he had a recording he could play, board members instead started calling for a vote.
Jaeck spoke up again, saying he was making a motion to another attorney because John Shannon has conflicts of interest by serving as an advisor to the village at the same time he's handling the legal matters for the Heinrichs negotiations with Walmart. The residential lot the retail giant wants to purchase is currently owned by the Heinrich family.
Viau called the vote and it passed with a vote of 4-2 (Viau only votes in the case of a tie). Then it seemed as though Shannon called for adjournment, and Viau was escorted out by Racine County Sheriff's deputies to calls for her resignation from residents.
After the meeting, Cattoi said he took minutes from the meeting because he wasn't at the last meeting and said he would have them posted on the village's website in 24 hours. He said he supports commerical development as long as its within the same footprint and doesn't require any changes to the village's land use plan.
"I am not in favor of rezoning, but I am in favor of commercial development," he stated.
Outside Village Hall, residents were gathered in groups, most of whom question what happens next. Scott Russell and his wife, Marcia, said it's really anyone's guess where the process goes from here. Despite Jaeck's motion on June 14 to have the Planning Commission take the reins, there's been no meeting scheduled.
"Well, you know why, right?" Scott Russell asked. "Because Audrey is the head of the Planning Commission and she is playing a waiting game and then trying to rush everything through."
As for why the City of Racine needs to be involved, Patch is trying to contact city officials, and we will update this story when we get a response.