A group of residents has collected enough signatures to force an election to recall a Calumet County Board member they say violated the public’s trust, if not the law.
Their target, Supervisor Jerry Criter, says he’s innocent and has represented his district faithfully since he was elected in 2002.
Citizens for Responsible Government Calumet County members gathered 261 signatures – 64 more than they needed – on petitions they filed this week to recall Criter, a town of Brothertown landowner who has talked with wind farm developers about locating turbines on his property.
Two out-of-state developers are scouting sites for three wind farms in Calumet County, where breezes clock 13 to 14 mph at 110 feet.
The 100 or so 400-foot turbines would be the largest erected to date in Wisconsin, and the still-imaginary windmills have set off a pitched battle over property rights – mostly between farmers, who would earn roughly $8,000 for every turbine their land can support, and residential property owners.
Criter’s term expires in April, but that isn’t soon enough for the recall petitioners.
“A recall is quite a detailed process and a lot of work, but I think that goes to prove how serious people are about this,” said group spokesman Lee Bjork, a town of Chilton resident.
Among the group’s complaints against Criter is a vote he cast in July, which amended an existing county ordinance to include guidelines for the test towers that measure wind speeds.
The petitioners contend Criter violated the state’s ethics code, which prohibits elected officials from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest.
An exception, however, permits public officials to vote on amendments to existing ordinances. In October, Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz investigated allegations Criter’s vote was illegal and exonerated him.
“What they’re doing is not right,” Criter said. “I’ve been cleared by the DA. They’re going around telling people I violated the state ethics code, and it’s not true. They don’t want to believe what’s written down on paper, I guess.”
County Clerk Beth Hauser has 31 days to certify the signatures the group collected. If 197 are valid, the law sets the recall for Feb. 12 – a week before the regular nonpartisan primary and six weeks before the April 1 election.
Since Criter’s district includes all or parts of the towns of Brothertown, Chilton and Stockbridge, all three will have to open and staff polling places for the recall. Hauser hasn’t tabulated the costs, but she imagines they’ll run several thousand dollars.
Meanwhile, there are several possible electoral scenarios.
For example, Criter could lose in the recall, be removed from office, and win his seat back in the regular election. Likewise, a challenger could defeat Criter in the recall, then, after a month in office, lose the seat in the regular election to Criter or to a completely different candidate.
The recall must proceed even if Criter decides not to seek re-election.
“It doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Criter, who isn’t sure if he will run again.
But Bjork said his group thinks removing Criter is urgent.
“We just don’t feel we have the luxury of waiting,” he said. “We feel we need to do something as soon as possible.”
By Susan Squires
5 December 2007
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