CASCADE – Susan Lodl was taken aback when she and other residents in the Sheboygan County village of Cascade received postcards in 2009 describing plans to use about $500,000 of village money on two wind turbines to power a new wastewater treatment plant.
The former village board member was even more surprised to learn at the next board meeting that the expenditure was “basically a done deal,” said Lodl, 62.
That sparked a yearlong investigation into the village’s prior meetings and agendas. Lodl said she found a pattern of vague and misleading agenda items that failed to give residents proper notice and a chance for input.
Among her discoveries: a vote at an April 14, 2009, meeting to hire a consultant for the wind turbine project despite no mention on the agenda, and a discussion on the turbines at a Feb. 10, 2009, meeting under the agenda heading, “Sewer and water – 2nd well/ facility plant update.”
In June 2010, Lodl filed a complaint with the district attorney. When she got no response, she filed a civil lawsuit alleging an array of open meetings violations from 2008 to 2011.
She spent two years and more than $8,000 in attorney fees before reaching a settlement with the village in September 2012.
In exchange for Lodl dismissing the lawsuit, the village agreed to cover her legal bills, have current and future officials attend training on open meetings compliance, and reconfigure its meeting space so board members faced the audience instead of having their backs to them. The village also published a notice detailing the settlement terms and its “commitment to open government” in two local newspapers.
“It’s been a lot of years and a lot of work, but I’m glad I did it,” said Lodl, who has lived in Cascade since 1974. “If they have learned from it, all the better, and if anyone else can learn from this, I hope it helps them out, too. … it’s very intimidating for a John Doe public citizen to do such a thing.”
The turbines were ultimately built – across the street from Lodl’s house – but she says they have failed to produce the energy and money savings the village projected.
“We have close to a half-million invested in two turbines out here that aren’t even doing what they’re supposed to do,” Lodl said. “If the meetings were run properly, this might not have happened.”
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