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The city of Ashland is giving three female department heads a total of $27,000 in pay raises to correct longstanding pay disparity between men and women working at City Hall.
Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hudson is slated in the 2020 budget to get a $7,550 increase, raising her salary to $65,769. City Clerk Denise Oliphant's increase is scheduled to be $6,580, raising her salary to $58,601. Finance Director Julie Vaillancourt is due a raise of $13,080, which will make her salary $77,997. Those salaries will be higher when longevity pay is added.
Ashland City Administrator Brant Kucera said the
raises are recommended so the city can retain key employees and correct pay differentials between male and female department heads that the city has faced for years.
All of the positions getting large increases are department heads, all jobs held by women.
"Based on looking at the responsibilities of those positions, they have been underpaid for a significant amount of time," Kucera said.
Whatever the reason for them, the large hikes irk Council Member Dick Pufall, who is troubled that other city employees are due raises of just 2% in the budget. The median income in Ashland County is about $41,500, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and Pufall is worried that the department-head increases will hurt morale in City Hall.
"We have some horrendous wage bumps, just crazy," he said. "Between three people it's $27,000."
Kucera said federal fairpay laws prevent employers from using the gender of an employee as an excuse to pay them at a lower rate than another employee with similar responsibilities.
"What I am doing is bringing people who have positions of the same responsibility up to parity with each other," he said. "I know in this circumstance it seems like a lot, but it's actually just bringing them up to the wage that they should be paid."
By way of comparison, pay for male department heads and their projected increases are as follows:
• Police Chief Jim Gregoire, $78,291 increasing to $79,857.
• Fire Chief David Wegener, $78,291 to $79,857.
• Director of Public Works John Butler, $84,001 to $85,681.
• City Administrator Brant Kucera, $96,000 to $97,920.
Pufall said he wondered where the money would come from to fund the increases.
"I understand the need to have competitive wages," he said. "I don't know what the surrounding officials are getting, and I want it explained to me." Pufall said he believed that Vaillancourt and Oliphant were underpaid but asserted that Hudson had been given a "substantial" pay raise about four years ago.
"When the smoke clears away, you've got the parks and recreation director making more money than the city clerk, and that doesn't sit well with me," he said.
Kucera said that was largely a function of the fact that Hudson has been a city employee for over a decade and has earned increases along the line.
Nevertheless, Pufall said he was concerned about how the increases would be funded.
"We don't have any money to begin with. We are pinching pennies, trying to balance the budget," he said.
Kucera said the pay raises are funded primarily through personnel attrition and combining duties of different positions.
The city will hold a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 5:30 p.m. in Ashland City Hall. It will be followed by a regular council session at which the budget will be considered and acted upon by the council.
Visions of Santa Claus dance through the heads of children around the globe as Christmas nears, but for many those toy-filled dreams would never become reality if not for generous people who donate time, money and gifts for kids in impoverished countries.
In 1993, Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, launched a global effort to collect and mail toys and practical items such as school supplies, toiletries and clothing in shoeboxes to needy children as part of Operation Christmas Child.
Regionally, Marilyn Jaeger coordinates the collection of items and money and rounds up shoebox-packing volunteers, many of whom not only take pride in helping those less fortunate but enjoy time with family and friends.
One family of volunteers — with 88-year-old matriarch Alice Johnson at its head — spans four generations, and they relish the chance to work together at shoebox packing parties.
Johnson's granddaughter Lindsey Zifko said her daughter Payton gets to spend time with her great-grandmother as they pack shoeboxes, an opportunity Lindsey didn't have when she was growing up.
And talking with Payton while they pack toys gives Lindsey the chance to open her daughter's eyes to those less fortunate. While the mother-daughter duo packed up a Barbie, Payton remarked that it was one of the versions she didn't own. Lindsey reminded her that the doll
might be the only toy a child will receive for many years to come.
Johnson's daughter Donna Compton, too, thought volunteering with family to pack shoeboxes would be a good activity to share with granddaughter Payton.
The family volunteered through Grace Bible Fellowship Church, the epicenter for Operation Christmas Child in the Chequamegon Bay region. Although other churches and individuals pack shoeboxes as well, they drop them off at the church, 73605 Highway 13, Washburn, for shipping.
Jaeger couldn't count the number of people who volunteer or donate items, but said volunteers had already filled 346 shoeboxes at the church's first packing party on Nov. 4 and many items were left on tables to pack at later events.
Jaeger hopes to see at least 1,000 shoeboxes filled thanks to regional residents' efforts this year, surpassing last year's count of 957. Globally, Operation Christmas Child has delivered 146 million shoeboxes since its inception.
And it's not too late to join Santa's little helpers as volunteers or to give donations of filled shoeboxes, items and cash to help cover shipping costs.
During National Collection Week — Nov. 18-25 — Grace Bible Fellowship Church will take donations for Operation Christmas Child from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday and Saturday, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday and from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Monday. The shoeboxes will be shipped out at 11 a.m. from the church.
Anyone who is not able to actually get to the church to drop off their donation may contact Jaeger at 715-373-5663 to make other arrangements.
As the hunter flipped through photos captured by trail cameras scattered about his 200-acre property in Bayfield County, shocking images greeted his eyes.
He was perusing two weeks worth of pictures in early September that his 30 cameras had taken of wildlife, hoping to spot a big buck or bear as hunting season drew near.
He almost flipped right past the real jaw-droppers. But as his brain registered what the cameras recorded, it screamed, "Back up, back up!"
It's not every day that trail cameras take clear, daylight shots of a cougar. Even more rare are photos in the wild of a lion taking down and dragging away a doe.
In fact, it's closer to never that those photos are seen.
But that's exactly what he saw.
Setting up a pastoral scene, the first shot of the sequence of events captures the sight of a solitary white-tailed doe at 1:33 p.m. on Aug. 20 near some woods in the town of Kelly in southeastern Bayfield County.
But a shot taken at 1:36 p.m. showing the back of a mountain lion's head ominously foreshadows the carnage to come.
The doe makes a break for it, as shown in an image captured within the next few minutes, but the cougar pounces and takes her down.
The following two photos show the cougar standing over its kill and then dragging away the carcass — right past the trail camera — at about 1:47 p.m.
"Those are really amazing images," said Adrian Wydeven, who headed the state Department of Natural Resources' search for rare mammals, including cougars, in Wisconsin between 1990 and 2013.
The wolf biologist, who now chairs the Timber Wolf Alliance in Ashland, said he has never before seen exactly how a cougar kills, but he's not astonished the meal was a deer as it's among the top food choices for the wild feline.
Wydeven did express a bit of surprise that the attack occurred in the early afternoon. Typically, cougars are active during the early morning and evening hours, he said, but if the cougar was peckish and the opportunity presented itself, it wouldn't be unheard of for one to take advantage of the culinary situation.
After realizing just what he
caught on film, the hunter — who asked to remain anonymous because of job-related confidentiality concerns — reported the sighting to the DNR.
The photo was clearly that of a cougar, said Todd Naas of the DNR. But the wildlife biologist needed to verify the location of the kill as being in Wisconsin.
Naas met with the hunter at the site of the trail camera, compared the background of the photos with the area and verified the incident indeed took place exactly where the hunter said it did.
This made the sighting the seventh confirmed in Wisconsin in 2019 and came on the heels of another verified report of a cougar on Aug. 13 on the Red Cliff Indian Reservation in northern Bayfield County. Whether or not it's the same animal can't be determined for certain, but it just very well may be.
On the roam
According to the DNR, cougars probably disappeared from Wisconsin in 1910, but sightings began again in the 1940s. Although the DNR has confirmed that six individual cougars have visited the state since 2008, the agency has never verified the presence of a female and doesn't believe a breeding population is present.
Biologists believe that the male cougars come to Wisconsin from a breeding ground in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After being dispersed, male juveniles can roam thousands of miles in search of a mate, as evidenced in 2011.
That year the DNR obtained DNA from a cougar passing through the state, said Scott Walter, the agency's large-carnivore specialist. Just a few months later it was killed on a highway in Connecticut — more than 1,500 miles east of its probable birthplace.
Roaming as far as they do, the movements of the stealthy feline loners are tough to pin down, Naas said. When a mountain lion is observed, it's pretty rare.
But the trail-cam gods smiled on the hunter, and subsequent camera photos showed the cougar in the area of the kill at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Aug. 21. He further spotted wolves at the site on Aug. 22 but found no physical evidence of the fatal encounter when he checked the site on Sept. 7.
As a man who hunts "everything," he uses the cameras to track wildlife on his property and in the process has captured many unique images. Every time he looks through the cameras' memory cards, it's like Christmas as something surprising pops into view, he said.
And now thanks to his camera, the hunter has firsthand insight into the wandering and feeding habits of the wild cougar.
"They are here, and they're thriving," he said. "The mountain lions are doing well."
NO HUNT ZONE:
Because cougars are rare in Wisconsin, it is illegal to kill one unless it is attacking a domestic animal or if it poses a threat to human safety. For more information and to learn how to report a possible sighting, visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/cougar.html.