At its Oct. 9 meeting, the Town of Spider Lake Board voted unanimously to hold a referendum on April 7, 2020, on a proposed town ordinance which would allow the town board to appoint the town treasurer and town clerk, rather than having them elected by town voters.
According to the Wisconsin Towns Association, appointed clerks, treasurers and clerktreasurers do not need to be
an elector or a resident of the town, and can have their qualifications, compensation and term of office set by the town board.
The board may appoint a person for the job for up to three years at a time and may choose to have the person serve part-time or full-time and compensate the person on an hourly basis versus a salaried basis.
A speaker at the Oct. 9 meeting, Karen Fitzsimmons, said the elected treasurer (Kathy Overman) "has proven she's qualified and very knowledgeable of town finance laws. I am also not aware of any recent studies conducted by the board that the town lacks qualified candidates (for treasurer).
"Having an elected official act as a check and balance on the use of my tax dollars is important to me," Fitzsimmons said. She added, "Its fairly clear there's a personality conflict between the board and treasurer. I find it absurd to resolve that conflict by taking away my vote so that you can oust the current treasurer."
Town Chairman John Leighton said the draft ordinance (which is posted on the town's web site) to have an appointed clerk and treasurer would have no effect on the current clerk or treasurer, who will serve out their full statutory terms.
Hwy. 00 rezone
The board voted 3-1 to support the request of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) to have Sawyer County rezone 13.6 acres of county-owned land at the Hwy. 00 Birkie trailhead (including the S.C. Johnson Family Outdoor Center) from agricultural to commercial in order to allow businesses such as a coffee shop, recreational equipment rental and food stands to operate there by permit.
The ABSF rezone request will come before the county's zoning committee this Friday for action.
ABSF Executive Director Ben Popp said 13.6 acres at Hwy. 00 would include the parking lot plus the building.
The Spider Lake Planning and Review Commission (PRC) recommended that the town board oppose the 13.6acre proposal. PRC Chairwoman Bobbi Huot said Town Zoning Administrator Dale Olson was "very concerned about future years" and recommends that "only the footprint underneath the (Johnson Outdoor Center)" be zoned commercial.
Olson's concern was that all the surrounding property is zoned for forestry, so "why are they (the county) allowing commercial in the middle of a forest," Huot said.
Leighton said the county has the power to rezone county lands after holding a public hearing and notifying the local town of its intention. But the county doesn't need the town's approval.
"This is a real slap in the face to the town, that they are going to impose upon us whatever they feel like doing because they own the land," Leighton said. "On the other hand, the Birkie Foundation is something that's very desirable, not only to this town and county but to the entire state." Leighton added that the zoning administrator "backtracked" and came out against the proposed rezone of 13.6 acres, and Leighton felt "betrayed" by him. In essence, Olson is "calling for a change in the state statute, and the proper place to do that is the legislature," Leighton added.
"The Birkie (Foundation) needs this property now to operate the Birkie," Leighton added.
Huot clarified that the PRC meeting "never mentioned the state statute and I don't think he (Olson) ever intended that we had hoped that (statute) would change."
Popp said he thinks the county is looking not just at the Birkie, but at the other recreational events (about 25 per year) that are held at the 00 trailhead parking lot and building, which are "a positive economic impact."
PRC member Case Mazik said he thinks 13.6 acres is "way too much. One acre around (the building) was my recommendation. It's called spot zoning, where we're favoring something because it's an economic benefit. Let's make it as small of a spot as possible. If you look at the town comprehensive plan, we're supposed to try to maintain northwoods character; 15-20 years from now there's a bar, a pool hall, who knows what else could happen over there."
Mazik added that Spider Lake "has village powers and we should have a say."
Popp said the current parking lot and building encompasses 4.5 acres.
Voting to reject the PRC recommendation and to support the ABSF rezone request for 13.6 acres were board members Mike Lemminger, John Leighton and Stephanie Martin.
Board member George Brandt voted against the proposal, saying, "I think they should limit it a little bit." Board member Peter Huot was absent from the meeting.
Huot said the PRC is recommending that the Town allow property owners to have "modest camping" by family members and guests on their property, but property owners must be on site. "We don't believe that short term rentals, resort cabins etc. should be allowed to have a person camping there," Huot said.
Also, the PRC recommends allowing tents and pickup campers, but not recreational vehicle (RV) campers, Huot added. RVs "are quite noisy" with their compressors that run air conditioners.
In addition, the PRC says no one should be allowed to camp for more than eight days, and should be prohibited from camping where they can view a lake, Huot said. She added that the PRC will hold a public hearing on these proposals at its next meeting.
New town facilities
Town Chairman John Leighton said he researched the potential costs if the town were to construct a new highway maintenance shop on its present property.
Local architect Terry Penman provided ballpark costs of $500,000 for a 60 by 100 foot pole barn maintenance building with drive-through, in-floor heat, toilet and shower and turn-around area north of the structure. An architect would not be needed. There would be some site preparation/excavation costs for the structure, which would be located west of the current buildings.
A new fire station likely would cost about the same as the highway shop, Leighton added.
A remodeled town hall would include a 20 by 20 fire resistant vault for records storage, at $200 per square foot ($80,000 total). An architect would be required.
"The next thing we have to figure out is how we're going to pay for one or more of these structures," Leighton added.
Fire Chief Lee Nelson recommends that the town hire a consultant to perform a feasibility study of new town facilities, similar to what the Town of Hayward has done recently.
Leighton said any proposal for new facilities would have to go to the town planning and review commission, which would review the plans and location and hold hearings. He has asked the clerk, treasurer, fire chief and road superintendent for their advice.
Roads liaison Mike Wheeler estimated that a new town shop/garage would cost about $1.4 million.
Fire Department Secretary Bobbi Huot said the town hall meeting room is "packed to the gills" for some events and meetings and "It is absolutely against fire codes to do that. A very deep feasibility study needs to be done at some point."
Kathy Overman said, "all these projects are all very viable and important, but we have to look at funding, length of time and priorities. If we're audited, on which building could we 'get caught' and have to do it whether we have the funds to do it or not."
Supervisor Mike Lemminger said, "It should be explored."
Leighton said he's spoken with the Towns of Cable and Namakagon, and they were "both receptive" to merging fire departments with Spider Lake. The Town of Round Lake chairman was "noncommittal," he added.
"It's very confusing as to how we get called out and what our needs are as a fire department," he added. "We just had two significant structure fires quite close to us and we were not called to either of them. How many personnel do we have and can we justify a $500,000 building for that number of personnel? What prospects do we have for getting more personnel and what cooperation can we see with others?
"I would like to see our fire department called out; if they go through a lot of training, I'm sure they want to perform," Leighton added.
Chief Nelson said who gets called out is determined by an incident command system agreement among fire departments.
ATVs on roads
Steve Lindquist, chairman of the town's ad hoc committee on ATV/UTVs, said their 15-question survey on whether people feel these machines should be allowed on town roads, will be mailed out in the last week of October to all who are eligible to vote in the Town of Spider Lake and all town property owners who are listed on the county's taxpayer rolls. If more than one person in a household is listed as a voter or taxpayer, each will have an opportunity to respond to the survey.
Also, any trust or partnership listed as a taxpayer will receive a survey, Lindquist said.
The deadline to return completed surveys will be 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29. Any surveys received after that date will be discarded.
Town resident Prudence Ross said she believes there should be a referendum on the issue of ATV/UTV use of town roads at the next general election.
Sarah Delaney asked the board to use its ordinance power to "preserve and protect the Northwoods character and resources of our town."
Deb Emery asked, "if there's been any research on the increased damages and costs of the roads" if ATVs and UTVs are allowed to travel on them. She said she's talked to several townships that allow these vehicles on town roads and "they've seen a huge increase in their road costs, with shoulders of the roads torn up."
One of the big surprises for those attending the Out of the Darkness-Suicide Prevention Walk on Saturday, Oct. 12 was the attendance. Well over 100 participants gathered in the Ojibwa Park for this first walk, meant to raise awareness that there are resources for those who may be considering suicide. The walk also served to connect grieving friends and family members.
Many wore colored beaded necklaces to signify their relationship with a person who had taken his or her life, who is struggling, or who has attempted suicide.
Jessica Bjork, one of the four organizers, said the large attendance at the first event reveals how many have been impacted by suicide.
"It hits home to a lot of people," she said. "Everybody has been affected by suicide differently. It is one of those topics that is hard to talk about, but this is a way to come together over this."
Several said the gathering is not just about raising dollars for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
but about removing the stigma of suicide and convincing people that it is OK to seek help.
Several members of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe were present, including two tribal governing board members: Gary "Little Guy" Clause and Vice Chair Lorraine Gouge.
Clause said suicide is an issue that affects all people but has especially impacted Native Americans, and he was there to show his support for those who are struggling.
"If we can bring an awareness that there is a choice for them and it is not as bad as you think, and that if you reach out, there are people here to support you," he said.
Gouge lost a brother to suicide five years ago and, like many in attendance, had grieved for years.
"I'm here today on behalf of our tribal governing board and our people to help those who are healing from any loss in their families and those who are in a dark place, to guide them to resources that we have for them and not to lose sight of hope," she said. "We want to get that message to all our people in our community. We care and there are ways we can help you through those issues."
She said it is important for those considering suicide and for family members who have lost someone to not struggle alone. The walk, she said, is one of those big reminders.
Brigid Ripley is a teacher from Winter who has known a person from her parents' home town in Iron River who took his life and others who have tried.
"It is such a devastating loss that anything I can do to support people who are going through that situation in their lives .. is a worthwhile endeavor," she said. "It is bringing awareness to a situation and tragedy that is hard to talk about. I don't know all the reasons people commit suicide but people feeling lonely and isolated is one reason."
Brian Mueller of New Richmond lost his 17-year-old son a year ago and came to the walk in his memory.
"I hope it will raise some money and help people in depression," he said, "and if it can help save one life, it will be successful. It is an epidemic. We lost another one the second day of school this year, and the year Brett died we lost two that year, one of them just before graduation. It is good to make people aware, and I hope some day we can save a couple of lives."
It's not easy for Mueller to talk about his son's death, but he said people need to talk.
"If you talk about it, then people will realize there are people who need help and they shouldn't be left alone," he said. "It is curable, and by bringing it into the open might just help with people who are considering it."
Angie Holcomb of Hayward had a sheet of paper taped to her back; on it were the names of people she knows who attempted suicide, including a sergeant 20 years ago at Dover Air Force Base.
"I started writing (names) down, and it didn't take long and I had so many names," she said.
Like others, she said the walk helps remove the stigma attached to suicide.
"Even when I was younger, you didn't talk about someone who died of suicide," she said. "I think that is changing. There is a realization there is a mental health issue and people are alone, and I think if they realize they are not alone, that makes a difference."
Bob Ottinger from Rice Lake also had an image of his nephew from Chippewa Falls on the back of his coat: Sgt. Collin A. Krei who served in the Marine Corps.
"The importance for me is connecting people who have all faced the same struggle and loss," said Kayla Poppe from Rusk County, one of the organizers. "It's about connecting people and making sure they know they are not alone."
Kathy Mullally of Hayward, another of the organizers, lost her son five years ago.
"For me, it is about remembering the people we lost and giving hope to those who are struggling," she said. "It helps to know you are not alone and that there are people who care and understand what you are gong through. For me anyways, it is different from any other loss I've experienced. It's very deep and very personal. There are a lot of emotions that go with it, so being able to connect to other people who are here and who have that same understanding—you can meet some friends and get some resources and you can know there is some hope out there. It is also to support the people who are struggling and to know there are people who you can turn to."
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-Talk (8255).
• Text Talk 741741 to text to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
• Call 911 for emergencies.
For those worried about someone, here are some suggestions from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
• Talk to the person in private and tell that person you care.
• Avoid debating the value of life or minimizing problems or giving advice.
• It's OK to ask the person directly if he or she is considering suicide.
• Encourage the person to seek help, including contacting a doctor or therapist.
Courage, resilience, and hope.
Those words have new meaning since Jake Patterson, then 21, murdered James and Denise Closs of rural Barron and kidnapped their daughter, Jayme, then 13. He took her to his rural Gordon home, where she stayed mostly barricaded under a bed until she escaped after 88 days of captivity.
Jayme taught "us the true meaning of these words," Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said during a news conference on Monday, Oct. 14, a day before the one-year anniversary of her Oct. 15, 2018 abduction. She escaped from the Patterson home on January 10, and Patterson later pled guilty to his crimes. He was sentenced to two life sentences for the murders and 25 years in prison for kidnapping.
"You had the courage to survive and showed us that you never give up hope," Fitzgerald said of Jayme. "This community has a new normal but came together unlike anything I've ever seen or dealt with in the past, and hope to never deal with again. The true meaning of neighbors taking care of neighbors came out in this community, showed the world what you do and how to help."
That showed in the 2,000 searchers, the meals that were made for the searchers and law enforcement, and the signs of support put up in the region.
"We never gave up. And I hope Jayme felt that," Fitzgerald said.
Hope and never giving up were the overriding theme of the comments at the news conference.
"I just want to let Jamie know that we're all with her and whatever she needs in the future," the sheriff said.
Jayme was not at the news conference, but her guardian and family attorney Chris Gramstrup read a statement from her.
"I really want to thank everyone for all the kindness and concern that people all over the country have shown me," she said. "I'm very happy to be home and getting back to the activities that I enjoy. I love hanging out with all my friends, and I feel stronger every day."
Gramstrup said Jayme has had an extremely busy summer, spending a lot of time with her family and friends—hiking through state parks, taking day trips, attending family weddings and birthdays, being the social girl she is and reconnecting with friends.
"She continues to work very, very hard on her emotional well-being," Gramstrup said. "She's moving forward cou rageously and she's reclaiming her life. Her incredible spirit and strength continue to inspire everyone around her."
He said her father, James, was an athlete and extremely strong, and her mother, Denise, had a "huge amount of love and caring and kindness for everyone around her, her family and friends; she had a huge heart."
Jayme, too, has strength and heart, Gramstrup said, and those qualities will help her move forward with her life.
The seven-month case was the longest-running Amber Alert in Wisconsin's history and the largest case the state crime lab has handled, with almost 700 pieces of evidence, according to Fitzgerald. The case generated 32,000 reports.
At the news conference Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said the day is for remembering the disbelief and emotions felt when learning of the death of Jayme's parents and her kidnapping, and to give thanks for her safe return.
"Today is a day of thanks to everyone who prayed and held on to hope that Jamie would return home safely," he said.
He praised the people who supported the work of trying to locate Jayme, the law enforcement personnel who helped, many of them on their own time without pay, and Fitzgerald, who kept the case in the media and concentrated on the hope for a safe return.
Wright mentioned a man who came from Tennessee to try to assist with finding Jayme and a pair of phone calls from Germany and Australia, on the same day, seeking updates.
"There is good in this world," Wright said. "Today is a day of celebration. We celebrate Jayme's bravery and courage. We celebrate her safe return home. And we celebrate the love, support, and hope for Jayme's safe return, that triumph."
Fitzgerald said good, caring, compassion and energy exist, and parents need to make sure their children understand that no matter the circumstances, someone cares for them.
"We need to do a better job as adults to tell our kids we care, our grandkids, we care, our neighbor's kids, we care, and we'll be there and we won't give up," he said.
Ahead of his introduction of Robert Lowery, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Fitzgerald said, "I saw and felt the power of good, and we need to take that good, and do so much more with it. So let's take that energy, that goodness and go make a difference."
The success stories like Jayme's motivate people at the NCMEC, Lowery said. Noting how Jayme was immediately recognized at her escape because of media reports and images, he said missing children come home when communities pull together and work collaboratively.
He noted other cases where kidnapped girls and women were held for nine months, 10 years, 18 years. He said NCMEC analyzed its data from a five-year period and found that 5,000 children were recovered after being missing for more than six months. Of those, 444 were missing for more than five years.
It is not always true, he said, that the chances of someone returning home diminish dramatically if they are not found soon.
"What is important, so important, is to keep hope alive and keep searching," Lowery said.
Forty children from Wisconsin are missing, and a display at the news conference showed each of their images. One of those is of Sara Bushland, who got off a school bus near Spooner on April 3, 1996 and disappeared.
Her family has never given up hope of finding her, even after 23 years.
Lesley Small, Sara's sister, said what happened in Jayme's case that makes it different from other cases is that Fitzgerald made sure Jayme's photo was everywhere.
"And we need that for Sara," Small said. "So the more media attention that we can get the more good that we can see in people coming out of it, is what we need to happen."
"We know that someone out there knows something, and we need them to step up and give us a helping hand," said Mike Bushland, Sara's father.
He said that Sara could sell snow to an Eskimo and if she could get away, she would.
"So I don't believe she's there. But you still gotta hope," he said.
Lesley added, "We're just asking the people that do know something to do what's right. To live with that burden of knowing what happened and not sharing the story not only ruins their life but a lot of others."
She said they pray every day for the truth to come out, and they try to help other families and be advocates for them, to help them get the "same publicity that Jamie did. Because every single missing kid out there deserves that."
Information on Sara's case is updated on Find-SaraBushland Facebook page and on the NCMEC website.
Small said a new age progression photo will be available soon.
Lowery said all of the missing children need and deserve help. "Never give up," he said. "Never stop searching, just as you did for Jayme."
Fitzgerald thanked the community, media, his department and their families, and, finally, Jayme.
"Remember that we never give up," he summarized. "There's no reason to. Let's go take that energy moving forward. Let's do something positive. Let's bring some more kids home. That's what today's about."