Elkhorn City Council votes to move forward with ordinance restricting where sex offenders live
ELKHORN—The Elkhorn City Council is one step closer to adopting an ordinance that would limit where incoming sex offenders would live despite opposition from state Department of Corrections representatives.
The city council voted 4-3 Monday in favor of taking up the ordinance at next week's meeting. Aldermen Scott McClory, Gary Payson Sr. and Hoss Rehberg voted against. Mayor Brian Olson broke the tie.
If the ordinance passes, incoming offenders would be required to live at least 2,000 feet from facilities for children. More than a dozen facilities including schools, parks and licensed and certified daycare centers are listed.
The council voted in September to draft an ordinance that would require offenders to live at least 2,500 feet from such facilities. At Monday's meeting, Alderman Jim D'Alessandro made a motion for a first reading next Monday, and possibly final vote, for the 2,000-feet restriction.
Juveniles with legal guardians and offenders who lived at homes within the limits at the time of their crimes would be exempt. Offenders living within the 2,000-feet limit now would be grandfathered in.
D'Alessandro was anxious to pass the ordinance Monday night, and said the ordinance was not controversial despite several people speaking out against it.
D'Alessandro wanted a specific part of the ordinance stating sex offenders are the most likely to re-offend and least likely to be cured.
“I like it in there,” he said.
That's misinformation, said Sandy Cornell of the Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registration Unit.
In response, he said, “Well, it's in the ordinance… That's alright, it's OK.”
People against the ordinance cited adequate monitoring by law enforcement and Department of Corrections, a zero percent recidivism rate by offenders living in Elkhorn and the false sense of security created by such ordinances.
“I think if we create this law thinking that we're protecting the kids, once again, that's a false initiative and a false hope,” Cornell said.
Nancy Ward, owner of the Nickel Plate Hotel, 29 S. Wisconsin St. – a place where offenders can live in downtown Elkhorn – said city representatives haven't contacted her to talk about their concerns nor has she had trouble with occupants.
Seven of her 29 rooms are for offenders.
“No one has contacted me at all, and no one has told me there is a problem,” Ward said.
Andrew Shaw, owner of Total Tan, 32 S. Washington St., - about a two-minute walk from the Nickel Plate - spoke in favor of the ordinance.
The men living at the hotel bother female employees and clients won't come in after dark, he said. Shaw believes 2,000 feet is better than nothing.
“I know on a day-to-day basis we see at least six or seven people walk past with ankle bracelets. Right there alone that's not something you want to see.”
Law enforcement and those who work with officers have publicly opposed the possible ordinance, saying it would lead to a false sense of security for residents.
Paul Kremer, an Elkhorn resident, spoke against the ordinance at the meeting. He spoke with several people involved in law enforcement, sent aldermen several documents related to similar ordinances that have been struck down in court and left his alderman unreturned messages, he said.
“I can't understand the burning need to get this ordinance passed,” Kremer said. “Can somebody tell me the burning need that you have? … I've hunted the experts, and they don't want it. I'd like to know where your experts are because I want to talk to them.”
Olson would like to see the ordinance pass in order to deal with what he calls a volume issue.
More registered sex offenders live within the Elkhorn city limits compared to any other municipality in Walworth County, according to Department of Corrections data. Elkhorn also has the highest per capita, according to a Gazette analysis.
D'Alessandro is voting in favor because Elkhorn is a “dumping ground,” and his constituents are concerned about offenders living in the community.
Alderman and Walworth County Sheriff's Office Captain McClory is opposed to the ordinance and has repeatedly said it will “eradicate” people who have paid their dues and are trying to move on.
On Monday, McClory again suggested a cap on the number of offenders, a compromise or a plan to work with the state and law enforcement to gradually decrease the number of offenders in the city.
Olson asked McClory what his ideal number was. McClory didn't have an exact number.
The council will take the ordinance up next at its 5 p.m. meeting Monday at the Elkhorn City Hall, 9 S. Broad St.