Our Views: Mr. McCoy, please drop your petition fight against Janesville
Dear Billy McCoy:
Please give up your court battle against the city of Janesville. You complain constantly that the city wastes money and can't even keep streets in good repair. It will only spend more tax dollars in what likely will be a long legal fight.
No doubt, you felt satisfaction and vindication last week when Rock County Judge Daniel Dillon refused the city's request to reject your lawsuit.
Dillon ruled that you properly filed your suit, which asks that the court compel the city council to make decisions on your two petitions. One sought to stall Central Fire Station plans. The other would force a referendum on city projects costing $2 million or more.
That ruling is far from a victory, but we admit you might prevail. After all, you point out that the state Supreme Court sided with a Mount Horeb citizens group in a similar case that requires the village to submit projects in excess of $1 million to referendums. You likely are optimistic because Janesville hired attorney Laura Callan, whose Madison firm of Stafford Rosenbaum represented Mount Horeb in that 2003 case, while your attorney, Shane Falk, is with Lawton & Cates, the Madison firm that represented village residents. So this legal matchup doesn't bode well for Janesville.
Still, the question remains: What is the ultimate outcome? An idiom suggests we should be careful what we wish for because if that wish comes true, it might bring negative consequences.
You believe you're fighting for Janesville residents because more than 3,000 signed your petitions. Yes, the city council deserves some blame for citizen unrest after it voted initially in closed session to buy and push residents out of a dozen homes to build a larger fire station on the same block as the current central station.
Yet 3,000 are far from a majority of voters. In fact, Mr. McCoy, the April election is a more accurate gauge of your support. You got barely 2,000 votes in your bid for a council seat. That's less than half of what fifth-place finisher Paul Williams received in the six-person race for four council seats. As one reader has suggested at gazettextra.com, some people will sign anything just to be left alone.
It's obvious that, right or wrong, the council's decision to ignore your petitions last fall, on the advice of City Attorney Wald Klimczyk, was a stall tactic. The city bought the properties to build the fire station, and work has begun. Even your attorney admits the station likely will be finished before any final court decision. No court would demand that the city tear it down.
That means you're fighting only for the $2 million referendum petition. Oh, the irony. You long complained—with some merit—that the city neglected the crumbling Jackson Street bridge too long. It's finally being replaced. The cost? More than $5 million.
Last fall, may we remind you, Gazette reporter Neil Johnson detailed 16 city projects that have cost more than $2 million since 2013 or are scheduled by 2017. Experts he interviewed said requiring the city to seek voter approval for any such project would be onerous. Longtime Beloit City Manager Larry Arft called it draconian, frightening and devastating. It could stifle economic development and quash hopes of public-private partnerships that would keep Janesville progressive.
One more point, Mr. McCoy. Maybe you believe this fight will be your legacy. It might solidify legal precedent and support citizen rights in future cases across Wisconsin. During your council campaign, however, you suggested the city is ignoring residents and taxing people out of their homes. If that's really happening and truly your concern, why not halt your fight at this point and save taxpayers the tens of thousands they will pay to cover the city's legal fees?