by CHRIS ROGERS
Long-time Arcadia Mayor John Kimmel will face a recall election next month. In late September, 226 Arcadia voters signed a petition to recall the mayor, forcing an election. The petitioners were motivated in part by Kimmel's stance on frac sand — Kimmel initially opposed calls from citizens to hold a non-binding advisory referendum on whether to allow more frac sand facilities in the city. They also accused him of mismanaging city finances and "stifling public input." In an interview, Kimmel said the petitioners claims were, at best, misrepresentations, and defended his track record as mayor. Trempealeau County Supervisor and Arcadia Zoning Board of Appeals member Rob Reichwein announced that he will run against Kimmel.
Under Wisconsin statute, citizens can force their local governments to hold a recall election by collecting enough signatures from voters. In this case it required 144 signatures, roughly equal to the one-quarter of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Last week, City Clerk Angela Berg certified that the petition met the requirements of state law, and on Monday night, the Arcadia City Council set the date. As of noon on Tuesday, the city clerk's office had not received any filings for candidacy. If multiple challengers vie for the post, the city will need to host a primary prior to the November 24 election.
The petitioners were required to list their reasons for recalling the mayor, reasons that must be related to his official duties. They wrote, "(1) stifling public input at public meetings; (2) refusing to listen and work with city residents to resolve complaints including failure to allow city residents to vote on two referenda petitioned for by city residents; and (3) failing to be a reasonable steward of the city's finances."
The recall petition is the third petition in Arcadia in the last few months. This summer, 170 Arcadians filed a petition to extend the city's moratorium on frac sand mining and processing, which expired in September. Normally, under state law, the City Council would have been required to either pass the requested extension or put the question to voters by holding a referendum, but the city attorney advised — and a Wisconsin Supreme Court case seems to support his advice — that the moratorium was not the sort of local rule that could be acted on by petition. So while the council could have voluntarily extended the moratorium or voluntarily held a non-bonding, advisory referendum, it was not required to do anything, the attorney explained. Some citizens urged the council to hold an advisory referendum at that time, but the council did not, and in a split vote, dismissed the petition. After that, a second petition was filed, asking the city to hold an advisory referendum, according to city officials. Kimmel said the council has yet to act on that petition.
In an interview following the first petition, Kimmel expressed doubts about the value of an advisory referendum, saying, "If you're not an informed voter then your vote can kind of be a risky thing because you've got people's livelihoods and business and economic growth that's on the table."
During an interview this week, Kimmel stated that the city plans to hold a advisory referendum on the frac sand industry this spring.
"I think we need a change," Reichwein said when asked why voters should vote for him over Kimmel in the coming election. He said that Kimmel has failed to keep city budgets in-line, pointing to some city departments that are already over budget or are on track to be over budget this year.
Reichwein also raised concerns about transparency and said that the mayor has unfairly ignored citizens who oppose frac sand. The city conducted a survey of Arcadia residents' support for frac sand. A minority of citizen residents responded, but of those who did respond, most opposed the industry. Kimmel describes those survey respondents as a vocal minority in an interview last month. "Why put out a survey you're not going to use?" Reichwein asked in an interview. "You can't just put it away on a shelf and say, 'Well, that doesn't mean much because people don't know what they're talking about.'"
"I'm happy to go door to door and talk to people about my accomplishments over the last nine years and tell them why we should keep going where we're going," Kimmel said when asked how he was responding to the recall.
Kimmel said that the petitioners' complaints about stifling public comment and allegations of financial mismanagement are baseless. Kimmel and the council have held numerous public hearings and held other, hours-long meetings to solicit public input on the city's new frac sand ordinance and the various frac sand proposals before the city. The city has kept taxes and utility rates in check in recent years, and invested in needed improvements, he said. "We've been very responsible with the city tax dollars and the money that's coming in," he said. He pointed out that the city has a "A" rating from Standard & Poor's (S&P) government bond rating service. "I think it's reckless to make comments like that because it [creates] uncertainty in a community that should be very proud of its financial situation," he added.
S&P downgraded the city's bond rating this fall from "A+" to "A" because of decreases in the city's fund reserves, according to investor news services.
The city has not ignored requests for an advisory referendum on frac sand, Kimmel continued. He said the council plans to vote next month to authorize a spring referendum.
If a majority of voters in the advisory referendum oppose frac sand, would Kimmel change his stance on the issue? "Ultimately I'm bound by what the law says, not what a few people with an opinion say," he responded. "Absolutely I care about people's opinion and why they feel the way they do." He added, "Ultimately this recall election should not be a referendum on sand, it should be a recall on the reasons they say they're recalling me, none of which has been shown to be true … If they were recalling me on a vote about sand, that's what their petition should have said."
Kimmel continued, "It's easy to paint in broad strokes and say this is what's wrong and the incumbent is bad and we need to change, but when you really get into the specifics, what are your changes going to be?"
Dispute over Reichwein appointments
Rob Reichwein and his father Roger Reichwein have both been involved in Arcadia government, serving on city committees, but Rob Reichwein's position on the Zoning Board of Adjustment is currently in dispute. Rob Reichwein said that his term on the zoning board does not expire until next year, but that this fall, Kimmel attempted to appoint someone to supplant him. Kimmel said that Reichwein's term was over and that he simply chose not to reappoint him. It is unclear who is right. The City Council's April 21, 2014, minutes list "Rob Reichwein (2016)" under a host of appointments for the "2014-2015 term."
Other zoning board members whose terms have seemingly expired have not been reappointed, Rob Reichwein pointed out. "If we're trying to do underhanded stuff on replacing people on committees what else is not being followed?" he asked.
When Roger Reichwein's term on the Arcadia Utility Commission expired this year, Kimmel appointed someone else to replace him, even though Roger Reichwein wanted to continue serving. Kimmel explained that he had concerns about whether Roger Reichwein's behavior was appropriate. Roger Reichwein claimed Kimmel simply disagreed with him.
Roger Reichwein and his wife, Ann, both helped collect signatures to recall Kimmel. "What does it say when your parents are running around circulating these papers against the current mayor and saying all these things about the mayor, but none of them pass the smell test?" Kimmel stated in an interview.
When asked if he was running against Kimmel because of a personal tiff, Reichwein responded, "I supported the mayor in all three of his previous runs. I grew up a block from him. Before I told him I would run against him, he was sitting on my front steps." He continued, "Is it just because he removed me from that office? No. I just thought someone needed to step up and run against him … He's done a lot of good stuff for the city over the last couple of years, but I don't agree with the actions he's taken."