County questions lake district?s legal standing
The Little Hope Lake District has a new board of commissioners.
On Saturday, Nov. 9, property owners on the former Little Hope Mill Pond elected three members to the lake district board.
They cast at least 20 votes each for Pat Mccarry, Chuck Krueger and Rob Richardson, who support restoring the dam and the pond. The one candidate who supports removing the dam and restoring the Crystal River, Don Holtebeck, received only four votes.
Prior to Saturday’s meeting, the lake district board had been comprised of the three Dayton Town Board members.
The newly formed board should have five members – three of them elected by property owners within the district, one appointed by the town board and one appointed by the county.
The Dayton Town Board appointed Town Chairman Chris Klein.
However, the county will not be represented on the board, according to records obtained by the County Post.
“Due to pending legal action I have advised the county, at this time, not to appoint a member to the Little Hope Lake District Board,” Waupaca County Corporation Counsel Jeff Siewert said in a Nov. 6 letter to Klein. “I have also advised the Park and Rec Committee or their representatives not to participate in any lake district meetings.”
Siewert, whose request for outside legal counsel was approved by the county’s Finance Committee last week, is seeking judicial review of the lake district.
In a memo distributed at the Nov. 6 Finance Committee meeting, Siewert noted that the Wisconsin Department of Revenue has received, but has not recorded, the documents relating to the Little Hope Lake District.
An Oct. 30 email from David Hruby, an auditor with the Department of Revenue, to Donna Andraschko, the land records specialist for Waupaca County, indicates he “removed the Little Hope Lake District from our database per my supervisor.”
Hruby said he plans to create the lake district in 2014.
Due to several failed attempts to hold a legal annual meeting in 2013, the Little Hope Lake District now cannot hold an annual meeting, approve a budget or levy property taxes until 2014. State law requires that lake districts hold their annual meetings between May 22 and Sept. 8.
Little Hope going to court
Siewert told the County Post that he and John Thiel, the Appleton attorney who is working with Siewert, may have a summons and complaint prepared by the end of this week.
He said the county will not appoint a member to the Little Hope Lake District board until it obtains a declaratory judgment regarding its legality.
“Was the lake district formed properly?” Siewert said. “One person says yes, another says no. Instead of a he-said, she-said argument, we will have a judge determining the law. A declaratory judgment is a tool for resolving a controversy.”
In his memo to the Finance Committee, Siewert said there were questions regarding possible conflict of interest, improper meeting notices and potential open meeting violations.
He also noted that the lake district must be recorded by the state in order to operate.
“Arguably, any action by the lake district could be considered null and void as they were not a legally registered lake district,” Siewert wrote in the memo. “One cannot operate as a lake district before said district is legally created and properly recorded as required by state statute.”
Siewert said the issue is not merely that the county owns riparian property within the Little Hope Lake District.
In a county with a large number of lakes, allowing a lake district to operate without clarification regarding proper procedures could set a bad precedent, Siewert said.
After the county files its complaint, the court will then decide whether to review the case, either with a hearing or through briefs submitted by both sides.
Krueger told the County Post he believes the lake district is legal.
“I called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources about a year ago and asked, ‘Was the Little Hope Lake District legally formed?’ He said, ‘We have it on record,’” Krueger said.
“This is something to cloud the minds of people who are not really sharp on the details,” Krueger said, regarding the county’s legal action. “After all the goof-ups with the meetings, people scare very easily.”