Veterans won’t put city dumpster to referendum
State law limits effort to remove fixture near memorial
By Scott Bellile
When New Londoners head to the polls this April, they will not weigh in on whether the city should remove a dumpster located next to the veterans memorial in Taft Park.
A citizen-led attempt at calling a direct legislation referendum failed after multiple attorneys determined it would not be permissible under state law.
The New London Veterans Memorial Foundation did not file a petition for referendum, signed by a required minimum of 384 city residents, before the Jan. 18 deadline, according to City Clerk Jackie Beyer.
According to a legal opinion from the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, direct legislation can be used for legislative matters such as creating new policies or plans.
Direct legislation cannot be used to make administrative decisions in a municipality, according to state statute 9.20. A matter is administrative in nature “if it merely pursues a plan already adopted by the legislative body itself.”
The dumpster question could not be subject to referendum because the city council already voted on where to locate the dumpster pad and implemented it, New London City Attorney Earl Luaders stated in an email to city officials.
“My opinion is that the referendum requiring the City to relocate the dumpster is administrative in nature and, therefore, not subject to direct legislation or, if legislative in nature, is concerning a decision that’s already been made,” Luaders stated in his email. “If the circulators of the petition wish to contest this, they would have to commence a ‘Mandamus Action’ [lawsuit] in Waupaca County Circuit Court. Obviously, that’s premature because we have not received any referendum petition. If a petition for referendum is received, then we should revisit this issue based on my opinion and proceed accordingly.”
Jim Jaeger, chairman of the New London Veterans Memorial Foundation, told the Press Star that after consulting two attorneys, his organization will not file a referendum petition in the future.
Last year Jaeger declared his intentions to put the matter to referendum this April or during another upcoming election.
Jaeger said the foundation’s two options for undoing the dumpster pad ordinance – neither of which he sees being plausible – are to pursue a statewide referendum to change the laws surrounding how direct legislation works, or to get a considerable number of people who are sympathetic to the cause elected to the city council.
The current city council is largely in support of the dumpster pad, having voted 9-1 in November to implement the ordinance establishing centralized trash collection. Second District Alderman Tom O’Connell voted no.
“There’s nothing more that we can do,” Jaeger said.
The two newly installed dumpster pads – one on public right-of-way immediately east of Taft Park and the other by St. John’s Park – officially went into use on Jan. 1.
The initiative is a city-led effort to clean up the alley along the Wolf River. Businesses and tenants within three blocks of the south side of West North Water Street must dispose trash and grease in one of the two dumpster pads. They are prohibited from having their own dumpsters or trash bins outdoors.
Veterans against the dumpster pad have cited its aesthetic appearance, possible odors and disrespect toward fallen veterans as their reasons for opposing the installation.
Jaeger said the foundation will discuss more strategies to communicate its stance on the issue to the public.
Some foundation members suggested entering a float in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade that protests the city’s dumpster decision, Jaeger said.
Currently there is not another protest in the works like one the foundation held in Taft Park last November.
Jaeger has kept open communication with the New London Parks and Recreation Committee about the dumpster. In December, the foundation agreed to give the central trash collection process time to operate and then revisit the matter with the committee next August.
At that meeting, the parks and recreation committee also agreed to consider planting shrubs or arborvitae around the dumpster pad to obscure it from Taft Park visitors.
Jaeger said he has seen some garbage on the ground around the Taft Park dumpster pad, but overall it is staying clean so far.
The foundation is considering installing a mural within view of the veterans memorial on the west wall of the adjacent Coppershot bar, Jaeger said, but half of the membership opposes such a project as long as the city continues operating its dumpster pad.
Some veterans are now hesitant to follow through with the foundation’s original plan of transferring management of the memorial’s operations to the city, Jaeger said.
Jaeger said he believes if the foundation could have held a direct legislation referendum, New London citizens would have voted to undo the dumpster pad by Taft Park, based on the 1,500 signatures the foundation collected when it circulated its petition last fall.
“The general discussions we’ve had … with people in the community is they just don’t understand at all how the city council could have approved that site there, that it was totally disrespectful,” Jaeger said. “I have no doubt if we could have proceeded legally somehow with it, we would have been able to get [the ordinance] turned over.”