November 3, 2009

City: Email vote was to expedite property sale; Records show board regularly voted by email

The city put out a press release today responding to stories that its Loan Board of Review illegally voted by email. Here's a breakdown of the press release, including a major omission:

1. The press release was emailed by Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney, but was titled: "City of Racine Press Release" and was unsigned.

2. The press release noted the Loan Board of Review was created in 1979. It's made up of specific city staff members (and no elected officials).

3. At the Loan Board of Review's June 18, 2009 meeting, the board deferred action on developer Jim Spodick's request to reduce a city loan to wait for a financial analyst's report, according to the release. RacinePost filed an open records request Tuesday for a copy of the analyst's report.

4. The Loan Board of Review's email vote was done to expedite Spodick's sale of the Wilmanor Apartments, according to the press release. It also suggests the vote was in the city's interest, which allows officials to balance the city's interest against the state's open meetings law.

4.5 Records show the loan board voted by email prior to Spodick's claim. The board voted March 25, 2009 to affirm two "electronic polls" to help two local homeowners increase loans. They did the same on Feb. 21, 2008, May 15, 2008, Aug. 21, 2008, and Nov. 20, 2008.

5. The press release then disassociates Spodick's $650,000 claim against the city from the Loan Board of Review's actions. It suggests that Spodick made a deal with former Mayor Gary Becker and that deal is under review as part of a larger review of Spodick's claim.

6. Missing from the press release is any mention of the Loan Board of Review's odd/dishonest/potentially illegal decision to alter the official minutes of the June 18, 2009 meeting to reflect a vote that never occurred.

7. The JT continues to pump this story, which they learned about by reading RacinePost. They've asked the state Attorney General's office for a ruling on the email vote. The AG responded that a decision could take a couple of weeks.

8. This entire incident is potentially embarrassing for the city because it involves senior city officials, including City Attorney Rob Weber, who is well-versed in the state's open meetings law. Weber's involvement makes it an interesting choice to have the city's official response come out of his office.

9. Mayor John Dickert banned email votes in city government today. Since email votes are already illegal (in order for any public body to vote, they have to hold a public meeting), his word should be followed.

10. Since the JT borrowed the first half of this story from RacinePost, we'd recommend Editor Steve Lovejoy direct reporters to take a closer look at the particulars involving Spodick's deal with the city and who made the deal to lower the loan amount. They may specifically want to investigate why Spodick was brought in at all.


  1. Since Attorney Letteney has been employed with the city it's been one embarrassing mess after another.

    Rob Weber is the City Attorney, but he's just a figurehead. Weber's a nice guy, but unfortunately Letteney is running the show over there.

    You'd do well to get rid of him Mayor Dickert and get someone in there who:
    1. Lives in Racine, heck at least Racine county.
    2. You can trust.
    3. Doesn't have an ego problem.

  2. We've never had a problem with Scott Letteney. He's been helpful since we've known him, and from what we can tell, he's a good attorney.

  3. Crooked city Govt., plain and simple. I'm embarrassed to say that I've lived here for 52 years. Clean out City Hall and start over. And the Mayor envisions this city as a "top-ten city"? ROFLMAO!

  4. Dickert must GO so must the Rino's Hell other then a very few I would vote them all out.
    Racine deserves better

  5. What did Dickert know and when did he know it?

  6. The world is upside down. Spodick is trying to buffalo the city out of $200,000 in taxpayer money and all you care about is an e-mail?

  7. Who cares if Dustin Block has never had a problem with Letteny?

    Does that mean there is no problem with a person as long as Dustin Block has no problem with them? I know a lot of people who have issues with Letteny. But hey, Dustin has no problem with him so everythings cool.

  8. 7:23

    We car that we have good folks in office not those seeking screw their foes or enrich the good old boys.

  9. In this electronic age this process should be acceptable. An open hearing is not going to change the outcome of the vote.

  10. The bigger issue that needs to be viewed is the number of side deals made by Becker that keep coming to light now that he is gone.
    To name a few:
    1. The current loan issue goes back to a Becker promise.
    2. The metal artwork on Washington in Uptown goes back to a Becker promise.
    3. The SCJ property tax deal that Becker even got Doyle to support in Madison on a Becker promise.

    There are probably more side deals out there too. Each deal seems to have a similar trend. Money for some pet Becker project. Questions about City staff involvement. No real value for the City long-term.

    Put these issues together with the long list of bad department head hires due to lack of proper background checking and you find a pretty poor legacy.

    Dickert needs to get his arms around these issues in total and take some actions to make sure these things don't happen again. If staff are involved some accountability for the actions needs to be taken too.

  11. Anon 8:20 am, I agree with you completely.

  12. concrete katie11/04/2009 10:00 AM

    One of the issues that need to be looked at is the use of building assessments as weapons.

  13. The legality of email votes is just NOW coming to light in city hall?
    For how many years has City Hall been voting by email, and no one has yet to get a ruling or an opinion from a qualified source.
    Weber should be fired, immediately.
    Someone is either ignoring their responsibilities, or is lying.

  14. I notice how the Dickert apologists are trying to blame this on a previous mayor, even though it happened six months after he left.

    Hey Dickert, how about taking responsibility for something for once. You are the mayor, man up.

  15. Maybe city development should send out an email asking when everyone would be available to be shot by a firing squad made up of Racine taxpayers. Criminals and tyrants should be handle appropriately.

  16. Anon 7:23, just because you think the "Spodick issue" is bigger than the "e-mail issue," doesn't minimize the fact that the city council is acting in direct opposition to state law. Our elected officials should always cast their votes in the open, in the face of the public they are supposed to represent so we can see who is truly representing our best interests at the time of the vote, and who is not.

    Anon 7:51, you have obviously never been to an open hearing. Think back only a few months ago when the city council wanted to force citizens to participate in a historical district that would have cost them (collectively over time) hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars. Thanks to the open meeting, that proposal was killed.

    Anon 8:20, concrete katie, right on!

    Anon 10:29, if, in fact, Weber knew of these e-mail votings, then I agree, he should be fired immediately.

    Anon 11:19, I don't understand how you can hold Dickert responsible for deals made by Becker. I don't support Dickert, but I will not lay blame at his feet for something that is clearly not of his doing. Should he look into any previous deals made by Becker? Yes. But, he can only do so if they are already known, or when they come to light. Lighten up, man.

    I think that Dickert has done the right thing in putting a halt to these e-mail votes. Any further use of them by any member of the city council should result in their immediate dismissal, even if it's only a preliminary vote amongst the members just to see where they stand. That is still a vote behind the public's back. Dickert ran part of his campaign on "transparency in government." He needs to hold to that, and we need to make him do so.

  17. Johnny looks like your being bullied!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Graham wrote: "...doesn't minimize the fact that the city council is acting in direct opposition to state law."

    Er...the Loan Board of Review is not the same as the City Council. In fact, there are no Aldermen/women on this Board.

    An Alderman I recently spoke with was quite shocked and dismayed that the Board was doing this.

  19. First off it been stated it was an electronic poll, I don't see any trouble with this. From what I understand it seems as if the official vote was taken at the meeting. Furthermore I think the post needs to get their own facts straight. From their original posting 10/29/2009
    "Interestingly, one thing not reflected in the July 16 meeting is the board's decision to alter its June minutes to reflect a new reality. We only know that occurred because former Alderman Pete Karas attended the meeting and observed the changes to the minutes. Here's another mystery: The city's official online records have two separate sets of minutes for one meeting. ONE SET MENTIONS THE "ELECTRONIC POLLS". ONE DOES NOT".

    Confused? So are we, because the board's actions don't make sense. It's clearly illegal under state law to vote by email, and it's highly questionable to re-write minutes to reflect actions the board didn't take. The issue gets murkier when the reason for the vote is considered"

    this was in your original post, however if you follow your own links for the two sets of minutes you can clearly see 1 is the MINUTES and the other is the MEETINGS AGENDA. These are 2 seperate things and the post should really be able to tell the difference between the two. I will give you credit you have created alot of false intrigue and drama.

  20. Graham: The email vote, the initial vote, and the subsequent vote all took place under Dickert. The erasing of the minutes also took place under Dickert. If this was a shady deal that Becker did then it should be corrected out in the open. Two wrongs do not make a right and this is going to cost us, the taxpayers, a ton of money because the city violated open meeting laws, changed records, and lied.

  21. I think the Post got bored with their "Postively Racine" campaign.

  22. The issues reviewed I raised as Anon 8:20 AM are not Dickert apology statements. They are statement of fact related to the past mayor. If the problems continue or similar new issues come up under Dickert then I will highlight those actions too.

    It is called accountability. Please note, I indicated the staff involved should be looked at too.

  23. Transparent Racine11/04/2009 5:16 PM

    Stop being blind to the fact that Dickert is involved in these many wrongdoings. If he nothing to do with any of this, he should fire Brian O'connell immediately. But since he does have something to do with it, he has to protect Brian otherwise he'll rat him out and let the public know that Brian was acting on orders from Mayor Dicker.
    The only thing transparent at city hall is the glass in the windows.

  24. Positively, Racine Sucks...

  25. Anon 2:04, I was not citing the e-mail vote or changing of minutes. Yes, I know that took place on Dickert's watch and he should address these issues. I was referring specifically to Becker backroom deals. Little Johnny can not be held accountable for something he had nothing to do with, unless of course he finds out about them and furthers them, which has not been the case thus far, as far as we know.

    Transparent Racine, it is obvious from Dickert's conduct prior to, and since, his election that he's no choir boy. He may be, next to Becker, the worst mayor Racine has ever seen (can you say “10 Year Plan” and “Higher Taxes?”).The next mayoral election will show the character and intelligence of the voters in this city. If Dickert wins again it will show the lack of them.

    Anon 6:16, it's plagiaristic at best

  26. Graham-

    "doesn't minimize the fact that the city council is acting in direct opposition to state law"

    The committee in question is an internal staff committee. There are no elected officials on it.

    No one is alleging the city council ever voted via e-mail. Please get the facts right. This story is confusing enough as it is.

  27. The blame lies squarely with Rob Weber. The other board members are City Employees. They are not the brightest bulbs in the marquee, but (like City Council), defer to the City Attorney on matters of legal procedure.

  28. Guy Fawkes, we need you!

  29. Why would this board vote to expedite a sale and not tell the owner of the building what they are doing? Sounds like a shady explanation to me.

  30. The irony is the email vote was to expedite the property sale, yet didn't Spodick end up not being able to sell now anyway? There is a lot that doesn't make sense with this.

  31. Rob Weber doesn't run the City attorney's office - Scott Letteney does. By title it should be Rob, but that's not the case here.

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  33. Anon 5:27, I stand corrected. You are right, it is not the city council, it is the Loan Board of Review that conducted the illegal e-mail votes. I apologize for the error.