RACINE — Denis Navratil, co-owner of Dimple’s with his wife, Dimple, filed a defamation claim against the city for statements made by Mayor Cory Mason regarding the city’s decision not to award the business an emergency relief loan.
In the spring, the City of Racine awarded $900,000 in grants to small businesses affected by the coronavirus. In round one, 18 local businesses received grants up to $15,000 each and in round two 146 businesses received grants ranging from $2,500 to $6,500.
Mason confirmed in a written statement to The Journal Times that the denial to Dimple’s was at least partially based on Navratil’s decision to attend a “Freedom Rally” in Madison organized in opposition to Gov. Tony Evers’ ‘Safer at Home’ initiative.
In a written statement, Mason said, “As Mayor, it is my duty to protect the public health of our City’s residents. While I certainly support the rights of free speech and assembly, I cannot in good conscious send scarce City resources to a person or business that willingly jeopardized public health, especially when they were competing with other businesses who were not flagrantly violating safety measures.”
“If an applicant was openly violating the statewide Safer at Home order and the public health emergency under which the City was operating to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, that applicant would compete less favorably. When it comes to disbursing discretionary funds aimed at helping businesses who were sacrificing to protect public health, the City is not going to reward business owners who took reckless behaviors that risked the health of our community.”
The claim was filed with the City Attorney’s office and will be discussed by the Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday in closed session.
According to the briefing memorandum provided to the committee, the notice of injury and claim for damages was filed by Navratil and his attorney, Todd Terry, on July 23. The complaint cites four specific phrases where Mason claimed that Navratil:
- “willingly jeopardized public health”;
- “flagrantly violat(ed) safety measures”;
- “openly violat(ed) the statewide ‘Safer at Home’ order and the public health emergency under which the City of Racine was operating” and;
- “took reckless behaviors that risked the health of our community.”
When interviewed by a television reporter at the event, Navratil claimed he was a “curious onlooker.”
Navratil is requesting $50,000 in damages.
The City Attorney’s Office is recommending the claim be disallowed. A separate, confidential memorandum was provided to members of the committee with a legal analysis of the recommendation.
The city is required to provide a response to the claim within 120 days of when it was filed, which means the City Council must vote on the matter by Nov. 21.
The Finance and Personnel Committee is scheduled to meet virtually at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Public comment may be submitted via email to email@example.com. The meeting is scheduled to be livestreamed on the city’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CityofRacineWI/.