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Mayor, alderman squabble over development on radio

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Mayor John Dickert

Dickert

RACINE — It’s been two months since the City Council approved plans to transform 3.2 acres of privately held riverfront property into a recreation area, but the effort is still causing friction between Mayor John Dickert and at least once council member.

Alderman Sandy Weidner this week asked the City Attorney’s Office for a copy of a recording Mayor John Dickert has claimed he has of Weidner negotiating with a property owner on Mound Avenue.

Dickert mentioned the alleged recording during a radio interview on WRJN on Friday morning. Dickert was speaking on the station’s morning call-in show “Sound Off” when Weidner called to confront him about statements he had made alleging she had interfered with the official process of acquiring the properties.

Dickert got on the subject when the show’s host, Don Rosen, asked him to comment on issues Weidner had with the project, which was approved on May 20 by the City Council.

A phase of the RootWorks: Root River Corridor Redevelopment Plan, the would-be development, calls for the city to acquire five parcels in the 1200 block of Mound Avenue across the street from the former Western Publishing building. That area will be turned into a bike path, outdoor classroom and scenic overlook.

Weidner, who voted against the plan, and three other aldermen who abstained from the vote, mentioned concerns with the process, mainly that the city might use grant dollars to take properties through eminent domain.

Alderman Eddie Diehl, one of the aldermen who abstained, was also troubled by the fact that the administration never asked the City Council for permission to apply for the $242,000 state Department of Natural Resources grant the city would be using to acquire the properties.

Alleged recording

Speaking to Rosen and radio listeners about the situation, Dickert said the administration had “made a mistake” by not following the usual grant application process.

He went on to say that the aldermen who were making a fuss over the issue were “creating more problems than what the initial problem was ... to the point where they were infusing their conversations into the negotiations, which could cost the taxpayers more money.”

It was when Weidner called Dickert on the air to confront him about those comments that Dickert mentioned having a recording of her talking with an owner of a property the city is seeking to acquire.

“Sandy, you actually had a conversation with the owners and I actually recorded you doing it,” he said.

“If you say on the air that you have a copy of me talking with one of the property owners, I would like a copy of that,” Weidner responded.

When Weidner went on to deny negotiating with property owners, Dickert again mentioned the alleged recording.

“I sat in the same room as you did, and you said to the business owners that you shouldn’t negotiate with us, and that is negotiating,” Dickert said, adding that Weidner should speak with the City Attorney’s Office.

“I am not going to talk to the City Attorney’s Office. You are bald-face lying, John. I don’t know what you think you heard,” Weidner said.

Asked about the exchange and the alleged recording on Wednesday, Dickert declined comment, directing all questions to the City Attorney’s Office.

The request

Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney said Wednesday that he was working on Weidner’s request, but added that if Dickert did have a recording of the alderman, it wouldn’t be a recording the city owns.

“My belief is that the recording the mayor is talking about, if it exists, is not a city record,” Letteney said.

Weidner said Wednesday that she is requesting a copy of Dickert's alleged recording because she “doesn't believe one exists.”

“I know I never did that,” said Weidner, who is considering a run for mayor. “The reason I called the radio station is John Dickert lied about what I said, what I did and what my motivation was.”

Weidner added that it wasn’t the first time she had “heard him lie” on the radio.

William Bielefeldt, a former city housing technician, sued Dickert in 2011 claiming the mayor defamed him in radio comments he made while campaigning for re-election. The suit was eventually settled out of court with the city paying Bielefeldt $5,000 for attorney's fees, but the legal battle cost taxpayers $100,000.

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