Local elected officials need to put the “Top Secret” stamp in a locked file cabinet — or the nearest trash basket. It was a bad week for open, honest government that keeps the public informed of what’s going on.
Topping the list was a news report this week that a review of the Racine Police Department’s overall culture — in response to a previous survey that revealed racist and sexist remarks by officers — has been bottled up since last summer by Racine Mayor Cory Mason. Despite requests from an alderman and The Journal Times, Mason has not released the report, conducted by MWH Law Group of Milwaukee or the cost of that report to Racine taxpayers.
While that report was being conducted, Police Chief Art Howell asked the City Council for permission to spend up to $100,000 on a more intensive study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police — which was granted. Now, Racine Alderman Sandy Weidner has asked the city’s Finance and Personnel Committee to discuss the study and costs next week.
“This should be a public document and should be discussed by the council,” Weidner said. “He (Mason) can’t just ignore requests from aldermen like this. The mayor has to share what was found in that study.” We agree and hope the committee and the council use a pry bar to shed some light on this study and share it with the public.
Behind Door No. 2 in the “Top Secret” category was Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson’s denial of this newspaper’s request to release police video cam footage of the arrest of a former Mount Pleasant Village Board candidate for allegedly punching a Mount Pleasant police officer in a confrontation after a series of traffic crashes prevented him from getting into his driveway. The ex-candidate, Charles Haakma, pleaded no contest to charges of resisting or obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct this week — misdemeanor charges — in exchange for the state dropping a felony charge of battery or threat to a law enforcement officer.
Hanson declined to release the video of the confrontation when it happened — a year and a half ago — and this week declined again, saying it would not be released until 30 days after sentencing.
When police video cams first started being deployed here a few years ago, it was made with the promise that they would create more transparency in law enforcement, protect police officers from unfounded charges and also hold them accountable for missteps in dealing with citizens. Hanson’s decisions undercut those promises and, instead of reassuring citizens in situations involving confrontation with police, she has elected to plunge them into doubt and darkness. Judging by the news this week, both Mason and Hanson need to have a higher regard for their obligations to keep the public informed of government actions. They took an oath of office — not an oath of secrecy.
Let him wrestle. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs state high school sports, will have relented and allowed Waterford High School wrestler Hayden Halter to compete in this weekend regional. Halter, a sophomore, who was a state champion last year, was flagged for two conduct penalties by the referee in a title match which he won, 7-2, in the Southern Lakes Conference tournament.
According to Halter, the first unsportsmanlike call was made at the end of the match when he challenged the decision awarding his opponent a point for an escape. “I said to the ref, ‘What was that?’” Halter said. The point made no difference in the match — changing the score from 7-1 to 7-2, but it was followed quickly at the conclusion of the match when Halter shook hands with his opponent — and then flexed his muscles toward the stands. That drew unsportsmanlike penalty No. 2, which meant disqualification from going to regionals and perhaps to the WIAA State Tournament.
The WIAA said early this week the ref’s decision was final and there was no appeal process. Halter’s parents threatened to sue. Talk about going to the mat. We hope the WIAA finds room reconsider this situation — particularly since it reportedly has no appeals process — and let Halter continue his quest for a second state championship. We also hope Halter learns to check his tongue and not challenge the ruling of a ref and to show more respect for his opponents by dumping the flexing celebration.
While the Chicago Bears’ offense is not on the same field as its defense, its marketing and legal departments pulled a tricky end-around this week to end the lawsuit of a Mount Pleasant man.
You remember Russell Beckman, of course. The Mount Pleasant man and Packer fan who holds Bears season tickets and filed a federal lawsuit after the Bears told him he couldn’t wear his Packer fan green and gold on the sidelines at Soldier Field during Bear warm-ups. The field pass was a perk in a Bears program to reward season ticket holders. The federal court suit was still going on when the Bears this week said they were eliminating the on-field warmup perk – sending all those Bear season ticket holders back into the stands and, presumably, putting a dagger in Beckman’s federal lawsuit. But not before giving Bears fans another reason to hate the Packers.