Year in Review, Part I: 2016 Began with a Bang, New Business, Murder
City Times Staff
County SWAT Team Descends Upon Courthouse
The Portage Co. Special Response Team (SRT) kicked off 2016 by conducting a hostage scenario at the courthouse. The exercise supposed gunmen infiltrated the courthouse with one judge shot, an unknown number of wounded and the mayor caught in the cross-hairs. The drill took place after regular business hours, so many of the offices and conference rooms were dark- an element of confusion which could easily present itself in a real-life emergency.
City Gives Go-Ahead for Bike Lane Grant Application
City officials gave approval for a newly-created committee to apply for federal grant funds. The city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee later learned the city had won the $400,000 grant to paint nearly 14 miles of bike lanes throughout the city — lanes that the city had “no possible way” of maintaining, according to Scott Schatschneider, the director of public works.
The project begins its design phase in 2017 and would be finished by 2019.
Former Plover Doctor Accused of Sex Assault
Dr. Wilton C. Calderon, of Lyme, Conn., was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, after an anonymous tipster alerted police that he groped several female patients during exams. Calderon worked at a Plover clinic of Ministry Medical Group until leaving for Connecticut in 2015.
Calderon is scheduled to return to court in February on 10 counts of third- and four-degree sexual assault.
Vacant Downtown Nightclub Becomes New Church
A former nightclub on Clark Street finally got a new look after being vacant for five years. Divine Word Evangelical Lutheran Church, located in Plover, bought the former Steel Nightclub building in 2015 and renovated the space into a campus ministry.
The building previously was home to the American Legion Post 6.
Former Copps Location Finally Filled
Stevens Point plan commissioners approved a new indoor storage facility at the former Copps grocery store location on Church St. after the building sat empty for more than two years. Storage Unlimited LLC eventually used the building as an indoor storage facility, similar to the one it operates in Plover inside the former location of The Discounter, 2640 Post Rd.
The business also opened the popular Antique Up, an antique and refurbished furniture store, inside the building, generating a lot of foot traffic.
County Finance Committee Meets Illegally
Allegations of meeting illegally by the Portage Co. Corporation Counsel met with an echoing determination by state officials, who determined the committee violated the state’s open meeting law on Jan. 18. Corp. Counsel Mike McKenna filed a complaint with the Portage Co. District Attorney’s Office accusing the committee of entering into closed session without a properly-worded public notice. An independent legal team agreed, but declined to recommend any action be taken against committee members because, according to their findings, “no individuals were subject to a forfeiture action because they did not knowingly violate the law.”
During that closed-session meeting, the committee hired an outside lawyer to investigate then-Treasurer Stephanie Stokes, who later resigned citing unfair treatment of her office by the County Executive.
Panera Bread comes to Plover
After months of waiting for the company to pull a construction permit, Plover officials announced Panera Bread was coming to Crossroads Commons. The casual-dining soup and sandwich chain opened in the former location of Denny’s Restaurant in October.
The restaurant opened for business shortly before Halloween.
Steven Tibbetts Gets Light Sentence
The former owner of a downtown Internet cafe was sentenced to nine months in jail — out of the possible 160 years he initially faced — after pleading no contest to three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault. Tibbetts had faced additional related charges after he assaulted several different women in the basement of the now-defunct Energy Cafe and his Town of Linwood home, but they were dismissed as part of his plea deal.
Tibbetts has since been released from jail and resides on Cleveland Street.
St. Patrick’s Day Shooting
Police responded to a report of gunshots shortly before 8 PM near the intersection of Minnesota and Fifth avenues, just blocks from UWSP. The victim, 21-year-old Deonta Lezine, was found a short time later at the Berg Gym suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Police later determined Lezine, who died about two weeks later, was shot during a drug deal gone bad.
The shooter was prematurely identified by a post on the Marshfield Police Department’s Facebook page as 31-year-old Kyle Engen, of Dane County, who eluded authorities for a month and was later arrested in Colorado.
Engen returns to court on intentional homicide charges in January. He is currently being held on a $100,000 cash bond.
City Offers Contingency $ for Tree Planting on Private Land
Mayor Mike Wiza proposed a new tree-planting pilot program to the City Council — one that was funded by the city’s contingency fund. The program would reimburse up to $100 for homeowners on a two-block stretch of Main St., where homes didn’t have enough space in the public right-of-way to grow a mature tree. The council gave almost unanimous support, with only Council President Mike Phillips voting against the measure, arguing contingency funds were meant for emergencies or unexpected expenses during the year.
Ald. Mary Kneebone said one of her constituents also had a similar concern, but she and nine other council members approved the project anyway, with a cap of $2,000. Wiza later said as far as he knew, only “one or two” homeowners took advantage of the program, which was suggested by Ald. Garrett Ryan.
City Council Welcomes Two New Faces
While eight candidates ran for the five open Common Council seats, only three of those races were contested. The April election saw Cathy Dugan, who has been a council meeting regular, voicing her opinion on just about every issue during the public comment section, take down longtime Councilman Tony Patton in District 8.
David Shorr, who refers to himself as a “public policy guy” beat out the fiscally-conservative Denise Mrozek for District 2.
Mike Phillips, who currently serves as Council President, beat out challenger Bob Larsen, while incumbents Heidi Oberstadt and Jeremy Slowinski ran unopposed.
Plover Announces New K-9 Program
The Plover Police Dept. surprised the public — pleasantly so — with an announcement it would begin a K-9 Unit to help combat an increase in drug activity in the village and surrounding communities. The department’s kickoff fundraising event brought in hundreds of residents, and after a series of fundraising events, raised over $50,000 in cash and donations, including a new K-9 squad, the dog and several weeks of training, before swearing in their new K-9 officer, Ice, in December.
Dewey Leaders Make a Mess of Clerk’s Position
While it wasn’t made public for some time, Dewey Town Clerk Todd Pazdra resigned without warning in February, following accusations of “virtually no record-keeping, made double payments on multiple invoices and not filing the town’s quarterly tax documents,” according to a new clerk the town hired in April. He also reportedly distributed W-2 forms late to town employees, in violation of state law, and in some cases had no employee W-4 forms on file.
The town opted not to file charged against Pazdra, and appointed former clerk Judy Zdroik to fill the remainder of his term. But Zdroik lasted only two meetings, quitting in anger over the constant arguing that took place between members of the Town Board and residents during meetings.
The town later contracted the clerk position to an outside party.
County K-9 Gets Terminal Cancer
Officials from the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office announced K-9 Officer Baco was stricken with cancer. One of the two Portage Co. K-9 dogs has been stricken with terminal cancer, according to officials at the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office.
Baco, the 10-year-old Belgian Malinois had worked in the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office for over six years and was partly responsible for over 350 drug-related arrests. The dog was retired from active duty in September.
Kids Raise $7K for PoCo K-9
Art Greco’s World of Business class started out slow, but after Greco promised to shave his head upon meeting a class goal, his group of students far-exceeded their $1500 fundraising goal for the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit. The students created their nonprofit organization as a semester-long class assignment, then proceeded to cold call businesses for donations.
Their semester ended with a family fun event at Lower Whiting Park, organized entirely by students, where they presented to Portage Co. Sheriff with a check for $7,000.
District Bathrooms go Transgender-Friendly
The Stevens Point School District made a controversial announcement it would now allow transgender students to utilize public school bathrooms based on their current gender identity.
The move kicked off a flurry of opposition, with many parents asking if this was a solution without a problem. District leaders said the “could never confirm or deny” the existence of transgender students in the schools, but said the new policy was a mandate based on a new federal law.
Initial Green-Light Given for New Jail, Gov. Building
After repeated concerns voiced by jail staff and other county officials, the Portage Co. Space and Properties Committee approved a design for a new county jail/county government government facility at 1039 Ellis Street. Sheriff Mike Lukas called the current jail facility “was obsolete starting the day it was built,” arguing “No ‘do nothing’ option for security improvements exist.”
The project was capped at $76 million, and later went to referendum in November. Voters turned it down.
Portage Co. Treasurer Taken to Woodshed by County Exec
Former Portage Co. Treasurer Stephanie Stokes failed to approve more than 150 electronic payments totaling over $215K, according to County Executive Patty Dreier. The error was quickly caught and corrected, but Dreier made her displeasure with Stokes publicly known after releasing a statement to the media. On top of the error, Stokes’ office had come under fire after a 2013 audit showing deficiencies and errors in accounting practices. Members of the county’s Finance Committee said Stokes provided updates on improvements made within the office, but committee members said those reports were all verbal, and no record of the details were kept.
Stokes later resigned from the elected post she’d held since 2003.
Art Becomes Hot Topic in Ordinance Discussion
A citation for ordinance violations kicked off a discussion on the City Council about what, exactly, is considered “art”. Second St. resident Steph Jones said she felt “singled out” due to her unconventional lifestyle as an artists when the city notified her of several violations at her 908 Second St. Violations included “safety and sanitary” issues like lack of weather-proofing to her home, a buckling front porch, peeling paint and accumulation of items in her yard.
Jones later appealed to the City Council, arguing some of the items in her yard were either gardening materials or art she created for passersby. But the issue prompted a discussion about what can be considered “art” for the sake of display, which under city ordinance has restrictions. Jones was allowed to keep much of the art in her yard, provided she took steps to maintain it.
The city has since earmarked $200,000 for an outside contractor to rewrite the city’s ordinances in 2017.