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Residents, Contractors Blast Village Officials Over Radisson Debacle

Angry taxpayers and small business owners packed the Village Board meeting Monday and were met by silence from officials.

Menomonee Falls residents and unpaid contractors packed the Village Board meeting Monday to unleash anger at officials over the project — with several calling on trustees to resign.

They were met with only silence.

“Get out of the private sector,” Mark Rattan of Menomonee Falls, told the board members, who listened stone-faced. “It’s not the role of government. What were you thinking?”

Even when one resident took the podium to tell the board she just wanted to hear trustees' side before making up her mind, board members said nothing.

“This isn’t a response session,” explained Village President Randy Newman to the crowd of people who filled nearly every seat in the board meeting room of .

Only a few people had a chance to speak out of the several dozen in attendance when Newman said the 15 minutes typically allotted for the public comment session had run out. The short public venting session did little to alleviate residents’ and contractors’ concerns. If anything, people seemed angrier afterward, clustering in the hall to continue venting about the topic and calling village officials “smug” and unemotional.

"It's a joke. I think we should recall them."

Some mentioned the possibility of recalling village officials or just booting them out at election time. And the contractors said they are talking about banding together to launch a counter-suit against the village for not paying them for all of the work they did on the hotel.

“It’s a joke,” said Lee Georg Jr., a Menomonee Falls resident who attended the meeting with his wife. “I think we should recall them. Good loans can go bad. But bad loans never go good. And this was a bad loan from the start.”

“They don’t give a damn,” said Sylvia Block of Palmyra, whose husband is out $10,000 for computer work he did on the Radisson. “They have no emotion. I think they better not get too comfortable in their chairs.”

The village holds the nearly $18 million mortgage because it’s the primary lender on the property, which is now in foreclosure. That's the part that upsets residents the most — they say it wasn't the role of government to lend that much money to private business.

“Why put the taxpayers on the hook? “said Dennis Schultz of Menomonee Falls. “This was risky business.”

Officials promise answers soon

After the meeting, officials maintained their silence, saying it was on the advice of lawyers. But Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald said officials are planning a press conference soon in order to address residents’ concerns. The topic has also aired on talk radio.

“We can’t,” said Newman after the meeting, when asked by Patch for a response. “Our lawyers have advised us not to speak on it. There is nothing wrong with concerned citizens coming forward. I owe them that voice.”

“I can’t,” echoed Fitzgerald. “We are going to try to pull together a comprehensive press conference soon.”

The board met in closed session before the meeting with counsel and staff to discuss litigation strategies involving the project, but never came into open session on that discussion.

The village confirmed in mid-June that it has in Waukesha County Circuit Court involving the village’s mortgage on the Radisson.  

The village $14.4 million in principal that it advanced, as well as interest and other costs. In the suit, the village is seeking property and collateral from five members of the ownership group of the hotel.

The hotel, banquet facilities and a restaurant remain open.

Things have gotten progressively worse, with , the in looking into what happened to the contractors’ payments, and some of the money is going to payments for payroll.

The development agreement between the village and owners dates to 2010, when the village agreed to provide the nearly $18 million loan to jumpstart the hotel’s construction.

One of the developers quickly filed for bankruptcy. The village has already appointed a receiver to monitor day-to-day operations of the facility.

Menomonee Falls resident Dennis Barthenheier said before the meeting that the anger is a carry over from “the tea party and Scott Walker. The time is ripe for this” kind of protest, he said.

“What were they thinking?” he said, noting that the loan is the “equivalent of an entire year’s budget" in Menomonee Falls.

Lawmaker questions officials' lack of response

State Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford) is running for re-election in a redrawn district that now includes a much larger portion of Menomonee Falls. He talked to residents and contractors before and after the meeting, although he didn’t address the board.

“It blows my mind, the amount of money involved here,” Pridemore said.

Pridemore said he was bothered that board members said nothing in response to residents' concerns on Monday.

“There wasn’t any reception. If someone was asking me to resign from my job, I don’t think I’d hide behind some rule," he said. "This is not going to help settle anyone’s fears that the taxpayers are going to get stuck with all of it.”

Pridemore said he hopes the village officials would address residents’ concerns soon. “They need to do so, if not tonight, then in the near future,” he said.

Bill Savage, a Pridemore staffer who is one of the officers in a newly formed Menomonee Falls Taxpayers Association group, passed out flyers on the group to residents. Steve Welcenbach, a Menomonee Falls small business owner who is president of the new group, told the board it needs to look to the future to ensure the success of the hotel, since taxpayers now own it.

The new taxpayers group to create a referendum that would require Village Board members to put any capital expenditures of more than $1 million to a binding referendum.

Contractors have a lot at stake

Jerry Block, a contractor, and Sylvia Block’s husband, echoed a similar theme, telling the board that it would make sense to maintain good relationships with the contractors since they spent “a lot of time and energy remodeling it.”

Thus, he said, it would take new contractors more time and money to get up to speed as issues arise with the building. People said they are worried the conflict and negative media attention would make it harder for the hotel to succeed.

However, Rattan said he didn’t think the village should “voluntarily make good” with the contractors, saying he was concerned about all of the costs being shouldered by taxpayers.

Former Village President Jefferson Davis gave a speech to the board that culminated in his saying, “Shame, shame, shame. You can’t be trusted.” But he said the village should pay the contractors. “Do the right thing,” he said. He said if the board was private stock with a CEO, there would be resignations.

Contractors are particularly incensed by news reports that the money is going to pay payroll.

Tom Malezewski, owner of Heritage Glass, told trustees that he has lived in Menomonee Fallls since 1959. He said he’s owed $57,149 for installing all of the Radisson’s glass work.

“This has put a terrible strain on my company,” he said. “I hope that I am not going to lose my company over this. And it looks like my taxes are going up. Just pay us. We just want to be paid.”

Applause erupted after his comment.

Before the meeting, Malezewski commented, “Taxpayers are going to be screwed.” As a contractor and a Menomonee Falls taxpayer, he said he’s going to get hit twice. “They (board members) need to be held to account.”

“They are suggesting we pound sand,” said Mark Mouradian, representing a company that did kitchen design work on the Radisson. “We turned down other work to do this that would have paid.”

Barry Bloom, of Brookfield, another contractor, said contractors received letters from the village that told them to continue working on the project. They want the district attorney to consider whether the village’s actions amount to criminal theft, saying the village is basically acting as a general contractor. But Bloom said didn’t agree that a criminal theft by contractor violation could be met at this time.

“They should be doing the right thing here,” he said of the board. “They promised to pay us.”

The contractors said that several of them have been attending the past few  board meetings to air their concerns.

elisa miller July 03, 2012 at 03:25 AM
I was told they were met by silence because given the rules of the meeting it did not allow for sharing from the board. It was strictly a citizen voice section. For what it's worth.
Craig July 03, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Any member of the Board could have made a motion to suspend Robert's Rules of Order to discuss this topic. The truth is: the Board has nothing they can say other than, "we screwed you all".
Steve ® July 03, 2012 at 04:51 AM
It may be safer for the board members to spend some time in jail. They keep making one bad mistake after another after another.
Lennie Jarratt July 03, 2012 at 05:36 AM
Boards do this all over. They answer questions when they want to and then use these rules as an excuse when it is convenient for them to stay silent.
Lennie Jarratt July 03, 2012 at 05:37 AM
The contractors should release all the emails. If not, they should be FOIAed.
daFalls July 03, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Their lack of comment has nothing to do with suspending Robert's Rules. If anything, it would be Wisconsin Open Meeting Law and whether this particular topic was legally posted on the agenda for discussion. Most likely it was the village attorney's opinion to stay quiet due to probable lawsuits and possibly making incriminating statements.
Craig July 03, 2012 at 02:58 PM
daFalls: They easily could have discussed the topic if they had anything they could say to defend themselves. Remaining silent, pleading the fifth, or claiming pending litigation is an excellent excuse to duck and cover. The proper way to handle it would be to schedule a special public hearing one week in advance, then be fourthwrite with the answers.
Chris Fritz July 03, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Keep in mind we have two separate issues here. The obvious one is the board is a bunch of fools and should ALL be recalled/kicked out at election time. The unanimous vote for the loan is a travesty. The other issue is we have a great hotel that should be supported as a business. The employees there just want to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. It no one any good to fall into an emotional trap of shunning the place. Everything I have has been positive about the hotel and restaurants.
Uncle D July 03, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I really don't believe that there is even one board member that is capable or has any training to make decisions like this. We have a Village Manager and a Village Attorney that are both at BEST, inept! I would be looking at Malfeasance... ("malfeasance is the doing of an act which an officer had no legal right to do at all and that when an officer, through ignorance, inattention, or malice, does that which they have no legal right to do at all, or acts without any authority whatsoever, or exceeds, ignores, or abuses their powers, they are guilty of malfeasance.")
claire July 03, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Why did the people wait until after the fact to protest? This should have been stopped in the planning stages. Or was everything done in secret like it is in Madison?
David Keup July 03, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I used to cover several local government and school board meetings in the past as a news journalist...some boards will comment during the public comments, some will not because of Wisconsin Open Meeting laws. However, it looks like this board is in a whole lot of trouble -- not criminally but on a civil level - civil lawsuits will be coming...
John Wilson July 03, 2012 at 04:08 PM
I understand that We The People are upset, to begin with, and further, not getting any answers at all from the board, would further just infuriate them even more. They have a right to get answers from their elected officials. The board owes them that and they should have understood, by not answering any questions at all, that they were just adding fuel to an already overheated situation. Having said that, I still think that we should all take a step back and find out what the board is planning to do, when and how they are planning to do it. It certainly is reasonable to be exercised by the decisions of the board and the lack of any response to We The People... We must have the accountability that we are due. However, we need real answers to real questions before we start threatening recall or just vote them out. Decisions need to be based upon FACTS first, then we can put the emotion, the fear, the frustration behind those FACTS and do what we will. I'm giving the board the benefit of the doubt here, as they obviously know they are between a rock and a hard place here; We The People are too emotional and really need to back off on those emotions and get some FACTS. I really don't think that much of anything very positive can or will be accomplished until the board or a representative gets us some hard FACTS... then it would be the time to be making decisions; yes, it is a terribly frustrating situation for everyone...
W . Benz July 03, 2012 at 04:28 PM
FITZ says "press conference soon" but ELECTED POLS say NOTHING . I guess you found out who's running M.F..... Oh but the way ,,,Village Prez NEWMAN"S Laryngitis is healing and tells the taxpayers you have 15 min's ...Well Mr Prez your time and your LAWYERED UP Morons buddies time is short for you and the cabal. The UNELECTED Fitzgerald and Atty Morse need to go pronto before they do more damage . The Village Board needs to be recalled TODAY and the other 3 trustees and Prez not elected again .... These People need to RESIGN !!! Taxpayer's need to take back control of their VILLAGE . So what does the MFtax group DO ?
Jann July 03, 2012 at 05:00 PM
claire: 99% of this was done in closed door session. Taxpayers had no say in the matter.
Craig July 03, 2012 at 06:07 PM
I agree. As taxpayers in Menomonee Falls, it is in our best interest to patronize this place and protect our investment - at least to minimize our losses.
Jefferson E. Davis July 03, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Elisa: Jeff Steliga is not telling you the truth as is the case with him on most everything he does as a Village Trustee. As you will see from the Attorney General's Office of Wisconsin regarding State Statutes that govern Open Meetings for Village Government (http://www.doj.state.wi.us/AWP/2010OMCG-PRO/2010_OML_Compliance_Guide.pdf), Jeff Steliga is untruthful. Who would you believe, Jeff Steliga or the Attorney General? The following excerpt is from the AG's Office that speaks directly to the Town Hall Portion of Village Meetings on Page 20 of his report on Open Meetings Law: "Although it is not required, the open meetings law does permit a governmental body to set aside a portion of an open meeting as a public comment period. Wis. Stat. §§ 19.83(2) and 19.84(2). Such a period must be included on the meeting notice. During such a period, the body may receive information from the public and may discuss any matter raised by the public. If a member of the public raises a subject that does not appear on the meeting notice, however, it is advisable to limit the discussion of that subject and to defer any extensive deliberation to a later meeting for which more specific notice can be given. In addition, the body may not take formal action on a subject raised in the public comment period, unless that subject is also identified in the meeting notice." Hope this helps. You will learn very quickly not to believe almost anything that Jeff Steliga says.
Jefferson E. Davis July 03, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Craig and Lennie: You are correct in your postitions that the Village Board could have discussed the Radisson Hotel topic at the Town Hall Portion of the meeting last night. See the post to Elisa above and the AG's Opinion and link on Open Meetings Law. The Village Manager, Village Attorney and Village President are wrong and have been for years so they can hide behind their desks and not be held accountable to the public for poor policy and financial decisioins.
Jefferson E. Davis July 03, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Lennie: The contractors have asked for the emails and the Village Manager wants to charge them thousands of dollars which the contractors simply don't have so the public will never know about all of the nefarious moves that have been taking place in secret to stiff the contractors.
Jefferson E. Davis July 03, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Claire: There was a protest from one person to the Village Manager, Village Board, Village Police Chief, District Attorney and Village Attorneyabout this project dating back to 2007. That person was mocked, made fun of, ridiculed, demeaned and labeled by the DA in writing as, "...the boy who cried wolf" and was, "...a hoist in his own petard". The emails, letters and documents can be made available to you anytime you want to see them.
Jefferson E. Davis July 03, 2012 at 06:58 PM
John Wilson: You make excellent points. How does this sound? Let's reserve a room in the $42,000,000 Library Municipal Complex, that we were told by the Village Board was paid for without any taxpayer funds in 2002, for a Public Forum and invite the Trustees, Village Manager, Village Attorney, the public, the press, the media and the contractors to review the few documents that have been made public to see what actually happened, what is happening and what needs to happen to resolve this situation for the hotel in an emotionally controlled manner without any time constraints until all questions are answered satisfactorily? Let's not make it a Village Board Meeting, but a Public Forum which the State Statutes allow us to do (http://www.doj.state.wi.us/AWP/2010OMCG-PRO/2010_OML_Compliance_Guide.pdf) without any fears or repercussions of Open Meetings Law. That way the trustees and Village Staff can come without any limitations. We're all hotel owners today and we need to collectively figure out the end game to mitigate the expected losses on the $18,000,000 loan and try to keep this hotel open for the betterment of Main Street and the other businesses that are located there. Remember, $18,000,000 +/- represents the entire tax levy over the last 4-5 years to run the entire Village (http://www.menomonee-falls.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1997 - Page 2). I will provide refreshments and cookies.
Lennie Jarratt July 03, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Ask to inspect the documents instead of making a copy. Then while inspecting them you can have them only copy the ones you want so it keeps the costs down.
Jefferson E. Davis July 03, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Lennie: Agreed, but the Village has a "location fee" that would run in to the hundreds of dollars for the contractors. Most governments, who are open, honest and don't have anything to hide, don't or won't charge such a fee let alone a copy fee. Most governments make documents available to the public without hesitation or hiding behind some obscure supreme court decision or state statute and don't charge for the first 10, 20, 50 or even 100 pages.
Craig July 03, 2012 at 11:53 PM
JD: It is easier for them to remain mute on the subject rather than admit fault and/or try to keep the stories straight. A real man would say we screwed up and this is why....
Richard July 04, 2012 at 01:25 PM
I like your thoughts regarding the civil lawsuits and the malfeasance in office idea too. Was there ever an outside appraisal done on the hotel project and if so by whom and what were the conclusions. Did the board ever ask for and receive learned and competent advice from local bankers in the community? And if so, what was the advice and from whom? In fact who advised the village board regarding the decision to move forward on the loan on the hotel? What numbers does the analysis have and do they support the debt service coverage? Was due diligence followed in background checks on the loan principals and their financial statements? Boy there sure are a whole bunch of unanswered questions pertaining to the hotel situation. Again, before we presume anything about the board we need input as to the background on the decision to make such an apparently ludicrous loan.
W . Benz July 04, 2012 at 03:07 PM
No show Prez Newman and trustees in the parade... Gee I wonder Why ? Maybe it's too Hot for them . Mr Wilson go to village hall and ask them for Facts and see what you get ! Your naive to think these people won't cover their butts and make every excuse for this blunder. The Facts are $$$ 18 milion plus were spent with taxpayer monies and they gamble the peoples monies..... They are hope more time passes and the public will forget by next election and praying a recall doesn't happen. Happy 4 th of july ...
W . Benz July 18, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Elisa the 1 st amendment would apply , and I have been at V meetings where sitting trustees spoke and also a trustee who temp vacated his chair and spoke at the mic. So who ever told you they can't speak shouldn't be a elected representative of the people and its a disingenuous assertion.
Steven Farrell August 16, 2012 at 09:53 PM
When are the people of this town going to say enough? Fire these damn thieves that are ruining this town. Jesewicks + McDonald put this deal together, so let’s sue them for outright fraud. No bank or any other investor would ever risk their money on a $17,000,000.00 hotel that’s only worth maybe $8,000,000.00. And where do they get the authority to use taxpayer’s money on a Hotel? When businesses were forced out of town to make room for Wal-Mart, the town gave Wal-Mart an $800,000.00 low interest loan and the veteran businesses got a 1 month eviction notice and absolutely no help to rebuild or relocate. No wonder most of them moved out of this screwed up village. And the one's that couldn't afford to relocate? Screw um- they only staked their future in this town! Let them die after 20 or more years in business. But what the heck, maybe when McDonald has to answer for this one he can send out his dog instead of his daughter, like he did when the police showed up at his house to arrest him for drunk driving! Big man, small***** {well it rhymes with Falls}.
W . Benz August 16, 2012 at 10:40 PM
The Village passed a new ord limit on $$$ but it's a SHAM . Gave the big one to the MFTax people who are Dumb or just inept dealing with these Slugs. No recall of these Pols just emboldened them to continue the spending of taxpayer money and to do whatever they want . See MF Now the media outlet in their hip pocket for what the POLS have instore for you. ......RECALL NOW
Jefferson E. Davis August 16, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Misty Coty: Thank you for your comments. The Falls needs more people like you to speak out without fear of the Jeskewitz's and McDonald's. You obviously have insight and knowledge of very unfortunate situations that may have put taxpayers on the hook for a mess that could cripple the community for years to come unless there is a miracle of God to turn things around. Please call me. I'm in the phone book. There is more information about the non-profit Falls Fest (Jeskewitz/McDonald/Steliga/Greco/Farrenkopf)/Wal Mart Grocery and the Village Board deal that you refer to that will make your toenails curl. Looking forward to learning more about the information you have shared.
W . Benz May 15, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Time to reflect !

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