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WORVPI Response

Wisconsin Off-Road Vehicle Park Inc. (WORVPI) was formed right here in Forest County several years ago by a group of stakeholders interested in evaluating and developing the idea of an Off-Road Park that might provide economic development both in the county and the region.   In response to an opinion letter by Judy Savard that was published in the Forest County Republican on March 12, 2014, WORVPI wishes to offer a response. We feel that the many representations and accusations need to be corrected.

In her first paragraph, the park is not being “pushed through.” The park is a proposal being developed by a non-profit entity called Wisconsin Off Road Vehicle Park Incorporated to assist in fulfilling the first objective of the Forest County’s Outdoor Recreation plan 2012-2016 and Objective 13 of the 2011 Forest County Comprehensive Plan which were both adopted unanimously by the Forest County Board:

Support of an MRA Park is evidenced in the wording of these documents, including the Forest County Outdoor Recreation Plan which reads:

 

INTRODUCTION

The following recommendations are aimed at satisfying needs identified to build Forest County's status as a prime recreation and natural resource area and to provide recreation facilities for all Forest County residents and the surrounding tourism region.

 

The recommendations are based on the goals and objectives, and the public comment documented in Chapter 4 – Outdoor Recreation Needs Assessment. Although it is unlikely that all recommendations presented in this plan will be undertaken in the next five years, they should be recognized as causes for action if the opportunity or need arises.

 

COUNTYWIDE RECOMMENDATIONS

 

MRA Park

One of the top priorities for Forest County is the development of a large destination Motorized Recreation Area (MRA). Potential sites will need to be studied further to identify the best location for this park, however this type of development would fit ideally since it would utilize the natural assets of the county and benefit overall tourism and quality of life in the county.

 

The County has a long history with off road vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles. For over 40 years the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway has hosted the Brush Run Races and World Championship Races. The Crandon International Off-Road Raceway annually attracts thousands of motorized recreational enthusiasts to Forest County. The Motorized Recreation Area would have a synergistic relationship with the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway to make it a premier destination.

Further evidence of Forest County support comes from the 2011 Forest County Comprehensive Plan Economic Development Chapter:

Objective #13. Work with state, federal and local governments to locate a destination MRA in the County.”

So WORVPI was formed in Forest County with the involvement of public officials and interested individuals to pursue the implementation of these goals.

Also, in the first paragraph, in response to her statement ”They don’t want the public to ask any questions or put up red flags. They don’t want us to ask questions or question their ability for what is in the best interest of Forest County.”   WORVPI has in fact held over 20 local public information sessions and three MRA park conferences, and posted all the information and questions with responses that do not deal with land acquisition on their website. WORVPI has worked very hard to invite people to find out more and to also listen to people that have had concerns.

Also, in the first paragraph, Ms. Savard’s statement that “a majority of citizens don’t want the park” is anecdotal and not supported by any valid measure. Speculative letters and guest editorials, without any basis in fact, have certainly raised concerns; these concerns will likely be eased once the Scoping Phase is complete and the plan is presented.

Regarding paragraph three “the county board has broken the law in several instances.”   “Open meeting law – several of us were locked out of a public meeting between WORVPI and Oversight Committee”

In fact, the county MRA Park Oversight Committee adjourned at the courthouse and the committee chairman Steve Bunda may not have been clear to the attendees that the meeting adjourned. The Oversight Committee then crossed the street and joined a private meeting of WORVPI where they requested to discuss future meeting procedures and a tentative meeting schedule. (Sorry you missed that it was a really exciting meeting.) WORVPI and the Oversight Committee are exempt from open meetings law in this instance as a subunit meeting immediately after the meeting to discuss noticed subjects of the meeting. To help fill you in on what you missed, in that same meeting, according to meeting notes, Mr. Bunda stated he “saw no reason to meet [with WORVPI] until April or May.” Here is an explanation of that law:

From Local Government Center Fact Sheet No 1 “. Definition. Subunits are created by the parent body and consist only of members of the parent Body.32

B. Applicability of Open Meetings Law; exceptions

1. Generally, meetings of subunits are subject to the advance public notice requirements of

the law.

2. However, a subunit, such as a committee of a governing body, may meet without prior

public notice during the parent body’s meeting, during its recess or immediately after the

meeting to discuss noticed subjects of the parent body’s meeting.

Ms. Savard’s letter discusses the “Sunshine law – board members meeting outside board meeting to discuss county business” – WORVPI has no knowledge of this, however, Sunshine law does not prevent board members to discuss county business unless are an entity with the authority to create binding laws, and they lack such authority.   An explanation:

From Investopedia:

In some cases, an event or document that would normally be accessible through sunshine laws is closed to public access (such as a legally protected matter currently under investigation), but sunshine laws are supposed to minimize these exceptions. Sunshine laws also differentiate entities that are subject to the laws from those that are not. For example, any entity with the authority to create binding laws would be subject to the law, but an advisory committee that lacked such authority might not be subject to sunshine laws, even if it dealt with matters related to government.”

 

Ms. Savard’s bullet number three regarding the Freedom of information act – refuse to answer citizens questions concerning the off-road park. Once again, the WORVPI and the county board is not required to answer questions under the freedom of Information Act—if there is a specific request for information, however, the jurisdiction would need to respond with the documents requested if the judge deems the information request viable. Neither WORVPI nor the county board has received a freedom of information request to our knowledge.

Bullet point four: “Conflict of Interest- County supervisors on WORVPI board”—WORVPI is a non-profit corporation and seeks members with an interest in developing a motorized recreation area in Forest County. Just like any of the other non-profit boards such as ITBEC, Lumberjack RC&D, Grow North, Community Coalition of Forest County, Forest County Economic Development Partnership, and numerous other state and local non-profits, it is not only not a conflict to serve on a non- profit board but an asset to the county to have members and other elected officials sit on a non-profit board and participate. For example, Governor Walker serves as Chairman of the Board that oversees the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)—itself a public/private organization. That board of directors includes elected officials, cabinet secretaries, and private business owners interested in the advancement of economic development in Wisconsin.

Bullet point five: “Conflict of interest – Mayor Rob Jaeger on WORVPI board” see explanation for bullet point four.

Bullet point six “County supervisor sequestering and accepting free meals from WORVPI board at a public meeting” The county supervisors gave up an entire day on Saturday to listen, learn and ask questions at a conference presented by the National Off Highway Vehicle Council. They along with all the other guests that RSVP’d were provided lunch at the conference. It seems rude to us to require invitees to pay for their own lunch at a workshop that runs a full day.   Anyone else who attended the meeting was also asked to join for lunch as well and if you missed this invitation which was announced early in the day, after conference organizers did a meal count, we apologize.

Bullet point seven ”All meetings to be posted two weeks in advance” To our knowledge all meetings are posted in advance. Please provide documentation of which meetings were not posted. To our knowledge meetings regarding the MRA Park business have been posted on the doors of the courthouse.

Again, from Local Government Fact Sheet #1:

B. Public notice; posting. Public notice is required for every meeting of a governmental body.

§§19.83 & 19.84. This notice may be accomplished by posting in places likely to be seen by the

public; a minimum of three locations is recommended.19 The notice requirements of other

applicable statutes must be followed. Although paid, published newspaper notices are not

required by the Open Meetings Law, other specific statutes may require them.20 §19.84. If

notices are published, posting is still recommended.

C. Notice to media. Notice must be provided to news media who have requested it in writing.

§19.84(1)(b). Notice may be given in writing, by telephone,21 voice mail, fax or email. Written

methods are preferable because they create a record that can be used to show compliance with

this notice requirement. Notice must also be provided to the governmental unit’s official

newspaper, or, if there is no official newspaper, it must be sent to a news medium likely to give

notice in the area.

Bullet point eight Ms. Savard states “County supervisors signing nondisclosure agreement and confidentiality agreement with WORVPI. This is why we cannot get our questions answered.”   The purpose of the non-disclosure statement is for purposes of land purchase or lease. If information on property location was public knowledge individuals interested in turning a fast profit would be motivated to purchase prior to the county and put the county at a bargaining disadvantage if it desired to move forward with purchase of property for a park. This practice is customary in potential development plans where potential land acquisition is involved.

Once again from the Local Government Fact Sheet #1:

F. Purchases; bargaining. Deliberating or negotiating the purchase of public property,

investment of public funds, or conducting other specified public business when competitive or

bargaining reasons require a closed session. §19.85 (1)(e). The competitive or bargaining reason

must relate to reasons benefitting the governmental body, not a private party’s desire for

confidentiality

Bullet point nine “Armstrong Post office where Chairman Millan works is handing off-road park fliers out over the post office counter.” She is stating that Chairman Millan works as a rural carrier for the post office, which is correct. Unfortunately, Ms. Savard leads readers to believe Chairman Millan is responsible for the park fliers being on the counter of the post office and that is incorrect. The flyers were placed there by a third party volunteer who is not a WORVPI member and who neither knows Chairman Millan nor asked Chairman Millan if they could the flyers on the counter. When Chairman Millan found out that the flyers were on the counter, he had them removed per policy of the US Postal Service.   It is our understanding that these flyers were the “33 most asked questions about the proposed Off-Road Park.” These questions and answers can also be found on the WORVPI web site, www.worvpi.org.

In paragraph five, where she states “that the park would be better if built some place outside of someplace like Milwaukee of Madison.” We think Ms. Savard and the DNR are correct. It should be built outside of Madison or Milwaukee—in a beautiful place like Forest County.  

In paragraph number six, Ms. Savard is incorrect in stating that no hunting would be allowed. The WORVPI board has gone on record in support of allowing hunting in the park with safety policies in place. This is also clearly stated in the “33 most asked questions.”

In paragraph seven she has a good idea about private money having the park up and running. The reason WORVPI, a Forest County-developed organization, is not supporting that idea is that it would not allow for local input into such things as noise ordinances, environmental sensitivity compliance policies and such things as tax advantages to local municipalities and public access to the park.

In paragraph eight, the misinformation about a $20 million loan to the county is exaggerated from anything that has been talked about at any of the County or WORVPI meetings. The scoping phase is determining the potential cost of the project and will provide that information at the conclusion of the phase. It does appear, however, that with the state grants and easements that will be applied to the property, that the county may be able to own a large parcel of property and receive timber revenue at a fraction of the cost of the land. In all likelihood this will be a great investment for the county. It does not make up for the hundreds of thousands of Forest County land that was turned over to the Federal Government in 1928—as a result of a county-wide referendum—but it is a step in the right direction.  

In paragraph nine, I believe this is Ms. Savard’s opinion and that is fine, but we encourage her to look at the dynamics of the park plan when phase two is complete. The prediction models are based on widely accepted models of economic development. The plan is specific to not include things such as restaurants and gas stations; it is designed to support those businesses that already exist in Forest County. WORVPI did, however, offer to help fund the link between the City of Crandon and Crandon International Raceway (CIR), a move that will help Crandon businesses and support the significant investment that CIR has made into camp sites. This proposed link can also help connect to the park and eliminate the necessity to build many large campgrounds.

In paragraph ten, she states her opinion and that is fine, however, “we” is a broad term and we believe that she does not represent the “we” that we find in support of a destination off road park.

In paragraph eleven Ms. Savard states that a WORVPI member that is associated with Ripon College. She is correct, finally. One of our members did attend Ripon College—about twenty-two years ago. Whether that makes us suspect as a board is a stretch, but if you are into conspiracy theories then we must be guilty.

In paragraph twelve, we agree to disagree. Ms. Savard’s philosophy appears to be not to invest and continue to decline. Our philosophy is to consider an investment in the future of the county; one that has the potential to provide two revenue streams: forest products and tourism. Our philosophy is also to create jobs, and a tourism attraction that over time will become a national destination for nature and thrill seekers to enjoy. Whether it was her intention or not, her words discredit the hard work of WORVPI’s volunteer members and the Forest County Board of Supervisors. And, without emphasis on additional county revenue (without tax increases that no one wants to see) it appears that she is proposing a deficit approach to decline. Perhaps this next election will be a referendum—pitting one side that is seeking commitment and investment into a better future and her side which is to seek a decline in the commitment and investment for a better future.   It will be interesting, considering the accusations that were hurled against—in her words—the majority [of county supervisors that] have forgotten that they work for the citizens of Forest County. We encourage a positive approach that is focused on how we can work together to give our children and grandchildren a better Forest County.

It is possible that the county board will reject the park concept once the scoping phase is complete and the plan is presented. We respect, however, their willingness to take and idea and develop it in to a plan. We should all thank the county board for supporting ideas that provide promise and allow them to be developed into plans. If the plan is feasible, this might just help turn our county’s economic status upward.

Sincerely, WORVPI Board

A Forest County-based non-profit organization

An Off-Road Park & the Four E’s

Part One in a Series from Issue 3, Volume 122, of The Forest Republican on March 12th, 2014.  “In Forest County, Wisconsin Off-Road Vehicle Park, Inc. (WORVPI) hopes to tap into an emerging market by developing a large, multi-use off-road park—a proposal that isn’t without controversy.”

Due to the perceived contentious nature of the issue of a Forest County off-road park and comments regarding perceived bias, The Forest Republican has asked that we no longer post their articles on our Web Site or Facebook. You can read this entire article on The Forest Republican Web Site at http://www.florence-forestnews.com/48119/2191/1/home

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