The Whitewater common council learned on Tuesday Feb 7 that local businesses have pulled their support for the annual Spring Splash party, after negative feedback from last year’s event.
Spring Splash is a party for college students finishing their spring semester that includes specials at local bars, house parties and other social gatherings. The event was never officially authorized by the University of Wisconsin Whitewater or the city of Whitewater.
At the 2016 Spring Splash there were reports of public intoxication, large scale littering and property damage. Police Chief Otterbacher said her department was overwhelmed by the number of people and was unable to control the large crowds that had gathered. In one instance Otterbacher said that bottles were thrown at officers who tried to break up a party.
“How nobody died last year is a gift,” Otterbacher said.
The council reported that Wisconsin Red, which has coordinated the event since 2013, will not be sponsoring it this year.
City Manager Cameron Clapper reported that he met with Wisconsin Red owner Steve Farina along with other city officials to address their concerns. After the meeting Clapper said they decided it would be best for Wisconsin Red not to sponsor the event this year.
Members of the local community that sponsored the event last year had also withdrawn their support. Clapper reported that Kurt Patrick or Pumpers & Mitchell, a tavern in downtown Whitewater, had sponsored events in 2016 but would not do so this year.
Council member Stephanie Goettl said she was disappointed that the city had not made plans to safely host the event this year.
“I was under the impression that after last year, this year would have a better controlled event because we would be better prepared for it,” Goettl said.
In a post on Facebook, Wisconsin Red expressed similar disappointments, saying they had hoped to plan a safe event with the city.
“Instead, we were essentially forced to step back from our involvement this year, or be subject to a myriad of unwanted consequences,” the post reads.
However, council member James Allen said that Wisconsin Red needed to be held accountable for the problems with the 2016 Spring Splash.
“This is an organization that, through manipulation of social media, created a mob scene, but called it a party in Whitewater,” Allen said.
Goettl, who joined the council as a student from UW Whitewater, accused the council of being derogatory toward students.
“This has to be one of the most blatantly anti-student discussions we have ever had,” Goettl said.
Council member James Langnes, a student at UW Whitewater, said he was also concerned that Wisconsin Red leaving the event would make it more difficult to control.
“I think Wisconsin Red was our only control point in this ordeal,” Langnes said.
However, while other members of the council said they would like to be able to safely hold an event like Spring Splash in the future, they felt there was no way to hold the event this year while guaranteeing public safety.
Other issues addressed by the common council included the selling of K-9 officer Boomer to his handler who left the department for another city.
Boomer, who has served at the department for less than 3 years, was purchased using crowdfunded money due to state mandated caps on municipal revenues.
Otterbacher said that it would be risky for the city to keep Boomer, because he might not be able to work with a new handler.
Boomer’s handler, officer Joe Matteson, resigned unexpectedly for personal reasons. Otterbacher said the department needed to support him in his decision.
“He gave 15 fantastic years to this community and to this department,” Otterbacher said.
There was no guarantee that Boomer would be effective with another one of our officers,” Otterbacher said. “If we transferred him, it was going to be a risk”
The council unanimously voted to sell Boomer, but members addressed the need to create a policy to handle similar cases in the future.
The council also addressed the need to place speed bumps or a stop sign at a local intersection where multiple accidents have occurred.
City Manager Clapper also formally introduced the new Public Relations and Communications Manager Kristin Mickelson. Mickelson graduated with a Journalism degree from UW Whitewater in 2008.