The City of Whitewater collectively agrees that the annual Spring Splash party is a growing concern for all residents, but controversial disputes on handling the sensitive topic became an issue for the Common Council.
That was the outcome on Tuesday as City Manager Cameron Clapper announced that Wisconsin Red, a business that promotes and sells materials for events, will no longer be involved with Whitewater’s Spring Splash after three years of sponsorship.
Clapper, council members and law enforcement recently met with Wisconsin Red founder, Steve Farina, and owner of Pumpers and Mitchells, Kurt Patrick, to discuss last year’s concerns after residents complained about vandalism, trespassing and littering.
The meeting was initially intended to discuss how to improve the event’s safety, and a majority of council members agreed that Wisconsin Red’s party was not the culprit for ruckus in the community. But, after reviewing the negative impact of Wisconsin Red’s social media campaign, some believed their marketing efforts promoted dangerous house parties and attracted outside visitors, who ultimately caused the harm.
After reflecting on negative feedback, Wisconsin Red resigned from the event. Tuesday’s meeting, however, revealed that City Attorney Wallace O’Donell had influence on Wisconsin Red’s decision.
“I admit that I came off strong to Wisconsin Red and questioned why they would want to be involved in an event that caused so much damage,” O’Donell said. “As the City Attorney, I felt I had to state that there will be close review of involvement this year for them to determine it is really worth it.”
O’Donell’s persistence stemmed from the disturbing sights he saw from his office window on Main Street and stories from the community.
“I’ve seen years of St. Patty’s days celebrations and went to school in Madison, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” O’Donell said. “It was the Wild West of Whitewater.”
O’Donell said hundreds of intoxicated people took over the streets, urinated in broad daylight, threw beer bottles at police officers and piled unsafe amounts of weight on balconies.
Council members James Langnes III and Stephanie Goettl disagreed with O’Donell and questioned the council’s anti-student rhetoric. Goettl highlighted that with or without a sponsor, students will host parties.
“If people think that Spring Splash is cancelled, that is arguably the funniest thing I have ever heard,” Goettl said. “This event is going to happen and thinking it won’t is a misstep.”
She believes the negativity surrounding Spring Splash gives students the impression that the city does not want them to have fun, and that they are unwanted. She fears lack of student involvement in the discussion will cause rebellious activity and even bigger problems.
Council member Chris Grady disagreed with Goettl’s concerns. “This is not anti-student, this is anti-mob,” he said. “Wisconsin Red created this problem with advertising and they should now be responsible for resolving it.”
Another major concern emphasized by Goettl was the poor planning and lack of attention the city placed on Spring Splash.
“Some of these failures are on our part because there was no intention of immediately fixing the problem,” she said.
The event was not discussed with the Parks and Recreation Board until January and with Spring Splash in April, Goettl is certain that the time span for change is not possible for an event students have been planning for a year.
Larry Kachel, Chairman of the Greater Whitewater Committee and whose family is Whitewater’s largest private landlord addressed several concerns with Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher in regards to the time constraints. He questioned discussions of coordinating a no visit policy in the dorms during Spring Splash, law enforcement procedures and communication with landlords.
Otterbacher said that after last year’s extensive damage, it was a gift that nobody died. She assures that there are ongoing conversations with surrounding cities to construct strategies and safety provisions.
Kachel suggested a pub crawl for the future to eliminate underage drinking, increase economic spending for local businesses, alleviate anti-student concerns and accommodate desires of all residents.
After intense discussion, the council wrapped up the conversation, concluding that lack of earlier communication and planning was a crucial mistake. The council will revisit the issue in upcoming meetings.
The city issued a press release on Saturday, stating that no matter what festivities occur during Spring Splash, the council hopes that celebrations will be held in a safe and respectful manner.
“There will be something on April 29,” Council President Patrick Singer said. “We just aren’t sure what yet.”
Boomer becomes pet
The council’s agreement to sell the city’s police dog, a black Labrador named Boomer, was the other pressing topic on Tuesday.
Officer Joseph Matteson, Boomer’s handler, unexpectedly resigned and requested to purchase Boomer as a family pet for an estimated $3,500 canine replacement price.
After speaking with the Boomer’s kennel, Otterbacher said Boomer’s loyalty to Matteson could hinder his ability to transition to a new handler. This component played a large role in the decision in allowing Boomer to stay part of the Matteson family.
Boomer was sworn in during 2014 solely due to fundraising initiatives by the community, which created deliberation as to whether or not he should be sold. The effect of long-term fundraising ramifications are a concern.
“People spent money on Boomer to become part of the community, not expecting that he would leave just three years later,” Goettl said. “Community members feel their efforts are derailed by just a few people.”
Singer suggested implementing a contract to inform fundraisers of expectations if the dog is to leave, and other council members agreed to construct a practical policy.
Otterbacher said her main focus is to maintain a successful canine program and hopes to find the right dog to welcome to the community as soon as possible.
In other action Tuesday, the Common Council:
- Introduced Kristin Mickelson, newly-hired Public Communications Manager.
- Discussed the recommendation of placing speed bumps on North Street, at its intersection with Cherry Street after six accidents. Residents Tony and Crystal Hansen said they are in support of speedbumps but are concerned about the placement and parking. The Common Council plans to debate the issue next meeting.
- Approved the appointment of Mike Kilar to the vacant seat on the Parks and Recreation Board.
- Approved borrowing of $287,000 from First Citizens Bank and Commercial Bank to fund a new ambulance and accessories.