By JAMES KATES / Webhawk News editor
Spring Splash is officially “canceled,” but Whitewater city officials acknowledge that the annual celebration will occur again April 29.
They aren’t exactly looking forward to the party.
In a sometimes acrimonious meeting Tuesday, the Whitewater Common Council debated how to prepare for and respond to the celebration, which last year resulted in vandalism, trespassing, underage drinking and public drunkenness.
The chief promoters of last year’s event, Kurt Patrick of Pumpers and Mitchell’s Tavern and Steve Farina of Wisconsin Red, will not participate. Whitewater officials persuaded them that sponsoring the event was a bad idea, City Attorney Wallace O’Donell said.
Seeking to mend fences, the city issued a press release this past Saturday stating that the promoters were not responsible for the mayhem that occurred after the 2016 party.
Wisconsin Red is an event-promotion company that stages parties and sells souvenir merchandise. It put on a DJ party on Saturday afternoon at last year’s Spring Splash. It had no connection to the numerous parties afterward and did not encourage the public misconduct that flared Saturday night into early Sunday, some council members noted.
Still, the aftermath of the 2016 event “was like the Wild West in Whitewater,” O’Donell said.
Sponsors or not, many people are planning to celebrate again on the last Saturday in April. Word already is circulating on social media, and the Police Department expects University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students and others to stage house parties that likely will spill onto the streets.
“How nobody died last year is a gift,” Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher told council members. She warned them that the city would be legally responsible for injuries caused to any law-enforcement officers from other communities who respond to mutual-aid calls.
City Manager Cameron Clapper said the city is not against anyone having a good time, but that officials must make sure that citizens enjoy themselves legally and safely.
Last year’s event seemed calculated “to get as many people as possible to do a lot of crazy, dangerous things,” Clapper said. “We want to discourage that.”
Most of the trouble was caused by out-of-town visitors, he added.
Still, Council Member Stephanie Goettl complained that other members appeared to be bashing UWW students. She said the city’s attitude could spark a backlash that would only increase this year’s troubles.
“This has been the most blatantly anti-student discussion I have ever heard,” said Goettl, who joined the council as a 20-year-old UWW undergraduate and now is studying for a master’s degree in business.
“This is not anti-student,” shot back Council Member Christopher Grady. “It’s anti-mob.”
Otterbacher said the Police Department has consulted other agencies, especially the Madison police, who deal with that city’s annual Halloween festivities and the Mifflin Street Block Party. UW-Whitewater authorities will discourage out-of-town visitors from staying overnight that Friday and Saturday in residence halls, she said.
In response to pointed questioning from citizen Larry Kachel, whose family is Whitewater’s largest private landlord, she said the city would set up treatment stations for intoxicated people and distribute ‘no trespassing’ signs to help property owners keep wayward partygoers out of their yards.
Police dog sold
Also on Tuesday, the Common Council voted to sell the city’s police dog, a black Labrador named Boomer, to his handler, former Officer Joseph Matteson, for $3,500.
Had the dog been of retirement age, Matteson could have bought him for $1, which is standard practice in such cases. But Boomer will retire in mid-career. Matteson trained with Boomer and was his handler since May of 2014.
Matteson is leaving the community, and his family will own Boomer as a pet. The sale agreement specifies that Boomer cannot be used again as a police dog.
Otterbacher acknowledged that the sale might upset the community donors who raised money for Boomer’s purchase and training. But there is no guarantee that Boomer would respond well to another handler, she told the council.
“This is an opportunity to start over with a new canine and a new handler,” she said. Trying to retrain Boomer with a new handler might fail because “dogs are very loyal,” she said.
Matteson spent 14 years with the police force and was an “outstanding law enforcement officer,” Otterbacher said.
Council members unanimously approved the sale but voiced hope that the city could reach a legal agreement – or at least an informal understanding – with any future handlers to prevent police dogs’ service from being cut short.
Otterbacher said she would send letters to the 100-plus donors who paid for Boomer to explain the situation, because “this program would not be here without them.”
In other action Tuesday, the council:
- Was introduced to Kristin Mickelson, the city’s new public relations and communications manager. Mickelson, a 2008 UW-Whitewater graduate, is a Janesville native who formerly worked in communications and marketing for Blain’s Farm and Fleet.
- Agreed to study the idea of placing speed bumps at the intersection of Cherry and North streets, the site of several recent accidents.
- Approved the borrowing of $287,000, equally split between First Citizens Bank and Commercial Bank, for the purchase of a new ambulance.
- Approved the 2017 pay plan, which will give 1 percent cost-of-living increases to city employees who are already at the top pay level for their positions. Under the plan, Clapper, who is the city’s highest-paid employee, will earn $94,572 this year. The police chief will be paid $92,334.