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Police department criticized for response to protest

The Hudson Police Department was criticized at a City Council meeting Monday night for the department's response to a confrontation between supporters and opponents of Gov. Scott Walker that took place Saturday morning at the Best Western Hudson House Inn.

Hudson resident Dick Pearson and North Hudson resident Curt Weese described what they said was a "mob scene" when between 350 and 450 opponents of Walker's plans came into the hotel's parking lot and surrounded state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf as she leaving the building.

Harsdorf had spoken to 100 or more supporters of the governor during a stop in Hudson by an Americans for Prosperity bus on a 10-city "Stand with Walker" tour of Wisconsin.

Joe Wurzelbacher, who gained notoriety as "Joe the Plumber" during the 2008 presidential campaign, and Matt Seaholm, Americans for Prosperity's Wisconsin director, also addressed the Walker supporters in a hotel meeting room.

"What I saw out there Saturday was a lot of bullies," said Pearson. He said the crowd of anti-Walker protesters intimidated his daughter and grandchildren who were with him.

Pearson said the police officers on the scene, including Chief Marty Jensen, told the Walker supporters where they could stand with signs, but didn't prevent the anti-Walker protesters from coming into their territory.

As they left the hotel, they were subjected to curses and chants of "Shame on you," Pearson said. "My opinion of schoolteachers after that has changed," he said.

"Where were the police?" he asked.

Weese said the police department response showed either "incompetence or compliance, or a little of both."

"They wouldn't have allowed Herb Kohl's car to be surrounded by 400 people," he said, referring to Wisconsin's Democratic U.S. senator.

Weese suggested that Mayor Alan Burchill talk to Chief Jensen about the event and ask Jensen why he didn't have plans for controlling the crowd.

When contacted by phone on Tuesday, Jensen said no one notified him about the bus tour coming to Hudson, or that Sen. Harsdorf and protesters would be there, too.

He said he learned about the Americans for Prosperity rally through news reports. Realizing that protesters might show up, he assigned six officers to assist him in crowd control at the event.

Jensen said he also contracted Hudson House owner Stuart Schultz before the event. He said Schultz didn't want any sign-carrying and protesting on the hotel grounds, but also didn't want to prevent people from coming into the hotel.

The police, according to Jensen, told both the anti-Walker protesters and the sign-carrying Walker supporters they had to stay on the walking path in front of the hotel.

He had two officers stationed at each of the parking lot entrances and three officers circulated through the crowd on the walking path.

"We told them they had to stay on the sidewalk while protesting. The sidewalks were open to everybody," Jensen said. "Our main focus was to keep the peace."

He said there were no problems until the rally inside the hotel ended and Sen. Harsdorf was returning to her car and stopped to talk to some union supporters.

"The longer it (the conversation) kept going, the more I think the crowd got kind of fired up," Jensen said.

The mass of protesters that had been standing on the walking path climbed over the snow bank separating them from parking lot and surrounded Harsdorf.

"There was nothing we could do at the time. There were only seven of us, and there were about 450 of them," Jensen said.

He said officers escorted Harsdorf to her car and cleared a path for her to drive out of the parking lot.

"It did look kind of menacing when those people came over the snow bank," Jensen said. "But they moved out of the way when we asked them to move."

He said the crowd cheered when Harsdorf left.

The police chief said Schultz didn't want anyone arrested for trespassing, and the police didn't witness any conduct that would have warranted an arrest.

Americans for Prosperity was founded by businessman David Koch of Koch Industries. Koch's name has been in the news since a Buffalo, N.Y., website reporter posing as him had a 20-minute phone conversation with Gov. Walker on Feb. 22.

Asked to take a stand

Lori Rodewald, a teacher at E.P. Rock Elementary School, also addressed the City Council during the period reserved for public comment at the start of Monday night's meeting.

Rodewald asked council members to "take a stand" on Gov. Walker's 2011-13 budget proposal. The governor's plan would cut $834 million in state aid for local school districts over the next two years.

Walker also has proposed reducing the maximum amount per student that districts can receive in state aid and property taxes by 5.5 percent.

"We know that there are cuts that are going to happen," said Rodewald. "You can only cut so many reams of paper, and then there will be (layoffs)."

Police will stay home

The City Council tabled indefinitely a proposal to provide police officers for crowd control at the ongoing protests in Madison.

The city would have been reimbursed for the officers' wages, overtime, mileage and lodging under the agreement with the Department of Administration.

Council President Lori Bernard said the Hudson Police Department has been "stretched pretty thin" as it is, with groups protesting in Hudson over the past three weekends.

Bernard indicated that it is more feasible for police departments nearer to Madison to assist with security at the Capitol.

Alderperson Randy Morrissette moved to table the request indefinitely. It carried on voice vote with no opposition. Two alderpersons, Lee Wyland and Rich Vanselow, were absent from the meeting.

Floodwaters expected

Community Development Director Dennis Darnold reported that the latest forecast he had seen has the St. Croix River cresting at one foot below the dike road surface this spring.

The prediction was for a crest of 690 feet above sea level, which would be four feet higher than what the river crested at last year.

The normal level of the river at Hudson is considered to be 680 feet.

Officials are concerned about predictions for an unusually cold March, which would delay the snowmelt and keep the ground frozen. If spring showers fall on top of melting snow and frozen ground the flooding could be more severe, Darnold indicated.

The modern record for flooding in Hudson was in 1965, when the river crested at 695.1 feet above sea level.

Darnold said a crest of 690 feet would be the fifth highest in Hudson's history.

He said the city staff has ordered sandbags and is making preparations for the expected flooding. "The staff is a ready as we can possibly get, I think," he said.

St. Croix EMS Chief Eric Christensen has been directing most of the preparations.

Council action

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a fee of $25 for the delivery of up to four street barricades for neighborhood block parties. Organizers who pick up and return the barricades to the city garage in their own vehicles won't be charged.
  • Approved the first reading of an ordinance that would deny bartender or taxi cab driver licenses to individuals who are delinquent in paying taxes, assessments, forfeitures or utility bills to the city. City Clerk Nancy Korson said in an issue sheet that the same is required of other city license holders.
  • Approved the first reading of an ordinance that would expand the types of businesses that may be allowed to occupy up to 15 percent of the floor space in a building zoned for office use. Community Development Director Dennis Darnold and City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick recommended tightening the language in the ordinance to specify the types of businesses that might be allowed.
  • Approved an ordinance allowing a land developer up to three years to submit the final plat for a subdivision after the preliminary plat has been approved. The change from the previous two-year limit was required by the state Legislature last year.
  • Amended the Class C wine license and Class B beer license for Urban Olive & Vine, 520 Second St., to allow wine and beer to be sold, served, consumed or stored in both back bar area and the front dining area.
  • Designated that 30 percent of revenue from parking meters and fines, after expenses, go into an account designated for the development of additional parking sites.
  • Postponed approval of a new Grandview Park concession stand agreement with the Hudson Softball Association. The softball association is proposing to have its rent reduced from 10 percent of gross revenues to 8 percent. The council wanted to hear a report from the leader of the softball association on the reasons for the change.
  • Extended St. Croix Rowing Club's lease of a storage shed at the west end of St. Croix Street. The club will pay $50 per month to store boats in the shed over the next three years.
  • Renewed the Hudson Boosters' lease of another storage facility on St. Croix Street. The Boosters use the facility for athletic equipment storage. They also pay $50 a month in rent and have a three-year lease.

  • Randy Hanson

    Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

    (715) 426-1066