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Norgaard critical of Rib Lake Village Board’s public comment policy

Vox Pop

The board room gavel was banging, while the presiding man in charge was speaking louder and louder as he attempted to silence the orderly citizen who was attempting to complete a two minute public comment. Was this a Washington DC political arena? No, it was the recent village of Rib Lake board room where I was once again denied my civil liberties, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights First Amendment free speech.

The Rib Lake Village Board has sold out the right of taxpayers to have a voice in the operation of the village for the amount of $5,000. For $5,000 the village wants to eliminate citizen comments at their board meetings.

Why? Simply because our business, North Garden Trees, overpaid personal property taxes and has requested a refund of the $5000 overpayment. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue said we are entitled to it and, in fact, stated if the village board did not return our money, it would be stealing. Does anyone recall that Medford refunded $12,000 to Charter Communications in 2015 for the exact same tax error?

It has now become a matter of principle. Why should the village board, with members who have operated under a double standard, have the right to decide not to return our overpayment? We have witnessed board members violating their oath of office. Check the Minutes from 2019. Check the 2018 and 2019 tax oversight meetings or Board of Reviews. If this board wants to crack down on wrong doing, they simply need to clean their own house.

The village’s new rules are the product of the village attorney’s slanted legal opinion and rules (not laws) of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities (a lobbyist legal group). The rules state citizens can only comment on agenda items and cannot include anything our fragile board members may be offended by or the truth. As per the 1976 Burger Court decision, whenever the village board includes public comments in its agenda, constitutional law applies. The board can impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions; however, it cannot dictate or regulate the content of the citizen’s comment.

My citizen’s comment at the last meeting did relate to an agenda item, the village budget and taxpayer dollars. Under order from our village president, our new, inexperienced police chief approached me during my comment in an effort to threaten and intimidate me from continuing. Was he going to violate my First Amendment right and actually remove me?

Please note, our tax overpayment was distributed throughout Taylor County. Our local school, Rib Lake’s municipality, the county and the state governments each received a percentage of that illegal overpayment. We only operated our seasonal business for ten years. North Garden Trees paid all of its taxes and invested heavily throughout Taylor County. Our business was a valuable addition, plus it was a charitable outlet. We met our customers with handshakes and smiles. Our local board has met us with lawless, tough-guy attitudes, taking a page out of the Taylor County Board of Supervisor’s playbook. People we don’t know have hurled insulting names at us and their garbage. We’ve been physically attacked and had our properties vandalized. In 2011 our business was torched weeks after an unfriendly board meeting. Recently, a hunting rifle was aimed at me with a motion of a shot being fired.

Where does it end? Is a $5,000 tax overpayment refund request that hard to swallow for our village of Rib Lake and its board? — Renee Norgaard, Rib Lake