Lakeside Park Master Plan…Money, Closed-Door Meetings And Manipulation. Part 1

Lakeside Park Project Takes Center Stage This Week. First in a Series

It’s safe to say that the next two weeks could have long-lasting effects for the city of Fond du Lac. At center stage is a Fond du Lac City Ethics Board Hearing set for Friday morning. The focus of the hearing will be to address the complaints that have been filed against Council Member Ben Giles. The Ethics Board found probable cause of a violation by Giles. The complaint filed alleged that Giles violated three sections of the City Code’s of Ethics, one of the sections being Conflict of Interest, as well as the Fair and Equal Treatment section. All of the sections in question come from Giles’ involvement in the controversial Lakeside Park Master Plan.

In an email sent to KFIZ News, City Attorney Deb Hoffmann said in her tenure with the City, which began in 2010, “this is the first Ethics Board Review that’s reached this level.”

In documents secured by KFIZ News, of which there are over 1,000 pages, it’s obvious that, while Giles is at the center of the storm, he would not be alone in accepting responsibility for what appears to be a major campaign, behind the scenes, of manipulating current City Council members to secure potential support for the Park plan.

In an email dated January 14, 2020, and sent to Ben Giles, City Manager Joe Moore told Giles that he(Moore) “was concerned about conflicting expectations about the upcoming decision making process which could diminish the likelihood of success, especially if Council isn’t given the latitude to propose changes to the park”. Moore also went on to express concern that neither he nor Jordan Skiff were asked for their input on the Master Plan prior to the January meeting, and also concerned that “Council is not seen as an ally in this initiative. To be clear, you don’t need to ask us, but it appears that you don’t want our input, just our support and I’m unclear why.” Giles then forwards that email on to Tom Schermerhorn, Principal at Excel Engineering, who has been heading the design of the project at Lakeside Park. Schermerhorn expresses concern that “we get blindsided. Jordan (City of Fond du Lac Public Works Director Jordan Skiff) last week, and now Joe. I get the feeling Jordan is not in favor and looking for ways to trip us up. This has been disappointing to say the least.”

What’s also obvious from reading the documents, is that the plan, and the apparent success of the plan, had been discussed for quite some time before it was presented to the public back in January of 2020. In an email dated January 21, 2020, and sent by Lawrence Richardson to a host of local business leaders, it was mentioned that “the process remains political. We need four Council Member votes in favor of the Plan. I count four votes in favor: Dan Degner, Ben Giles, Alicia Hans and Richards, and three votes in opposition…a slim margin, but enough to move forward with our plan.” There was nothing wrong with knowing how the vote might go down, just not normal that public officials make their vote known prior to the vote being taken. The email also went on to outline the potential fallout, from the private sector investors, should the decision be made to tear down the current pavilion and replace it with a $3.2 million one. It was noted that a number of the investors stated the dollars that were pledged, “in partnership for the expanded value proposition plan, would disappear potentially forever. And the email closed with the question “Who will apologize to the citizens of Fond du Lac for this missed opportunity?”

Many residents of Fond du Lac that we have spoken to, have stated they are not opposed to improvements being made within Lakeside Park, but rather the opposition comes from moving forward on a project of this magnitude, with very little regard to the input that has been given by both the public, as well as the consulting company who just released the feasibility study, that basically said exactly what the residents and the Lakeside Park Exploratory committee have been saying for a number of years. It’s early in the week, and the water is already being stirred pretty hard. Stay tuned for more.