A David and Goliath Story Set in Local Politics
I’ve been blogging at RedState since shortly after the 2008 POTUS election. Although my blogging record is a short one, I’ve had great fun, learned more from RedState as an active participant rather than just a passive reader, and I am as enthusiastic as ever to blog more.
I’ve also not gone to great lengths to hide my identity or my background. My username, as many might have gathered, is my last name. In comment threads in some of my diaries, a fellow RedStater even refers to me by my first name, Mark. It’s known that I live in Wisconsin, work for a public university, and like to write about cultural and religious topics. I’ve also not hidden the fact that I’m a proud father of four and married to a wonderful woman who gave up her career to homeschool our children. So, the term anonymous blogger is not really all that applicable in my case (side note: I completely respect fellow bloggers who want to protect their anonymity). So, all in all, the RedState community has some idea of who I am . . . and I hope some trust in what I say in terms of its integrity.
So, why am I writing about this? It’s because the RedState community has become a trusted friend and it is in that spirit that I’d like to describe a personal, political saga that can be distilled down to a simple theme of a little girl and her pony. This small time political saga will never make the news. Not many will ever lose sleep over it. It pales in insignificance compared to the big issues of the day. But, nothing impacts you and your family more than politics at the local level. So, if you’re interested, please read on.
This is a story of corruption, misuse of public office, and plain old-fashioned bullying on a very local scale. It’s a story, as I’ve been warned by someone in the know, of fighting the Democratic machine in my local area. It’s the story of dealing with Linden Town Supervisor Larry Wolf.
Larry is my neighbor and for 6 of the 7 years we’ve owned our current home, his horses grazed freely in my little two acre pasture. You see, I never fenced it in, that is, until recently. Since we are a family with small children living in the country, we figured it was time to make it available to them. Our children would also have the great benefit of learning about agriculture from one of the best, my brother-in-law Steve who has 20+ years of experience in training horses as well as caring for beef cattle. None of this sat well with Larry . . . especially the possibility of us putting a horse on our land.
Linden Town Supervisor Larry Wolf sought to stop this in myriad ways. First he tried a hypocritical yet legal way. He turned us into the Iowa County Planning and Zoning Commission. You see, if you’ve got less than 5 acres, as we do, then you need a conditional use permit to keep any farm animals. Turning us in was perfectly legal, but it sure was hypocritical considering that he ran his horses on my land for 6 years.
The process to apply for a conditional use permit (CUP) is an involving one. First you must acquire a recommendation from your local town board. Next, you must appear at the county level before a county planning and zoning committee composed of a subset of the full county board. Here the petition for a CUP is debated. Neighbors can have their say and eventually, the committee votes to approve or reject. If approved at that level, it still isn’t over. If someone, like Larry, still wants to contest it, then the case is heard before the full county board which is made up of 21 supervisors. Like I said, it is an involving process.
The corruption part of the equation lies with the saga of petitioning for a recommendation from the Town of Linden. There are 2 elected supervisors and one elected chairman. Larry Wolf, as I mentioned previously, is one of those supervisors. If he were a perfectly ethical fellow, then he would have completely recused himself from the process. But, alas, he’s anything but that. In dealing with the Linden Town Board Chairman, Dean Liddicoat, I was able to conclusively prove two instances where Supervisor Larry Wolf operated behind the scenes in an attempt to squash a town recommendation as well as the entire petition itself.
I dealt primarily with Dean Liddicoat, the Linden Town Board Chairman. Chairman Liddicoat turned out to be a highly unprincipled man, but luckily for me, he also turned out to be a coward. That played in my favor. In response to my initial inquiry, Chairman Liddicoat called me and explained that the Town of Linden bars all conditional use permits on plots less than 5 acres. He informed that this was the result of the town’s own planning committee which, according to state law, takes precedent over county rules and regulations. In other words, he was telling me to drop the whole thing, because after all, there’s already a town rule on the books that prohibits what I was asking for. End of story, right?
I asked Chairman Dean Liddicoat for the name of whoever chairs the town’s planning committee. He eventually gave me Tom Small’s phone number and I immediately called him. It turned out that Tom didn’t know too much about the committee he chairs. So little, as a matter of fact, that he referred me to another committee member who informed me that the town of Linden, WI has no rule barring conditional use permits for plots less than 5 acres. In fact, she told me it has no rules on conditional use permits at all. It defaults, she correctly informed me, to the county.
Armed with this information, I called Chairman Liddicoat right back. Initially, Chairman Liddicoat asserted that it was Tom Small, Town of Linden Planning Committee Chairman, who told him Linden prohibits conditional use permits for plots less than 5 acres. When I confronted him with what I’d learned, he was befuddled. Eventually, he admitted to me that it was Supervisor Larry Wolf who had told him the bold-faced lie. Supervisor Larry Wolf, in an ethical world, should be recused from the entire process. Instead, however, Supervisor Larry Wolf engaged in spreading falsehoods behind the scenes in an attempt to interfere with and stop the process.
In my dealings with Chairman Liddicoat, I was able to confirm a second instance of Supervisor Larry Wolf working behind the scenes to interfere. Once again, his modem operandi was deceit parroted by Chairman Liddicoat. The most alarming statement from Chairman Liddicoat was not so much his personal stupidity/ignorance, but his admitted fear of Supervisor Larry Wolf. In an attempt to get Chairman Liddicoat to inspect my property with respect to its suitability for farm animals, he stated:
“What if Larry sees me?!”
This statement pretty near floored me. It confirmed Chairman Liddicoat’s lapdog status. The real powerbroker of local politics in the Town of Linden, WI is, apparently and unfathomably, Supervisor Larry Wolf.
To condense this already ugly story of backroom corruption and abuse of elected office (even if the office is no more than a supervisor on the town board of the very small town of Linden, WI), my family eventually appeared before the Iowa County Planning and Zoning Commission. Larry Wolf showed up too, not as a town supervisor, but as a contesting neighbor. His political power does not extend to the County Board.
The Iowa County Planning and Zoning Commission were professional, ethical, and fair in their deliberations. I really have nothing but good to say of them. They fully warrant the public’s trust. But, the battle that ensued there was ugly. Larry Wolf, a wealthy fellow, must have spent serious money on a lawyer and a few consultants. He came armed with an Ag heavy legalize document making a case against me owning a horse for my daughter. It was complete with two statements from consultants, a former state veterinarian and a supposedly well known horse expert. According to this document, my daughter’s future pony presented a grave risk to his horses. I on the other hand, came armed with nothing but the simple truth. In my arms rested my two year old daughter and her dreams of a pony. If ever there was a David and Goliath moment in local politics, then this was it . . . Larry Wolf, armed with a legal brief beefed up by professional consultants, and then me and my family, with the humble slingshot of a young girl’s dreams.
We won with a unanimous vote despite ugly personal slurs thrown at us by Larry Wolf and his wife, Carol. My favorite slur was uttered (or rather spat) by Carol Wolf. She said:
“Those children will never have an animal . . . when they play hide and seek, their parents don’t even let them hide!”
I’ll probably go to my grave never really figuring that one out, but that statement along with several other loony ones amounted to a case of noose-meet-neck.
The final phase of this process is due to play out on July 21st. Our committee approved petition will go before the entire 21 member Iowa County Board. If all are as fair and true as the Planning and Zoning Commission, then we should gain final approval for our conditional use permit. Larry Wolf will certainly be there, no doubt armed with his legal brief. I’ll be there too with my daughter, a young girl who simply wants a pony.
My one reservation/concern came by way of a phone call from a trusted friend in the know. He warned me of Larry Wolf’s heavy involvement in the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Larry Wolf even ran for state assembly, but thank God, he was not successful in that endeavor. My friend told me to prepare well for the July 21st County Board meeting. He implied that I’m not just up against Larry Wolf, but likely up against the Democratic Party. That remains to be seen. For now, I plan to go into this battle with nothing more than the simple slingshot of truth . . . oh yea, and a young girl’s dreams.