Aldermen can claim taxpayer money for home repairs
Question: Is it appropriate that Menasha Alderman James Taylor is asking $ 15,000 of the city’s Strong Neighborhoods taxpayer dollars after voting for the program? This of course seems unethical.
Reply: This issue sparked an in-depth discussion at the Joint Council meeting on July 6.
City attorney Pamela Captain said it was not illegal for an elected official to participate in the Strong Neighborhoods Menasha housing initiative, which provides forgivable loans to homeowners undertaking renovations.
“It’s totally up to the Common Council,” said the Captain. “It’s a program that would apply to anyone they want it to apply to as well.”
Alderman Stan Sevenich disagreed with the captain’s decision.
“I actually think it’s illegal,” he said, “and I bet you if it went to court they would find it that way.”
Alderman Randy Ropella shared a similar sentiment.
“I have spoken to at least five people in my district, and they think it is a crime for any elected official to take this money,” he said.
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Taylor and his wife applied for a forgivable loan of $ 15,000 to replace windows and repair siding in their 96-year-old house on Broad Street. They would fund $ 8,070 of the $ 23,070 project. The loan would turn into a grant if the house remains their primary residence for five years.
Their application has been recommended for approval by municipal staff and is pending before the Housing Authority, which will make the decision.
The board amended the Strong neighborhoods program last month, in part to prohibit any elected official from participating as of January 1, 2021.
Sevenich said that by voting for the changes he was unaware that Taylor had asked for money.
“The mayor or council members should not be entitled to these dollars,” Sevenich said.
At the July 6 council meeting, Alderman Mark Langdon sought to move the effective date back to June 1, which would have quashed Taylor’s request. The motion failed 4-5.
A subsequent motion by Alderman Rebecca Nichols to remove the ban on elected officials was passed 5-4. Mayor Don Merkes cast the deciding vote, ensuring he and the eight aldermen are eligible to participate in the program.
The city councilors voting with Merkes were Tom Grade, Nichols, Ann Schmidt and Taylor.
“We have checks and balances,” Taylor said before the vote. “It’s not this body that approves dollars for a board member here.”
The aldermen opposed to the lifting of the ban were Ted Grade, Langdon, Ropella and Sevenich.
Watchdog questions and answers
Post-Crescent reporter Duke Behnke answers your questions about local government. Send your questions to [email protected] or call him at 920-993-7176.