Committee discusses how to handle anonymous complaints
County zoning director to draft related policy
BY KEVIN BONESKE
The issue of how to handle anonymous complaints submitted to Oneida County’s planning and zoning department was the agenda item generating the most discussion at Wednesday’s county Planning and Development Committee meeting.
County planning and zoning director Karl Jennrich, who agreed to draft a policy about what his department should do when people make planning and zoning-related complaints and don’t provide their names, noted that though the department currently doesn’t directly handle anonymous complaints, those types of complaints could be investigated upon being submitted by an elected official, such as a county supervisor or town chairman.
“Right now, for example, we had a complaint in the town of Crescent,” Jennrich said. “The individual didn’t want to leave their name. It was on Lake Julia.
“I talked to (county supervisor) Robb Jensen, because I didn’t get a hold of (town chairman) Bill Treder, and Robb Jensen said, ‘Go ahead, we’ll do the complaint.’”
In an instance like that, Jennrich said the complaint would be listed as being filed by an elected official on behalf of a constituent, who wouldn’t be named.
“We do receive some anonymous written complaints,” he said. “I will forward those either to the town chairman or to the town County Board representative to see if they want us to go out on that. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.”
Committee chairman Scott Holewinski, who is also the town chairman in Sugar Camp, said anonymous complaints involving neighbors could initially be looked at by a town chairman to determine whether involvement by county planning and zoning staff is warranted.
“Being a town chairman you can go out, or a town supervisor can go out, and sort those without having the staff running out on all these calls that are just chewing up time and there’s no reason,” Holewinski said.
County Board chairman Dave Hintz suggested using good judgment as to whether planning and zoning staff should look into anonymous complaints.
“If someone’s dumping sewage into the lake, I think we should follow up,” Hintz said. “I think it relates to having judgment, so the blanket statement that we don’t follow up on anonymous complaints, I think, is inappropriate.”
Committee member Jack Sorensen said he tends to agree with Hintz on how to handle anonymous complaints.
“You expect me or the town chairman to go out on something that’s technical to zoning?” Sorensen asked. “I going to turn around and say, ‘I don’t know – it’s your (department’s) job.”
If the planning and zoning staff responded to every anonymous complaint it received, Holewinski said the department would be in need of more staff.
“I don’t care if you want to (accept anonymous complaints),” he said. “Just expect you’d need more staffing, and then we’ll to find out how many of those were wild goose chases. The system, to me, is working the way it’s set up right now.”
“The fact of the matter is people out there realize already that planning and zoning will not take an anonymous complaint – that’s what we’ve been hearing – so they don’t do it…,” Sorensen said in response to Holewinski. “Why are we here? We are to provide a service, and if every other department in the Oneida County Courthouse provides that service (of handling anonymous complaints), who are we trying to protect?”
When Sorensen asked Jennrich about other county department accepting anonymous complaints, the zoning director noted the health department presently does so.
Committee member Michael Timmons of Woodruff said having a town chairman or county supervisor initially look at anonymous complaints “helps to filter out the wasted ‘he said, she said.’”
“I had to get Karl involved on a ‘he said, she said’ this year because the anonymous complaints came back and forth with two neighbors arguing about silly stuff…,” Timmons said.
Committee member Billy Fried of Minocqua said there are people who have a misperception on how anonymous complaints submitted to the planning and zoning department are being handled.
“You can still do anonymous complaints,” Fried said. “It’s just kind of a process where it would go through an elected representative to kind of connect the dots…. It’s not like the county won’t take anonymous complaints. We will, but you need to put your name to one of your elected officials.”
Hintz said it ultimately falls on the planning and zoning department to decide whether to follow up on anonymous complaints.
“That should be their decision,” he said.
When a complaint is anonymous, Jennrich said he will call the town chairman or county supervisor to find out if one of those elected officials wants the department to look at that.
“You have (been) setting policy for me and I can’t take anonymous complaints,” Jennrich said. “I’m not supposed to be going out there looking at them.”
“I think the policy’s wrong,” Sorensen said.
When Fried asked planning and zoning assistant Julie Petraitis how the department’s system for dealing with anonymous complaints is working, she said the system has “holes” in it.
Jennrich agreed to put together a policy together for handling anonymous complaints, based on the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting, and bring it back to the committee.