OPINION: The Vote Was Not Even Close
The community vote at the special meeting to transfer district land from the Greendale School District to the Village of Greendale wasn’t even close. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some drama on Tuesday, April 28.
It was a star-studded audience by Greendale standards. All of the Village trustees were in attendance. State Representative Ken Skowronski was seated in the non-voting, non-resident section. I saw WTMJ’s Vince Vintrano. Former school board candidates Noelle Joers-Yanish, Kim Kowalczyk, James Schmidt and Kathleen Wied-Vincent were all there.
New school board treasurer Melanie Kuzmanovic was seated right next to freshly sworn-in John Comiskey. The Oak Creek contingent now makes up 40% of our school board.
It was a big crowd, but not quite a full house at the Henry Ross Auditorium. In the end, a total of 431 residents decided fate of the land. I haven’t done the math, but that is just a small fraction of the registered voters in Greendale. Pending some paperwork, the parcel at the corner of Broad Street and Southway is now in the hands of Village Hall with 87% casting their votes for the transfer.
School board president Joe Crapitto tried to frame the meeting around the idea that it was a simple vote about a transfer of property. For the majority in the audience, it was about honoring those who have served our country and the Veterans Memorial proposed for the site.
A parade of residents made comments for and against. Some speakers choked back emotion and others spoke with passion. Speakers were thoughtful, respectful and there were lighter moments as well. Each speaker was typically rewarded with varying levels of approval from the audience.
Many times, Crapitto asked the audience to hold their applause. That was lost cause. Most ignored his frequent, repeated requests. It was a disconnect. Crapitto didn’t seem to grasp there were strong feelings that needed to be expressed to the school board. By the end, his requests were met with laughter.
Unsuccessful school board candidate James Schmidt drew the loudest approval of the night when he told the school board, “We know why we are here. It is not just to turn over that property. It is because you don’t have the guts to say that first decision you made was wrong. If you don’t feel like you can do that, get off the board.”
Another former school candidate Kim Kowalczyk shouted out Everything Greendale and urged the community to come together and set and example. Then, she wrapped together the proposed Veterans Memorial, Sandy Hook, the September 11 attacks and The Oklahoma City Bombing.
Former school board president Judy Fons was stalwart in her opposition to the proposed memorial site, “People here know there was never any opposition whatsoever to the memorial. It was always location, location, location. That is the whole bottom line.”
She expressed concern about the “meanness” in the community surrounding the issue and defended members of the school board, “You were harassed, you were bullied and you were called unpatriotic. As well as many other names in public.”
Colleen Fechtmeyer, who lives directly across the site, gave an account of the traffic issues in her neighborhood. In a lighter moment, she invited people to stay in her spare bedroom for a few weeks to observe the traffic problems first-hand.
Tom Kuzmanovic, the husband of school board member Melanie Kuzmanovic expressed his displeasure with “yahoos” who criticized his wife after she voted against a proposed memorial at the location.
“Many of you anonymous posters who are sitting in this room have vilified my wife and my family with your cowardly posts,” said Kuzmanovic. “My wife is not anti-veteran. She never has been. We are proudly supportive of veterans.”
It was clearly still a raw nerve.
There were number of questions for the district and Crapitto worked hard to stay on script. It was clearly “The Joe Crapitto Show” as Superintendent John Tharp didn’t utter a word to the crowd all night.
The school board voted to by-pass their normal parliamentary procedure and allow for a vote by paper ballot rather than a voice vote or show of hands. It was probably a way to circle the wagons around Mel Kuzmanovic and Vicky McCormick. A public show of hands would have put them in a no-win situation.
Finally, with a knowing, positive nod, Joe Crapitto telegraphed the voting results to veterans memorial leader Jay Chadwick before the final tally was announced publicly to the crowd.
All in all it was quite a night and it was pure Greendale.