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Two La Crosse committees OK Tomah VA facility on Farnam Street
Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Dave and Barb Erickson are in the process of donating their seven-bedroom, four-bathroom, fully accessible home on Farnam Street to the Tomah VA Medical Center for its transitional housing program.

A proposal for a transitional residency program at the former home of Dave and Barb Erickson at 3120 Farnam St. cleared two hurdles Wednesday after two committees said there wasn’t sufficient evidence that the facility would harm the neighborhood.

While members of the La Crosse Plan Commission and Judiciary and Administrative Committee were sympathetic to neighbors’ concerns, both groups approved the Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow the facility, which will provide eight veterans with a place to live and continue treatment as they find jobs and reintegrate into the community.

The permit was necessary because the home is within 2,500 feet of several other community living arrangements, called CLAs. The city’s planning department recommended approving the permit on the condition that it undergo an annual review, and that the VA provide a payment in lieu of taxes and limit the occupancy to eight veterans.

Scott Neumeister

Council member Scott Neumeister said it was a difficult decision but that the VA has responded to questions to his satisfaction over the three months of debate.

“We also have one year from now where we will be looking at this again, and we’ll probably be doing this for many, many years after,” Neumeister said.

Kabat

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat agreed that the review was important because it gives neighbors an opportunity to raise concerns in the future.

“I do think the annual review is an important key piece to this, and I believe that will ensure that there will be ongoing oversight of this very needed facility in our community,” Kabat said.

Gilman

The city’s planning department recommended approval, said city planner Jason Gilman, who laid out the legal requirements that the conditional-use not endanger public safety, harm property values or impede development, adding that Wisconsin statute requires the city to provide “substantial evidence” that the proposal would do one of those in order to turn down the permit.

“The code heavily favors CLAs in residential districts, noting that they are intended to be a compatible use and the statute backs that up,” said Gilman.

Gilman cited information provided by the VA, including that there have been zero reported incidents that have negatively impacted neighborhoods nation-wide in the past two years, despite 45 similar homes in neighborhoods. There have also been no suicides, and no home has had its conditional-use permit revoked.

He also said that there’s no evidence that community living arrangements cause property values to drop.

“We also did our own research. We looked at GIS mapping of police report density or crime density within the city and the location of CLAs within the city and found no correlation generally with community living arrangements,” Gilman said.

The planning department also cited a study from the American Planning Association and consulted with the city’s assessor’s department, which also said there was no evidence that property values drop after community living arrangements open.

Several city officials, including Neumeister and Kabat, spoke out against the criticism of the neighbors who objected to the permit.

“I think that is awful because this is a democratic process, and I think, for the most part, it’s working as intended,” Kabat said. “We have conversations. People raise questions. We rely on staff and others to try and address those questions.”

Council member Gary Padesky, who voted against the measure at the committee with Council President Martin Gaul, urged council members to set aside emotion in their vote and seriously consider neighbors’ fears.

“Obviously if somebody was suffering from PTSD, there are no guarantees that, unfortunately, for these brave men and women, that something couldn’t set them off,” Padesky said.

Padesky raised a meme printed off from Facebook, which he said came from a person suffering from PTSD, which read “Even Jesus Christ thinks you’re an (expletive),” and shared other print-outs with the commission, which he said would be inappropriate to read aloud.

Brahm stressed that the participants in the program have been through treatment.

“These have gone through therapy. They have developed mechanisms to control whatever PTSD, depression, OCD, anything that anyone else could have,” Brahm said.

At the Judiciary and Administration Committee, Padesky added that his neighbors have been “damned to hell,” and treated unfairly for sharing their concerns.

Brahm stressed that she has understood their fears all along and has been trying to answer questions to alleviate those fears, saying the other 45 residential homes in the VA’s programming nationwide have faced similar opposition and were accepted into the community.

Neighbors including Michael Myre renewed their concerns that the neighborhood isn’t the right place for that facility.

He’s concerned about impacts on property values and said he didn’t like that the city would grant an exception to the 2,500-foot rule.

Paid parking ban turned down by La Crosse committee

While the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s proposal for a transitional housing facility on Farnam Street dominated the discussion at Wednesday’s La Crosse Plan Commission and Judiciary and Administrative Committee meetings, the two groups also tackled parking near two of the city’s college campuses and several redevelopment projects.

“The other thing to consider is that there are 27 people that object to this and the very few people who are for it, who have documented letters on the city’s website, none of them live next door or even remotely close to it,” he said. “I’m for veterans. We’re all for veterans, but to think that this program can only exist in this house is simply untrue.”

Bonita Socha, who lives in the neighborhood, pointed out that there are four community living arrangements in the area already.

“Our neighborhood will be saturated with one of the highest concentration of CLAs in the city. The fact that our neighborhood already supports 4 CLAs within the 2,500-foot buffer zone demonstrates that we already support La Crosse residents with needs,” she said.

Council member Jessica Olson asked Socha how the existing community living arrangements have affected the neighborhood, citing the statutory requirement for evidence that the permit will harm the neighbors.

“There have been a lot of ambulance calls that have affected the one that’s about three blocks from us,” Socha said.

When Olson pressed Socha for more specifics, she responded, “I am worried about my property value.”

Responding to neighbor’s concerns, the Tomah VA has committed to hiring a 24/7 security staff member, banning people with a history of violence and barring firearms, alcohol and drugs from the facility. The Tomah VA has also committed to discussing the addition of some sort of screening plants to improve privacy and provided additional parking at its River Valley Clinic a mile away should it run out of space on on the site.


Kabat


Crime-and-courts
Police release names of people involved in fatal stabbing in La Crosse
Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

A La Crosse police officer investigates the scene of a fatal stabbing in the 600 block of South Seventh Street Wednesday. Authorities received a call about the stabbing at 2 a.m. Wednesday.

A man was fatally stabbed early Wednesday on the city’s South Side.

St. Junious

Virgil R. Stewart, 42, of La Crosse was killed after an altercation with Anquin St. Junious, 39, and Annette L. Thompson, 36, of La Crosse, according to the La Crosse Police Department.

Stewart began arguing with St. Junious and Thompson as they attempted to leave 607 S. Seventh St. in a taxi. The argument escalated into a physical fight in the taxi, authorities said, where Stewart was stabbed.

Stewart fled the taxi to another private vehicle and was taken to Gundersen Health System, where he was pronounced dead at about 2:49 a.m.

Investigators are determining the reason for the initial argument; however, it appears to be related to previous incidents and the intoxication level of Stewart and St. Junious at the time of the altercation, according to police.

No arrests have been made and the investigation remains active.

St. Junious was sentenced to five years in prison after a bar stabbing in 2011.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

La Crosse police officers collect evidence at the scene of a stabbing in the 600 block of South Seventh Street Wednesday. The victim was pronounced dead at Gundersen Health System.


La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in December
La Crosse County Circuit Court felony cases in December

News
Charges against Melvina couple accused of keeping children in cages move forward

SPARTA — A Melvina couple faces a March 13 arraignment for abusing their four adopted children and keeping two of them in makeshift cages.

Travis Headrick, 47, and Amy Headrick, 39, were charged in August with two counts of false imprisonment, three counts of recklessly endangering safety and four counts of child neglect.

Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Todd Zielger expressed skepticism on the count that the couple neglected the oldest of the four adopted children but left the door open for District Attorney Kevin Croninger to present additional evidence.

During a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Ziegler heard testimony from Sheriff’s Office investigator John Brose, who executed an Aug. 24 search warrant at the Headricks’ village of Melvina residence.

Brose said he found a 10-year-old boy in a horse trough, an 11-year-old boy locked in a double-stacked cage and a 12-year-old girl in a room that could be unlocked only from the hallway.

Brose said the Headricks’ biological child described in “descriptive, disturbing detail” the manner in which the two youngest children were caged. He testified that the biological child spoke of cages “filled with feces and maggots” and described living conditions in the cages as “inhumane.”

The biological child said when Amy Headrick was confronted about one of the cage’s squalid conditions, she replied, “He was the one who made the mess; he can stay in it.”

Brose said investigators were told that the two youngest children were struck with a rod and that the biological child noticed bruises when bathing the children. He also testified there was an incident in which Amy Headrick kicked the youngest child until Travis Headrick intervened.

Brose said other punishments included forcing children under scalding and cold water, and holding their heads under water. In his closing remarks, Croninger described the latter punishment as “waterboarding.”

Brose said all four children “had the same meals every day with very little change.”

Jay Englund, the attorney representing Travis Headrick, focused on the child neglect counts. He told the court that all four children received sufficient food, shelter, clothing and medical care. He said there is no evidence that any of the four were malnourished.

“The only testimony about the food is that it was a little boring,” Englund said. “There was absolutely no testimony today to suggest that it was inadequate.”

Croninger asked Ziegler to consider “the totality of circumstances” that led to the child neglect counts. He said all four children suffered emotionally from the living environment created by the Headricks.

Ziegler, however, said state law defines emotional damage as suffering to a “severe degree” and added, “I didn’t hear any specific physical abuse” as it relates to the oldest child.

He described the evidence of false imprisonment and recklessly endangering safety as “strong.”

Amy and Travis Headrick are both free on $20,000 bond.


Scott Neumeister


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

UW-La Crosse’s Jack Cortes drives the ball against UW-Stout’s Jack Dahl during Wednesday’s game at Mitchell Hall.


Gilman


Brian Hagedorn, Lisa Neubauer set for Supreme Court battle

MADISON — Two state appellate court judges are set to face off this April for a seat on the seven-member Wisconsin Supreme Court, setting up a high-stakes battle that could determine whether candidates backed by Democrats have a chance to control the court next year.

Voters will choose between Wisconsin Court of Appeals Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer, who is supported by Democrats, and appellate Judge Brian Hagedorn, backed by Republicans, to replace retiring Justice Shirley Abrahamson for a 10-year term after no other candidate entered the race by Wednesday’s deadline.

The importance of the next two state Supreme Court elections is a given in political circles, underscored by Republicans’ abandoned attempt during their lame-duck session to move the date of the 2020 presidential primary to benefit their preferred candidate, Justice Dan Kelly, if he seeks election next year.

Justices of the seven-member chamber are nonpartisan; however, political parties and outside groups typically support a specific candidate through fundraising, advertising and party infrastructure. The nature of the races has led some political operatives to believe it’s time to abandon their nonpartisan designation.

“The time is way past pretending these aren’t partisan races. Both parties are going to keep their foot on the gas,” Republican strategist Brandon Scholz said.

For both Republican and Democratic operatives, the 2019 race is about seating the candidate that espouses their respective versions of independence and rule of law.

For some Democrats, such as Mike Tate, that means electing judges that, in his view, aren’t supported by outside groups that have also bankrolled President Trump and outgoing Gov. Scott Walker.

HONS 

Hagedorn

The state Supreme Court is the highest court in the Wisconsin system and is the final authority on matters pertaining to the Wisconsin Constitution.

Candidates backed by Republicans currently hold a 4-3 majority, down from 5-2 after Democratic favorite Rebecca Dallet won her bid against conservative-backed Michael Screnock in April 2018. If Neubauer wins her race in April, replacing Democrat-supported Abrahamson, it could pave the way for a Democratic favorite to flip the court if Kelly loses.

But while political parties may well line up behind Neubauer and Hagedorn, some operatives say not to expect overt partisanship in this year’s race given the nature of the 2018 race. Tim Burns, a liberal Madison attorney who spoke openly about it his political views, lost by a significant margin in a three-way race between Justice Rebecca Dallet and Michael Screnock.

“That’s not what voters want to see out of their judges,” said Republican strategist Mark Graul. “The voting populace wants to see independent, fair-minded judges.”

Graul added candidates typically are cautious in expressing their political views because it could force them to recuse themselves from some cases if elected to the court.

Neubauer

Both Neubauer and Hagedorn in separate interviews with the Wisconsin State Journal said they plan to be impartial justices, though both have deep political connections. Neubauer’s daughter is a Democratic state representative, while her husband, Jeff, was a legislator who also chaired the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Hagedorn served as Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s chief legal counsel for nearly five years, before Walker appointed him to the bench, but he, too, doesn’t view his background as inhibiting his impartiality.

“The critical question is not whether you have views on the world but whether you believe that those views are a part of what your job of judging is, and I don’t,” Hagedorn said.