A Facebook page gauging support to recall Onalaska school board member Jake Speed has notched 150 followers in the span of a week.
Justin Steele, the Onalaska resident spearheading the “Recall Jake Speed” website and Facebook page, said that within 28 hours his site received almost 1,000 page views.
Steele, 36, has lived in Onalaska for 18 months and is the father of three children in the school district.
He said he heard people in the city talking about a Speed recall effort, so he decided to get it going.
“It’s a circus. It’s an embarrassment. For the people that are all about this recall, it’s embarrassing that the school board is so dysfunctional in how it’s functioning right now,” Steele said.
Steele also noted that Speed’s recent behavior at school board meetings was a source of his inspiration. Twice Speed has left school board meetings prior to closed-session discussions, and didn’t attend the April 17 Onalaska School Board budget meeting.
“I don’t have any issues with having a dissenting opinion from the majority. It’s the behavior and the conduct — the absences from meetings, the refusals to answer questions. And just being obtuse and obstinate,” Steele said. “If you don’t want to do the job, just resign.”
Speed declined to comment on the online recall campaign.
In order for a recall election to take place, the movement would need to gather 1,743 signatures from members of the Onalaska School District in the span of 60 days.
But those 60 days won’t start until a candidate comes forward and files petition paperwork with the school district.
The websites, according to Steele, are just a method of gauging community support for such a move.
“I don’t know if we can get enough support yet,” he said, “That’s what this website and effort is still trying to do: to understand if there is enough to move forward.”
So far, no one has stepped forward to run in a recall election against Speed. Steele says he doesn’t plan on being that candidate, although he has considered running for school board in the past.
Steele considers himself to be “tech-savvy” and has a reputation around the city as a “computer guy,” Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen said.
And the mayor would know. When Chilsen ran his successful write-in mayoral reelection campaign in April 2016, Steele was the man behind the website and social media accounts.
Steele was one of Chilsen’s marketing students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and said he helped his former professor out because “it just irks me that you can use a technicality to try to win by being the only one on the ballot ... Some people think that’s cool and awesome and a great strategy ... But I think its cowardly.”
Chilsen was removed from the ballot in 2016 after his challenger Jack Pogreba successfully challenged his nomination papers. The same thing happened in the April 2016 Onalaska School Board elections, with Speed successfully challenging the nomination papers of incumbents Ann Garrity and Tim Smaby, forcing them to launch write-in campaigns as well.
Speed’s challenge landed him a position in public office, while Pogreba’s didn’t.