Kenosha heritage ordinance gets referred back to committee

The proposed general ordinance having to do with Kenosha’s heritage was referred back to the Historical Preservation Committee for more work at last night’s Common Council meeting.  It was up for its second reading.  Alderperson Jan Michalski is the sponsor of this ordinance.  He stated at the meeting that he was given the task by the committee to draft this ordinance.

Michalski said that the purpose of this ordinance is to preserve and protect certain historical artifacts, such as the Statue of Liberty in Civic Square (pictured above), the murals in Reuther’s Auditorium and in the County Court House, the Lincoln Statue in Library Park, and the Civil War Cannon in Eichelmann Park.

Both the Historical Preservation and the Public Safety and Welfare Committees had previously approved the ordinance unanimously.

Alderperson Anthony Kennedy said that he didn’t understand this ordinance the first time he read it.  He found out that it had been enacted in the city of Racine when certain artifacts were ending up in city officials’ back yards and summer homes.  “This ordinance gives the city better teeth,” he said.

Alderperson David Bogdala wanted to know what the rationale was for an appeal process for a private entity.  “They can object.  Why not for a government entity?” he wanted to know.  Michalski replied that this doesn’t have to do with private property, only public property.  Bogdala still didn’t think that the city should be designating to them what’s historic and what’s not.  “If there was some level of objection, they could come to this body for arbitration.”

Michalski thought that Bogdala might have misread the ordinance.  “This body is the final arbiter.  Government entities are already the case.  Major renovations like that of Reuther High School and the landscaping around the County Court House did come before the Historical Preservation Commission.  We are trying to give the same obligation to certain artifacts.”  However, Bogdala still thought that “we were opening ourselves up to some liability,” and the city attorney, Ed Antaramian, said, “Possibly.”  He said that he would have to do some research on it.  “But, if Racine has it, then there shouldn’t be any illegality to it,” said Antaramian.

Still, Bogdala pursued it.  “It’s a fight we don’t need to have.  There’s an appeal process to cover ourselves.  I’m more inclined to support it with flexibility.”  Aldperson G. John Ruffolo didn’t believe that the city government could tell the county government what to do with their murals, etc.  “I like the ordinance,” he said.  “But, what about the post office, for example?  That belongs to the Federal government.”  Antaramian stated that “we can’t enforce over greater sovereignty.”  (That is, the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. )  “The city has home rule.  We do have jurisdiction.  The circuit court judge can’t say to paint over a mural.  The city would issue a stop work order, and then it would be up to the court to decide.”  Ruffolo said that he didn’t see how we would have authority over the Federal government.

Alderperson Steve Bostrom was asking questions about movable objects.  “For example, say we have an item at Brass School that was to be moved to Pleasant Prairie School.  Does this ordinance stop that?”  Antaramian said yes.  “Does it grant permission, outside city boundaries?”  Antaramian replied yes again.  Bostrom said that “I’m more interested in voting for something that governed ourselves, not sticking our noses into another political body.”

Alderperson Patrick Juliana questioned the part about the Federal ownership of buildings.  Antaramian said that what was included was objects associated with the building.  There is a paragraph about cooperation between other government entities and the Historical Preservation Commission.  Juliana stated that he liked the ordinance and that he was supporting it.

Alderperson Michael Orth wanted to know what would happen if a person sold an artifact.  “Could the next owner opt out?”  Mike Maki, city planner, said that “it doesn’t go away if the property is sold.  The mural would still be on the historical inventory list.  The new owner cannot opt out of it.”  Orth asked, “What about if the new owner moves it?”  Maki said that that would have to come before the Historical Preservation Commission to vet the process.  If it’s moved before the review, then the penalty section would come into play.

Orth said that “only private items that are publicly visible” could be included in this ordinance.  “It’s like sign enforcement.”  He stated that he has a problem with the transfer of ownership and movement of items.  “It needs to be tightened down.  And, the penalties.  So, if the city moves the Lincoln Park statue, do we cite ourselves and then write the check to ourselves?  Has the County ever paid the fines for not mowing the grass in the median strips?  I don’t think this is complete.  There are problems in the ordinance, as written.  It’s fine for private individuals, but not the County, not the state, Federal government, not ourselves.  We can’t monitor private individuals.  We need to shore this up.”

Orth asked Maki what the last building was that was designated as historical, and the answer given was Frank’s Diner five years ago.  Orth said that “this was a noble goal.  It protects items, gives it some teeth.  But, it seems like it’s something for the commission to do.  Add them to the list.  Preserve them.  They won’t be touched.  There are things not on the list that concern me.  Religious institutions, for example.  There are holes in it.  It’s a strong start.  Come back with something that answers the problems, but still protects the artifacts.”

Mayor Keith Bosman then asked if the Council wanted it sent back for further review, and the consensus was yes.


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