Council clashes over annual Spring Splash

Wisconsin Red cancels sponsorship after three years of involvement

Marisa LaBello, Senior Staff Writer

The City of Whitewater Common Council collectively agrees that the annual Spring Splash party is a growing concern for all residents, but disputes on handling the event became an issue for the Common Council.

City Manager Cameron Clapper announced  at the Feb. 7 meeting that Wisconsin Red, a business that promotes and sells materials for events, will no longer be involved with Whitewater’s Spring Splash after three years of sponsorship.

Clapper, council members and law enforcement recently met with Steve Farina, Wisconsin Red founder, and Kurt Patrick, owner of Pumpers and Mitchell’s, to discuss last year’s concerns after residents complained about vandalism, trespassing and littering.

The meeting was initially intended to discuss how to improve the event’s safety, as council members agreed that Wisconsin Red’s sponsored party not the culprit for ruckus in the community. But after reviewing the negative impact of Wisconsin Red’s social media campaign, some believed their marketing efforts promoted dangerous house parties and attracted outside visitors, who ultimately caused the harm.

After reflecting on negative feedback, Wisconsin Red resigned from the event. The Feb. 7 meeting revealed that City Attorney Wallace McDonell may have had influence on Wisconsin Red’s decision.

“I admit that I came off strong to Wisconsin Red and questioned why they would want to be involved in an event that caused so much damage,” McDonell said. “As the City Attorney, I felt I had to state that there will be close review of involvement this year for them to determine it is really worth it.”

McDonell’s persistence stemmed from the disturbing sights he saw from his office window on Main Street and stories from the community.

“I’ve seen years of St. Patty’s days celebrations and went to school in Madison, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” McDonell said. “It was the Wild West of Whitewater.”

McDonell said hundreds of intoxicated people took over the streets, urinated in broad daylight, threw beer bottles at police officers and piled unsafe amounts of weight on balconies.

Council members James Langnes III (District 2) and Stephanie Goettl  (District 5) disagreed with McDonell and questioned what they believed was the council’s anti-student rhetoric. Goettl highlighted that with or without a sponsor, students will host parties.

“If people think that Spring Splash is cancelled, that is arguably the funniest thing I have ever heard,” Goettl said. “This event is going to happen and thinking it won’t is a misstep.”

She believes the negativity surrounding Spring Splash gives students the impression that the city does not want them to have fun, and that they are unwanted. She fears lack of student involvement in the discussion will cause rebellious activity and even bigger problems.

Council member Chris Grady (District 3) disagreed with Goettl’s concerns.

“This is not anti-student, this is anti-mob,” he said. “Wisconsin Red created this problem with advertising and they should now be responsible for resolving it.”

Another major concern emphasized by Goettl was the poor planning and lack of attention the city placed on Spring Splash.

“Some of these failures are on our part because there was no intention of immediately fixing the problem,” she said.

The event was not discussed with the Parks and Recreation Board until January of this year and with Spring Splash in April, Goettl is certain that the time span for change is not possible for an event students have been planning for a year.

Larry Kachel, chairman of the Greater Whitewater Committee, addressed several concerns with Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher in regards to the time constraints. He questioned discussions of coordinating a no-visit policy in the residence halls during Spring Splash, law enforcement procedures and communication with landlords.

Otterbacher said she assures that there are ongoing conversations with surrounding cities to construct strategies and safety provisions.

Kachel suggested a pub crawl for the future to eliminate underage drinking, increase economic spending for local businesses, alleviate anti-student concerns and accommodate desires of all residents.

After intense discussion, the council wrapped up the conversation, concluding that lack of earlier communication and planning was a crucial mistake. The council will revisit the issue in upcoming meetings.

“There will be something on April 29,” Council President Patrick Singer said. “We just aren’t sure what yet.”

On Monday, the City of Whitewater put out a news release to clarify the collective stance on Spring Splash. Stating the Wisconsin Red event was “well organized and free of problems,” the release blames an influx of outside visitors as the source of “unruly and dangerous” behavior.

“All the reports I’ve received regarding Spring Splash 2016 have confirmed that Wisconsin Red’s event was well organized and well run,” Clapper said in the release. “It is the other parties and the meandering mobs we’re concerned about. Everyone deserves the chance to relax and unwind but no one can be excused from their civic responsibility to exercise good judgement, avoid dangerous behaviors and be respectful of our neighbors.

The Royal Purple has not independently verified the city’s claim that most of the negative behavior wasn’t from UW-W students.

K-9 Unit becomes pet

The council’s agreement to sell the city’s police dog, Boomer, was the other pressing topic at the feb. 7 meeting.

Officer Joseph Matteson, Boomer’s handler, unexpectedly resigned and requested to purchase Boomer as a family pet for an estimated $3,500 canine replacement price.

After speaking with the Boomer’s kennel, Otterbacher said Boomer’s loyalty to Matteson could hinder his ability to transition to a new handler. This component played a large role in allowing Boomer to stay part of the Matteson family.

Boomer was sworn in in 2014 solely due to fundraising initiatives by the community, which created deliberation as to whether or not he should be sold. The effect of long-term fundraising ramifications are a concern.

“People spent money on Boomer to become part of the community, not expecting that he would leave just three years later,” Goettl said. “Community members feel their efforts are derailed by just a few people.”

Singer suggested implementing a contract to inform fundraisers of expectations if the dog is to leave, and other council members agreed to construct a practical policy.

Otterbacher said her focus is to maintain a successful canine program and hopes to find the right dog to welcome to the community as soon as possible.