EagleHerald Editor

MARINETTE—Nothing has changed since about two weeks ago when Marinette County Administrator John Lefebvre told the Administrative Committee the county still has not found a place to house a Wisconsin Chapter 980 violent sex offender. If the county doesn’t find housing for that person by June 10, it could face monetary sanctions.

Lefebvre delivered that same message to the entire county board Tuesday at its regular monthly meeting.

“We continue to search for a vendor who will enter into a lease with DHS (Department of Health Services),” he said.

The 980 Committee met in closed session Thursday. Following the meeting, Lefebvre said there was plenty of discussion, but no progress has been made.

“I don’t know if a week is going to do us any good,” he said referring to the next 980 Committee meeting set for June 9. “The reason we picked the 9th is it’s the day before (the deadline). It gives us as much time as we possibly can have before the (deadline).”

At Tuesday’s county board meeting, he said, “At the present time options for placement are limited to none. There are no good viable options.”

The county received notice Feb. 10 that an offender (James Harris, 52) from the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wisconsin, will be released to Marinette County. That center houses “Chapter 980” offenders, which according to state statutes are labeled “Sexually Violent Person Commitments.”

Wisconsin Chapter 980, which took effect in 1994, allows civil commitment and treatment for certain sex offenders after they complete criminal sentences. For many years after Chapter 980 took effect, violent sex offenders have faced hurdles finding places to live. In 2017, Act 184 was adopted which required counties where the offenders were convicted to find suitable housing after they have completed their prison sentences.

The committee thought it had a potential location on Mudbrook Road, located at the border of the towns of Lake and Porterfield, but at its March meeting, the county board voted it down by an emphatic 28-2 margin. About 100 residents from that area attended the meeting—16 of them spoke during public comment—and they convinced most supervisors to vote no.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison, on Tuesday, seemed to blame the board’s vote on media coverage.

“Just so everyone is aware, all the parties are aware, the county board opted not to fund the house because the news media was all over that,” she said. “Just an FYI.”

The EagleHerald ran one short story in advance of that board meeting. Residents of that neighborhood took it upon themselves, to organize, educate themselves, conduct meetings and contact the proper officials. The end result was a strong, powerful show of support before the full county board.

Lefebvre, on Tuesday, pointed out that when a property is labeled as a potential site, the sheriff’s office then investigates to make sure there are no families with children living on the adjoining properties.

He reiterated what he told the Administrative Committee—when residents see deputies talking to neighbors about a sex offender, the rumors start to fly. Lefebvre said deputies have scoped out about 10 locations so far with no luck.

“Don’t be surprised if you get a call,” he told supervisors, “because we are checking out another location. It’s going to occur.”

Lefebvre said he and Mattison are working very hard—every day—to find a location for the offender. “We have contacted everybody we could conceivably contact,” Mattison said. “Administration has worked very hard on this as have the rest of the 980 people (committee).”

They are trying desperately to meet the June 10 deadline to submit a plan to the state. If they don’t, the county could be fined $500 to $1,000 per day.

Lefebvre said if the county does not have a plan by June 10, it will continue the effort because the fines won’t stop.

“It’s each day that we could be assessed a penalty,” he said. “If we don’t have one by the 10th, we will try to get one by the 11th, then we’ll go to the 12th and the 13th. We will just continue on until we find a placement. This isn’t going away.”

Lefebvre said if the county does not show it is trying to find housing, “the state will not look kindly on that.”

Some board members wanted to continue discussing the matter, but they were informed this is not an agenda item “per se.” It was part of Lefebvre’s administrator’s report.

There is another Chapter 980 home in the county—in the Town of Pound—but it is owned by a private entity. There is no room in that house as the home is at the maximum capacity of two residents. No private entity has stepped forward to lease a home for the sex offender that is being released.

Lefebvre said four sex offenders have gone through that location.

• Supervisor Don Pazynski attempted to speak Thursday during public comment but he was not allowed. Lefebvre, following the meeting, said supervisors are not allowed to speak under public comment on county board related items. He said that rule has been in place as long as he can remember.

Pazynski provided the EagleHerald with his statement. He is against the 980 Committee meeting in closed session and he believes communication with the public is lacking.

“By engaging in a closed session, the committee will be dismissing the public by showing a lack of desire for communication,” his statement reads. “If we think we have strong opposition now—remember—if you do not communicate—people will speculate. And then ... you lose control of the message.”