TOWN OF PESHTIGO — The Peshtigo Town Board addressed an unofficial Facebook discussion group for town residents during its July 21 meeting.
“The town has no need for a Facebook page,” Chairman Herman Pottratz said.
The issue was introduced as an agenda item by Pottratz and was discussed during the last meeting of the board.
Both Pottratz and Treasurer Marsha Rettke were both quite vocal during the meeting about the group.
The main issue that officials have with the page is that an unofficial discussion group is using the name “Town of Peshtigo” when they are not affiliated with the city.
“Use your own name,” Pottratz said.
When asked about the naming issue, one of the administrators of the page, Matthew Robert said, “To be clear, the name of the group is ‘The Town of Peshtigo Citizens Discussion’. My question is, do the people not have the legal right to use the name for a Facebook discussion group?”
After researching the topic, it has been confirmed that neither the Town nor City of Peshtigo hold a trademark for the name Peshtigo.
Pottratz and Rettke also objected to the fact that the group is private, has a set of rules, that if violated can get you kicked from the group, that it is not open to all Town of Peshtigo residents and the presence of misinformation on the page.
When asked for comment regarding these complaints, Robert said, “The group votes on many things, especially on how to administer the group. The group voted to make it ‘only’ Town of Peshtigo residents recently with some exceptions. They also wanted it to (be) ‘invite only’ so only current members could invite new members. The page is community managed in the sense that you have to report post(s) and conduct that break the rules, so the admins can review it.
“If a person keeps getting reported, just like any other group, the member gets removed. Rules are applied fairly and balanced. The group does not allow personal attacks from anyone. At the end of the day, it is a pretty friendly group of neighbors discussing concerns, questions, and or issues. It is unclear to me why the board has such an issue to go as far as to say that it should be taken down and at a minimum the name removed.”
Both Pottratz and Rettke assure residents that they do not wish to have the page shut down.
“The concept of the page is great, but the problem is that they post inaccurate information about the town,” said Rettke, who added that residents have complained to her multiple times about being kicked out of the group for correcting misinformation.
When asked about instances of misinformation on the page, Robert said, “The only reference to misinformation was about mail-in ballots posted on March 20 by Karl Jaeger. (Jaeger is a Marinette County supervisor for District 21 and a candidate for the State Assembly.) In that post, he identified that the town clerk (Clarence Coble) was supposed to initial the ballots.”
When asked about the situation with the mail-in ballots Jaeger expanded on it saying, “Leading up to our April 2020 election, two separate citizens reached out to me because they received Democratic absentee ballots that were not initialed by the Town of Peshtigo Clerk or Deputy Clerk. They were understandably concerned, as the ballot clearly states, ‘If you are voting absentee, your ballot must be initialed by the municipal clerk or deputy clerk. Your ballot may not be counted without initials.’ The Republican absentee ballots in both cases were properly initialed.”
Jaeger continued, “On March 20, 2020, I reached out by phone to Richard Rydecki, the deputy administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, on their behalf and he confirmed that yes, the ballots must be properly initialed. He advised that if anyone receives an improperly initialed or uninitialed ballot, that person should reach out their clerk and have a new ballot issued. I shared this information on the Town of Peshtigo Citizens’ Discussion Facebook group on March 20.”
Jaeger said that on March 23, he received a phone call from Coble stating that Rydecki was incorrect and that the uninitialed ballots will be marked as “Clerk’s error” but would still be counted.
“I shared that information on the Town of Peshtigo Citizens’ Discussion Facebook group as well,” Jaeger said.
Jaeger said that he did not make the posts to advise people, that he is not a clerk or an elections inspector. That his only motivation for the post was to share information that was presented from both parties.
Robert said of the ballot post, “I confirmed that Karl was correct by going to the Wisconsin election commission website and calling Richard Rydecki from the Wisconsin Election Commission, that the ‘clerk shall initial’ the ballot. It was rightfully brought to the groups’ attention that several ballots were not initialed by the clerk or the deputy clerk and that under certain circumstances, their vote might not be counted. The clerk told the residents he didn’t need to fix the ballots not initialed — even though there was more than a month to address their concerns and fix the error.”
When contacted for clarification about rumors of misinformation, Rettke said, “I would caution them to double check their information because it can cause issues for the office.”
When asked about people being removed from the group for correcting misinformation Robert said, “There have only been a hand full of people removed from the group and every one of them has been removed for violation of the group rules.”
Robert said about the group’s goal, “Once upon a time, this group would have been a bunch of neighbors sitting down for coffee, listening to each other, and discussing what is going on around their town and what they can do about it. We don’t seem to have that anymore, so we have groups like this to fill that gap. Unlike ‘the board.’, I believe a town is the people, not ‘the board.’”