Despite warnings from the city attorney, Lake Geneva aldermen have voted to maintain sex offender residency restrictions that the lawyer has called illegal.
The city council voted July 8 by a 5-3 margin to reject the attorney’s recommendation to relax a 2,000-foot buffer around schools, parks and playgrounds that puts virtually the entire city off-limits to sex offenders.
The attorney had recommended reducing the buffer to 750 feet, and a city council committee had recommended 1,000 feet.
Voting to make no change were Aldermen Selena Proksa, Doug Skates, Tim Dunn, Cindy Flower and John Halverson, while Aldermen Richard Hedlund, Shari Straube and Ken Howell voted in favor of changing the ordinance.
The four-year-old ordinance is similar to an ordinance in another Wisconsin community that a federal judge in Milwaukee struck down and found to be unconstitutional.
“We’ve discussed this at length,” Hedlund told his colleagues July 8, arguing to approve the change. “It’s time to put it on the books.”
Other aldermen, however, said they were uncomfortable changing the city’s rules for sex offenders.
Skates referred to the 2,000-foot buffer zones covering virtually the entire city as “child safety zones.”
“I’m content to leave it at 2,000 feet,” Skates said. “And let the chips fall where they may.”
City Attorney Dan Draper had previously cautioned aldermen that their ordinance was illegal because it was overly restrictive, just like the ordinance thrown out in court.
Lake Geneva likely would be found to have violated the law, too, Draper said, and the case could end up costing taxpayers a lot of money.
Draper has cited a court case involving the village of Pleasant Prairie, in which the village’s 3,000-foot restriction was found to be unconstitutional. The village later reduced its residency requirement to 1,500 feet, but a judge still found that distance to be too restrictive.
Along with other Wisconsin communities, Lake Geneva officials have been discussing the issue for months.
Lake Geneva’s current 2,000-foot buffer prevents sex offenders from living anywhere near schools, parks, churches, daycare centers, playgrounds, beaches, public swimming pools and other places where children may gather.
The city council in June agreed to direct Draper to draft a revised ordinance to relax the city’s restrictions against sex offenders.
Speaking against such a change July 8, Dunn said the city should not change the ordinance when there has been no lawsuit taking the city to court. Dunn cited strong public opinion in favor of the current restrictive policy.
“This is a government for the people, and people who commit these kinds of acts kind of forfeit their rights,” Dunn said. “That’s the feedback I’m getting, and I agree.”
Mayor Tom Hartz, however, noted that the city attorney has alerted aldermen that their ordinance could be found unconstitutional, and that it should be changed.
“I understand the emotional part of it,” Hartz said. “I have grandchildren, and it’s a scary world sometimes. But I also think that we need to uphold the law.”