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Local election filings get off to rocky start

The people of Somerset will have several choices come election time.

Four positions are open on the village board: village president and three trustees. The incumbents, Jeff Johnson as village president, Greg Sayers, Gerald Mullenburg and Robert Campbell as trustees, have filed their paperwork to keep their seats. In the past, opposing candidates were few and far between, making the elections quick and easy.

This year, however, it may not be quick and easy.

Lauren Stephens, a Somerset resident and mother of two, has filed papers to run for village president. In addition, she has recruited three other individuals, Lisa Kreucher, Michael Kearney and Ryan Halverson to run for the trustee seats.

"This is a deliberate attempt to replace the current board," Stephens said. "I've checked past election records and this is unprecedented in the village's history."

Stephens said her displeasure with the current board began back in May when she attended its monthly meeting.

At that time, the board was discussing whether to grant the liquor license extension to Float-Rite for its Apple River Liquor store.

"Johnson made some comment about how the board didn't have to notify residents unless it was a 'hot button' issue," Stephens said.

At the meeting, a Somerset resident asked the board why they didn't ask the residents if they wanted another liquor store in the area. Johnson was quoted as saying, "We don't make it a policy to blanket the community with hot button agendas. It's on the residents' shoulders to be aware and keep themselves informed. If you know of a topic coming up, you are welcome to be here."

A Web developer by trade, Stephens said her frustration was so great that she went home that evening and began designing her Web site - "the unofficial Village of Somerset informational Web site." This operates as an alternative to the official maintained by the village offices.

All candidates were to have their paperwork, which included witnessing 20 signatures of support from Village of Somerset residents, filed in the village office by Tuesday, Jan. 6. Then the village clerk, Pam Donohoe, would certify that the addresses are valid and paperwork is in order.

When Stephens approached Donohoe to ask for copies of the incumbents' paperwork, she said she wanted to see who they had signed so the new candidates would not approach those same people on the campaign trail.

Here is where the "nice and easy" path gets further diverted.

In her formal challenge affidavit, Stephens said she noticed all of the paperwork, including her own, had some sort of deficiency. She claimed most of them were not substantial and could be corrected easily.

Not Gerald Mullenberg's paperwork, however.

She alleged that Mullenberg committed election fraud and should be disqualified from the election.

According to her formal challenge affidavit: three pages do not contain an election date, name of jurisdiction or page number; a signature should be disqualified since the person does not live in the Village limits; five family signatures on one page appear to be written in the same handwriting; and one page containing nine signatures does not have any candidate information on the heading.

Kyle Richmond, public information officer at the Elections Division at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, said that the last charge in particular could not be corrected.

"If someone had written an incorrect date or something like that," Richmond explained, "that is easily correctable by filing an affidavit. That paper (without the candidate's information at the heading) would not be accepted at state level because it shows the signee didn't know who it was backing."

The deadline to file challenges was Friday, Jan. 9. Greg Sayers, trustee incumbent, also filed a challenge against Michael Kearney questioning his residency. According to Andrea Otto, deputy clerk, that challenge was satisfied.

By law, Donohoe notified Mullenberg of the challenge against him. It is up to Donohoe as village clerk to decide whether to keep Mullenberg on the ballot or not based on his resubmissions.

Donohoe said in a phone interview Tuesday morning that Mullenberg had submitted his affidavit on Friday. He had gone back to those people who had signed the "blank sheet" and gotten affidavits from each of them testifying that they knew who they were backing initially.

"When I gave the sheets to the candidates, I had those signature sheets stapled together," Donohoe said. "He should have filled it out, but this is a small town and not everyone crosses their T's and dots their I's."

In regards to the similar signatures, Donohoe said she is waiting to hear back from the village attorney before making a decision. They have three days from the date of the challenge, which would be Wednesday, in deciding how to handle the issue.

Stephens said she is waiting to hear what Donohoe decides before pursuing further action.

"This is fraud. He certified the papers saying he personally saw each individual sign, but those five signatures were not signed by five people," Stephen said. "Not to mention that one page with the missing information should be thrown out. He wouldn't have the required 20 signatures then and shouldn't be on the ballot."

"I'm waiting to hear back from the village attorney, but the way I see it," Donohoe said, "those people nominated him, and they have every right to have him on the ballot."