SIST airs history of alleged discrimination
Tim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
It was intended to be a simple question by the Shawano Redevelopment Authority about what plans the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology might have for some of its long-vacant properties in the city.
What the RDA heard instead Tuesday was a lengthy written statement, and then some impromptu comments from SIST representatives resurrecting long-held grievances against the city and its officials.
“We have been the object of discrimination, organized discrimination, and desecration of SIST properties,” SIST representative Darlene Sense said.
Sense maintained that SIST had extensive plans for its properties until Lorna Marquardt became mayor 14 years ago.
“Lorna Marquardt, as you are all well aware of, ran her campaign on that she would have nothing to do with the businessman from India,” Sense said.
Sense said SIST spent millions of dollars on planning for their properties, which were going to be remodeled by architects from across the country.
She blamed Marquardt for influencing the Leader, police and sheriff’s departments and town of Wescott chairman Mike Schuler “in raising opposition to everything we were doing.”
Sense said the plans SIST presented when former Mayor Russ Schmidt was in office, just prior to Marquardt, are still on display at Realtor Terry Hilgenberg’s office.
Hilgenberg, who was not at the meeting, said in interview Tuesday evening there were plans presented, but they were likely in the office archives and not on display.
He said they included some “quite elaborate plans” for upscale fabric shops, and he questioned whether Shawano could support those businesses.
He also said he did not see any change in attitude from the city after Marquardt was elected.
“I don’t believe there was any abrupt change of direction with the Marquardt administration,” he said.
Sense said the USA International Raceway in Wescott, which the group eventually lost in foreclosure, “brought Shawano to the map and the attention of the world.”
RDA chair Amanda Sheppard attempted to bring the meeting back to discussion of the plans for SIST properties, particularly the vacant building at 214 S. Main St., which has been deemed a health and safety hazard, but Sense pressed on with a written statement outlining claims of discrimination and violence.
She said SIST properties have been the targets of vandalism that has included bullets fired through storefront windows, bombs being set off on SIST properties and egging.
“People were recently sent in vehicles to damage one of the buildings,” she claimed.
Sense also claimed that water had been put into the basements of some of the buildings.
Sense said SIST was still willing to work with the RDA.
However, she said, “we need your protection, not your harassment.”
Sense declined to discuss SIST’s plans are for its properties.
“We do have a plan for all of our buildings,” she said. “I don’t feel at this point that I can say what the plan is, but we do have a plan.”
Another SIST representative, Steven Theys, accused the city of aiding an illegal seizure of property at the former Ponderosa restaurant, which SIST lost in a foreclosure proceeding.
“The authorities are protecting the looters in broad daylight,” he said. “What kind of country are we living in? What kind of society is this?”
Theys also claimed the seizure of the USA Raceway was an “illegal receivership.”
City Administrator Brian Knapp said the RDA could not address past grievances and was looking only to see what SIST’s plans are for its current properties, particularly the one at 214 S. Main St.
“We can’t begin to address all of the concerns that you’ve had in the past,” he said. “We’ve got this building that’s in dire need of attention.”
The RDA ultimately voted to give SIST 30 days to present a plan for the property before taking further action, which could include a raze and removal order.
Asked about the Sense statement after the meeting, Mayor Jeanne Cronce said the Shawano Police Department has had very few complaints from SIST and has been responsive to any complaints filed. She said the department has been willing to work with the group.
She said the RDA is also willing to work with SIST.
“We’re willing to help, but we need a plan and a timeline to make sure that the buildings in question are remodeled or rehabilitated, or in the worst case razed, and we intend to work collaboratively with them,” she said. “It’s about time we move forward and forget the past.”
Former mayor Lorna Marquardt denied Sense’s allegations that she had any bias against Samanta Roy.
“The city of Shawano as well as their partner (Shawano County Economic Progress Inc.) encourages and supports the renovation of all deteriorating properties to include those owned by SIST and their subsidiaries,” she said in an email. “As mayor, I supported the city’s efforts to assist owners with obtaining a variety of grants and low interest loans.
“If SIST felt I was a roadblock to their moving forward with renovation plans, then hopefully now that there is new leadership, they will move forward and fix their deteriorating buildings.”