Village leader outbids homeowners for property

Bonduel deal involves village land near park
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Leader Photo by Scott Williams The village in 2011 acquired the vacant lots in the foreground, which back up to the backyards of residential properties on neighboring Park Street.

Homeowners trying to purchase vacant lots owned by the village of Bonduel adjacent to their homes were surprised to learn that another buyer was bidding against them.

They were even more stunned to discover that the other bidder was Village President Sharon Wussow.

Wussow had tried to convince members of the village board that the village should hang onto the vacant lots for development of a community garden or some other public purpose.

When village trustees differed with Wussow and advertised the two Cedar Street properties for sale, Wussow figured it was time to put her money where her mouth was.

Submitting handwritten offers as part of the village’s confidential bidding process, Wussow outbid the neighboring homeowners and acquired the two residential lots for $4,101 each. To avoid any conflict of interests, she took no part in village board deliberations about whether to accept her purchase offers.

The remaining village board members voted unanimously July 31 to approve the sale.

Neighboring homeowners Chris Brooks and Dennis Klosterman were left scratching their heads, wondering why the village president would want to purchase vacant land next to their homes.

“I thought that was a little bit weird,” Brooks said.

Wussow said she is not ruling out the possibility of reselling the property someday in an effort to make a profit. For now, however, she mostly wants to maintain a place on Cedar Street where the village or others can utilize the land in some way that benefits the community.

Noting that the village-owned lots have been popular spots for spectators during public Fourth of July fireworks displays, Wussow said she might invite the Bonduel Civic Association to manage the spectator area during future holidays as a fundraiser for the civic association.

Wussow said she is acting out of concern for serving a community purpose more than her own private financial interests. She vowed not to use her position as village president to advance any future development or other improvement to the property.

“I don’t want any favoritism,” she said. “That’s not what I’m in there for. I’m in for the betterment of the village.”

The Fourth of July spectator crowds are what initially prompted neighbors to wonder about the vacant property on Cedar Street, located on the far north end of town.

The village in 2011 acquired three adjoining residential properties from Shawano County after the county claimed the land from a private landowner who had fallen behind on taxes. The village paid the county a combined $6,780 for the lots at 118, 114 and 110 East Cedar Street.

The vacant properties are under-priced compared with surrounding lots because they lack water service and other basic utilities.

In 2016, neighbor Bill Moeller got tired of cleaning up after Fourth of July fireworks spectators who gathered annually at 118 E. Cedar St. — the lot that backs up to Moeller’s house on Park Street. When Moeller approached the village about the problem, he discovered that the village was willing to consider selling the vacant lot.

Although Wussow opposed the sale, village board members agreed to sell Moeller his neighboring vacant lot for $3,300. Moeller said he was aware that officials had discussed different public uses for the property, located just west of Village Park.

“I just want it to stay the way it is — empty,” Moeller said.

After Brooks and Klosterman learned about the deal Moeller had made, they both approached the village about buying the lots behind their homes. Despite Wussow’s continued opposition, the village board agreed to solicit offers for the two remaining lots at 114 and 110 East Cedar Street. The village set the minimum bid for each property at $3,600.

Brooks and Klosterman each bid $3,650, but when the sealed bids were opened at the July 19 village board meeting, Wussow had outbid both of them with her offers of $4,101 for each.

Wussow said she had no inside information about the confidential bidding process, and she consulted the League of Wisconsin Municipalities to make sure she was within her rights legally and ethically to bid on property owned by the village.

“Anybody could’ve done it just the same as me,” she said.

Village Trustee Shawn Thorne presided over board deliberations and the July 31 vote approving the sale of both lots to Wussow. Thorne, who works in the real estate business, said the village handled the situation properly, including accepting the highest offer.

Thorne said he had no idea before the bids were opened that Wussow was trying to buy the property.

“More power to her,” he said. “If she’s got some plans for it, more power to her.”

Brooks and Klosterman both said they have no plans to pursue the matter any further, although both still harbor questions about how the village president got the better of them.

“It sounds stinky to me,” Klosterman said.

Brooks wondered why the village president did not simply make a donation to the civic association rather than purchase real estate where the association could hold fundraisers. Brooks said he suspects Wussow will sell the property and try to make a profit.

“It’s weird that she bought it,” he said. “I just think it’s a bunch of money to spend on something if you’re not going to do anything with it.”