Reports of investigation prompt cancellation of state meeting in city

Shawano Leader, Wisconsin/November 14, 2008

The uproar over a federal investigation of an "implied threat" to 60 people in Shawano prompted one state agency to cancel a meeting here today.

Members of the Wisconsin Birth to 3 Interagency Coordinating Council had planned to meet at the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce.

"They canceled the meeting because they think it's the 'Wild Wild West' here in Shawano, and they're concerned for their safety," said member Nicole Bowman of Shawano.

Bowman asked the state council if they had contacted the mayor or police department before making the decision to move the meeting to Madison.

"I just think this chain-reaction doesn't bode well for our city and I sure hope that our state government wouldn't make a decision based on fear, but would rather base their decision on facts," Bowman said in a statement to the council.

Carol Eichinger of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services told Bowman the move was made to be cautious.

"We know Shawno (sic) is a lovely place. However, with the goofiness in the media these days about events sometimes escalating, I felt it would be better to reschedule a different location for a Governor's appointed Council meeting and be a bit cautious," Eichinger said in an email response to Bowman about moving the meeting.

A phone call seeking more comment from Eichinger was not returned by deadline. As some committee members had made overnight accommodations for the meeting, Bowman said it's not easy for her to take the decision - and how this affects the community.

"I'm frustrated and don't want this to hurt Shawano's reputation," she added.

Nancy Smith, executive director of the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce, said the negative publicity is frustrating.

"They had talked to me after they made their decision. They called here and spoke with a staff member earlier, and they told her that they'd be totally safe here - there's nothing to be concerned with," Smith said.

Smith added that the situation had been blown out of proportion by someone based on what they viewed on the news.

"We weren't able to reassure her that things are fine here," Smith said.

Mark West, who lives in Shawano Thursday through Sunday, said he hadn't heard about the ordeal until Thursday morning, when he was contacted by friends.

"Our friends hadn't read anything this morning or last night, and as we went to leave for Shawano this morning, people are telling us not to go, that there's a siege, and it's scary," said West. "But I'm here, and I'm still alive."

West regularly blogs about his experiences in Shawano, and isn't afraid to tell his thoughts about what's going on.

"People are afraid for me because I have a blog that goes out all over the country. I've offended some people," West said. "People were afraid I was one of the people on the list."

Ollie Burmeister of Shawano is taking the matter more lightly, but questions the reasoning of anyone who may have created the implied threat.

"I don't understand the whole thing, why would (anyone) do it?" he said.

As a downtown business owner as well, Burmeister said the effects of the media coverage have put a halt on sales.

"It put a whole stop to business today, there's nothing going on downtown," he said. "They're scaring people away."

Victoria Karst of Shawano said it's also hard to understand the whole story, as many details are still unavailable.

"I think people are afraid of what they don't know, at this point there's not a whole lot to comment on because we're only let in on so much of it, so we're only going by word of mouth and what people are saying," she said. "It's hard to make a full comment on it."

Karst said she's not nervous about the situation.

"I don't know what to be nervous about. I'm only hearing people say certain comments on what they think is going on, it's hard to know what the truth is," she said. "Obviously there's something going on because the FBI is involved, so for the people on a (possible) 'hit list' - I would be afraid if I were one of them."

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