USA Raceway manager says he wasn’t fully allowed to make case at meeting

Leader Reporter/March 8, 2006
By Tim Ryan

USA International Raceway is threatening possible legal action over the Wescott Plan Commission’s handling Tuesday of a public hearing held to consider expanded operations at the racetrack.

“I will contact our attorney,” said racetrack general manager Scott Paape, who maintained that town chairman Mike Schuler denied him an opportunity to make his case before the commission.

“I want a fair hearing,” said Paape, speaking to a Leader reporter after Tuesday’s meeting. Paape said he planned to get a copy of the tape recording of the meeting made by building inspector Paul Hahn and present it to the racetrack’s legal counsel.

The meeting turned into a shouting match between Paape and Schuler, who was filling in as Plan Commission chairman for Phil Zuhse. Zuhse was out of town on vacation. Paape left the meeting after the exchange.

Paape also accused Schuler of working with City of Shawano Mayor Lorna Marquardt to shut the racetrack down.

“He’s in bed with the mayor,” Paape said after the meeting.

Marquardt attended Tuesday’s public hearing with city administrator Jim Stadler and alderperson Sandy Steinke but did not address the commission. Stadler, speaking on behalf of the city, requested that the racetrack’s request be postponed so that city residents living nearby the track would have an opportunity for input.

“The mayor worries more about shutting us down than working with us,” Paape said after the meeting.

Marquardt called the accusation ludicrous.

“I don’t appreciate Paape turning this into a political issue with the city,” Marquardt said. “We have never suggested the track be shut down. We’ve been as fair to them as any government entity can be. All we want is for them to follow the rules.”

Marquardt said the city had no position on expanded hours at the racetrack and only wanted city residents to be heard on the matter.

Paape pointed to the city’s denial of the racetrack’s request for annexation last year, and the city’s refusal to allow the track to use off-site parking on East Green Bay Street. The city cited safety concerns in denying the parking request.

Paape accused the city of treating the racetrack differently from other businesses because it is owned by the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology. It is not the first time SIST has made that complaint. SIST is suing the city and claiming discrimination over the city’s handling last year of permits for the Best Western motel, which is owned by SIST subsidiary Midwest Hotels and Motels of Shawano, LLC.

Paape said the racetrack property would not be having the difficulties it has faced in Wescott and Shawano if the track were owned by anybody else. He said that area restaurants, hotels and campgrounds were benefiting from the tourist dollars being brought in by the racetrack, and that local government officials were ignoring that.

Paape said he was fully expecting a no vote from the Wescott Plan Commission, judging from past experience, but was not expecting the public hearing to be handled the way it was.

“I wasn’t expecting to not be able to defend myself,” Paape said.

Paape was not the only person upset with the way Tuesday’s meeting was handled. Plan Commissioner Dale Vannes also walked out of the meeting after the exchange and chided Schuler for losing his temper.

“I was embarrassed for everyone there,” Vannes told a reporter Tuesday afternoon. “There was no reason for it, and it looks bad for us.”

Vannes, who said he would be back for next month’s Plan Commission meeting, said that Schuler called and apologized after the meeting. Schuler also made an apology during the meeting to the commission and those in attendance.

Vannes said Schuler’s handling of the public hearing caused confusion about when commission members would get to ask Paape questions and when Paape would get to respond.

“I didn’t know where he was going with it, and I don’t think Scott did either,” Vannes said. “I felt like I was cut off. We’re supposed to make a decision based on facts and all of the facts were not presented.”

Among the questions Vannes had for Paape was whether the requested expansion of hours would mean that races would go until 11 p.m.

Paape said after the meeting that he was looking for a later time buffer for races, and that they wouldn’t necessarily go that late.

“On Thursday nights we race from 7 p.m. to probably 9 p.m.,” he said, as an example. “But increasing the number of racers, that could be maybe 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Paape said he was also surprised by what he called the sudden complaints about noise from the racetrack. He noted that when the county reaffirmed the track’s existing conditional use permit, officials said they had no complaints of noise.

“These machines are no louder than a lawn mower,” he said.

He said the complaints are coming in now “because the mayor has been on the radio” in what he called a public campaign against the racetrack.

Though he apologized for the outburst with Paape, Schuler later defended his handling of the public hearing. He said that public comment has to end once commission members start discussing the issue.

“We have a meeting to run and we have to run it properly,” he said.

Schuler said there still might have been an opportunity for Paape to respond to comments and questions from commission members.

“We might have let him have a rebuttal,” Schuler said.

Schuler also denied accusations that there is any campaign against the racetrack, either by Wescott or the city.

“Nobody is out to shut them down,” Schuler said. “We don’t want to shut them down. The city doesn’t want to shut them down. And certainly tourism doesn’t want to shut them down.”

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