City Council revising policy for youth sports parade escorts

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WAUPUN — The youth-related parade escort policy may be updated to expand opportunities for sports teams to celebrate state tournament runs and championships.

The Waupun City Council discussed the policy at the meeting held last Tuesday, as there have been several instances over the last year where the policy was overruled.

Fire Chief BJ DeMaa was requesting clarity on how to handle the policy going forward. 

According to DeMaa, the policy was originally passed in September 2017 after an incident occured where several cars of excited family and friends had driven recklessly in an impromptu parade after returning from a game—an escort which DeMaa emphasized was not affiliated with the Waupun Police Department.

The policy was intended to give a structure for future events so that Waupun Fire or Police could safely and properly conduct an escort so there would be no repeat incidents, but still giving youth sports teams an opportunity to celebrate their return home. The policy also covered other cases where a parade escort from the City could be requested.

“There were three areas that were identified at that time,” DeMaa said. “A youth team returning from a state competition involved a sport, forensic, academic, or other extracurrectular event that results in a state championship, a homecoming parade, or special event requested by school administration.”

DeMaa went on to describe several escorts that occurred over the last year that technically ignored the policy. This included one instance where an escort was requested for a student who did not win a state championship, another where there was an escort sending off the team to a state championship game, and the prohibited use of sirens after the 9PM time or beginning the escort after 10PM which was outlined in the policy.

The latter of these incidents refers to when the Waupun Girls Softball team won the State Champaionship for the first time in Waupun history earlier this month, with the team only arriving home in Waupun after 10PM.

“Considering that our escorts usually take place on one of the busiest streets we have in the community, I think from a safety standpoint it is important that whatever we are going to do is reflected correctly in a policy so that if an incident were to arise we would have something to fall back on,” DeMaa said. “As a Fire Department, I am all for doing these escorts, it is an unbelievable opportunity that our students are able to go to these state events and let alone win them. I am just looking for direction from the Council on what changes need to be made to this so they align with how we are doing them.”

Alderman Pete Kaczmarski asked whether a recent Facebook post was true regarding the use of sirens during an escort after 10PM, which DeMaa confirmed to be true and technically against policy. Kaczmarski then asked if the City should just throw out the policy if the Police and Fire Departments aren’t going to follow it, to which DeMaa responded that’s why he brought it to the Council—to get direction on the policy for the future.

Mayor Rohn Bishop then took responsibility for ignoring the policy, saying that the policy doesn’t work the way it’s currently written.

“If anyone sitting here puts yourself in my chair, and Jason Westphal sends you a text saying ‘We just won state! We need a parade!’ who’s going to say no?” Bishop said. “I’m not going to say ‘no,’ it’s awesome that they won state—it’s the first time they won the state tournament ever. Let them have the parade and run the sirens, it’s the world’s shortest parade and the kids love it. By this policy we shouldn’t have done it, but I’m not going to be that guy who says no and has those girls crying.” 

“The reality is, we have a policy and it’s my fault for overiding it,” he said. “Because honestly I didn’t even know we had a policy on it. And it started by accident, there was some Saturday night last fall and someone called Acting Chief Rasch asking for an escort, he called me while I was at dinner with my wife in Milwaukee and I told him, if the police aren’t busy they can run a couple squads so the kids are happy—that’s all it was.”

Bishop went on to say that he felt the policy was another example of government policy that overthinks everything, and that while it’s the government’s job to overthink everything the City should be willing to do fun things for their community like this to celebrate an exciting win.

Alderwoman Bobbi Jo Kunz said that the incident Bishop was referring to was the Warriorettes dance team winning 4th place at a state tournament, which is a major achievement in the competitive dancing world and meant so much to the girls on the team to get a parade escort.

It was then suggested that the policy be set back to 10PM for sirens and 11PM for escorts as a whole, but Alderman Matoushek said that still might not solve the problem because arriving home could still be later than that. Alderman Westphal added on with a few examples where that happened.

They went on to discuss various aspects of the policy, including that the City needs to be mindful of the Fire Department’s time as they are still volunteers. But Mayor Bishop also said that the Police Department has stated they would be fine with it as long as they aren’t doing a major operation at that time.

The Council agreed that they needed a policy, that the policy should be fair and consistent, and that it needs to be followed. Alderman Westphal compared the current policy to the backyard chicken ordinance, where the policy was “born out of a crisis” and overthought to the point “where common sense was removed.”

Alderman Dan Siebers noted that the number of signatures on the original policy—which was eight—was the highest number of signatures that he had seen on a single policy since he had become an alderman in 2022. They also noted that of the eight signatories, only two still remained in their positions—those being City Adminisrator Kathy Schlieve and Fire Chief DeMaa.

While it was only a discussion item at this meeting, it will likely be up for a motion at a future meeting after a draft has been drawn up for a new policy.

Also discussed at the meeting were changes to the Youth Sports Grant Program, with a new draft updating policies on drawing from the grant. The proposed changes included giving preference to organizations who have not previously received funding from the grant, as well as limiting the number of times that organizations can draw from the grant to only three times. The Council voted to accept the changes, and applications for the grant will be accepted on a rolling basis until funds are depleted.

The Council also heard from one local resident who requested the city consider loosening restrictions on backyard chickens at the same meeting.