Fitchburg alder Dorothy Krause wanted to use police records and licensing requirements to shut down the after-school homework club run by longtime community volunteer Wanda Smith, who she considers “not someone who should be in charge of groups of children,” according to emails obtained by Madison365.
An open records request into internal communications between Fitchburg Common Council members revealed that Krause sought potentially damaging and explosive information about the fitness of Smith to supervise the club.
In an October 9 email to City Manager Patrick Marsh, Krause wrote,¨From what I’ve witnessed firsthand at the fire station, at city hall, and online, among others, she is not someone that should be in charge of groups of children.”
Krause wrote that she had sought police records about how many times officers have responded to the residence or adjoining residences of Wanda Smith, who previously ran for a seat on the council and has publicly supported a recall of Mayor Jason Gonzalez.
Online court records indicate no criminal convictions against Smith. One charge against Smith was dismissed in 1999, court records show.
In the email, Krause also asked whether the city could require a homework club like Smith’s to obtain a daycare license. She also inquired as to whether children could be removed from a Common Council meeting “if and when bullying and abusive language is used.”
Marsh responded that he didn’t think the City could require such a license, or ask that children be removed from the Council chamber.
Smith spoke forcefully in October at the Fitchburg Common Council’s budget hearing about Gonzalez’s decision to remove more than $100,000 in the 2018 budget to support local nonprofit organizations that provide services to Fitchburg residents, and how the removal of non-profit funds would impact children of color in the King James Way area and Fitchburg at large. Smith was rebuked by Marsh for personally attacking council members Dorothy Krause and Ann Scott by name during the hearing.
Krause has introduced an amendment that would restore much of that funding through a competitive grant process.
But Krause says that her seeking information about Smith’s police contacts is not tied to the events of the budget hearing at all. Emails sent between council members confirm that Krause had concerns about Smith prior to the emotional community public hearing.
“I don’t know if she’s unfit,” Dorothy Krause told Madison365. “But based on her behavior online and at City Council hearings, it does not give me faith about many things. I was getting a lot of complaints from residents who live around Wanda Smith. I am a truth seeker so I was trying to find out more facts about incidents that were around that property. It is a concern about her behavior.”
Krause said she has not had the opportunity yet to peruse the files and reports from police. She said that when she has had the chance to, she will form a further opinion. She said that in no way was this retribution for Wanda Smith’s comments at the public hearing or Smith’s presence in a grassroots effort to recall Mayor Jason Gonzalez.
In fact, Krause is “not in love” with how Mayor Gonzalez handled the funding of the Boys and Girls Club and Badger Prairie Needs Network, she said. But she did go as far as to say she also felt that the behavior of Wanda Smith during the budget process, as well as Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson, was inappropriate and stated that their vociferous and emotional opposition to the mayor’s budget didn’t inspire alders to want to amend the budget to restore funding.
Smith, who runs the Peace Network, meets three times a week to help at-risk youth with homework, meals and a safe environment. Over 80 children were helped by Peace Network over the course of summer 2017, according to a report provided by the organization.
Johnson said he was saddened and shocked to see that his dispute with the Council has led to such harshness of tone and actions.
“I am so disappointed that there are elected officials who are taking shots at grassroots people who are helping kids,” Johnson said. “For the last ten years, I have seen Wanda Smith give her time, personal treasure and heart for children. It is careless for an elected official to take shots at someone who doesn’t have any power. It is unfortunate that someone would go around town trying to discredit someone’s name because they challenged them in public.”
For Wanda Smith, however, the pain and betrayal she felt at hearing that she was being targeted for standing up for the children in her community was difficult to put into words.
Smith can’t believe all of this is happening over a dispute about funding for the Boys and Girls Club. Smith said that she counted Dorothy Krause as an ally and feels attacked and undercut.
“For them to try to lower my reputation is a total disgrace. All I’m trying to do is serve these kids. I didn’t even know that they could go this low. I’m appalled right now. My track record when it comes to kids is proven. They went this low over 50 grand?” she said, referring to the amount cut from the budget that would fund the Boys and Girls Club. “They don’t like the fact that I came to City Hall and I stood up to them to their faces. I cannot believe this. Dorothy Krause is supposed to be supporting the children in this community.”
Smith feels that there is a push to have well-funded, white-run organizations provide services for children rather than have Peace Network or more local “mom-and-pop” ventures to help out kids. Smith worries that those will try to impose what they think is best for kids, rather than let people from kids’ communities play that role.
Krause said that’s not true.
“It’s clear that we’re on the same side,” Krause said. “So I don’t know why I get attacked by Wanda Smith and by other people. I try to ignore that because it’s kind of an energy drain.”
But Smith is not buying it. She said the damage to her reputation by even suggesting she’s unfit to supervise children is unacceptable.
“I didn’t ever think she would stoop that low,” Smith said. “She sat in meetings saying she supported us, saying she supported the children of King James Way. These people have tried to humiliate me and degrade my civil rights on every level. They don’t like the fact that a black person is stepping up to them like this.”