Concerned citizens of the City of Fitchburg are continuing in their efforts to go through the process of recalling Mayor Jason Gonzalez of Fitchburg, despite proposed amendments that would restore some of the $110,000 in nonprofit funding Gonzalez cut from his 2018 executive budget.
Because state law only allows a recall of an elected official who’s been in office for one full year, organizers intend to file the recall petition in February.
Gonzalez’s budget proposal eliminates a $50,000 service agreement with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County and a $10,000 allocation for the Badger Prairie Needs network food pantry, as well as a $50,000 fund administered by the Community Economic Development Authority to give grants on a competitive basis to fund projects by local nonprofits.
Hard feelings and bad tastes in the mouths of many residents persist after one of the most contentious and controversial mayoral budget processes in recent memory. That process, combined with a general lack of faith in Mayor Gonzalez’s commitment to serving members of communities of color around Fitchburg have given fuel to the recall effort, organizers say.
Caliph Muab-El, a community activist and concerned citizen, says that he is aware of amendments which could create a fund of $75,000-$100,000 that could make grants to nonprofits, but says he still feels that pursuit of a recall is in the best interest of the community.
“We’ve been garnering a lot of support for the recall,” Muab-El said. “We have a lot of people on standby. It looks like the city may have made some amendments to their budget. But we’re going full throttle with this recall until we see real results and real deliverables.”
Muab-El said that the full restoration of funds to the non-profits who lost funding in the Mayor’s original budget is only part of what he feels the community needs to see in order to have faith in Mayor Gonzalez moving forward.
Muab-El is the head of a number of businesses and organizations throughout the community, but wants to make it clear that his position in any of those organizations has nothing to do with the work he is doing on the campaign to recall Mayor Gonzalez. Muab-El says he is acting as a concerned citizen with deep roots in the community he works hard to be an activist for.
“I wear different hats and in this capacity, I am a community organizer,” he said. “The recall itself is an individual effort that we’re pushing with community members, activists and leaders. I don’t want any organizations I work for to be harmed in this. I’m just a community activist on this issue.”
Generally speaking, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations are not allowed to engage in political activities like campaigning for or against a candidate.
On October 3, the same day the recall was announced, Alder Julia Arata-Fratta, a close ally of Gonzalez, used her private Gmail account to direct City Manager Patrick Marsh to inquire with the IRS, according to emails obtained by Madison365.
“Non for profit (sic) cannot do political activities otherwise the IRS can revoke the tax exempt status,” Arata-Fratta wrote to Marsh. “Check with Valerie or Mark and send an inquiry to IRS.”
Marsh forwarded the question to City Attorney Mark Sewell and Assistant City Attorney Valerie Zisman, telling Arata-Fratta they would “provide next steps.”
Marsh told Madison365 Thursday that Sewell and Zisman did not respond, and that they have not provided political advice on the matter.
Arata-Fratta did not return messages seeking further clarification on what she hoped to learn from the IRS or what she intended to do with the information.
Last month, the recall effort was reported to have over 700 signatures with what organizers claimed to be many more willing and waiting to sign any petition. Recall organizers said at a press conference last month that Mayor Jason Gonzalez has betrayed communities of color, including his own Hispanic community, and that his actions warrant this level of response.
Muab-El said that he has filed a Freedom of Information Act request so that he can gain better knowledge of the Mayor’s and the Fitchburg Common Council’s actions and thinking during recent events.
Robert Chappell contributed to this report.