NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There are some people who considered Christine Van de Yacht to be a taxpayers' watchdog at Wausau City Hall, questioning policies and expenses within local government. Others see her as an abrasive and difficult personality. She readily admits there are some people who don't like her.
For those who are unfamiliar with her story, Van de Yacht was a former Wausau alderwoman. She purchased the Golden Gurnsey Dairy property, which had been partially rehabilitated using federal block grant money. Local officials, who have wide lattitude over how block grants are spent, are not allowed to buy property that's been cleaned up with those dollars. The potential for conflicts of interest are too great.
It seems likely that Van de Yacht didn't know the rules, or didn't know the property she bought was cleaned up with federal dollars. Any other explanation is non-sensical. A federal grant can't be hiden or covered up. It doesn't seem like she tried to get away with anything.
But it is equally clear that federal block grant rules were violated. Van de Yacht was investigated by the city ethics board. They found that the rules had been broken, and recommended she be censured. The ethics board's finding was never voted on by the full city council, as Van de Yacht resigned from office before the council took action.
A city council member may not know all the rules for federal block grants. Council members are part-time elected officials. They are not experts on the volumes of state and federal rules that come with some programs. City staff, who are the paid professionals to write and administer grants, know the most about these federal programs. It's entirely possible that city staff knew that Van de Yacht was about to break the rules and didn't tell her. She was disliked by some people at city hall. They may have kept silent until after she purchased the property, and then revealed her violation.
For someone to be so unpopular at City Hall that they might be sandbagged says something about their personality. But this goes beyond staffers dislike a city council member. If there are city employees who knew but kept silent, they should be investigated. Their silence could have put future block grants at risk. Cities depend on those block grants to clean up polluted property. Being shut off from that money would be devastating for future economic development projects. If someone at city hall put grant money at risk to settle a score with someone they don't like, that story should be told.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau