University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan announced his retirement following the Badgers’ 64-49 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday night.
About 20 minutes after the final buzzer, Ryan walked into the Kohl Center media room. An athletic department official announced Ryan would make an opening statement, something he almost never does.
Ryan went on to say that he would step aside immediately. UW associate head coach Greg Gard, Ryan’s longtime assistant, will take over the team on an interim basis and will coach his first game when the Badgers close non-conference play with a game against visiting UW-Green Bay on Dec. 23.
“It's so emotional right now,” Ryan said. “And I'm trying to hold this together.”
Ryan ends his 32-career on the college level with a 747-233 record, including 364-130 at UW. He led the Badgers to at least a share of four Big Ten regular-season championships and three conference tournament titles.
The Badgers advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of Ryan’s first 14 seasons, with seven trips to the Sweet 16. UW entered this season coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances, including a loss to Duke in last season’s title game.
“His record speaks for itself,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “He's a legend.”
Gard, who turned 45 earlier this month, has been an assistant under Ryan for more than two decades.
Ryan announced over the summer that this would be his 15th and final season at UW, but he later said that might not be the case after all.
On the eve of the start of practice in October, Ryan made it clear he would not be answering questions about his retirement, telling the State Journal his “juices are flowing” and this season was “not about me.”
Later that month, while attending Big Ten media day in Chicago, Ryan was asked repeatedly about the retirement announcement and subsequent backtracking. At the time, he made it clear he would coach through the year and then decide, with the possibility he would continue to coach multiple seasons.
“I was just trying to do the right thing by people who have been very loyal to me,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t going to do to Wisconsin, or to Barry or the administration, all of a sudden about this time of year, ‘You know what, I’m going to retire,’ and then you have to move a guy into the interim position. I wasn’t going to do that. That’s not me.”
Ryan had a speech prepared on a sheet of paper on Tuesday night but never used it. Instead, he spoke from the heart for about 10 minutes before leaving without taking questions. He left the room with his wife Kelly by his side.
Ryan said he would have stepped away back in June had it not been for the fact that Gard’s father was going through an illness. Glen Gard was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain cancer, in May and died on Oct. 30.
“Barry and I had been talking: What’s a good time?” Ryan said. “What we came down to was semester. This is semester. We start finals and I wanted to give coach Gard plenty of time to get the guys ready and to get them into the position where as a head coach he has a chance … to take a run at the job.”
When Ryan was finished speaking, Alvarez and Gard took his place in front of the microphones.
“You never know when opportunity is going to knock,” Gard said, “but you’ve got to be ready for it.”
UW junior guard Zak Showalter called Ryan’s announcement “sad.”
Junior forward Nigel Hayes, who said on multiple occasions he couldn’t see Ryan stepping down following the 2015-16 season, sensed something different when the starting lineup was announced Tuesday night.
“Bo and I never made eye contact and this game we did,” Hayes said. “He had the saddest look I’ve ever seen him have when we looked at each other. I guess now it makes sense why he looked like that.”
Ryan, who will turn 68 on Sunday, began his coaching career began in 1972 at a junior high school in his native Pennsylvania. He began his collegiate coaching career a year later as an assistant under Bill Cofield at Dominican College of Racine and later served as UW assistant for eight seasons under Cofield and Steve Yoder.
In 1984, Ryan took over a struggling UW-Platteville program and eventually turned into an NCAA Division III powerhouse. Ryan went 353-76 in 15 seasons with the Pioneers, winning four national titles during that span.
He made the move to Division I in 1999, spending two seasons at UW-Milwaukee before being hired by UW athletic director Pat Richter in 2001.
The Badgers went 19-13 and earned a share of the Big Ten title in Ryan’s first season. UW never finished lower than fourth place in the Big Ten under Ryan and produced a .717 winning percentage (172-68) in conference play, the best winning percentage in Big Ten history for coaches with at least five years on the job.
On Wednesday morning, UW’s all-time winningest coach is scheduled to depart for a pre-planned vacation to Palm Springs, California.
JOHNSON CREEK — You can still find a patch of purple shag carpeting, the Art Deco foil wallpaper still graces a downstairs hallway and the rotating bar with purple and pink leather lounge chairs remains.
But one of the state’s most visible and architecturally unique buildings has been transformed and will soon be back in business for the first time in nearly 15 years.
The exterior of what is now called the Gobbler Theater remains largely unchanged. The interior of the Helmut Ajango-designed building completed in 1969 has undergone an extensive renovation, all in an effort to create a 405-seat concert hall for up-and-coming rock, country and Christian music artists.
Those types of acts, including country singer Danielle Bradbery, who won NBC’s “The Voice” in 2013, will begin playing here in late January. But it will be 60 students from the concert band, jazz band and choir at Johnson Creek High School that will christen the stage at 7 p.m. Thursday and bring the storied property out of its long hibernation.
“The buzz around town and in the school is that everyone is really excited about it,” said Dominic Gischia, 23, who is in his first year as band director at the school where concerts are typically held in the school’s gymnasium. “They’re excited about having a legitimate performance space. It’ll be pretty cool. ”
Next year’s concert will likely be in the district’s new high school and middle school that consists of a series of domed buildings scheduled to open next fall on the village’s west side. The $18.9 million facility, like the Gobbler, is likely to be another talker for this community of almost 3,000 people, but it will lack the history, glitz and drama of its counterpart at the eastbound exit of Interstate 94.
Back in the 1970s, the Gobbler Supper Club drew crowds from Madison, Milwaukee, Lake Geneva and Chicago for fine dining and the Roost, an elevated dance floor above the circular, rotating bar that made one revolution an hour. The Gobbler closed in 1992 and several businesses tried making a go of it in the space but ultimately failed.
Dan Manesis, the owner of a West Allis trucking company, purchased the building last year for $635,000 and over the past 18 months has spent nearly $2 million to renovate the former supper club into an intimate concert hall. He offered the space for free to the high school for its holiday concert, but the rotating bar will be closed for the performance.
The crowd for Thursday’s free show at the Gobbler, according to Gischia, will include a few parents who worked as waitresses there years ago and community members eager to hear holiday numbers and get a first glimpse of the revamped digs.
Manesis thought he would be able to remodel the building in six months and be open in late 2014, but its design presented challenges both structurally and philosophically for Manesis and his architects and contractors.
“All of the stuff that we estimated might take a week took a month,” Manesis said. “In the end, what’s so critically important about this is that you have a good facility for people to come and see a performance.”
The improvements added cantilevered, cushioned seats, removed the kitchen to make way for a stage while the Roost was taken out so that those seated in the back of the house would have clear sight lines. Dressing rooms were added to the basement, the entire building has been rewired and new heating and air conditioning and sprinkler systems have been installed.
Leaving the rotating bar in the facility at the cost of more seating was a no-brainer for Manesis.
“That way, the people that came in here in the old days, they would be able to appreciate the fact that it still looks like the Gobbler and young people who don’t know what the Gobbler is can come in and get a state-of-the-art performance,” Manesis said.
Sound is also key as Manesis has spent nearly $300,000 on sound equipment and lights and is getting guidance on that part of the project from Michael Allison, who brings a hefty resume. Allison has spent nearly 30 years as a sound engineer and has traveled the world with some of the biggest names in music including the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Genesis and Eric Clapton.
He believes the design of the Gobbler Theater, with the farthest seat from stage just 55 feet away, will provide an ideal setting for the audience and performers and that the building’s domed ceiling won’t be a sound issue.
“With sound, you work with what you’ve got,” said Allison, who has his own studio and sound engineering school in Lake Mills. “He’s doing it right. It’s going to be a very intimate setting.”
Clarence Hartwig, a local turkey farmer, spent $1 million to build and open the Gobbler along with the Gobbler Hotel up the hill to the east. Both closed in 1992 with Fort Atkinson car dealers Daryl Spoerl and Marvin Havill and Jefferson attorney Ray Krek buying the property in 1996 for $494,000 as an investment.
The motel was demolished in 2001 and the trio put more than $600,000 into the former supper club building. At one time, there were plans for a casino and, in 2003, a strip club that would have been called “A Gobbler-A-Go-Go” had the Johnson Creek Village Board not nixed the plan.
A large billboard in front of the building advertised its sale and a website, buythegobbler.com, helped promote the property but to no avail.
That led to a 2009 auction in an attempt to sell the building, land and furnishings. Some bought dishes and kitchen equipment; others drove away with purple and pink lounge chairs while rock hounds and collectors paid $2 to $4 a pound for petrified wood removed from the building’s once lavish interior.
No bids, however, were submitted for the building or land.
“It had just gone to the dogs,” Manesis said. “What we need to do now is to get it to the next step, and it will take on a life of its own.”
Manesis, 62, grew up in Madison, was a customer at the Gobbler back in the day and rediscovered the building after he went on a shopping trip to the outlet mall here with his now wife. He had looked at converting a few different spaces in the Milwaukee area into music venues but after touring the Gobbler in 2014 made a quick decision to buy the property, located about midway between Madison and Milwaukee.
For now, tickets, depending on the acts, will range from $15 to $40 a seat. Beer and wine will be served, but there will be no food service. The facility is also available for corporate events and conferences and Manesis has plans to renovate a large banquet space in the basement for meetings and catered parties.
Unlike past ventures in the building, Manesis brings deep pockets and patience to the venture and says his primary goal in the short term is to promote and showcase the facility.
“I’m more interested in giving a good show than making money right now,” Manesis said. “I want to get established, I want to make sure people have a good time and that it’s affordable. We’re in a position that we can run this for as long as we need and continue to keep people happy.”
Riley Dearring is leaving the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program.
Dearring, a third-year sophomore guard, announced the departure in a statement on his Twitter account on Sunday night.
“I am truly grateful to the University of Wisconsin for the opportunity, but I feel it’s best for me if I continue my career elsewhere,” Dearring said. “I want to thank all my current and former teammates for all the great memories! I want to thank all the fans for their support. I will cherish every second I was able to spend here but I need to move forward. I wish the program the best of luck in the future!”
Dearring appeared in 18 career games for the Badgers. He played 45 minutes and scored 13 points during that time.
After redshirting and playing sparingly last season, the door was open for more playing time this season on a young team. But Dearring, who was slowed by injuries his first two seasons, was quickly passed up by freshman swingman Khalil Iverson and has played a total of six minutes in three games for the Badgers (6-5).
The 6-foot-5 Dearring was a finalist for the Mr. Basketball award in Minnesota as a senior after averaging 19.2 points while leading Minnetonka High School to a 20-5 record.
Dearring was the second player to commit in UW’s 2013 recruiting class. He followed Bronson Koenig in a class that eventually grew to include Jordan Hill, Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes.
UW was the only high-major program to offer Dearring when he committed in July 2012. His other offers at the time were from Drake and Illinois State.
Dearring is the third scholarship player to leave the UW program since the end of the 2011-12 season, joining transfers Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa) and George Marshall (South Dakota State).
MOUNT HOREB — In a turnout that stunned organizers, nearly 600 people filled the library here Wednesday night to hear a public reading of a children’s book about a transgender girl, with many in the crowd expressing strong support for a local family with a transgender child.
Most stood, as all of the library’s 80 chairs were quickly taken. Lead organizer Amy Lyle said she initially hoped for 15 people — not because there isn’t support for the family, but because peoples’ lives are busy.
“I knew that our Mount Horeb community was a loving, compassionate and inclusive one for all kids — I knew that in my heart — but you all have just shown that to be overwhelmingly true,” Lyle told the crowd, her voice cracking.
The village of 7,000 is about 25 miles southwest of Madison. The library event — and another reading at the high school on Wednesday morning that drew about 200 — followed the cancellation last week of the reading of the book “I Am Jazz” at the Mount Horeb Primary Center, a public elementary school where a 6-year-old student had just transitioned from a boy to a girl.
School staff said they sought to read the book to the girl’s classmates to help them understand what was happening to a fellow student, and to help the girl feel safe and accepted.
The school canceled the reading after a conservative Florida-based group threatened legal action.
The family of the girl has not gone public, choosing to protect the child’s identity.
Many in the crowd said they did not know the family, and that it didn’t matter.
“That could be any one of our kids,” said Maggie Stack of Mount Horeb, who brought her two daughters, ages 4 and 10, to the reading.
She said she was not concerned that the subject matter would confuse her children or go over their heads.
“I think kids are much more accepting than adults and are much more intuitive about these kinds of things,” she said.
The crowd in general seemed to be entirely in the family’s corner, with cheers and enthusiastic applause throughout.
It appeared that no one from the family of the transgender girl attended the reading, although Lyle said she could not be sure because she has never met the family.
Lyle read a statement from the family that said, in part, “In the midst of all of the media attention that this important matter has stirred up, we just want everyone to remember that at the center of this is a brave little girl who can now be who she really is. And you have all helped to make that happen in a positive way for her and her family. For that, we are, and always will be, truly thankful.”
The crowd was sprinkled with young children, dozens of them sitting cross-legged on the floor around the podium.
Isis Chapman, 4, held a sign she’d made showing two stick figures holding hands. One of the figures was her, she said, the other the transgender girl, whom she does not know.
“She said she wants to be friends with her,” said Myhia Chapman of Mount Horeb, Isis’ mother.
Standing out amid the children was Steve Cowan, 72, who took a seat directly in front of the podium. He came alone from his rural home about 7 miles away.
“I came here to learn,” he said. “When I was young, you never heard about any of this stuff.”
Afterward, he said he will continue to educate himself, but that in general, “I truly feel we have to express more love in this world.”
The centerpiece of the library program was the reading of “I Am Jazz” by its co-author Jessica Herthel, who flew in from California to support the family. As a straight parent, Herthel said she wrote her book with Jazz Jennings, a transgender girl who stars in a TLC reality show, in part because she felt there were not enough resources for parents like her to teach their children about acceptance.
She said she was overwhelmed by the community response in Mount Horeb.
“I think it’s a barometer of where we’re at as a society,” she said in an interview. “I think we’re more ready to hear about this issue from a child’s perspective, because we know a child isn’t making a political statement or rebelling against society. Kids don’t know not to tell the truth, and we’re getting more comfortable with that idea.”
Herthel said she was “disheartened at first but not surprised” when she heard that the reading at the school had been cancelled. She said she’s aware some see the book as inappropriate for young children.
“When people take the time to read the book, they realize that ‘I Am Jazz’ is about identity — who you are. Not sex — who you are attracted to. And the book’s message of ‘Be who you are, no matter what’ applies to all children,” Herthel said.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group, said it paid for Herthel’s plane ticket. The group also donated 40 “I Am Jazz” books, which were distributed free to young people at the event and signed by Herthel.
Additionally, Johanna Eager, a Human Rights Campaign staff member, flew in from Seattle and talked to the crowd about how a community can make schools welcoming to LGBT students.
The controversy that spurred the large community response began last month. In a letter to parents Nov. 19, the Primary Center said it planned a discussion of the book for the following Monday in part “to support gender-variant students and their families.”
But the school pulled back after the Liberty Counsel, a Florida religious conservative group acting on behalf of what it said were “concerned parents,” threatened to sue the district on grounds that the planned discussion violated parents’ constitutional right “to direct the upbringing of their children” and what it called their First Amendment right to refer to a person by his or her biological gender.
“A mandatory requirement that other students call a boy ‘her’ and ‘she’ infringes upon the other students’ rights to tell the truth, in accordance with their religious convictions, and reality,” the group wrote in a letter to the School Board.
In a statement last week, the district said it was opting for a delay to give the School Board an opportunity to review the situation and come up with a policy for managing such issues.
“As we seek to address the specific needs of the individual student, the district will also be mindful of the needs of other district students and families and will strive to keep all of the families whose children may be affected apprised of future actions by the district,” Superintendent Deb Klein said in the statement.
As the Wednesday night reading was taking place, members of the Mount Horeb School Board were scheduled to meet in a special session closed to the public. According to the meeting notice, they were to “confer with legal counsel with respect to threatened litigation” related to transgender student issues.
Because of this potential for litigation, Board President Mary Seidl said she was not comfortable commenting on the district’s handling of the issue up to this point. As for the community’s response to the controversy, she expressed admiration in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
“I think it’s incredibly inspiring when you have community members who will come together and support students and keep students at the center of the work,” said Seidl, a school psychologist in the Madison School District.
Seidl expects the board will address the issue from a policy standpoint at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting. She declined to speculate on the nature of any policy proposals, saying the agenda has not been set.
Before school on Wednesday morning, members of Mount Horeb High School’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance and about 200 supporters gathered around the school’s flagpole to read from “I Am Jazz.”
SAGA member Claire Jenkins praised the elementary student at the center of the debate during the reading outside the high school.
“This is a day to show a little girl that we support her,” Jenkins said.
Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has found another novel method to deny the public access to government records.
In at least two recent cases, the administration says it doesn’t have to keep certain “transitory” records and therefore can’t release records it doesn’t have.
That judgment is based on the decisions of an obscure eight-member body appointed by the governor and other state officials to oversee state records retention policy.
But open government advocates and experts on the state’s Public Records Law dispute that interpretation of the policy for the records at issue, which include text messages between top administration officials related to a failed $500,000 state loan to a struggling Milwaukee construction company owned by a top Walker donor.
“If they’re not keeping text messages as a matter of course, that seems wrong to me,” said Christa Westerberg, a lawyer and vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. “If they’re texting about an applicant for a state-sponsored loan, that is in the state record. The fact that it’s a text message shouldn’t be the deciding factor. What’s being discussed should be.”
The Department of Justice doesn’t prohibit the use of text messages, but advises that other communication methods such as email be used to avoid the challenges of saving text messages that must be retained, according to spokeswoman Anne Schwartz. She didn’t clarify what recourse the public has if it disagrees with a government agency deeming something “transitory” and discarding it prematurely.
It’s unknown how many times members of the public have sought records considered “transitory.” Records custodians aren’t required to explain why a record doesn’t exist, Gregory D. Murray, chief legal counsel for the state Department of Administration, said in a Dec. 4 letter to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Officials declined to answer questions about how administration officials communicate electronically and how they retain those records, other than to say that state government officials primarily communicate by email, though some people may conduct limited business using other methods of electronic communication.
“Those types of communications still need to be retained according to the appropriate retention schedules,” said Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for the state Department of Administration.
The denials come in the wake of other attempts by the Walker administration to redefine government records in ways that would limit public access to the decision-making process of elected officials.
In one case, the liberal advocacy group Center for Media and Democracy filed a lawsuit to obtain records related to the Walker administration’s proposed changes to the University of Wisconsin System’s mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea. The Walker administration, which pulled back on the changes, denied the group and media outlets, including the State Journal, access to the records by saying they were part of a “deliberative process.”
One of the recent examples involving “transitory” records is related to the $500,000 WEDC loan to Building Committee Inc. that the State Journal first reported in May. The loan was pushed by Walker’s then-top Cabinet secretary, Mike Huebsch, after BCI owner William Minahan gave a maximum donation to Walker’s campaign and hired a well-connected lobbyist.
Hundreds of pages of emails obtained under the state records law showed Huebsch, who now sits on the Public Service Commission, aggressively trying to help the company secure state funding. The emails contain a reference to former top DOA aide Chris Schoenherr texting about Minahan.
On Aug. 25, the Walker administration denied the State Journal’s request for Schoenherr’s text messages referenced in the email. Werwie explained at the time, “it’s worth noting transitory messages are not required to be retained.”
The response and explanation came a day after the state Public Records Board, which oversees records retention for public bodies, agreed to change the state’s definition of “transitory correspondence.”
Under the previous definition, such records had to be retained “until no longer needed,” but under the new definition they don’t have to be retained at all.
Examples under the old definition included “routine requests for information that require no policy decision, special compilation or research are transitory to the sender and the recipient.” The new definition is expanded to include “emails to schedule or confirm meetings or events, committee agendas and minutes received by members on a distribution list, interim files, tracking and control files, recordings used for training purposes and ad hoc reports for individual use.”
The examples don’t specifically reference text messages. A separate records board policy requires that “business-related correspondence” of top state officials be retained for three years after the official leaves a job.
Text messages present an emerging challenge for public records custodians, according to Curt Witynski, a lobbyist for the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.
“I suspect it is something that needs to be thought about and addressed,” Witynski said. “The thought of trying to set up a method for retaining every text message by staff and elected officials for a seven-year-period is mind-boggling.”
Matthew Blessing, administrator of the division of library-archives for the Wisconsin Historical Society and chairman of the records board, didn’t return calls last week for comment.
The other recent example of the “transitory” explanation involved daily Capitol Police reports showing a list of anticipated visitors to the governor’s executive residence in Maple Bluff.
In response to a request from liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, the Department of Administration released the reports since April 8 — which showed Walker meeting with presidential campaign staff at the residence, as permitted by the Government Accountability Board — but said prior reports are “transitory records” under the same section of the records retention policy that was updated by the records board in August.
“Capitol Police has no need or legal obligation to keep each day’s sheet beyond the next day,” lawyer Elisabeth Winterhack wrote in response to OWN.
The group’s executive director, Scot Ross, said his group likely won’t file a lawsuit over the records because there are no court penalties for violating the law that could be used to recoup the cost of litigation.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, sent a letter to Winterhack on Nov. 2 asking for an explanation of her response. As of Saturday he hadn’t received the explanation.
In an interview, he said nothing in the new records retention policy suggests that information about visitors to the executive residence or text messages related to a state loan would fall under the definition of “transitory” correspondence. He pointed to other sections on visitor’s logs and correspondence that would apply and require the records still be retained.
Lueders said though there may not be a legal remedy for state or local governments that dispose of records prematurely, the consequences of not retaining records could be worse than a lawsuit.
“The public is going to assume the worst,” Lueders said. “That these government officials have something to hide.”
MOUNT HOREB -- In a matter of minutes and with little comment, Mount Horeb School Board members late Monday unanimously approved new measures to accommodate transgender students, quickly dispensing with a controversial issue that has consumed the community for more than two weeks.
The new measures grant transgender students access to the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their new gender identities. Additionally, the students will be permitted to participate in physical education classes and intramural sports "in a manner consistent with" their gender identities.
The board also added "transgender status" to the district's nondiscrimination policy as a protected category.
Earlier in the meeting, community members on both sides of the debate addressed the board. Fourteen spoke in favor of the measures or in support of transgender students; five spoke against the measures. About 80 people total were in the audience.
The issue surfaced late last month when staff members at a district elementary school scheduled a reading of "I Am Jazz," a children's book about a transgender child. The staff members said they sought to support a 6-year-old student who had just transitioned from a boy to a girl, and to help the girl's classmates better understand what was happening.
The reading on Nov. 23 was canceled after Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based religious liberty law firm, threatened legal action, saying it was acting on behalf of concerned parents. The law firm said the planned discussion violated parents’ constitutional right “to direct the upbringing of their children” and what it called their First Amendment right to refer to a person by his or her biological gender.
From there, the issue snowballed. Last Wednesday, about 200 people attended an early-morning, student-initiated reading of "I Am Jazz" outside Mount Horeb High School. That evening, nearly 600 people filled the village's public library for a reading of the book by co-author Jessica Herthel, who flew in from California to support the family.
Monday, those opposed to the reading of the book or with concerns about transgender issues were heard from publicly for the first time. One of them, Steve Hufton of Mount Horeb, said he has two grandchildren who attend district schools.
"My concerns are from an egalitarian point of view, that the rights of all the children should be carefully considered," he said. "I believe that little girls have the right to privacy when using the restroom, and I don't think, in my opinion, they should be exposed to an anatomically correct -- an anatomical -- male, because that would violate their right to privacy."
Another opponent, Nathaniel Johnson of Mount Horeb, a father of four young children, described himself as a Christian attorney. He said he has heard from many families who believe as he does that gender and sex are fixed at birth and "assigned by God."
The Rev. Travis Beck of Life Church in Mount Horeb said everyone is worthy of respect and has intrinsic value, but that he did not believe that "all behaviors or all choices or all feelings necessarily lend themselves to credibility -- or health and wellness if we look to the future of such decisions."
He objected to the overall tone of "I Am Jazz," saying it presents a one-sided view and that kids could come away thinking that "if you don't embrace the lifestyle, then you're a bully and a bigot," he said.
But others said the district should go forward with reading the book and supporting transgender students, arguing that educators must make learning environments safe for all children. One proponent, Elise Taft of Mount Horeb, specifically rebutted the religious opposition, saying Christian views are not monolithic on the issue. She was heading to her church after the meeting to help prepare a nativity display for Christmas, she said.
The only board member who spoke prior to passing the new policy was Peter Strube, who said diversity is essential to life and should be cherished and honored. He ended on a forceful note that brought cheers from many in the crowd.
"Let the word go forth here and now that this board will stand united and we will not be intimidated and we will teach tolerance and will be accepting to everyone," he said.
The board then voted 7-0 to approve the new measures.
Shortly thereafter, the mother of the 6-year-old girl at the center of the controversy told the board she had not been planning to speak but felt compelled to thank them. She did not offer her full name to the audience. The State Journal is not naming her because of her request for privacy.
"This has been the most difficult thing my family has ever had to deal with," she said. "I am so glad we are part of this school district going through something like this. ... This isn't just about our child, this is about all the other children, too."
After the meeting, Board President Mary Seidl said she could not predict whether "I Am Jazz" will be read to students. That is a curriculum decision to be made by administrators, not an issue of board policy, she said.
The new measures approved by the board leave room for discretion by district administrators. Any requests from transgender students related to the use of facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms and changing areas "will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant interests of the students, the school district, and other students affected by the request," the new policy reads.
Addressing concerns that a student could casually flip back and forth between genders, the policy states that the new measures apply to a transgender student who "has held the belief deeply, followed the belief consistently over a period of time, is supported by the student's parent or guardian" and has sought "guidance and counseling in coming to the decision."
Brian Juchems, senior director of education and policy at the Madison-based advocacy group GSAFE, said Mount Horeb now joins a relatively few number of school districts in the state that have put clear guidelines in place for the use of facilities by transgender students.
Bo Ryan has believed for a long time that Greg Gard is ready to run a program.
Gard will get that chance on an interim basis after Ryan announced Tuesday night that he’s stepping down as the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach.
“Greg’s ready,” Ryan said after the Badgers beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 64-49 at the Kohl Center. “The staff is ready. All the way through — top-flight people and I feel really good about that. His record as an assistant coach — I told the team that there are people who have received head coaching jobs who were assistants in places, without anywhere near the record that (Gard) has. Not even close.”
The Ryan-Gard partnership spans more than two decades, to when Ryan was in the process of building an NCAA Division III national powerhouse at UW-Platteville and the latter was a college student chasing a dream.
Gard was coaching in the high school ranks and helping out at Platteville when he could when Ryan pulled him into his office following the 1993-94 season and delivered a message: You need to be with me full time.
Ryan’s had Gard, who grew up in tiny Cobb in southwestern Wisconsin, by his side ever since.
“I’ll forever be grateful to him for that,” Gard said.
Ryan’s decision to retire after the season began was shocking and similar to what Dick Bennett did early in the 2000-01 season.
Bennett, citing health reasons, stepped aside three games into the season after leading the Badgers to the Final Four the previous spring and handed the team to his top assistant. Brad Soderberg went 16-10 in an interim role and wasn’t retained after UW lost to Georgia State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, which followed an early loss in the Big Ten tournament.
Gard takes over the Badgers (7-5) with one game to go in the non-conference season. UW will host UW-Green Bay on Dec. 23 before beginning Big Ten play at home vs. Purdue Dec. 29.
“The baton has been passed,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “I’m excited for (Gard).”
Ryan, Alvarez and Gard all spoke to the Badgers in the locker room following the win.
“I shared with them the same thing I’ve shared with two football teams in the last three years: Don’t be afraid of change. You’ll have change the rest of your life. Embrace change. Grow from change. Take what you learn from coach Ryan.”
Alvarez said it was a day to celebrate Ryan’s accomplishments and also the time “for an outstanding young coach to take the bull by the horns.”
That’s exactly what Gard, 45, plans to do. One of his first orders of business today will be to meet with administrators to figure out how to fill out the coaching staff.
“Those guys are extremely important to me in that locker room,” Gard said. “I know that they will definitely rally around this.
“It’s an unbelievable place that I’m fortunate to be part of, and I’m looking forward to helping these guys continue on their journey.”
In making his case to Republican lawmakers this fall that the state’s civil service system needed to be overhauled, Gov. Scott Walker cited the case of two state workers who he said couldn’t be fired even though they had been caught having sex in their office.
But records released Friday show no efforts were made to fire those workers — and that the only discipline sought and issued to them was letters of reprimand.
Walker administration officials declined to address Wisconsin State Journal inquiries about why the workers could not have been fired for their conduct. Records show their actions included trading sexually explicit emails on their work accounts and engaging in sex acts at their state office in Madison in 2011.
Two former state human resource officials said Friday that nothing prevented state officials from more harshly disciplining or firing the employees — one of whom, Doug Wood, is a Monona alderman.
Wood remains employed with the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads. The other employee, Elizabeth Piliouras, no longer works for the agency.
Walker’s comments about their case are at least the second instance in which he told anecdotes about state workers to plug the civil service changes that aren’t supported by state records.
Republicans who control the Legislature have passed a bill including those changes through the state Assembly, while the state Senate has yet to take it up. The bill would replace civil service exams with resume-based hiring, eliminate seniority protections, standardize performance reviews, centralize hiring and firing decisions from state agencies in the Department of Administration and clearly define offenses that can be grounds for termination.
Walker cited the case of the two state workers caught having sex at the office but not being fired for it — without mentioning Wood’s or Piliouras’ names — in a speech to GOP lawmakers in September.
In a statement Friday, Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said the case shows “exactly why we need civil service reform.”
“Reform is needed to ensure there is clarity in cases like this for agencies to take action against bad actors,” Patrick said.
Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker’s Department of Administration, said if the civil service bill became law, the state could “dismiss employees much easier in situations like this.”
Susan Crawford, a human resources attorney for the state under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, emphasized that she hasn’t reviewed the particulars of this case beyond what’s been publicly reported. But Crawford described the reprimand letters as the lightest possible discipline for such offenses.
The records show no attempts at further discipline of Wood or Piliouras. If their supervisors wanted to discipline them more harshly or fire them, they clearly could have done so under current law, Crawford said.
“They could have considered anywhere up to termination,” said Crawford, now an attorney in private practice in Madison.
Peter Fox, who led the Department of Employment Relations under Republican Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum, concurred.
“It looks like the desire of (State Railroad Commissioner Jeff) Plale was to render a disciplinary measure, but at the lightest possible level,” Fox said.
Records show Wood and Piliouras discussed their relationship through their work email accounts. The emails contain explicit sexual innuendo and references to sex acts performed at work.
A state investigation into Wood’s and Piliouras’ conduct found they violated state work rules by unauthorized use of state facilities and email accounts. But it found insufficient evidence that their conduct violated a workplace policy against sexual harassment, as both acknowledged their relationship was consensual.
The investigation report said that “based upon these findings, employees who commit such actions would typically be issued either a letter of warning or letter of reprimand.”
Plale issued the reprimand letters to Wood and Piliouras in November 2011. In 2014, Plale took the additional step of removing the reprimand letter from Piliouras’ personnel file, records show.
Plale declined to respond to State Journal inquiries Friday about his handling of the case.
Court records show Wood and Piliouras entered divorce proceedings with their spouses in 2011, shortly after they exchanged the explicit emails.
Wood told the State Journal in an email statement Friday that the investigation into his and Piliouras’ conduct “was an excruciatingly stressful process for both Elizabeth and I, in part because we didn’t know what the outcome would be.”
“Management determined that a written reprimand was the appropriate discipline and we accepted that discipline,” Wood wrote. “These events occurred four years ago. It was dealt with at the time, and it’s in the past.”
Piliouras did not respond to State Journal requests for comment on the case.
As part of his push for civil service changes, Walker also claimed that a short-order cook scored high enough on a hiring exam to be considered for a state financial examiner job.
But when pressed, Walker’s administration couldn’t produce documents to support the claim, the State Journal found.
State Journal Reporter Matthew DeFour contributed to this report.