Michael Nichols says he was just trying to get "closure." On May 26, the 57-year-old Deerfield resident and two friends stopped in Buck's Madison Square Garden on Regent Street. Make that four friends: two other men and Nichols two dogs, Precious and Roscoe.
A few days before, the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission upheld an earlier ruling by EOC hearing examiner Clifford Blackwell. It agreed that Buck's discriminated against Nichols by refusing him service on Feb. 6, 2003, when he came into the tavern with Precious. This denial was done at the urging of bar patron Rick Steinhauer, a Dane County sheriff's deputy. Nichols offered to show the dog's papers, to no avail.
Blackwell found that Nichols suffers from various psychological ailments and needs a service dog to function. He ordered Buck's to pay Nichols $5,500 "for the emotional distress and humiliation or embarrassment caused by the act of discrimination" and to cover his attorney's fees, which total more than $24,000. The EOC, in affirming Blackwell's ruling, questioned "whether the award of damages in this matter was sufficient," adding with evident regret that this "was not an issue presented for review." Buck's is challenging the EOC's ruling in circuit court.
Since 2002, Nichols has lodged four EOC complaints with regard to his service dogs. (He says he needs a second dog, Roscoe, due to heart problems.) His cases against Riley's Wines and Paradise Lounge were settled to his satisfaction. His case against the Mental Health Center of Dane County is pending; he purportedly rejected a $1,000 settlement offer last week. Nichols thinks he's defending basic rights: "It's really unbelievable how nasty people get when I go in there with a service animal."
James "Buck" Dailey, the owner of Buck's, seems shell-shocked by the ordeal. In a sunny corner of his bar, he struggles to contain his anger. "Mr. Nichols, in my opinion, was working the system," asserts Dailey. "We acted in good faith. A cop created an issue and a bartender was overwhelmed." Dailey says he's incurred $13,000-$14,000 in legal bills, besides the nearly $30,000 judgment.
After his EOC win, Nichols set out to test whether he would be welcome at Buck's. But when he and his coterie entered on May 26, Dailey allegedly said, "You've got a lot of balls to come in here" and asked to see the dogs' papers. Nichols produced two laminated 3-by-5 cards. Dailey says he dropped the cards, without force or ill-intent, and they landed on the dogs. Nichols says Dailey "winged" the cards at his dogs: "He didn't drop them. He threw them."
Nichols' companions back him up. "To me, [Dailey] was trying to hit the dogs," says Rick Flowers, a local musician and bar owner. He says Nichols "needs his dogs for his issues" and "shouldn't have been harassed like that." The other man, Sam Butzer, a UW-Madison engineering student, says Dailey "whipped" the cards at the dogs ' first one, then the other. Everyone agrees Butzer called Dailey a "cocksucker," precipitating his ouster from the bar, but Dailey says this was uttered just before the cards left his hands, while the three pals say it was spoken in response to this act.
Police were called. Officer Shane Pueschner concluded that Dailey's actions did not constitute "an intentional act to harm" the dogs. Nichols disagrees but says it doesn't matter; he cites a new state law which makes it a crime for anyone to harass a service dog. (For the police reports and EOC rulings, as well as this law, see Document Feed at TheDailyPage.com.)
The police investigation was reopened after Nichols complained, but the department last week reaffirmed its original conclusion. Says Lt. Carl Gloede, "It doesn't appear that a violation occurred."
Nichols might have better luck with the Madison EOC. The agency is now investigating his new complaint alleging that Dailey's actions on May 26 constituted retaliation. Dailey, pointing to a seven-inch stack of papers from the case, shakes his head in wonderment. "Look at this," he exclaims. "Who's harassing who?"
Service dogs and the law
According to James Dailey, the rules regarding service animals are "very ill-defined." For instance, he says, "The food people will tell you that you can't have a dog in."
Tommye Schneider, who oversees restaurant inspections for the city of Madison, says it ain't so: "Service dogs are exempt" from the no-dogs rule. "That's something most people learn by the time they're 10 years old." She notes that service dogs wear special vests and have ID papers.
But these are not required, and federal and state laws limit the ability of public places to make patrons prove their animal is a service animal.
"It's not up to you to determine if someone's disability requires them to have this service animal," says Pete Hanson of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. "If they say it's a service animal, you better be careful." And indeed, it can be any animal: "Somebody can walk in your establishment with a ferret on a leash and if they say it's a service animal, you have to let it in."
A recent article in the Madison Restaurateur urges perhaps more caution than the law requires. It says businesses may "ask if the animal is a service animal" and what it's been trained to do but "absolutely cannot require to see special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person's disability."
Revenge of the parkers
What's that they say about the best-laid plans?
Last fall, the Madison Common Council hiked parking fines, explicitly to generate $700,000 in new city revenue. The penalty rose from $10 to $20 for parking at an expired meter and from $10 to $30 for parking during street sweep times.
During the first six months of 2006, the city wrote $2,562,407 in parking citations, just $243,690 more than the same period in 2005. Wha' happened?
First, the new rates were supposed to start Jan. 1, but this didn't happen until April 1. "There were some new people in key positions" and requisite notifications were not made, says Madison Police Capt. Cam McLay. (Evidently, parkers who got too-low fines did not raise a fuss.)
If things are now on track, the fines for April through June should be appreciably higher than for the year before. But the total for these three months is $1,278,847, just $21,913 more than in 2005. In other words, most of this year's modest revenue increase is from before the higher fines began.
McLay, the MPD's head of traffic and support services, says other factors have depressed revenues. More landlords are using private firms to tow illegal parkers. There's less use of metered stalls and more overall compliance. Says McLay, "Parking enforcement officers are having a harder time finding violations to write."
Hmm, what if jacking up fines makes people more cautious and leads to even fewer violations? Then the city, in its zeal to balance its budget on parkers' backs, may have shot itself in the foot. As McLay puts it, "If we do our jobs well enough, we'd have 100% compliance and parking ticket reviews would come to a halt." The horror.
Mark Green, Mr. Clean?
It sounded like a political ploy: Last week, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin announced via press release that it had filed a request for the daily calendars of U.S. Rep. Mark Green and one of his aides. Its goal: to "shed light on Green's ties to disgraced Republican leaders in Washington...along with disturbing connections between Green's special-interest fund-raising and his votes on key legislation."
This week, the Dems made a new request ' for records regarding Green's "record of trading votes for campaign contributions."
Both requests cite the state's Open Records Law, which covers all state and local but not federal officials. Dem spokesperson Jessica Erickson says the party is aware of this exemption but feels Green "should voluntarily release the information if he has nothing to hide," especially since "he wants to be the state's highest official." That said, she "wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't send us anything."
But Kirsten Kukowski of Green's Washington office, asked about the daily calendars, says the congressman will comply. "The request is no big deal," she says. "They've asked for nearly eight years of schedule for Congressman Green, so it will take us awhile to compile, but we well get it to them as quick as we can."
Er, one more thing: Could you please underline all of the entries that link Green to disgraced Republicans and corrupt fund-raising? Thanks a bunch.