Wisconsin Army National Guard Armory in Madison. Credit: Michelle Stocker / The Cap Times

Guard chief resigns, support for ousted ag chief, Rhinelander dysfunction, PFAS fears, plan to prosecute reporters


Of note: Wisconsinites in the past week saw a robust mix of watchdog journalism, much of it powered by government records. At the top of the list, we draw your attention to the Cap Times’ reporting on the Wisconsin National Guard. Investigative reporter Katelyn Ferral, who has spent months investigating the Guard’s handling of sexual assaults within its ranks, obtained records showing that Guard officials encouraged victims to avoid reporting assaults to police. That practice runs counter to the state’s Code of Military Justice and how Guard officials had described their policy, Ferral reported. Her reporting has sparked impact. Adjutant General Donald Dunbar, the chief of the Wisconsin Guard, resigned on Monday amid heavy scrutiny — including a federal National Guard Bureau report finding that the state Guard’s bungled sexual assault investigations violated state and federal laws. 

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Wisconsin Army National Guard Armory in Madison. Credit: Michelle Stocker / The Cap Times

Wisconsin National Guard advised sexual assault victims to sign waiver forms, avoid police

The Cap Times — December 7, 2019

At least two soldiers who say they were sexually assaulted while serving in the Wisconsin National Guard say they either were asked by Guard officials to sign forms waiving their right to notify local law enforcement of the assaults or encouraged to file generic police reports only as a formality, indicating that the military was handling it. Reporter Katelyn Ferral Ferral is examining sexual assaults in the National Guard system and how they are handled during a nine-month O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University. Her stories are being co-published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is a partner in the effort.

Also read: Wisconsin National Guard’s response to sexual-assault allegations ‘an absolute train wreck,’ federal investigator says. Read the full series: Failure to Protect: A series on sexual misconduct in the Wisconsin Army National Guard

Records show no opposition to former Wisconsin ag secretary in days ahead of his ousting

The Cap Times — December 9, 2019

In the final days of Brad Pfaff’s tenure as Wisconsin agriculture secretary, five key Republican state senators received a series of emails and other correspondence urging them to keep Gov. Tony Evers’ nominee in place. But a Cap Times check of those records didn’t turn up any that opposed the appointment of the former executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency to lead the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 

A sign posted along the shore of Starkweather Creek near Milwaukee St. in Madison, on Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Credit: Michelle Stocker / The Cap Times

Unknown fear: Madison residents are increasingly alarmed by PFAS levels in local waterways

The Cap Times — December 11, 2019

PFAS turned up in detectable levels in 10 of Madison’s 19 municipal wells, as well as four seasonal wells, prompting the closing last summer of Well 15 on the city’s east side, a 750-foot-deep reservoir near the Air National Guard’s Truax Field. As an expanding body of science links the chemicals to serious health problems, and more contamination comes to light, the public is getting uneasy.

The Lafayette County Board hears from residents last month about a resolution, later tabled, that sought to manage the way information on a water quality study is released. Credit: Chris Rickert / Wisconsin State Journal

Lafayette County resolution that sought to prosecute reporters began at the top

Wisconsin State Journal — December 11, 2019

A Lafayette County resolution that sought to dictate, under threat of prosecution, what media can report about a controversial water-quality study had its origins in the elected leaders of two of the three rural counties where the study is being conducted, records show. 

Emails, audio recordings detail history of dysfunction in Rhinelander

Wausau Pilot & Review — December 10, 2019

Dozens of emails and audio recordings obtained by Wausau Pilot and Review reveal a complicated power struggle within the Rhinelander city government, which appears to be on the brink of losing its ninth city administrator in nine years. 

Wisconsin Watch

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.