On August 6, 2006, Sprawl-Busters described the battle over a Wal-Mart supercenter in Hartford, Wisconsin, and the efforts of local residents to stop the giant retailer. Five weeks later, here is an update from the battlefield in Hartford: “Our battle began in late February 2006 when 1,000 residents, business owners and concerned “others” signed a NO to Annexation/Wal-mart petition. The petition asked the city to do economic, environmental, and traffic studies before allowing the project to continue. We presented this ‘Petition of a Thousand’ to the Common Council on ‘vote night’ along with 20 citizen speakers who each argued against Wal Mart for different reasons. We did argue and write and call etc before this date so the Common Council knew our opinions. As happens all too often, the Council had their own arguements and the annexation (for Wal mart) passed 7-2. We then formed Hartford Citizens for Responsible Government and when, on August 14th 2006, the Plan Commission gave the final blessing to the site plan, we hired an attorney and began an appeal process. No date has yet been set for the hearing but the end of October has been mentioned. Needless to say, the city is furious and Wal-Mart is cooling its heels and its bulldozers. The city is using the cost of the appeal to discredit us and scare the public. Wal-Mart says it will pay half of the city’s legal fees if WE!!! pay the other half. In August we also began a recall on two of the nine council people who voted for the annexation. One recall election is slated for Oct 17 2006 The other set of names for the second recall were handed in Friday Sep 15, 2006. Of course the city is pointing out the expense of these recalls as well. Our group is small but active and hanging together but it isn’t easy. The business community here is nervous about its future but even more nervous about being labeled ‘anti-business.’ We need all the support we can get — morally and financially.
This is the second case in a month’s time in which Wal-Mart has offered to ‘help’ a local community pay for the legal expenses of a citizen’s group lawsuit. As we explained in the Boonville, Missouri case, Wal-Mart should pay the entire legal bill for any community that is defending Wal-Mart’s permit or annexation, because this is really Wal-Mart’s battle to fight, not the city’s. A smart attorney for the city would say to Wal-Mart in Hartford, “We are not going to spend any money to defend this annexation which you have requested. This is your legal row to hoe, and you can put up the money to make this defense happen.” Wal-Mart would pay for the whole expense rather than walk away from $100 million in sales per year at a supercenter. City officials in these small communities probably see Wal-Mart’s legal fee offer as generous, but if they asked the retailer to use its vast wealth to pay the full freight, the company would do it. The fact is, Wal-Mart needs Hartford much more than Hartford needs Wal-Mart. The retailer’s request that the citizen’s pay for half of what is really Wal-Mart’s legal defense, is pathetic. No one would be incurring any legal bills if Wal-Mart chose to locate on land already in the city, and already properly zoned. For the other story of Wal-Mart legal fee offer, search Sprawl-Buster’s by “Boonville.” Anyone wishing to contribute to the citizens’ legal costs in Hartford, contact [email protected]