RHINELANDER - Rhinelander's three-way mayoral race just became a one-person ballot.
City Clerk Val Foley ruled Chris Frederickson and Scott Counter's candidacy papers invalid, effectively eliminating them from the race. Foley announced the decision publicly in a press release dated Jan. 11.
According to the release, fellow candidate Alex Young challenged Frederickson and Counter's papers with the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Jan. 5, which was three days after forms were due.
At issue were the certification dates on pages Frederickson and Counter signed for the nomination process. Each candidate running for mayor in a city the size of Rhinelander must collect at least 50 and not more than 100 signatures from city residents to be considered a valid candidate.
While Frederickson and Counter each collected enough signatures, they - or people tasked with circulating the papers for them - certified the pages before many individuals themselves signed the nomination papers.
Due to the errors, signatures from seven of eight pages Frederickson submitted (he collected a total of 75 signatures) were thrown out.
Counter, who turned in 51 total signatures, made the error on four of six pages.
As a result, neither candidate had at least 50 valid signatures.
In letters to both candidates explaining her decision to reject their nominations, Foley cited the instructions on preparing nomination papers for nonpartisan office. State statutes require, "The circulator should carefully read the language of the Certification of the Circulator… After obtaining the signatures of electors, the circulator must sign and date the certification."
Foley also cited Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter EL 2.05(14), which states "no signature on a nomination paper shall be counted unless the elector who circulated the nomination paper completes and signs the certification of circulator and does so after, not before, the paper is circulated."
In Foley's letter to Frederickson, she wrote "in your response, you clearly state that you misinterpreted the signing and dating instructions, and you admit that you did not properly instruct others who gained signatures on your behalf."
To Counter, Foley wrote "in your response, you provide two reasons as to why you blieve that you have the required amount of signatures and believe that the 'spirit of the law of Wisconsin' was met."
Frederickson, Counter, and Young all hope to replace outgoing Mayor Dick Johns, who announced his retirement this winter. Johns has been mayor since 2005.
Foley was out of the office for the day Friday. City Administrator Keith Kost declined to comment on the decision, referring questions to the press release and attached letters to the candidates.
Candidates can correct errors on nomination papers by submitting affidavits within three calendar days of when the papers were initially due - in this case, by Jan. 5.
"I'm going to fight it through [the end,]" Frederickson told Newswatch 12 when reached via telephone Friday afternoon.
Frederickson says he did submit affidavits, which Kost verified to Newswatch 12. However, Kost explained Frederickson turned them in Jan. 8, three days after their due date. According to Kost, Counter submitted a letter on Jan. 8, but it was not notarized.
"I'm still fighting to be on the ballot, doing what's right, [pursuing simple truths,]" Frederickson said. "I'd like to thank my supporters." Frederickson declined to comment further, but said he would share more in the near future.
Newswatch 12 called Counter and left a voicemail on his cell phone Friday afternoon. In a message left after initial publication, Counter told Newswatch 12 he plans to run as a write-in candidate regardless of the city's decision.
Young - who has been a city councilmember for about a decade and also serves on the Oneida County Board -- explained to Newswatch 12 he was out of the area, but offered a brief written statement.
"I take everything I do for the city seriously," Young said. "I have always worked hard to understand the details and do things right, and I think we should expect that from a Mayor."
Frederickson would not commit to a potential write-in campaign, noting he is actively "seeking resources for answers."
The Northwoods Tobacco Free Coalition and Northwood COPE planned to host a mayoral forum with the three candidates Jan. 17. When reached by phone Friday, organizer Corie Zelazoski said as of Friday the forum is still on.
Zelazoski says a state grant her group received requires a forum or community event to be held each year. She is waiting to hear if Counter or Frederickson intend to appeal the decisions or run as write-in candidates before making a final decision on the forum.