Reality Check

Reality Check: Mistele Radio Ad In County Exec Race

Election Set For April 7

MADISON, Wis. - This spring election includes a heated race for Dane County executive. Challenger Nancy Mistele is taking shots at incumbent Kathleen Falk in a radio ad.

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Mistele focuses on public safety in the radio ad. WISC-TV put the claims made in the ad through a "Reality Check."

Public safety has been a big issue so far in the county executive's race. Mistele has been attacking Falk over her leadership, but WISC-TV found that the ad's claims on crime and Mistele's attacks on two programs need some explanation.

"I first noticed the change in Dane County watching the news stories about increasing violence," a narrator says in the radio ad. "Then the stories began about our failing 911 center, and then more beatings and unsolved murders. Was that due to growing population or neglect of public safety at the very top of county government?"

A WISC-TV analysis found this misleading.

Media outlets such as WISC-TV ours have covered stories like the recent slayings of Kelly Nolan, Joel Marino and Brittany Zimmermann, but statistics show violent crime across Dane County has not significantly increased.

According to the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance, the violent crime rate per 100,000 people in the county was 285 in 2006, 251 in 2007 and 261 in 2008. It should be noted that this includes crimes in jurisdictions like the city of Madison, over which the county executive has no purview, although the county's 911 Center serves them all.

"For instance, as the violence escalated, County Executive Falk used taxpayer money to bail criminals out of jail," the ad says.

A WISC-TV analysis found this claim needs clarification.

The "bailout" refers to the revolving bail fund implemented as part of the 2008 county budget, which isn't really a bailout but a loan as part of a pilot program passed by the county board.

The goal is to free up jail beds by allowing nonviolent, low-risk criminals that would make a court appearance within a few days to take a loan up to $250 to post bail.

From August to November of 2008, six people were released under the fund. Two failed to make court appearances and two were never charged with a crime.

In November 2008, Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard questioned the legality of the program. The sheriff suspended the program until the attorney general releases a decision.

"Now (Falk is) telling judges how to sentence, and that undermines justice and affects public safety," the ad says.

WISC-TV found this also needs clarification.

Mistele's referring to a proposal in Falk's 2009 budget that would cut funding for judges' staff lawyers if 45 inmates weren't placed in a new community service program. Falk said the courts weren't finding efficiencies in their budget, so she wanted to divert staff to this program.

When Huber work-release inmates do 24 hours of volunteer work, they earn a day off their sentence. If enough inmates don't participate, Falk would cut funding for judges' staff.

The county board liked the service program but rejected the idea of tying it to judges' staff and passed it in the 2009 budget.

The Dane County Sheriff's Department started giving inmates credit for service Feb. 1. So far, two inmates have participated.

The election is set for April 7.

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