IXONIA — For all of his vetting of We Energies, as the utility attempts to locate a liquid natural gas storage facility in the township, one might think the reason for Jeff Taylor’s recent, premature departure from the Ixonia Town Board would be based on his frustration with what appears to be a done deal.
But it isn’t.
Taylor, one of the board’s at-large members since he joined on April 16, 2013, said Thursday he opted to leave the panel for health and safety reasons, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You can’t even get into the Jefferson County Courthouse without a mask,” Taylor said. “The Watertown City Council meets with virtual options to stay safer.
“Then you come to a meeting of the Ixonia Town Board and most in the audience are not wearing masks, and two, sometimes three members of the board don’t wear them,” he added. “Every month here, it gets worse.”
Taylor called most Ixonia Town Board members’ apparent cavalier attitudes about the seriousness of the coronavirus disturbing to him. He said it has bothered him to the point that he cannot tolerate being in the same room with most of his former colleagues when they are unmasked.
He called their attitudes the main reason for his resignation that took place in December.
“We had one of our Ixonia EMTs, Kelly Raether, die (on Nov. 26, 2020) from COVID-19 and these (board members) can’t wear masks? I’m sorry, I have a problem with that,” Taylor said, adding that he left a December meeting of the board when many participants refused to mask.
“I had already determined I was done,” he said of his sentiments well before that meeting. “I asked myself whether I was going to play this game into January of 2021, so I just resigned.”
Taylor said he has a professional job, family, colleagues and friends he has to protect, along with himself.
“I have a job (at Ixonia Wealth Management as a certified financial planner) where, if I get sick doing it, that’s one thing,” Taylor said. “But if I can’t go to work, it affects my clients, my co-workers and my pay, and I won’t jeopardize those things.
“Wear masks? Not in Ixonia,” he bristled. “I won’t sit in a meeting with an audience and board not wearing masks. Everyone I talked to about this has understood. This is real. Kelly Raether passed away from this.”
One of the most potentially dangerous of the Ixonia governmental meetings during the pandemic took place Sept. 15. For that session, about 130 people packed Chivaree on Park to witness the Ixonia Town Board — despite the lone questions and objections from Taylor — vote 3-1 to recommend that Jefferson County officials approve a conditional use permit for the tank.
Since then, the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee has approved the permit. A group of Ixonia residents has appealed that decision.
Taylor recalled the risks of the September meeting, in which social distancing was impossible due to the number of people who squeezed into what, in pre-COVID-19 times, was a medium-sized wedding hall.
“I pretty much had my mind made up that night,” Taylor said about his wariness of voting to support the liquid natural gas storage facility. “We Energies does their dog and pony show for about 45 minutes that evening.
“As board members, we saw it twice, and no one other than me (on the board) had one question, or comment or point of clarification for We Energies?” he added. “I was the only one who had questions. This is one of the biggest things in Ixonia since the incinerator decades ago. Are you kidding me? They (board members) had their minds made up, but they could not even pretend to ask a few questions or seek some clarifications.”
One of Taylor’s former constituents, Janet Foust of Watertown, had high praise for Taylor and his demeanor on the board.
“Jeff was the example of what the definition of an elected official should be,” Foust said. “He was an elected official who represents his community so well, both by being part of it and by hearing the voices of the people he represents.”
Taylor said that, after the town board vote of Sept. 15, he received a letter, mailed to his home, from 15 married couples from Ixonia who thanked him for “listening, standing up for and respecting” them.
“That meant a lot to me and I will keep that one,” Taylor said, adding a neighbor from LaBelle Heights thanked him for what he did in his time on the board. “He said, ‘What you have done will not be forgotten.’”
Taylor said he would consider running for the board again, post-coronavirus, and when its current lineup changes. His next chance would be in April of 2022.
“I can’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,” he said of another potential run. “But I will say, ‘Maybe.’ I get a little worked up on this stuff.”