Port Washington - In a move some members hope will spread across the state, the Ozaukee County Board voted Wednesday to cut funding to next year's University of Wisconsin Extension program by the exact amount being paid to a controversial part-time University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer who contends that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Supervisors voted to take the action directed at lecturer Kevin Barrett.
Ozaukee County Supervisor Joseph Sopko said he plans to contact all 71 other county boards to urge them to adopt the same resolution.
"I might have a chance in 70 of them. I don't know about Dane County," said Sopko, a Belgium resident and a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard's 231st Civil Engineer Flight, based out of St. Louis. He returned in September from a two-month stint in Afghanistan.
Sopko co-authored the resolution with Supervisor Joe Dean, of Port Washington, who was not present at Wednesday's board meeting. The resolution to cut next year's UW Extension program by $8,427 - the same amount Barrett will be paid this fall - passed 18-11.
Last month, university officials said that after they reviewed Barrett's records and course plans, he would be allowed to teach a course on Islam.
UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell said academic freedom demanded the decision and it would have been a mistake for the university to succumb to outside pressure regarding the hiring of Barrett.
Wednesday's resolution saw it differently.
"We believe a message must be sent to the UW-System and UW-Madison that their actions represent a gross dereliction of their duty, a blatant disrespect for this nation, and a misguided and dangerous acquiescence to a fringe 'Blame America First' theory," the resolution reads.
But a spokesman for UW Extension said the resolution was aimed at the wrong target.
"The only people who will be harmed by this kind of cut in Ozaukee County or any other county will be our local 4-H kids, local farmers, local families, local businesses, local communities," said David Giroux, a spokesman for UW Extension in Madison.
With a $201 million budget, Giroux said, the effect on the UW Extension of an $8,427 cut would be minimal "at the institutional level."
"The larger issue, however, is the potential for a $600,000 cut (which) obviously rises to a different level" if all 72 counties were to pass the same resolution, he said
Giroux questioned the logic of penalizing UW Extension because of a hiring decision at UW-Madison.
"Kevin Barrett has absolutely no affiliation with University of Wisconsin Extension. I understand (Sopko's) reaction. It's easy to understand those feelings. It's harder for us to understand how this is being done to direct that frustration at those local extension programs when in fact the person you're frustrated with has no connection to those programs," Giroux said.
The UW Extension is a separate institution of the UW System.
County supervisors clash
Reacting to inquiries from other counties regarding Barrett, UW Extension Dean Arlen Leholm on Tuesday sent a letter to all 72 county extension offices urging them to make clear to county officials that Barrett is not affiliated with UW Extension.
On Wednesday, Sopko called it a "scare tactic" to say that 4-H programs would be cut.
Sopko, who chairs the county Environment and Land Use Committee that oversees the county's UW Extension office, said, "There's absolutely no way we will touch 4-H or the farmers. That will be completely off the table."
Sopko said his daughter is involved in 4-H and his wife is a 4-H leader.
The county UW Extension office's 2006 operating budget is slightly more than $306,000 and is equally funded by the state and county, county Finance Director Andrew Lamb said.
Several Ozaukee supervisors questioned whether the County Board should even entertain the resolution.
"It is not appropriate. This resolution does not pertain to our mission whatsoever," Supervisor Jean Stern of Mequon said.
"It is germane," Supervisor Dan Becker countered. "We're a voice to look out for our constituents. It's a way to send a message. I'll be damned if I'm going to let tax dollars be spent on spewing lies."
At one point, Sopko's voice rose to a shout as he described his flight home from Afghanistan aboard a plane carrying coffins of military personnel killed there, as well as some who were wounded.
"Talk is cheap. This is an opportunity to hit them where it hurts. You're either with Joe Dean and I or you're against us," he shouted.
Wisconsin Counties Association Executive Director Mark O'Connell said he has not heard of any other county boards taking up the issue.
"They may or may not agree with the resolution, but I don't think the counties will draw a connection between funding their extension office and a single hire on a college campus," O'Connell said.
Barrett could not be reached for comment.