The Kenosha Library director, Barbara Brattin earns $123,000 per year and lives in Racine, but she is very interested in the Kenosha County elections. So interested, in fact, that she tried to interfere with them. As a proud democrat, she championed book clubs that had to do with social justice warriors and other left of center issues, but refused to allow a book club for a conservative group that supported Trump. Brattin was fired from a Colorado library in 2013 for mismanagement.
Survey Questions Loaded With Left-Wing Talking Points
Brattin and her Manager of Public Relations and Marketing, Brandi Cummings sent out politically-charged surveys to all of the candidates for local office including the City Council, County Board, School Board and County Executive. In the survey, candidates were asked questions that would more align with congressional races or maybe state-wide races. Questions asked to the candidate ranged from Covid-19, climate change, inclusion, partisan gerrymandering and mandatory virtual learning. Most striking among the questions, were that of “fear” from religious, economic religious and racial reasons based on a book, “The Soul of America.” Below are some of the questions asked to local candidates:
A key idea from “The Soul of America” is that the United States has always been torn between feelings of hope and fear. Fear has many sources – economic, religious, racial – and fear will always divide people. How can we unite people in our community to work towards the common good?
The “Soul of America” proposes that the United States was founded on noble principles: happiness, freedom and equality. Historically, significant legal change has taken both time and united efforts prioritizing hope over fear. In addition to voting, how can we motivate our community to get more involved?
Kenosha County has experienced both great growth and loss in the last five years. With many challenges plaguing communities nationwide including talent attraction, citizen retention, education, pandemic preparedness, and evolving environmental issues now more than ever leadership is being looked to for direction. What issues are drawing your focus and how will you approach them?
Built of many unique communities, Kenosha County’s population contains many contrasting values and viewpoints. As the County Executive, how will you balance these needs for unified success? Kenosha County has a long history of being an economically diverse business community. As the economy changes and businesses evolve, how will you position Kenosha County for expanded economic opportunity and investment?
Navigating the virtual classroom environment presents the need for family support for learner success. Outside of technical assistance and equipment, what support systems will you champion for the students and families of Kenosha?
The “Soul of America” states that one way to resist fear and embrace hope is to respect facts and deploy reason. It’s important for us to know the facts of an issue and understand the truth often lies somewhere in the middle. How do you encourage people to find a critical balance with points of view from opposite sides of the political spectrum?
The survey then asked candidates to commit to attending a forum after the election to discuss these same issues. The KCE was tipped off by several candidates who thought things seemed off about this survey. The results were going to be posted online and in the libraries – some of which are polling places. The candidates were all sent the questions on January 24th by Cummings, who was working from home. On February 1, Brattin sent out a letter to all of the candidates stating:
“I am writing to let you know that your responses will not be published as planned on the library’s website. As a city department, we have been advised that something as simple as a candidate questionnaire may be misrepresented by some as advocating for a political cause or a political candidate”
The KCE was forwarded this letter shortly thereafter. We wanted to know why Brattin decided to interfere in the elections, especially as a government employee, using government funds. We asked her who put the stop to the survey. We made it clear to her that we would get to the bottom of the situation one way or another and encouraged her to take the easy road, as to limit the resources needed to go through the emails. She chose the hard road. KCE is known for obtaining records we want. We’ve won many lawsuits.
Finding Answers Through Public Records Requests
In this case, we made a public records request to Brattin, Cummings, Library Board President Georgia Ownes, and Library Board Vice-President Michelle Braun Miloslavic. We asked for copies of emails sent and received by the four women between November 1, 2021 and February 8, 2022. We gave the library search terms and landed ourselves a gold mine of information. We learned that library employees are strongly encouraged or mandated to display their pronouns in their email signature line, even if they resemble the gender that they actually are. We learned that Brattin is supporting Ann Roe (D) for congress, the democratic challenger to Bryan Steil. We learned that the survey was the brain-child of Jennifer Kozelou (D), the Northside Library branch manager, Brattin, and Cummings. They crafted the questions with the intent to help the progressive candidates gain more votes. We learned that Brattin complained about the library’s budget compared to other similarly-sized cities and asked people to reach out to politicians to ask for more money. We learned that Brattin invited Mandela Barnes (D) to the library who is the democratic challenger to Senator Ron Johnson (R). She said in a December 21, 2021 email “Mandela is running for Ron Johnson’s senate seat. Careful here. It may appear we’re endorsing him.” We also learned that Kozelou wrote that “the county (executive candidates) are not on board to talk about Meachem’s book.” The KCE later learned this was not true. We learned that Brattin might be on the job search. She emailed her mom on December 21, 2021 with a copy of her resume and college transcripts.
County Board Member John Franco (D)
John Franco and his wife Jennifer are very active in the Democratic party of Kenosha County. Jennifer is a board member. Franco was very upset that the library’s survey was canceled. He seemingly used his personal AOL email address to skirt public records laws and wrote to Brattin in part:
“I was sorry to hear that the Kenosha Public Library has decided against posting candidate responses to John Meacham’s book, The Soul of America.. I read the text recently and really enjoyed it. Moreover, the questions you suggested were profound and extremely pertinent to our present political environment and would have forced candidates to think hard about how we view our struggling democratic republic….
…..Frankly, I disagree with those who say that the library shouldn’t be involved with this project or that somehow participating in it is inappropriate…..
…..Ironically, the pressure that the library is succumbing to raises the question that you wanted the candidates to answer: Is the library acting out of a sense of hope– or out of fear? With all due respect, maybe the library needs to grapple with this question as well.”
We emailed Franco to ask for his response to the library canceling the survey and he told KCE in part:
“the decision that the library made was the right one…….Nevertheless, the library made a prudent decision, if nothing else from avoiding any appearance of conflict of interest (real or imagined).”
John told the library to fight the cancellation of the survey, but told us that it was the “right (decision)”
Library Board President and Vice-President
Like all of the others in this story, the Library Board President and Vice-President are both progressive democrats. Georgia Owen’s responded to KCE’s public records request saying: “In my personal or KPL email accounts there is nothing that covers the search words you requested within the date range of 11/1/2021 – 02/08/2022.”
Simply put – she lied to us. We found many emails to and from her conducting business with the search terms we gave her. Here is the thing, like Franco, she uses a private email address seemingly to skirt public records laws.
Michelle Braun Miloslavic never bothered to respond to our public records request. We will be following up including a possible lawsuit forcing her to turn over the records.
Perhaps the most important thing we learned is that the Mayor was the person who put an end to this political survey. KCE spoke with Kenosha City Administrator John Morrissey who told us that the Mayor learned about the survey and was “pretty upset” and called Brattin into his office. He told her “she needed to keep him more informed, before she made decisions like this.”
Even withstanding the Mayor’s directive, she still persisted and asked the City Attorney’s office for a legal opinion on January 28th. The City Attorney, Ed Antaramian, told Brattin that the survey was a bad decision because government shouldn’t take political positions or engage in political activity on company time. So with that, the attempt to interfere in an election was over.
We have criticized the mayor in the past, but in this case, he was right. Antaramian had the knowledge and wisdom to put an end to this nonsense before the City was put in jeopardy. Brattin, Cummings, Kozelou, Ownes, and Braun Miloslavic need to remember that they are government employees – bureaucrats. They cannot and should not use their time and government resources to influence an election, one way or the other. This was a terrible idea and it tells us about who is in charge in the Kenosha library system. The public records laws are in place to give tax-payers and the media oversight and accountability over the government. They are important and can always be strengthened.