- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Residents of a small town near Lake Winnebago have scrambled to stop a violent sex offender from Milwaukee from being sent in their community.

Town leaders passed a pre-emptive ordinance. The sheriff started a letter-writing campaign. And a school bus driver has organized a trip to attend a court hearing Wednesday that could decide the matter.

“This attempted murderer and sex offender should not be placed in our county,” Earl Degner said. “He should be placed where he and his family are from.”

The controversy gained momentum when Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink called a special meeting to explain the case and 200 people packed into town hall last Monday to listen. Fink told them that 51-year-old Clint Rhymes, who was convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder in 1988, was going to be placed at a home in Eldorado. The sheriff passed out addressed envelopes and urged attendees to let a judge know they don’t want Rhymes in their town.

Two days later, Fink went on a talk radio show on WFDL with Degner, who said he would take county residents to Milwaukee, about an hour south, so people could attend the hearing as long as 40 people signed up for the trip. He said Friday that about 20 people had reserved spots.

The dispute tracks over familiar lines, pitting a big city against a rural town and judicial orders against local ordinances. It started when Rhymes was approved for supervised release into a Milwaukee residence and an alderman, Tony Zielinski, told a judge the placement would violate a city ordinance that made it illegal for certain sex offenders to be placed within 2,000 square feet of a school, park or playground. He said the ordinance, which he sponsored, has already been overridden twice, and that putting three sex offenders in the same house would be too many.

His arguments won the day, and state Department of Health Services, which says similar anti-sex offender rules have made it impossible to place Rhymes in Milwaukee County, where he’s from, expanded the search statewide.

In reaction to the placement decision, the Eldorado Town Board held a special session and approved an ordinance ahead of the sheriff’s informational meeting that says the town won’t take paroled sex offenders from anywhere other than Fond du Lac County.

Town Chairman Gary Miller said the action should block Rhymes’ placement. “Our attorney said it would be OK as long as we passed it before he was placed,” he said.

Rhymes was convicted of hitting, slapping and a sexually assaulting a woman, then beating and stabbing her with a tire iron, according to a transcript of the 1988 sentencing hearing. Prosecutors said he “left her out in the cold, naked and bloody, to die,” according to the transcript, which Sheriff Fink posted online.

Bob Peterson, supervised release coordinator for the state public defender’s office, said Rhymes has been in a treatment facility since 2005 and that “he has been ordered released into the community without opposition from the state of Wisconsin.”

He said Rhymes’ case isn’t unique. “The problem is endemic right now,” Peterson said. “State law mandates release. The court orders release. Ordinances prevent him from coming home. This has come up since Milwaukee’s city ordinance was passed” last year.

“It’s an issue that needs to be dealt with,” he said, adding, “We’re dealing with the issue on a statewide basis.”

The county names could be changed, he said, “but it’s the same issue.”

The sheriff hopes lawmakers step in, and he told meeting attendees that they should work to force a change or else face the possibility that violent sex offenders from across Wisconsin could end up in Fond du Lac County. “We don’t want to become Guantanamo Bay up here,” Fink said.

Lance Burri, a policy adviser for state Sen. Richard Gudex, a Fond du Lac Republican, said Friday that Gudex intends to introduce legislation before the end of the session that will bring clarity and “give local governments as much flexibility as they think they need.”

“We have areas of the state that are basically exporting sex offenders, and that’s not right,” he said.

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