Newsmaker of the year: Cargo

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— Readers of the Steamboat Pilot & Today were introduced to a tall, lanky woman named Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman late last year as she passed out fliers for her activist group Citizen Down.

Over the year that followed, anyone following the news got to know her very well.

No one made more headlines in 2002 than Cargo Rodeman.

It all started in the summer of 2001 when an Oak Creek police officer named Dave Miller tried to arrest a woman who while intoxicated had ridden her horse into town to get cigarettes. The rider claimed Miller used excessive force during her arrest and Rodeman took on her cause.

In the months that followed, Rodeman and Citizen Down protested in front of Town Hall during Town Board meetings.

"But we weren't getting anywhere," Rodeman said.

In February, she decided to run for mayor of Oak Creek and entered the most publicized, controversial year of her life.

"I didn't think I would win," Rodeman said. "I just thought I would stir things up. And then I saw the people that were behind me."

She ran on a platform of "common sense" and "kindness," with promises to clean up the police department. She also planned to win her front yard back, she said.

One of her first moves as mayor was ask the town to pay for reseeding a section of lawn that had been destroyed by a backhoe and front-end loader after the previous board voted that Rodeman's yard posed a safety risk to pedestrians because it jutted out into the road.

"No one (cared) until I ran for mayor," Rodeman said.

In early June, Oak Creek Police Chief Tom Ling handed in his resignation and the police department began the first of several collapses that would keep the Town Board busy through the summer and fall.

The board promoted Officer Jason Lunnen to the position of interim police chief, but within a month, Miller was fired. The decision was made in a closed meeting.

Miller heard of his termination in a newspaper article while he was fighting forest fires.

A legal battle ensued through early December, when the two sides reached a settlement out of court.

"When Dave was fired, everyone said that I was moving so fast," Rodeman said. "And the newspaper made such a big deal about it. But if you truly believe that an officer is beating your citizens, you act," she said.

Rodeman found herself working a full workweek at Town Hall to keep up with the tasks she had assigned herself.

"I never realized it would take this much of my time," Rodeman said. "I thought I'd be able to work a regular job and come into Town Hall a couple days a week. But there is enough work for nonstop activity every day of the week.

"After the first of the year I'm going to try working at least a day a week at another job," she said.

"I would love to see the next mayor get a real paycheck so this could be a part-time job," Rodeman said.

Currently, Oak Creek Town Board members are paid $75 a month. The mayor is paid $90 a month.

"If I hadn't won ($75,000 from a scratch lottery ticket) and cut my house payment in half, I would never be able to do this," Rodeman said.

Before Rodeman ran for office, Town Clerk Nancy Crawford knew of her, but the two women had never shared as much as a conversation, Crawford said.

"I didn't know what kind of mayor she would be," Crawford said, "but I think she is trying to make Oak Creek a better place to live."

"I had a lot to learn," Rodeman said.

"I think she has really opened up the lines of communication between the board and the citizens," Crawford said. "People never came to Town Board meetings the way they do now."

The term for mayor in Oak Creek is two years. Rodeman does not plan to run again.

When Rodeman first took office, a group of residents threatened to recall and replace her. The board set aside $1,000 in the 2003 budget to cover the costs of a recall election, but thus far, no one has come forward with a petition.

The town of Oak Creek will begin 2003 with a new public works director, a new water treatment plant manager, treasurer and police department.

"We have faced an awful lot this year," Rodeman said. "I am hoping we can move onto some more positive things.

"I've changed in a lot of ways since I took office," Rodeman said. "I have a lot more respect for public officials and I have less belief in what I read in the newspapers," she said.

"I know patience isn't my strongest point, but I only have two years to do 50 years' worth of work."

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