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Saturday, February 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: -8.0° F  Fair
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Gates of Heaven wedding reservations canceled after dust-up with the city
Not going to the chapel...
Stickel and Fassbender at Gates of Heaven.
Stickel and Fassbender at Gates of Heaven.
Credit:Joe Tarr

Like any couple, Ethan Fassbender and Mindi Stickel wanted their wedding to be special. They searched around town for the perfect spot before picking Gates of Heaven at James Madison Park.

"It's a beautiful location," says Fassbender. "I'm not religious but I like the feel of a church. It's nice to have a sacred setting for your wedding."

Last November, Fassbender waited in line at the city Parks Division with hundreds of other people hoping to reserve facilities for 2010. The city rents out 18 shelters, plus Gates of Heaven. Last year, it had 1,200 reservations, including 230 at Gates of Heaven.

When Fassbender made it to the front of the line, he saw that his chosen date - Aug. 21 - was open and quickly handed over a $420 check to secure the location.

But things did not go as smoothly as he had hoped. Weeks after Fassbender reserved the building from 1 to 5 p.m., he was contacted by Steve Doniger, the Parks Division's community services manager, who told him another person had meant to book the chapel for that same day but mistakenly failed to write this in the correct space. Doniger wanted to know if he could change his wedding time.

Eventually, Fassbender agreed to change the time of his reservation. He thought that was the end of it.

But on Aug. 2, when Stickel called to work out parking details, she was told the couple's reservation had been canceled. "She called me up in tears," says Fassbender, who went to the Parks Division office demanding an explanation. He says Doniger said, "It looks like I have you calling to cancel in April."

Fassbender insists he did no such thing, noting that his contract stipulates that any cancellation be made in writing. Moreover, the money he paid to reserve the facility was never refunded, as it would have been in a cancellation. Fumes Fassbender, "I have an official lying to me, telling me I canceled my wedding."

Doninger referred a request for comment to Laura Whitmore, the division spokeswoman. Whitmore disputes Fassbender's account, saying, "Ethan got really frustrated with the process and told Steve to just cancel." And while it's park policy to require cancellations in writing, "We took his word over the phone because everyone was so upset." Other couples quickly scooped up the date, she says.

Whitmore, who can't think of any other situation where something similar has occurred, says Fassbender's money should have been refunded months ago and will be now. As consolation, the Parks Division offered Fassbender free use of the Warner Park Community Recreation Center. But Fassbender declined, in part because the couple's invitations say the wedding is at Gates of Heaven.

So now they plan to hold the ceremony in the same spot as their reception - the Brink Lounge. But Fassbender wants to take the city to court.

"What other contracts in the city are being broken?" he wonders. "Is this how business is done in Madison?"

Pool closing a 'mistake'

The city bills its Goodman Pool as a great way to "beat the heat." One recent notice advised: "Don't let the dog days of summer get you down. Get outside and enjoy yourself while staying cool at the pool!"

Susan Morrison doesn't need convincing. She and her family have a season pass and go to the pool almost every day. But Morrison was stunned last Sunday afternoon, a hot, humid day, when staff members told her the pool would be closing early, after rainstorms reduced attendance earlier that day.

"Because they lost money in the morning, they were going to close it early because they could not afford to keep it open," she says. And people arriving at the pool were leaving rather than pay the $3.25-$5 entrance fee for a shortened pool day. "I was pretty unhappy, and there were lots of other people there unhappy."

Spokeswoman Whitmore says the pool closed because attendance was too low: "We can't be open if we're not making money." But Parks superintendent Kevin Briski says, on reflection, that the policy needs to be revisited.

"We should have given more consideration to the fact that it was warm and humid with three hours left in the day," he says. "We made a mistake."

Residential politics

John Imes, one of eight candidates hoping to fill the 77th state Assembly seat, raised suspicions on his nominating petition by listing his address as 1006 Edgehill Dr.

Imes runs a well-known bed-and-breakfast, Arbor House, 3402 Monroe St., which is in the neighboring 76th District. Operators of bed-and-breakfasts are required to live at their inns. So isn't Imes breaking the law?

No. Though Arbor House might look like your standard B&B, it is also licensed as a restaurant and hotel, says Doug Voegeli of the Madison Dane County Health Department. Being licensed as a hotel requires a higher level of refrigeration, fire controls and exit lighting ("It's regulated at a much higher level than a B&B establishment") but doesn't require owner occupation.

Pham-Remmele vs. Remmele

Speakers at Common Council meetings are generally allowed five minutes to speak their piece. But council members often ask follow-up questions.

Sometimes a questioning alder tries to trip up a speaker in an exaggerated cross-examination, desperately seeking a gotcha moment. More often, the alder just wants to give a speaker more time.

This was presumably the case at the Aug. 3 meeting, when Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele quizzed her husband, David Remmele, an accounting professor at UW-Whitewater. David Remmele had been raising concerns about the proposed public market when Mayor Dave Cieslewicz cut him off for being out of time.

Pham-Remmele kept her husband in the spotlight, beginning with an apparent dig at his salary: "I do trust your experience and expertise in teaching your business students to be more successful and wealthy than you are." Ouch.

David Remmele let this pass.

Note: This footage was captured from a RealMedia stream via the Madison City Channel website. This clip has been edited for length and compressed for online viewing.

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