Supervisors air grievances, suggest solutions
Supervisors bounced ideas back and forth for about 90 minutes Thursday night during a wide-ranging discussion intended to help resolve dysfunction among the Sauk County Board.
The special meeting was part of a compromise reached in February, just before the board was to vote on whether to hire an outside agency to investigate a series of controversial personnel matters.
The ground rules for Thursday night’s discussion – unveiled as the meeting began – restricted supervisors from discussing those prior events that have caused so much controversy.
Instead, the facilitator brought in to lead the meeting, Dan Hill of the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Local Government Center, instructed supervisors to focus their comments on future process improvements. That included, among other topics, the handling of allegations against senior staff.
“We need to have due process for those,” said Supervisor Kristin White Eagle of Baraboo. “And they need to be substantiated.”
The board has been mired in controversy since late October, when its chairman, Marty Krueger of Reedsburg, and the county’s attorney, Todd Liebman, presented an oversight committee with numerous allegations against then-Administrative Coordinator Renae Fry.
Despite her allegedly poor performance, Fry ultimately left county service in December under a deal in which she was paid a full year’s salary to resign. Terms of the agreement also restricted her from speaking openly about the matter.
Documents later obtained in response to repeated public records requests revealed that Fry had grown critical of Liebman’s job performance, and was receiving inter-office intelligence from one of his secretaries.
Fry has since characterized the true cause of her departure as a disagreement with Krueger over their respective responsibilities.
As part of Thursday night’s brainstorming session, supervisors suggested clearer definitions for the roles and responsibilities of the board chair, county attorney, administrative coordinator, and supervisors in general.
“I would like us to spend some time defining those roles in writing, so that we all know what they are,” said Supervisor Scott Von Asten of Baraboo.
Others suggested the county needs to empower its hired professional staff, and rely less on elected supervisors – such as the chair – to handle official business. “I feel we’re kind of too board heavy in this county,” said Supervisor Nathan Johnson of La Valle.
Supervisor Judy Ashford of Merrimac said the county should move away from an administrative coordinator system of government, and instead create a county administrator, a position that has more authority.
There was some disagreement about the role committees and department heads should play in informing the board before it is asked to make decisions.
Several supervisors said the board doesn’t get timely access to information. But one supervisor said its not a lack of information that is the problem, but rather a lack of trust.
“I’ve been on the board 15-plus years,” said Reedsburg Supervisor Tommy Lee Bychinski. “When I first got on the board, we did more as a committee and we trusted the committees. I think we’ve gone away from that.”
Supervisor Tom Kriegl of Baraboo said trust must be earned, and that too often the board’s options are restricted due to a failure to communicate basic information. “If we met nine times and those nine times I hit you, why would I expect you to trust me the tenth time we met?” Kriegl said.
Noticeably silent Thursday night was Krueger, the board’s chair, whose actions involving the former administrative coordinator’s departure and the hiring of her replacement were at the center of the last six months of controversy.
It was Krueger who suggested the special meeting as an alternative to one supervisor’s call to bypass the board’s Executive and Legislative Committee and order an outside investigation.
Baraboo supervisor Peter Vedro’s proposal to consider an outside inquiry won support from 19 of 31 supervisors before Krueger suggested the board change course and instead organize the discussion that took place Thursday. Krueger then took the lead in arranging the meeting, but said nothing during the 90-minute session before one supervisor abruptly called for it to end.
“All wonderful ideas,” said Supervisor Wally Czuprynko of Lake Delton, a member of the executive and legislative committee who previously characterized the meeting as a waste of time. “I sincerely look forward to what will come of this. And with that, I’d make a motion that we adjourn.”
Krueger then walked back to the podium, which he had relinquished so that the facilitator could lead the discussion. Czuprynko’s motion was not debatable. And amid uncertainty about whether supervisors still had input to provide, the board voted 20-9 to adjourn.