One ethics complaint dropped, another pending against city council member
Council president took issue with Facebook postings
BY KEVIN BONESKE
An ethics complaint brought against District 7 alderman Steve Sauer has been dropped by Rhinelander City Council president George Kirby, but another complaint against both Sauer and District 8 alderman Tom Gleason remains pending.
Kirby accused Sauer of a series of city ethics code violations for statements made on Facebook in early August.
“The bottom line is, Steve, you acted improperly with making statements on Facebook,” Kirby said. “In fact, I find it difficult to believe that, in your capacity as a professional elected official, that you would post on social media, and also agree with threats of violence towards other governmental officials and public property. This results in misconduct in public office…”
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Kirby presented copies of statements he said Sauer made on Facebook that questioned the legality of the city tearing down the ice rink boards at Pioneer Park, claimed decisions are made before council meeting were called to order and agreed with individuals who made statements about blowing up or burning down buildings with council members inside.
However, as an act of moving on, Kirby said he was withdrawing his complaint to bring order to the city and the council.
“I don’t think it takes a public hearing to penalize you, Steve, because appropriate action still could be taken by and through the mayor’s office” Kirby said. “Being that my complaint is withdrawn, I will consider my part in the matter closed.”
Sauer asked for the opportunity to respond after Kirby aired the allegations in his complaint at Monday’s meeting, noting that he didn’t believe Kirby withdrew his complaint the proper way after making his statement.
“I made my statement, Steve, so I could just get this out where it belongs,” Kirby said. “The Internet information is available to anybody.”
District 4 alderman Tom Kelly said he was also upset reading Sauer’s comments on Facebook and called Kirby “a bigger man than I am” for withdrawing the complaint.
“But in the spirit of consolation, maybe we should just move on,” Kelly said.
Council members Sherrie Belliveau, Alex Young and Dawn Rog also favored moving on.
“We can’t serve the city taxpayers as a divided council,” Belliveau said. “In all fairness to those we represent, we owe it to them (to) move forward as a united council and do the work we were elected to do.”
“I appreciate George withdrawing his complaint on the desire to move on,” Young said. “I think that it’s better that he wants us to move on from this crap that we’ve been dealing with the last month or so.”
“I think a lot of people have been personally hurt by this, and would hope in the future that somebody can step up and apologize (to) some individuals for some threats that were made to people’s personal selves,” Rog said. “That’s something that somebody can do on their own. They don’t have to do this at (a council meeting).”
Mayor Dick Johns then gave Sauer an opportunity to speak about the ethics complaint Kirby filed against him and subsequently withdrew.
When Sauer commented on the Facebook postings which Kirby took exception, he noted he had a First Amendment right to say he has observed decisions taking place prior to meetings.
As for the comment a friend of his made on Facebook related to blowing up a building, Sauer said he is among the members the threat was made against.
“I don’t think my buddy’s going to come in and blow anything up,” Sauer said.
HEARING SET FOR ANOTHER COMPLAINT
Council members decided to set a hearing for Nov. 14 to consider another city ethics complaint against Sauer and Gleason filed by Kirby.
That complaint makes a series of allegations from Sept. 6 when council members held a special emergency meeting that evening, in anticipation of possible legal action being brought by former city administrator Kristina Aschenbrenner, and unanimously passed a resolution directing all city officials and employees to keep all information regarding her employment with the city confidential, unless required to disclose by law, and to cease any communication with her.
Seventeen minutes after that meeting was scheduled to begin, annual performance reviews forms Sauer and Gleason filled out about Aschenbrenner were included with their signed statement about her termination in an email message sent to local media.
One of the allegations Kirby made against Sauer and Gleason, who were the only two council members to vote against terminating Aschenbrenner as city administrator, a position she held for not quite a year, is that they “disclosed confidential information without proper legal authorization.”
Following the release of those completed annual performance review forms, council member Mark Pelletier filed a complaint with the Oneida County district attorney’s office accusing Sauer and Gleason of violating the state’s Open Records Law.
Belliveau suggested withdrawing the city ethics code complaint against Sauer and Gleason.
“We are aware that (the allegations included in the city ethic complaint are) being investigated along these lines with the district attorney and sheriff’s department handling that,” she said. “I would like us to consider also rescinding this (city ethics) complaint. I think it’s redundant – just my opinion.”
Though council members approved setting the hearing on the ethics complaint for the Nov. 14 meeting, with Sauer and Gleason abstaining from voting, they noted they could decide beforehand to remove it from the agenda.
“Everybody could always make up and be friends again,” Young said.