City Council splits over Police and Fire Commission appointment
Mayor casts the tie-breaking vote
BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
Todd McEldowney was reappointed to the Police and Fire Commission (PFC) on Monday night on a split 4-4 vote, in which Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson cast the tie-breaking vote.
The vote followed two minute statements during the public comment meeting phase from various PFC members as well as McEldowney himself, with each one throwing their support behind McEldowney’s reappointment. The main theme of comments made by PFC members centered around the conviction that any isolated errors, mistakes, or decisions McEldowney made or was accused of making should be considered in the larger context of his 37 years of experience and service.
“I stand by Todd, and I would ask you guys to do the same,” Matt Whalen from the PFC said.
April’s city council meeting saw opposition led by council president George Kirby and alderperson Dawn Rog to Frederickson’s mayoral appointment of McEldowney to the PFC, causing the appointment to be tabled until this week’s meeting. Kirby and Rog reiterated their opposition to the appointment during Monday’s meeting.
The controversy lay chiefly in how McEldowney handled the Rhinelander police chief appointment in 2017, in which Dave Funkhouser was named chief but rejected the offer some weeks later. Kirby and Rog said they believed that Funkhouser’s application was handled in an inappropriate manner that broke commission rules. Rog also noted she believed it was unethical that an individual had been named to the commission 48 hours before casting a vote for the police chief appointment, a move that had been in the works for 6 months.
Former Oneida County Sheriff’s Captain Lloyd Gauthier was named chief in the wake of Funkhouser’s departure, a move that some council members said they felt was inconsiderate to both Gauthier and Ron Lueneburg, another candidate who serves as Rhinelander olice captain and who served as acting chief in 2017 while a permanent chief was chosen.
“Not once has there been a question raised or an issue about whether we utilized the proper procedure,” McEldowney said. “And I guarantee you here today that we utilized our statutory procedure and our discretion trying to make the best decision we could for our new chief of police.”
He added that he had provided legal advice at no cost to the city that would generally require outside council due to “statutory pitfalls.”
“No matter what was quoted anywhere, I think the experience stands before anything else,” Alderperson Steve Sauer said.
The vote was split with Kirby, Rog, Sherrie Belliveau, and Tom Kelly voting against the appointment, and Steve Sauer, Ryan Rossing, Andrew Larson, and David Holt voting in favor. Rossing, Larson, and Holt have recently begun their tenure as alderpersons this April.
Frederickson said he spent the intermittent month between April and May’s council meetings researching McEldowney’s experience and talking to various people about the issue.