Tensions mount at Rhinelander Council meeting; split vote nixes closed meeting request
By Lori C. Adler
The Rhinelander City Council met Monday for a regular common council session. Tempers flared as each discussion item on the agenda brought increased animosity among the council. Accusatory remarks and barbed comments hurled at each other made for a tension-filled meeting.
There were 50-plus items on Monday’s council meeting agenda, and while most were topics requiring discussion and/or decision making, several were talking points for council members. The agenda also included a possibility of a closed session to discuss two sensitive topics: the lawsuit Lincoln Plaza vs. City of Rhinelander and the performance of city administrator Daniel Guild. In an elevated voice, alderman David Holt stated, “I will not go into a closed session with Dawn Rog without legal counsel present,” adding an assumption that alderperson Rog intended to bring forward further accusations on the council members, mayor, and city administrator. In the end, the motion for the closed session was met with a split vote of 4-4, with Mayor Chris Frederickson adding a vote of “No” to dismiss the closed session motion and adjourn the meeting.
Full confidence in city administrator
During the citizen comment session, city employee Kris Arneson presented a letter signed by herself and 14 other city workers declaring full confidence in city administrator Daniel Guild. This letter, Arneson explained, is in response to the no-confidence letter regarding the city administrator filed in March. The letter praises Guild’s work with city employees to help resolve the hostile work environment issues as well as keeping them informed of upcoming events and meetings. Noting that signing the document was not taken lightly, Arneson’s letter reads, “We do not fear Daniel Guild, but we do fear those who have spoken against him, and a select number of alderpersons who appear determined to destroy his character and credibility, that they may attempt to retaliate against us or we could somehow face retribution by signing this document.”
Von Briesen law firm secured as legal counsel if needed; search for new city attorney to begin
Two members of the Von Briesen law firm, James Macy and Hector de la Mora, were on hand to discuss providing the city with additional municipality legal services should it be needed once attorney Carrie Miljevich terms ends on May 31, 2019. The fees for these services are $275 per hour.
“That’s more than double the price we are paying for our legal fees,” alderperson Rog stated, expressing concern as to where the money would come from to pay for this. Mayor Frederickson said that the budget for legal services was listed as a lump sum and not by how much would be paid per hour.
Still concerned that the city might pay for services not required, the Von Briesen team explained that there was not a contract, just a letter of engagement, and that they will not provide services unless requested. Macy added, “We are just available if you need help.”
Satisfied with the answers to their questions, the council voted to approve the use of Von Briesen for services that may be required once Miljevich leaves.
Later in the session, alderman Lee Emmer moved to begin the search for a new city attorney. The council agreed that the previous job description and request for proposal (RFP) could be used as a template and voted to have the mayor and city administrator draw up the RFP and begin advertising for the position.
New wastewater equipment for Hodag Country Fest
Public Works Director Tim Kingman brought forward a proposal to help with the treatment of the excess wastewater from the Hodag Country Fest. This waste, coming from the portable restroom facilities used during the festival, are difficult for the city’s wastewater treatment plant to process since there are many items such as cans and bottles that must be removed before processing.
A joint effort between the wastewater department and Hodag Country Fest was proposed at Monday’s meeting. A screen system allowing for easier processing of this type of waste can be purchased for around $35,000. The proposal brought forth to council was that Hodag Country Fest will contribute about 1/3 of the cost of the new equipment, with the city picking up the rest. Kingman assured the council that the money to pay for this could come from sewer revenue, and that this equipment would allow the city to handle wastewater from other areas as well, thus generating additional revenue.
The council approved the proposal so ordering of the new equipment could be done immediately to allow for delivery and installation in time for the festival.
Request for full council involvement in collective bargaining fails
A motion was made by George Kirby and seconded by Dawn Rog to involve the full council or an Ad Hoc committee in the collective bargaining meetings for the Police and Fire unions. Though collective bargaining has not yet begun, Kirby and Rog feel that, without the committee structure that was once part of the city council but abolished last fall, the council will not be informed in how the discussions are progressing. Council member Steve Sauer expressed no need for such involvement since, referring to the city administrator, it is the job of “the professional we hired to run the city” to work on the negotiations. Sauer added, “I don’t feel it’s necessary to do anything until it’s time to review the numbers.”
As Macy from Von Briesen was still present at Monday’s meeting, he cautioned against the idea of involving the full council in contract negotiations, strongly stately, “Never have the whole council involved ever!” When put to a vote Monday, the motion failed.
Retreat canceled; next meeting scheduled
A possible city council retreat had been tentatively scheduled for Saturday, May 18, but due to inability to participate, the retreat has been cancelled.
Due to the next regular meeting falling on Memorial Day, the next meeting for the Rhinelander City Council will be Wednesday, May 29, at 6 p.m.