Rhinelander council discusses reinstating committees, city administrator suspension
By Lori Adler, reporter
The Rhinelander common council considered two separate resolutions regarding the city’s standing and special committees. Last December, the council voted to dissolve the standing committees and instead go to a committee-of-the-whole structure for a period of one year. On the agenda for Monday’s meeting was a resolution introduced by alderperson Steve Sauer to abolish the committee structure and another resolution brought forth by alderperson George Kirby to reinstate the committee format.
Sauer began the discussion by stating, “Shifting to two council meetings a month has done wonders for the public engagement, has done wonders for the public knowledge, has saved considerable staff time in not preparing for a dozen meetings a month and regardless of concern about how late meetings go, realistically if there wasn’t what I will call stalling tactics, like pulling 21 items off of a consent agenda and then discussing ten of them, I think our meetings would be smoother, and things would go a lot more quickly.”
“I think that there is significant support among the public,” alderperson David Holt added, “There are two meetings; they’re the same times every month, the second and fourth Monday of every month at 6 p.m., and that’s reflected in the large attendance.”
With opposing resolutions, there was obvious disagreement among council members.
Kirby responded, “I’m in favor of having our committee meetings because I’m in favor of talking with people like our public works director, water department, our people that give us the information we need prior to coming to our actual council meetings.” He then added, “I’m going to vote against this system, and I’ve been against it all the way along.”
Alderperson Dawn Rog also responded commenting, “I think one of the things we are missing is the finance committee. Right now we have collective bargaining with police and fire; the council has been given no update whatsoever on any of these meetings.”
In the end, the current committee-of-the-whole format will continue, with the abolishment of the committee system continuing. Voting in favor of committee-of-the-whole were alderpersons Steve Sauer, David Holt, Ryan Rossing and Andrew Larson, with those voting for the return of the committees being alderpersons George Kirby, Dawn Rog, Tom Kelly and Lee Emmer. Mayor Chris Frederickson broke the tie by voting for the abolishment of the committee system.
Possible suspension of city administrator
Monday’s agenda listed a potential closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss the possible discipline of city administration Daniel Guild. However, a motion to adjourn the meeting without going into closed session was made by alderperson Holt.
Holt explained his choice to adjourn rather than proceed to closed session, stating, “I do not feel it is appropriate at this time for this council to be discussing this while it is an open situation where we don’t have any real information about it, either in open session or in closed session, so if this were to move to a vote for closed session, I would be voting no.”
Discussion ensued as to whether a motion to adjourn could be made since the meeting agenda was not yet completed, and the motion to adjourn failed.
Alderperson Rog then made a motion to go into closed session, which did not receive a second, and was promptly followed by a motion made by alderperson Emmer calling for Guild’s suspension.
Emmer stated, “I make the motion to suspend Daniel Guild with pay, pending resolution of the investigations related to the search and seizure and the raid issue at city hall. I further motion that Daniel Guild be denied computer access and denied keys to all city buildings, pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Rog then seconded Emmer’s motion. This launched a complete and thorough explanation of the law by city attorney Steve Sorenson who explained what the council could and could not do in regard to Daniel Guild.
Sorenson first noted that the suspension of Guild was not an agenda item and therefore should not be discussed. He then explained that suspension is a disciplinary action, and as such, an employee to be disciplined must receive prior notification of the action including the charges and reasoning behind the discipline to allow the employee time to prepare.
In addition, Sorenson said that the council had conducted an investigation of Guild previously and had found there was not enough evidence to warrant any disciplinary action. By the rule of double jeopardy, if the council wished to discipline Guild, they would need to bring forward entirely new charges. Double jeopardy, which does not allow for someone to be charged for the same actions or crimes twice, also applies to the current investigation being conducted by Oneida County and the state Department of Justice.
Sorenson then pointed out that Guild has not been formally charged of any crime. He added that the only action the council could take in regard to Guild’s situation would be to place him on administrative leave, noting that in order to do that, the council would need to show that the current investigation is impeding Guild in the performance of his job.
“If you as a council believe that somehow he can’t do his job because of the investigation, because of some condition,” Sorenson stated, “then you should detail that, and then you bring that as an agenda item for administrative leave.”
Following Sorenson’s remarks, no further discussion of the suspension took place.
ABX financial package
The council passed a resolution to authorize the city administrator to develop a financing package for ABX. Representatives from ABX had appeared before the council in October requesting a grant. The goal of the financing is to create a $600,000 site improvement grant from TIF District #6.
A component of this grant requires ABX to complete a $15 million expansion by the end of 2020 in order for the TIF district to support the $600,000 grant. Council members questioned the timeline, but it was explained that this expansion is not a construction project but actually a piece of equipment from Germany. The purchase and installation of this new equipment can be easily completed in that timeframe.
The grant itself was not approved at Monday’s meeting, but rather just the permission for the city administrator to begin putting a package together. The council will still need to review and approve the financing proposal before its implementation.
New city website
Though in disagreement and requiring the mayor’s vote of yes to break the tie, the council moved to approve a contract with TownWeb for the redesign of the city’s website as well as ongoing maintenance of the site. The cost for the new site will be $3,500 plus monthly fees. This amount is already included in the 2020 budget.
There are no additional council meetings scheduled for the remainder of the year.
The next meeting of the Rhinelander Common Council will be Monday, January 13, 2020, at 6 p.m. at city hall.