Corporation counsel suspended in light of Sauk County Board investigation

By: 
Heather Stanek

An attorney for the county is on paid administrative leave and a former Reedsburg Independent editor has filed an open meetings complaint regarding an investigation taking place within the county.

Following a closed session of the Sauk County Board of Supervisors last week, the board voted to suspend Daniel Olson, who serves as corporate counsel for the board. According to the vote tally, Olson is to cooperate with what is being called “the Lighthouse investigation.”

Supervisors John Dietz and Thomas Kriegl cast the two no votes. Numerous supervisors were absent and thus did not vote. They included Charles Whitsell, Patricia Rego, Glen Johnson, Kristin White Eagle, Shane Gibson, Peter Vedro, John Miller, Tim Reppen, Scott Von Asten, Jean Berlin, Kevin Lins, David Riek, William Hambrecht and Tony DeGiovanni.

Reasons for the suspension were not available by the Reedsburg Independent’s deadline. County board meeting videos are normally posed on the county’s website however none for this gathering were available as of the newspaper’s deadline. The agenda also did not include details, only that the board would convene in closed session to discuss possible litigation.

 

Former editor files complaint

Certain actions in the investigation have prompted the former editor of the Reedsburg Independent to file an open meetings law violation. Jeff Seering, a Reedsburg resident who headed up this newspaper for many years, claimed four members of the E&L committee violated the law when they met in closed session on Jan. 7. The complaint cites supervisors Vedro, Thomas Kriegl, William Hambrecth and David Riek. Czuprynko is not listed because, according to Seering, he was asked to leave the room during the closed session and was not involved in the violation.

According to Seering’s complaint, the committee violated open meetings law when it voted to give Vedro the authority to issue subpoenas to county board supervisors and county staff. No such action item is listed on the committee’s agenda.

The official complaint states that, as a result of the meeting, supervisors Marty Krueger, Wally Czuprynko, Carl Gruber and Tim McCumber were issued subpoenas. Sauk County Clerk Rebecca Evert was also issued a subpoena, according to the complaint, which was forwarded to the state attorney general.

Seering pointed to Open Meetings Handbook rules, which dictate when a governmental body may go into closed session. The handbook indicates that leaders must consider whether the issue is of public interest and whether or not actions taken would be routine or unusual. Agenda items for closed session must not be too vague, as was proven in the case of Buswell vs. Tomah High School. In that instance, an agenda simply listed a closed session item as “purpose of consideration and/or action concerning employment relations with district personnel.” That agenda item ended up being a contract with a teachers union. The court found in favor of Buswell, stating the agenda description was too vague and thus the public was not property notified. 

Seering said this instance is similar in that the agenda gives no indication that subpoenas would be issued to elected officials and county employees.

He added that the investigation is of public interest since county leadership and workers are involved.

Further, it’s highly unusual for a committee chair to issue subpoenas. Seering said he has never seen a committee chair issue subpoenas in all the years he has followed the county board. He said he covered meetings as a journalist from 1983 through 2017 when he retired. After leaving the Reedsburg Independent, he continued to pay attention to the board as a citizen.

It’s unclear whether the vote was done in closed or open session. Seering said he was unable to find out when the vote took place, and this reporter confirmed the video of the Jan. 7 E&L meeting ended just as committee members were about to go into closed session.

Prior to closed session, Czyprynko questioned whether said session was necessary. Officials didn’t discuss details of the matter in open session, although Corporation Counsel Daniel Olson explained that the issue would be referred to the state attorney general’s office due to conflict of interest with the local district attorney’s office.

In the end, all committee members voted to go to closed session.

 

Details remain murky

Very little has been released publicly regarding the Lighthouse investigation, although it has come up at executive and legislative committee (E&L) meetings.

A Jan. 21 meeting of the committee resulted in an argument between Board Chair Peter Vedro and Supervisor Wally Czuprynko, who both serve on the committee. According to video from the meeting, Vedro had received a letter from Jackson Lewis through attorney Ronald Sadler. Vedro said the letter requested a meeting with the E&L committee, and he asked for the authority to set that meeting. Czuprynko, however, took issue with the question, saying the letter indicated the authors wanted to be heard by the full board, not E&L.

When Czuprynko asked Vedro to point out where the writers asked for the meeting, Vedro couldn’t find it. He instead said, while looking through the document, “I believe he indicated that…well I could be mistaken but certainly our organizational structure would require that the committee has the overview of this area-”

Czyprynko cut him off: “Nice try, Mr. Chairman. We’ll have the board take this up. It’s addressed to the board.”

The following exchange occurred.

Vedro: “I’m sorry. That’s not the structure of our organization and-”

Czuprynko: “The board has ultimate authority. Don’t try to head this off, Peter.”

Vedro: “We’re not-”

Czuprynko: “You’re trying to kill it.”

Vedro: “This is in no way going to be killed. This and any other issue which needs to be brought forward will be brought forward.”

“Czuprynko: “You’re not going to bury this, Peter.”

Vedro: “I’m telling you-”

Czuprynko: “Bring it to the board. This letter is addressed to the board.”

Vedro continued explaining that the committee has the authority discuss matters and schedule meetings. None, however, was set at the committee gathering.

The contents of the letter have not been made public. The Reedsburg Independent has requested it from the Sauk County Clerk’s Office seeing as, according to Czuprynko, it was addressed to the board and would be considered official communications.

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