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By Erika Wittekind
Contributing Writer 

Mazomanie board votes to rehire village administrator

 

December 7, 2017



The Mazomanie Village Board began its meeting Nov. 28 by announcing the resignation of Village Administrator Peter Huebner—and ended it two hours later by voting to hire him back.

In between, board members went into a closed session with village attorney William Cole to hear the results of an investigation into the hiring process that resulted in Huebner being offered the job last December, until which he had been serving as village president.

After returning to open session, Cole publicly addressed each of the allegations raised by Village Trustee Kevin Graham and an attorney contacted by Mazomanie resident Jeffery Wirth.

The most significant of the complaints was that Huebner should have been ineligible for the position according to state law, which specifies elected officials cannot apply for positions that were created during their term. Cole confirmed that based on the timing, Huebner should have been disqualified, and that the issue was settled by Huebner’s resignation, which was effective Nov. 21.

As a representative of village interests and not Huebner himself, Cole said his investigation did not address whether Huebner violated Wisconsin criminal statute 946.13, which prevents a public official or officer from negotiating contracts in which they have a private interest or benefit. He added that if the district attorney’s office decided to press charges against Huebner, he could see several possible defenses.

He did address allegations that Huebner unethically used his position to benefit himself personally.

“I interviewed the trustees, and all of them said there was no discussion or even an attempt to discuss with Mr. Huebner, either him applying for the position, the creation of the position, or any pay benefits for that position,” Cole said. “I am confident there was no ethical impropriety by either Mr. Huebner or any of the trustees that were involved.”

Cole also investigated whether village officials had improperly discussed the creation of the village administrator in closed session during a personnel committee meeting. He interviewed all trustees who served on the committee about what was discussed in the meeting and found the closed session complied with open meeting laws.

“I am entirely confident that the discussion that I understand happened was proper in closed session, was properly noticed, and that there’s nothing wrong there,” Cole said. “I think the allegation was based on an erroneous assumption of what was discussed.”

The attorney who wrote the letter on behalf of Wirth also alleged that the search process was rushed and not transparent enough. Although this was not a legal issue, Cole confirmed the opening was broadly noticed and broadly circulated, and that the timeline was “sufficient to get a fairly large pool of very qualified candidates.”

“I think that indicates it was a reasonable effort to attract candidates,” he said. “They were qualified. Several of them were highly considered for the position. I do not believe Huebner was a shoo-in for the position at all.”

At Cole’s recommendation, the board voted to ratify Huebner’s actions while acting as village administrator, confirming the village’s support for his work from the time of his hiring to the resignation. Graham voted against the motion, but it passed 6-1.

As for what to do about the vacancy left by Huebner’s resignation, Village President Gary Harrop said the board had several options. They could begin another search and interview a new set of candidates or eliminate the position, which the village had not had from 2003 to 2016.

Or they could decide to rehire Huebner, since he became legally eligible for the position following the expiration of his term as village president this past spring.

Trustee Ray Schlamp made a motion to rehire Huebner, at the salary and benefit package that he had previously been offered.

“When the administrator was aboard, everything was going fluently,” Schlamp said. “A lot of things were taken care of, a lot of things were taken off people’s shoulders. You knew exactly where to go.”

Graham, who tried to table the issue several times to allow time for further consideration, asked, “What’s the rush?” He asked why the village needed an administrator, when it had not had one for more than a decade.

Schlamp pointed to how the work of running the village had been largely divided between the board members up until an administrator was hired to manage the day-to-day tasks.

“Everybody else had to take a part of everything and run it,” Schlamp said. “There wouldn’t be a person who would take our job in Madison for what we get paid. Peter Huebner took on this job and as far as I’m concerned, has already paid for his salary.”

Harrop cited a $24,000 LRIP grant that Huebner initiated for West Hudson Street reconstruction, as well $15,000 the village saved from hiring outside contractors and consultants.

“That’s $15,000 that we found quickly without searching for more or putting a price on other projects that he saved the village money on, paid for the general fund portion of his salary,” Harrop said.

Trustee Gary Damaschke, who joined the board in April, said in his short time, he’s seen the benefit of having an administrator​. He noted that recently the board discussed the possibility of meeting once per month instead of twice.

“The reason for that is that so many things behind the scenes are being taken care of,” Damaschke said. “He’s taken a load off so many people. I think he’s paid for himself, frankly.”

The motion to rehire Huebner passed 6-1, with Graham voting against it.

Budget approved

The owner of a $200,000 house will see their village property taxes increase by about $27 in 2018. The local levy will total $1,114,547, slightly up from last year, when it was $1,098,396.

Damaschke reported on behalf of the finance committee, said they heard requests from different departments in September to hear requests and started out $225,000 over budget, before difficult discussions over several meetings to bring the budget under the allowable revenue limit.

“Unfortunately, the capital projects took a hit,” he said. “But we were able to pare the expenditures side down to meet the revenue side. And obviously, the revenue side is not much brain work. It’s state driven for what we can levy.”

Jeri Springstead, who also serves on the finance committee, noted that the village has been able to establish a $30,000 contingency fund over the past several years, and was able to maintain that with this year’s budget.

“It was not a painless process,” Springstead said.

The tax increase per $200,000 household could have been slightly less—at about $21—but the village’s total assessment decreased by $730,000 from the previous year, according to Harrop. The assessment refers to the total value of homes in the village.

“The reality, folks, is we need growth,” Harrop said. “That is what is going to permit us to expand services in the community.”

 
 

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