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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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City Considers Format For Filing Complaints

Issue Date: August 9, 2018

During a long closed session on Wednesday, Aug. 1, the City of Peshtigo's Personnel Committee reviewed nine applications for Police Chief and selected five candidates to be called in for interviews. Names were not released.

Sgt. Rick Badgley, a veteran member of the Peshtigo Police Department, has been serving as interim chief since the resignation of former Police Chief Joe FitzGerald became effective on June 29.

Present when the meeting began were Mayor Cathi Malke, Alderman Mike Behnke, Archer Leupp, Debbie Sievert and Jillian Schutte, Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal, Parks and Recreation Director David Zahn and Fire Chief Steve Anderson. Personnel committee members are Sievert, Behnke and Schutte.

The meeting started in open session with discussion of complaint forms that had been recommended at prior meetings of both the Parks and Recreation Personnel Committees. The idea began as a way of handling complaints involving the Parks and Recreation Department services and personnel.

Kasal handed out samples of a proposed form that included provisions for complainants to list name, address, phone number and the nature of the complaint. She pointed out that it originated as a request from the Parks and Recreation Committee to the Personnel Committee.

The proposed complaint form provides for verification of forwarding to the Parks and Recreation director, actions taken, date for followup with complainant and committee notes.

Schutte said she would like a universal form to be given to all departments, "so we can stay up to date with what's going on if people come in with complaints." She felt that any complaint should be handled in that manner.

Malke disagreed. "I don't know that a name needs to be given unless there's a need for further action against someone," she declared. "You were elected to represent the concerns of the people!"

Leupp liked the proposed forms, and the plan for using them. He said at his church they have a similar method of receiving complaints. He felt people should register their complaints at City Hall and should not need to be told to contact their alderperson.

"What's the difference if a name is on there or not?" Malke asked. She said some people might be intimidated or fear retaliation if they put their name on it.

"We're all adults," Schutte declared. "I would want my name on it....I would want Dave to contact me personally to find out about my issue."

Schutte said she understood that people should be able to talk to their alderpeople about problems, but added that the Council members do not know everyone, and not everyone knows the alderperson who represents them. "We don't have time...We have other jobs," she declared.

"If a concern is brought forward, I don't know why a name has to be given," Malke insisted.

Leupp disagreed. "If someone comes in with issues, I want to be able to talk to them...I want to create a dialog, to know whether or not it gets fixed." He felt anyone who bothered to file a complaint would feel better with a real call-back

"I think a lot of people are afraid of retribution," Malke repeated.

Behnke suggested they could "crank it down a bit," and allow a general statement, without necessarily a name, but asking anyone who wants to be contacted to leave a name. However, he felt having names would be good. "At meetings, for years, we get comments... "I've had all these complaints,' but when we ask from whom, there's no answer!" He said they might consider allowing the complaint perhaps to be general, but felt the individual or department head targeted in the complaint should be able to contact them to resolve the issue.

There were also concerns that particularly if the complaint involved an employee the department head should be able to investigate.

Sievert felt to take any action they needed to have a name, and Behnke agreed.

Leupp said at his church people have the option of not putting their name on the complaint, and suggested people should be told to sign if they want a follow up. He also felt signed complaints have a lot more credibility.

Sievert asked Kasal how she handles complaints that come in by phone. Kasal said she usually gets a name or at least an address so someone can go to their house and check on the complaint.

Malke repeated her concerns about people being afraid to make a complaint for fear of retaliation, and said the water complaints are a prime example.

"If our departments are making people feel that way, we should take action to change that," Schutte declared. She said any city employee who would retaliate because of a complaint, "maybe shouldn't work here!"

The committee members ultimately agreed to take the complaint form home, look it over and come back with suggestions for changes they might want and possibly take action at the next meeting.

Next on the agenda was the closed session, which provided for filling the police chief vacancy and considering a candidate for the firefighter position.

It further provided for closed session discussion for "considering financial, medical, social or personal histories or disciplinary data of specific persons, preliminary consideration of specific personnel problems or the investigation of charges against specific persons ...which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have a substantial adverse effect upon the reputation of any person referred to in such histories or data, or involved in such problems or investigations, for the purpose of personnel issues concerning: Mayor Cathi Malke, Director David Zahn, and Michael Chapman."

Anderson said they should not need to discuss the firefighter position in closed session, but the committee left it as listed on the agenda.

Any person to be discussed in closed session has the right to request that the matter be dealt with in open session, and Zahn did that.

After spending a few hours behind closed doors they returned to open session and called Zahn and the press back into the room. Sievert explained there were issues concerning the swimming program, and the fact that the bird house and bird feeder building programs on the summer recreation schedule had been cancelled. Also, Zahn had been asked to provide names and contact information for people he had contacted to serve as swim class instructors and he had not done that.

Zahn said he had looked for the certified swim instructor list and was unable to find it. As to canceling the birdhouse only three people signed up for the bird house/bird feeder class, and then one of them cancelled a week ago. "I didn't see it as a wise use of resources to run a class for two people," he declared.

Malke disagreed, stating she could see it as a "feeder" program, where people might enjoy it and talk others into taking the class the next time around. She also suggested they consider mixing senior citizens and older youngsters the next time around.

Zahn suggested setting a minimum number of participants below which a program would be cancelled.

The major issue involving Zahn appeared to be last minute cancellation of an 11 a.m. swimming class on its first day because there was no instructor available. It was on a day when Zahn was away from his office all morning fulfilling his duties as a Marinette County Supervisor. He had left instructions for his secretary to call the seven families involved and say there would be no class that day. There were 13 kids enrolled at $20 each for the series of lessons.

"When I came to my office on the day of the swim lessons I was met by one of the other employees who was so upset that she was going to quit," Malke declared. That was at 8:30 a.m. The secretary had not been given the message until Malke arrived. "Then we were brainstorming," Malke declared. "By 9:30 am. we had an instructor that came here at 10:30 am and was on the beach in time for the 11 a.m lesson."

Malke said she had called River Cities Pool and asked if they had been contacted for someone to teach, and apparently that had not happened. Malke had told the instructor she could keep the entire $20 per student fee for teaching the class. She said Zahn knew before he went to the County Board meeting that there was no instructor. She said his full time job is as Parks and Recreation director and she felt he should have fulfilled those responsibilities instead of leaving and putting the responsibility on someone else.

Sievert again asked Zahn who he had called to teach the class and again he said he did not keep his notes.

Sievert asked why he had waited until the last day to notify families that there was no instructor. Zahn said the person he expected to be the instructor had not returned his call.

"The majority of us feel if you're going to cancel something, you should give at least a couple of hours notice so families could change their plans," Schutte commented.

Zahn said he had wanted to try contacting other people that were licensed.

Sievert felt he should have called the families himself instead of going to County Board.

Zahn said he has a secretary who could make the calls.

"To me that's a dump and run," Malke declared. "She had her own work to do."

Kasal felt the big problem would have been if they couldn't get hold of the families.

Malke declared Zahn had shown a lack of respect for his secretary.

Discussion turned to how many County Board meetings Zahn has to attend each month, and the possibility of requiring him to take vacation time to attend. Zahn said he currently spends far more than 40 hours a week at his Parks and Recreation Director job without overtime pay, and perhaps would no longer do that.

There is generally one County Board meeting that lasts most of the morning on the final Tuesday of each month, and one committee meeting that lasts perhaps two to three hours a month.

"We need to set some guidelines so this doesn't happen again," Malke commented.

Behnke commented the program book was out in April, and wondered why it had taken so long to get a swimming instructor. He felt the class should at least have been cancelled by the preceding Friday.

Schutte felt his job with the city should be Zahn's first priority with County Board duties coming after his responsibilities were filled. She said if this were to happen again, "we would have to either set some new guidelines or decide on some other recourse."

"I am working with our attorney...This will be a written reprimand," Malke told him. She asked the committee to set policy at its next meeting.

Sievert commented that probably none of this would have happened if the swimming class had been scheduled on any other day.

Moving on, Behnke moved to recommend to Council that the city hire Richard Brandon Jr. as a firefighter, pending results of his physical, and that motion was approved without dissent.

Also approved was a motion to release Michael Chapman from employ with the City of Peshtigo Fire Department, and that motion also was approved without dissent.

To questions after the meeting committee members said there had been nine candidates for the police chief position and selecting the five applicants to interview had been a hard choice.

"We wanted to be sure we make a good choice this time, someone who will stay with the department," Malke remarked.

No other information was released about the closed session. The meeting had begun at 2 p.m. and adjourned shortly after 6:30 p.m.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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