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Peshtigo Ethics Committee Proceeds with Investigation

Issue Date: June 24, 2021

At the end of a long-closed session discussion on Tuesday, June 22, the City of Peshtigo's Ethics Committee returned briefly to open session to approve a motion "authorizing Committee Chair Mike Behnke to work with the City Attorney to confirm procedure for preliminary investigation as discussed in closed session." No information was provided as to what issue or issues were discussed, or who may or may not have been involved, or what is being investigated.

The meeting had begun at 1 p.m. and adjournment came at approximately 4:30 p.m. it was held in the City Council Chambers at the Municipal Building.

Ethics Committee members are Peshtigo Fire Chief Charles Gardon, Fred Meintz, Barbara Bauman, Gerald Valley, Mary Seidl, Michael Behnke, and Alderman Brigitte Schmidt. All were present except Schmidt, who had a prior engagement and arrived while the meeting was in progress but did not go into the meeting room. Gardon had to leave shortly before the marathon closed session ended. Also on hand were Mayor Cathi Malke and Alderman Richard Berth. Berth was asked to leave the Council Chambers when the closed session began, but apparently was called back in during the session, and was visibly upset when he left. He did not comment.

Several other aldermen had apparently been asked to be on hand, and may or may not have been called into the meeting.

It was the first meeting of the Ethics Committee since 2014, and the meeting was called to order by Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal. Election of a chair and vice chair were the first items on the agenda. By unanimous vote, with Behnke abstaining, Behnke was elected chair. He then took over as chair and asked for nominees for vice chair. Seidl was elected by unanimous vote.

Kasal explained members of the committee are selected by the Mayor and approved by City Council. She said she had done some research, but not much information was available. City Attorney David Spangenberg had helped her fill out the meeting agenda.

The only agenda items listed other than reorganization of the board and election of officers were:

"If an Advisory Opinion is sought by Complainant:

ř. Move into Closed Session per WI S.S. 19.85 (1)(c): Considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility and act on the following:

"A. Advisory Opinion sought on applicability of Ethics Code to conduct of public official(s)

"OR

"If a Hearing to determine an Ethics violation is requested, then consider going into closed session as above or stay in open session to act on the following:

"A. Conduct Hearing on the Complaint concerning potential ethics violations of public official(s),

Ś. Reconvene into Open Session for any action as a result of any Closed Session," and finally, adjournment.

While still in open session, Behnke commented that not knowing he would be chairman, he had not talked with the city attorney prior to the meeting, and had not put much thought into how it would be conducted. "I didn't know... We weren't told... what was expected of us."

Behnke said in his past experience, when the subject was complaints involving employees, "the subject of the complaint had the option of requesting that proceedings be held in open session. He said they usually wanted it closed, because it might include confidential information."

Kasal handed Ethics Board members what she described as "a confidential memo."

Meintz commented since they had no idea what was going on, they should start in closed session. Kasal agreed, and suggested if the person involved then wanted the discussion in open session, they could re-open the meeting.

With that, Behnke called for a motion to go into closed session, and it was unanimously approved.

Malke asked Berth to step out of the room, and he objected. Malke said Alderman Debbie Sievert would also be asked to step out, and Berth said he would go out the same door she did. Malke stayed in the room. Alderman Debbie Sievert was in the clerk's office, but not in the Council Chambers, and Alderman John Berendt also came into the building. He said he had been asked to be there at 2 p.m., but was not certain why. Whether or not they were called into the closed session was not observed by the reporter. Berth was seen in the Council Chambers at about 3:15 p.m. and left at about 3:30. Malke left at about 3:45 p.m.

Schmidt was in the hallway for about an hour, and said she chose not to go into the meeting late and put the rest of the committee in a position of having to explain everything to her before proceeding.

In the brief open session at the end of the meeting, votes in favor of the motion "authorizing Committee Chair Mike Behnke to work with the City Attorney to confirm procedure for preliminary investigation as discussed in closed session" were cast by Meintz, Bauman, Valley, Seidl and Behnke.


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