Is it a personality clash, a major difference of opinion over Vilas County operations, or something else?
It’s anybody’s guess, but the apparent tensions between Vilas County Board Chairman Steve Favorite and Sheriff Frank Tomlanovich have reached the point where Favorite recently requested discussion be placed on the county’s law enforcement and emergency management committee’s Nov. 29 agenda about an alleged threat made by a sheriff’s department employee against Favorite in the fall of 2011.
Favorite had claimed when he made the agenda request, and in a letter to Tomlanovich dated Sept. 28, 2012, that as of that date he had received no information or response from the sheriff since he initially filed the complaint over the alleged threat.
“This letter follows a complaint I filed with you on Nov. 29, 2011, at 8:15 a.m. pertaining to threats from your department directed at me through my family. As of today I have had no response from you in writing or by verbal communication. I was very concerned about this threat and requested an explanation from you and you were going to look into it. As you may recall the most disturbing portion of the complaint stated:
“Just telling you, he should be careful because they are really mad and if they have a chance....they will get him.”
Favorite’s letter to the sheriff concluded by saying, “I am very concerned about this issue and therefore I am requesting a formal response pertaining to the threats including an apology.”
Favorite’s wife, Marge Favorite, is a law enforcement clerk in Tomlanovich’s department. The alleged threat against the county board chairman was made through her in a conversation with another department employee while at work.
Sheriff finally responds
After Favorite made public his request and his concerns with the sheriff’s lack of response to his 2011 complaint, Tomlanovich finally responded.
In a letter dated Nov. 15, 2012, the sheriff said he had investigated Favorite’s complaint and he didn’t believe the matter required any further action.
Tomlanovich stated in the letter that in order to address the issue “we must put the circumstances in their proper perspective.
“The passage of Acts 10 and 32 gave way to a very emotionally charged time and completely changed the relationship between public employees and their employers. Add to that local rumors of staffing cuts, wage freezes and or cuts, cuts in other benefits and then the recent notification to the sworn staff that their insurance deductibles were being increased by 500 percent (from $800 to $4,000, all of which contributed to circumstances that were certain to lead to confrontation of some sort.”
“That confrontation came on the night of a wedding reception held in St. Germain ... Most if not all of the people attending were consuming alcohol, including you and Marge. Almost immediately afterward I began to hear stories about the verbal harangue you and Marge were subjected to at the reception. Among those who told me about what had occurred was (Detective) Dave Dobbs. While he regretted what had taken place, at the time of the reception, he was not in a position to stop it.”
Conversation central to complaint
The sheriff went on to further say in his response letter to Favorite he was given a copy of a report which detailed a conversation between Marge Favorite and Dobbs which took place on Nov. 16, 2011. The sheriff said that was the conversation Favorite had claimed was threatening in nature.
The report of the conversation which happened while Marge Favorite and Dobbs were on duty at the sheriff’s department stated:
David: “Hey, did you pay for the Christmas party yet?”
Marge: “No, not yet.”
David: “Well, you probably shouldn’t.”
Davide: “You probably don’t want to be there after the wedding party. If you thought the wedding was bad, well ... people are really mad and it’s really not you.”
Marge: “Really. Wow.”
David: “It’s not you that’s the problem, but ...”
Marge: “Well guess what, David, if you or they have a problem with my husband, it’s my problem, too, and we don’t need to be at a party.”
David: “Just telling you, he should be careful because they are really mad and if they have a chance ... they will get him.”
“I reviewed that document closedly and don’t see where Dobbs made any threats to you or Marge,” Tomlanovich said in his response letter. “It appears to me he was simply offering some cautionary advice from one friend to another, in an attempt to prevent any further confrontation.”
Tomlanovich said he later talked with Dobbs and “he confirmed what I perceived – he wasn’t making a threat but rather cautioning a friend in an attempt to avert any future potential problems or embarrassment.”
Tomlanovich went on to say that “Subsequent events have borne out the veracity of what he told me.
“Since the complaint was filed I have personally observed Dave and Marge, on a multitude of occasions, interacting very amicably in the workplace. I am also aware of the fact that Dave’s son worked for you during most of the summer of 2012. These are hardly the actions of someone leveling a threat against another.”
In the response letter Tomlanovich offers no explanation or apology over why he waited so long to provide Favorite with a response to his complaint.
The sheriff and the county board chairman have also been at loggerheads over the last several weeks regarding other issues.
Favorite recently accused Tomlanovich of overstepping his authority and “interfering with the legislative process” when the sheriff refused to have one of his staff members post a notice for a proposed Nov. 8 meeting of the Vilas County Law Enforcement and Emergency Management Committee.
The only item on the agenda for that meeting was consideration of an ordinance to create a county civil service commission that would strip Tomlanovich of much of his power and influence in hiring employees for the sheriff’s department and the jail. The county board passed the ordinance Nov. 13.
Some county board members have acknowledged the creation of the civil service commission was in direct response to the county’s recent $75,000 settlement of a lawsuit by former county jail administrator Tim Evenson who claimed he was fired from that post earlier this year after he raised questions about the hiring of Tomlanovich’s stepson as a jail employee.
According to Vilas County Clerk Dave Alleman, committee chairman and supervisor Mark Rogacki was out of the country for the Nov. 8 meeting and normally the meeting is posted by an employee of the sheriff’s department.
“I was asked to post the meeting after the sheriff canceled it,” Alleman said. “The sheriff overstepped his authority in canceling the meeting. I gave him the opportunity to post the meeting but he declined.”
Alleman said Tomlanovich told him the meeting wasn’t needed and it should be canceled because Rogacki was out of the country.
“This is a legislative issue and the sheriff has no power to cancel a county board committee meeting. The county board chairman and the committee’s vice chairman both said the meeting needed to be posted so it could be held,” Alleman said. “I told him [the sheriff] I’d rather he posted the meeting, but he refused, so I did it.”
Alleman said it’s also not normal to cancel a committee meeting merely because the committee’s chairman can’t attend.
“That’s why they have committee vice chairmen,” Alleman said.
In a letter written by Tomlanovich to committee vice chairman Al Bauman regarding the posting conflict and his reasons for opposing the civil service commission, the sheriff said he didn’t believe the commission was needed. He said supervisors “would be remiss in their duties and ill advised” to adopt the commission ordinance at that time.
Favorite, however, doesn’t agree with the sheriff’s take on the issue.
“He took it upon himself on the Friday before the Nov. 8 meeting to have his personnel contact members of the committee to tell them the meeting was canceled,” Favorite said. “It’s clear the sheriff has no authority to cancel the committee meeting.”
Favorite contacts Rogacki
Favorite also sent a communication dated Nov. 7, 2012, to Rogacki explaining why he still wanted the Nov. 8 meeting to be held as scheduled. He said Bauman had told him (Favorite) on Oct. 27, that he (Rogacki) did indeed want the meeting to be held Nov. 8.
“With no scheduled county board meeting in December, it makes no sense to delay the personnel committee’s ordinance request until January. If you want to be heard, you could share your viewpoints with the vice chair. This is consistent with past practice where in the event the sheriff cannot attend a meeting, he can share his viewpoints with his chief deputy. Upon your return to Vilas County, I would appreciate a thorough explanation as to why you instructed vice chairman Al Bauman to run the meeting on Nov. 8 and now you apparently have changed your mind,” Favorite said in the communication to Rogacki.
Sheriff’s open meeting complaint
To add further to all of the “issues” between the sheriff and the county board chairman is an open meetings complaint filed by Tomlanovich.
In the complaint, Tomlanovich accuses Favorite and four other members of the county board of allegedly violating the state’s open meetings law in 2011 while making decisions on the county’s 2012 budget.
Tomlanovich had contacted Vilas County District Attorney Al Moustakis who he says never took action on the matter. Because he had received no response from Moustakis on his complaint, Tomlanovich said he then wrote a letter on June 1 requesting the state attorney general’s office investigate the matter.
The AG’s office responded by saying it would be better for the county district attorney handle the case. Moustakis then turned the case over to a special prosecutor – Trempealeau County District Attorney Taavi McMahon.
In the investigative report conducted and provided by the sheriff’s department that listed details of the alleged violation, Tomlanovich claimed:
“Between Oct. 18, 2011, and Nov. 8, 2011, members of the finance and budget committee of the Vilas County board of Supervisors held one or more illegal meetings for the purpose of formulating a plan, and an agenda, to amend Vilas County’s preliminary 2012 budget.”
The preliminary budget had been prepared by the committee during a two-day meeting held in open session Oct. 17 and 18 in 2011. The preliminary budget was to be presented to the full county board at its meeting Nov. 8, 2011.
No other posted meetings of the committee were held before the county board’s budget meeting.
Tomlanovich said that at the Nov. 8 meeting: “It was readily apparent that the members of the finance and budget committee had made numerous amendments to the proposed budget that was prepared during the Oct. 17 and 18 meeting. From the reaction of the other board members it was equally apparent that none of the affected committee chairpersons were consulted about these amendments.”
During his investigation of the open meeting’s case Tomlanovich also held a conservation in his office with Favorite which he recorded secretly and without the board chairman’s knowledge.
Repeated phone calls to McMahon’s office seeking an update on the investigation have not been returned.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.