Vilas County supervisors Monday agreed to pay fired Vilas County Jail Administrator Tim Evenson $75,000 to end both his grievance and civil suit against the county and Sheriff Frank Tomlanovich.
The resolution to agree to the settlement, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, was approved by 17 supervisors while three voted against the proposed deal.
In his grievance and in the lawsuit, Evenson claimed Tomlanovich fired him in retaliation for his questioning of the hiring of Tomlanovich’s stepson, Chad Rosinski, to a position in the county jail despite Rosinski having a criminal record.
Supervisor Chuck Hayes was absent from Monday’s meeting. The supervisors who voted against the deal were Dennis Nielson, Mark Rogacki and Maynard Bedish.
After the meeting, county board chairman Steve Favorite said the board agreed to the settlement because it wanted to put the issue behind as it moves forward with other county business.
“The money will come from the county’s general fund because there is no insurance to cover this,” Favorite said.
Rogacki said after the meeting he voted against the settlement because he was “against the county just rolling over and not fighting the grievance and the lawsuit.”
“It’s my understanding we have a very good case and we could have beaten this,” Rogacki said. “Why we went straight to mediation without having a grievance hearing is something I just don’t understand.”
The county and Evenson were scheduled to hold the former jail administrator’s grievance hearing on Sept. 27, but instead held a mediation session which was conducted by former Vilas County Judge Tim Vocke.
According to the resolution approved by supervisors, in return for Evenson receiving the $75,000 payment, Evenson will release the county from all potential future claims in the matter.
In the document filed with the county appealing his firing, Evenson demanded he be reinstated to his former position and have any statement regarding his firing removed from his county personnel file. In addition he also was seeking, punitive damages as well as backpay, interest, restoration of all of his county benefits and reimbursement for his attorney’s fees and for the cost of his county benefits.
In his request for an appeal, Evenson repeated his attorney’s claim.
“Sheriff Tomlanovich’s decision to terminate me is nothing more than retaliation related to his stepson, Chad Rosinski.”
Rosinski had been convicted in 1997 in Vilas County on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, battery and fourth degree sexual assault.
The letter of termination sent by the sheriff to Evenson dated April 23, listed seven charges that Evenson was alleged to have committed in violation of department policy. But, at the administrative hearing Evenson’s attorney, Chris MacGillis, claimed his client was not provided with documents detailing the charges against Evenson.
The sheriff’s termination letter stated that Evenson was being fired for the following reasons:
• Untruthfulness in a verbal communication;
• Providing untruthful and misleading information in a written communication;
• Failing to seek an affirmative way to cooperate with the sheriff;
• Failure to obey verbal directives of the sheriff;
• Disabling equipment; and
• Unacceptable use of a county-owned computer.
In his letter of appeal, Evenson said he didn’t commit the acts or violations of department policy the sheriff claims.
Lawsuit filed Sept. 25
In his lawsuit filed against the county and Tomlanovich Sept. 25, Evenson again contended he was fired by the sheriff for his questioning of the hiring of Tomlanovich’s stepson, Chad Rosinski, despite the fact Rosinski had a criminal record.
According to the lawsuit, Evenson was concerned about hiring Rosinski after a background check had been conducted by another jail employee.
The lawsuit stated “Based on (the other jail employee’s) and Evenson’s additional independent research, Evenson was concerned that hiring Rosinski as a correctional officer compromised the integrity and safety of the Vilas County jail.”
Rosinski’s 1997 conviction was part of a plea bargain where the charges were reduced from more serious offenses.
The lawsuit further states: “Upon information and belief, Rosinski was not at the top of the eligibility list based on his test, interviews and other relevant submissions.”
Evenson also claims in the lawsuit that “Sheriff Tomlanovich threatened Evenson and made it clear that he did not want Evenson expressing any more concerns regarding the hiring of Rosinski.”
The suit also contended that, “In a meeting with Vilas County officials, Sheriff Tomlanovich represented that the Sheriff’s Office hired corrections officers with criminal history. Upon information and belief, no current jail staff in Vilas County has any criminal convictions, other than Rosinski.”
The lawsuit also contended that Evenson’s right of free speech had been violated by Tomlanovich’s firing of him.
Much of the circumstances in this matter may very well have started Friday, Jan. 11, 2011, when Evenson was stopped by Wisconsin Patrol Trooper for speeding on State Highway 45 while he was driving a Vilas County Sheriff’s Department vehicle. The state trooper gave Evenson a warning for the incident.
Evenson reported the incident to Chief Deputy Joe Fath and Sheriff Tomlanovich, the following Monday.
In documents released earlier to The Times, the sheriff began a narrative, which was part of the report on the internal investigation of Evenson. Tomlanovich provided details on how he’d received information on the speeding incident involving Evenson and the department vehicle.
He said after the November 2010 election, but prior to his taking office as sheriff, “I received complaints from various sheriff’s office personnel about Mr. Evenson using his home-based vehicle to transport one or more of his children to and from school, in violation of the Sheriff’s Office home-based vehicle policy.
“At approximately 2:55 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2011, I met with Mr. Evenson in his office at the Vilas County jail to discuss the above infractions.
“I instructed Mr. Evenson to be more cautious while operating a county vehicle and to pay closer attention to his speed. I also instructed him to not use the county vehicle to transport his children, except in an emergency situation.”
Tomlanovich’s narrative went on to say, “From Feb. 11, 2011, through the beginning of October 2011, I received sporadic, unverified complaints about Mr. Evenson’s driving habits while he was operating the county vehicle. However, none of those complaints was substantive enough to warrant investigation or action.”
The sheriff said on Oct. 3, 2011, he received another complaint about Evenson’s driving that concerned him.
He said a former Sheriff’s Office employee told him that he had observed Evenson pass a stopped unidentified vehicle on the road’s right shoulder. The former employee, according to Tomlanovich, said Evenson had to drive on the gravel shoulder to pass the vehicle that had stopped to make a left turn “which is an illegal passing maneuver.”
The sheriff provided a copy of a log he had written containing details of the complaint he had received from the former employee, but the name of the person reporting the information was blacked out to prevent that person’s identity from being revealed.
Tomlanovich further said that he received information Oct. 7, 2011, of an alleged incident a few days earlier where “Mr. Evenson’s white unmarked squad car was parked at the Log Cabin Tavern and Restaurant in Conover at approximately 5:30 p.m. The confidential source said the car was parked there for about two minutes. While the source of this information is confident that it was Mr. Evenson’s car that was seen at the Log Cabin, the driver of the vehicle was not identified, nor was it verified that it was in fact Mr. Evenson’s vehicle.
According to a copy of the log the sheriff retained concerning the complaint of the department vehicle parked at the Log Cabin and was released to the The Times earlier this week following an open records request: “Car was there for about two minutes — probably a pizza pick-up.”
“Given the complaint I had received about Mr. Evenson’s illegal passing, prior unsubstantiated complaints and my new concerns about the possibility he may be using a county vehicle for his personal use, on Dec. 2, 2011, I had a GPS tracking device installed on Mr. Evenson’s squad car.”
The GPS device was left on the vehicle through Dec. 14, 2011. According to the documents received by The Times, Evenson was never told about the use of the GPS device until his termination.
“Review of the (GPS) data shows that on Dec. 5, 2011, Mr. Evenson was southbound on Highway 45. At 7:20:09 a.m. his speed was recorded at 90 mph.”
Sheriff meets with Evenson
On Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, Tomlanovich said he met with Evenson and “confronted him with the information about his alleged speeding on Dec. 5, telling him it was ‘irrefutable ... and verifiable’.
“He [Evenson] was then untruthful in his response. He denied speeding several times and referred to the information as ‘fabrication.’”
According to a transcript of the Jan. 13, 2012, meeting between the sheriff and Evenson, the meeting began with discussion on the filling of two corrections officer positions at the jail.
One of the people hired was Chad Rosinski, Tomlanovich’s stepson. They talked about the hirings and related background checks.
Tomlanovich then asked Evenson what was going on regarding the background check.
Evenson: “I am regretting assigning him [a corrections officer] to do the background. He was concerned about something that was indicated at [private company] about Chad’s (Rosinski) background ...”
Sheriff: “I was ... have been getting some information that you’ve been pushing for somebody else.”
Evenson: “I haven’t been pushing for anybody else. There’s nobody else to push for. I don’t know anybody on that list.”
Sheriff: “Well, I hope that’s true. But we’ve got one other problem, I’ve talked to you twice about this in the past and it came up again. That damn squad car.”
Evenson: “What did I do?”
Sheriff: “Dec. 5, 2011, 90 miles per hour coming in to work.”
Evenson: “I did not. I did not. That is not true whatsoever. That is a complete fabrication, Frank. I don’t know where you got that information. After the incident with Denny I did not speed in that squad.”
After Tomlanovich and Evenson talked more and Evenson was instructed to leave the car at the department, they discussed the hiring of the sheriff’s step-son more.
Sheriff: “Now I don’t know if there’s a problem with you and Chad.”
Evenson: “I don’t have a problem with Chad.”
Sheriff: “I don’t want him treated any different than anybody else.
In the narrative, Tomlanovich further stated that on Feb. 10, 2012, he received a letter from Evenson which he sent by email and copied to Chief Deputy Joe Fath, Corporation Counsel Martha Milanowski and Robert Egan, the chairman at that time of the Vilas County Law Enforcement Committee.
Tomlanovich said that in the letter Evenson expressed concerns over the issues discussed with the sheriff Jan. 13, 2012, after that date until Feb. 10, 2012, “Evenson did not request to speak to me or make any attempts to discuss the matter further with me.”
Tomlanovich said that Evenson, in his Feb. 10 letter, made an “untruthful statement a total of three times.
Tomlanovich said in the narrative, “I never said he was traveling in excess of 90 mph, and I never said anything about his being late for work.”
“By misstating the facts in his letter Mr. Evenson provided untruthful and misleading information.
“By not coming to me directly with his concerns Mr. Evenson failed to seek an affirmative way to establish and maintain a friendly working relationship between us ... By providing his letter to people outside of the sheriff’s office, Mr. Evenson has attempted to circumvent my authority. His words and actions are discourteous and disrespectful of a person holding a higher level of authority.
Equipment related charges
After the March 12, 2012, meeting in which he was told he was being placed on administrative leave, Evenson also had a meeting that same day with some other department members to go over matters they needed to know about before Evenson left for his ordered leave.
In his notice of termination, Evenson was also accused of improperly ending service on his department-owned cellular telephone during a five minute break during the meeting with other department members. He said he needed the break so he could use a restroom.
Tomlanovich said that after Evenson left the building he was given Evenson’s cell phone and when he turned it on “I discovered the cell phone had been deactivated. Upon deactivation, all information contained within the cell phone is purged. During the administrative review, Mr. Evenson admitted to deactivating the cell phone because it was linked to his personal Gmail account and contained personal financial information.”
The termination letter also stated that Evenson had violated the county’s technology policy. After Evenson turned in his county-owned laptop computer it was discovered Evenson had downloaded an unauthorized application, — a search engine called “Google Chrome Portable.”
Evenson said he installed the Google search engine because the search engine used by the county, Internet Explorer “was garbage.”
Vilas County is being represented in the matter by the legal firm of Phillips and Borowski of Mequon.
Evenson began working with the Vilas County Sheriff’s Department in 1994. In 2002, he was promoted to jail administrator and had been in that capacity until his termination. He has also served as a coordinator and instructor for an annual basic jail officer academy which is held at the department in partnership with Nicolet Technical College.
Evenson has new job
Despite the turmoil surrounding Evenson and the charges brought against him by the county sheriff, Evenson began working June 4 in Sawyer County in the same type of position from which he was fired from in Vilas County by Tomlanovich.
Sawyer County Chief Deputy Brigette Kornbroke said they had no qualms about hiring Evenson to be that county’s jail administrator despite the controversy following him from Vilas County.
“He comes to us as a highly respected jail administrator,” Kornbroke said. “And that was the same opinion that was shared by everyone we talked to about him when we discussed his being hired here.”
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.