Last week, a special prosecutor named to investigate alleged open meetings violations by the Vilas County board chairman and four county supervisors announced there was not enough evidence to prosecute the case.
This week, board Chairman Steve Favorite issued a formal statement concerning the special prosecutor’s decision to not prosecute anyone and the decision by Sheriff Frank Tomlanovich to file the complaint over the allegations.
Tomlanovich stated, “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.”
Favorite called Tomlanovich’s allegations “inappropriate and without merit.”
In the news release sent out early this week by Favorite, he also said he was speaking only for himself and not as a representative of the finance committee or any other persons.
The decision not to prosecute was announced last week by Trempealeau County District Attorney Taavi McMahon who was named special prosecutor to investigate the complaint. Also accused of the alleged violations were supervisors Chris Mayer, Charles Rayala, Jim Behling and Linda Thorpe.
“I speculate that these erroneous open meeting accusations made against the finance committee and me could have been prompted by the budget amendments which adversely affected the sheriff department’s 2012 budget,” Favorite said in his statement.
Favorite disputes sheriff’s claim
Under Wisconsin’s Open Meeting’s law, a “meeting” means a gathering of a governmental body for the purpose of exercising the responsibilities and duties delegated to that body.
According to Favorite, “If one-half or more of the members are present, the meeting is rebuttably presumed to be for the purpose of exercising those responsibilities and duties.”
Favorite said in his statement, “the law requires that two things occur. First, there must be a meeting for a ‘purpose’ within the ‘jurisdiction’ of that body. Second, there must be a ‘gathering’ of enough members to affect an outcome. Neither of these two elements are present in the sheriff’s accusations.”
Tomlanovich accused the finance committee members of inappropriately meeting to amend the 2012 county budget proposal, but Favorite contends the county finance committee is not the governmental body that has the authority, power or duty to amend the proposed budget.
“Only the full county board, by majority vote, has the power or authority to amend the budget. The 2012 proposed budget was in fact amended, debated, and approved by the full county board in open session. The first element, ‘purpose,’ of the sheriff’s accusation has not been met.”
Favorite said Tomlanovich also accused the finance committee members of secretly meeting at unidentified times, and at unidentified places.
“The sheriff cannot identify when or where these meetings occurred, because, in fact, no gathering(s) ever took place. The sheriff bases his allegation of a meeting upon a conversation with me which he secretly recorded. During that conversation, I used the phrase, ‘we in finance.’ When I used this phrase, I was referring to the Vilas County Clerk, who was then the acting finance administrator, and myself. The sheriff failed to obtain clarification of my statement, and instead, assumed I was referring to the Vilas County Finance Committee. The second element, ‘gathering,’ of the sheriff’s accusation has not been met.
Sheriff fails to prove allegations
“Sheriff Tomlanovich has failed to prove that either element of an open meetings violation occurred, because neither element ever existed.”
According to Favorite’s statement, when the proposed 2012 budget was amended, and voted upon, at the Nov. 2011 county board meeting, several departments were affected, including the sheriff’s department.
“Decisions were made that were not easy for the county board of supervisors, especially those decisions impacting county employees. However, based upon the discussion on the county board floor and resulting votes, the majority of the county board believed that the changes were appropriate and necessary,” Favorite stated.
Favorite also criticized Tomlanovich for never talking to he or other members of the committee about his accusations.
“The sheriff did not present his claims or complaint to the people who he has accused. We have only learned of his activity through the media,” Favorite said.
Favorite said he now wants the county to put the dispute behind and move forward.
“As county board chair, I look forward to moving past these wrongful accusations made by Sheriff Tomlanovich, and welcome a productive working relationship with him in an effort to best serve the citizens of Vilas County,” Favorite said in his statement.
The Lakeland Times left a message for Sheriff Tomlanovich seeking comment for this story. He did not respond before this story went to press.”
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.