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Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : news : news June 26, 2017

3/3/2017 7:29:00 AM
Investigation of Boulder Junction Town Board brought up at meeting
Town supervisor candidate reads a letter, town chairman makes a statement
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

Boulder Junction resident Barb Boston reads a letter she’d written pertaining to the investigation of the Boulder Junction town board at Tuesday’s meeting.
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

Boulder Junction resident Barb Boston reads a letter she’d written pertaining to the investigation of the Boulder Junction town board at Tuesday’s meeting.
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

Boulder Junction town chairman Dennis Reuss reads his statement concerning an article in the Feb. 17 edition of The Lakeland Times regarding an investigation request of the town board made by the newspaper’s publisher, Gregg Walker. Walker submitted that request to Vilas County district attorney Martha Milanowski.
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times

Boulder Junction town chairman Dennis Reuss reads his statement concerning an article in the Feb. 17 edition of The Lakeland Times regarding an investigation request of the town board made by the newspaper’s publisher, Gregg Walker. Walker submitted that request to Vilas County district attorney Martha Milanowski.

Brian Jopek
Reporter


No one has ever said there aren't plenty of good things to talk about in the town of Boulder Junction.

In fact, at Tuesday's meeting of the Boulder Junction town board, town clerk Kendra Moraczewski read a letter from Laura Sass regarding the town's amenities, namely its winter park.

"I am an annual resident that is very grateful to have a place I can take my kids, my friends and my visitors for a fun and free outdoor experience," Sass wrote.

However, along with the "positive vibes" in Boulder Junction, Tuesday's meeting, a brief one at roughly 30 minutes, also featured items of another sort.



'I'm sure there's some interest'

Included on Tuesday's meeting agenda was a statement read by town chairman Dennis Reuss regarding a front page article in the Feb. 17 edition of The Lakeland Times.

In the article, Richard Moore reported the newspaper had asked Vilas County attorney Martha Milanowski to investigate the Boulder Junction Town Board for open meetings complaints connected to what appears to be an improper payout of almost $9,000 in September 2016, to town clerk Kendra Moraczewski and another smaller payout to town employee Gary Jacobi in August.

"I'm sure there's some interest in the complaint filed by The Lakeland Times with the Vilas County district attorney," Reuss said. "The district attorney's office has referred the complaint to the Vilas County Sheriff's Department."

He said he's been in contact with Vilas County sheriff Joe Fath and expected to meet with Fath over the course of the next couple of days.

"Otherwise, there's nothing else to report," Reuss said. "I will keep the town apprised of any developments as I am able."

Reuss's statement, however, wasn't the only reference to the investigation at the meeting.



Boston's letter

Boulder Junction resident Barb Boston, one of four candidates for town supervisor in the town's April 4 election, read a letter in the public comment portion of the meeting a few minutes earlier.

The letter began with a reference to a Feb. 23 meeting of the town's road improvement committee.

"I am respectfully asking the following," Boston wrote. "Knowing that with a district attorney's investigation underway, as Mr. McGann pointed out at the roads improvement committee meeting last week, that you may be prohibited from providing any information tonight, and also not wishing to throw stones, or kick anyone when they are down - and acknowledging that hindsight is 20/20 - still, I would ask that at the earliest appropriate time, the following."

The first item Boston requested was town attorney Steve Garbowicz be invited to attend a town board meeting "that is noticed to provide information regarding the $8,700 cash payout of tax dollars that the board made to this clerk/treasurer (Moraczewski) in Sept. 2016."

"This meeting to be noticed to receive questions by the public," she wrote. "If legal-type questions are asked, Mr. Garbowicz can assist the board in answering. A few specific questions come to mind."

The first question Boston had was how and when would the $8,700 in taxpayer funds be recovered if it were to be deemed an inappropriate request for and illegal disbursement of taxpayer funds to Moraczewski.

"To avoid this type of incident in the future, what additional safeguards, besides just a town board vote, as happened in this case - will be put in place?" she asked. "Particularly with the inherent conflict of interest with this personal payout request, would it not have greatly helped the situation if the clerk would have asked for a review by the town's accounting firm prior to asking the board to consider her proposal? It just seems that since the clerk has frequent contact and communications with the town's accounting firm, that asking them to double-check eligibility based on the policy could have avoided this entire unfortunate incident and potential loss of taxpayer funds."

Boston's final question focused on preventative measures for the future.

"Lastly, and again, to avoid this type of incident in the future, would the board please consider examining 'best practices' for making motions?" she asked. "When I read in the minutes from the Sept. 8 special town board meeting that Mr. McGann's motion was 'To compensate clerk/treasurer for paid time off (sick/vacation) days earned, but not used as per policy' - that type of open-ended motion regarding a payout of tax dollars, with no set dollar amount - proved to be careless and ultimately dangerous. Here is why: If, in fact, the clerk, as asked to do by the open-ended motion, would have paid herself out according to the policy (as stated in the motion), she would have, in fact, made a payout of zero dollars to herself. That is what the policy provides. Instead, Mr. McGann left the motion up to this clerk's judgment and interpretation of the policy regarding a cash payout to herself - clearly a conflict of interest if we've ever seen one - which led to either an $8,700 'mistake' or worse."

Boston concluded her letter by saying she was not certain any law was broken with what she called a "blank check motion" made by McGann.

"But clearly and certainly it is not in the spirit of a 'best practice,'" she wrote. "Thank you for considering these questions and my request to invite the town attorney to help provide relevant answers regarding this unfortunate incident for Boulder Junction."

Since Boston read her letter in the public comment portion of the meeting, there was nothing said by any member of the town board or Moraczewski.



Possible 10 acre land purchase

Reuss informed the town board and those in attendance of correspondence he'd had with Pete Wolter of the Department of Natural Resources regarding the possible purchase by the town of just over 10 acres of land behind the community center.

"It's adjacent and butts up to the senior housing development," Reuss said. "It butts up to the back of our town shop and it runs down here just a little past the end of the community center. I contacted their office and told them we were interested."

He said he told Wolter the town would need an appraised value of the parcel "so this may be taken to the town board and the community."

If the land is purchased, the authorization to do so would have to come from the town's electors and is expected to be on the agenda for the town's annual meeting this spring.

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.



Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, March 5, 2017
Article comment by: Ed Osep

Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't a motion have to be seconded and voted on? Why no mention of that?



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