/ Articles / Guild on paid leave until March 30
The Rhinelander Common Council voted unanimously on Friday, March 13, to place city administrator Daniel Guild on paid administration leave through March 30.
Guild, 40, is facing a single felony count of misconduct in public office/failure to perform a specific duty, according to a criminal complaint filed in Oneida County Circuit Court March 9. A preliminary hearing in the case, which involves allegations Guild hid certain records requested by The Lakeland Times’ sister paper the River News and altered an official email, is set for March 30.
The vote to place Guild on leave took place following a two-hour closed session discussion that did not include input from alderpersons George Kirby and Dawn Rog. The two alderpersons, who have been absent for all council meetings in 2020 due to travel in the western part of the country, and who are scheduled to step down from office next month, requested to appear by phone but were denied.
“We had no idea that Daniel Guild would be arrested ... and that a special meeting of this magnitude would be called while we are away,” the two wrote in a press release issued early last Friday. “We want to represent Districts 1 and 5 and allow our constituents to be heard.”
The release also noted the council recently changed its rules to disallow call-in participation.
“Like many residents of the City of Rhinelander and of the Northwoods of Wisconsin, we have been snowbirds for several years,” the release states. “Historically, we have been able to participate and vote on critical matters over the winter months when we were out of town. In fact, the ability to call in to meetings was a factor in our desire to run for office again, as it would allow our constituents to be represented without disrupting our customary lifestyles. However, in the fall of 2019, a new rule was made by City Council to prohibit phone appearances. While we could discuss the merit and intent behind this new rule, we choose not to. We could also discuss the merit of implementing a new rule mid-term, and how new rules like this can disenfranchise voters in our district, but we choose not to. We note this change was advocated by both Alderperson Steve Sauer and David Holt.”
Finally, the absent alderpersons stated the ongoing coronavirus pandemic inhibited their ability to return to Rhinelander for the meeting.
“We have both attempted to get back to Rhinelander for this historic meeting, but with the COVID-19 outbreak, it is has made it impossible,” the release states. “We have both been in the western part of the United States where the outbreak is prevalent and are concerned about the health and safety of Rhinelander residents. It only makes sense to appear by phone for a variety of reasons.”
During discussion last Friday on a requests from alderman Lee Emmer to temporarily suspend the call-in prohibition, Sauer and others renewed their objections to allowing alderpersons to appear by phone.
Sauer was especially concerned about what he referred to as a “security issue.”
“(There are security issues) especially when we have a closed session and especially when we’re talking about someone’s career and we’re getting legal advice,” Sauer said. “We have no idea who is on the other end of that line as we sit here and partake in a phone call.”
Earlier, during public comment, Sauer’s wife, Erica, noted her family has made many schedule modifications over the last eight years so Steve could attend meetings.
Alderman Ryan Rossing agreed with Sauer regarding the potential security issue.
“I’m not saying that they would do that (allow others to listen in on the closed session) but we don’t know,” he said.
Later, he noted Rog and Kirby had several days notice of the Friday special meeting and could have made arrangements to return.
While several references were made to Rog and Kirby’s pattern of absences throughout 2020, none of the speakers made reference to the ongoing pandemic and its impact on travel.
The vote to allow Rog and Kirby to call in to the meeting failed on a 2-4 vote. Emmer and Tom Kelly voted in favor while Sauer, Holt, Rossing and Larson voted against.
Next, the council discussed whether to adjourn into closed session.
Emmer noted the accusations against Guild are public knowledge and questioned the need for a closed hearing.
“First of all I want to state we are not compelled to go into closed session,” he said. “I think everyone here is aware of the charge against Daniel Guild so I don’t see how anything we can do can have an adverse affect on him and I believe the public deserves to hear what is going on about this.”
Alderman Tom Kelly agreed with Emmer the discussion could be held in open session for the benefit of the public.
Holt joined Sauer in opposing the idea of an open session discussion.
“I think it’s a terrible idea to try to have this discussion in a public forum,” he said, adding he believes some in the community are attempting to “make this as much of a spectacle as possible.”
When asked for his input, city attorney Steve Sorenson explained he could not discuss legal strategy in public.
“There are strategies that I have to talk about with you all that frankly, you should want to have kept quiet, because you may disagree with me and that kind of a legal discussion does not belong in an open meeting,” he said.
The vote to go into closed session was 4-2, with the same breakdown as the earlier vote.
After two hours behind closed doors, the council emerged. Holt made a motion to place Guild on leave through March 30. Sauer seconded the motion and it passed on a voice vote.
After the group adjourned, Mayor Chris Frederickson told the assembled media the council will likely move its regularly scheduled March 23 meeting to the 30th.
“This basically gives time for some parts of judicial system to move forward to the next level,” he said, referring to the decision to put place Guild on leave through March 30. Depending on court developments, further action could take place during the March 30 meeting, he said.
Guild remains free on a $500 signature bond.
Misconduct in office is a class I felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and six months and/or fine up to $10,000.