Court affidavits obtained in connection with last week’s dramatic execution of search warrants at Rhinelander City Hall show that a Price County investigator recommended felony charges last June against Rhinelander city administrator Daniel Guild, the target of the search warrants.
Despite that recommendation, and despite being asked to stand down by Oneida County district attorney Michael Schiek, the special prosecutor in the case, Forest County district attorney Charles Simono, informed Guild on Nov. 18 he would not be filing charges against Guild.
That was three days before the Oneida County sheriff’s office executed two search warrants in connection with altered emails and a missing personnel file, with Guild as the person of interest.
“Guild, the person of interest in reference to the search warrant, is reported to have committed various acts that could be determined to be misconduct in public office and tampering with a public document,” a motion to compel access to the city’s server and backup server stated. “As outlined in the search warrant, Guild has engaged in various acts including failure to release public records in response to requests by the media and law enforcement as well as altering email content to present it as the original.”
Schiek filed the motion to compel access, which was signed by Oneida County circuit judge Patrick O’Melia.
On Nov. 18, though, Simono had written to Guild, saying the alteration of emails he had first sent to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities (LWM) asking for advice about how to potentially remove a city council president did not “remotely give rise to any appearance to injure or defraud” because Simono considered the content of both messages to be the same.
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office and Schiek did not agree. Chief deputy Dan Hess issued a statement on Nov. 21 saying the sheriff’s office considered the investigation open and ongoing just as the search warrants at city hall were being executed.
Then, too, before that, Schiek had asked Simono to return the case to Schiek.
“On November 8, 2019, Oneida County district attorney Schiek contacted Forest County district attorney Simono by email and told Simono that Schiek had received additional information so Schiek was asking for the referral back so that Schiek could reevaluate it,” the affidavit for one of the search warrants states. “Schiek told Simono in the email that Schiek did not need Simono to provide a decision about the case.”
Before that, this past summer, investigator Robert Hawn of the Price County sheriff’s office, who had been assigned to assist the Oneida County sheriff’s office with the investigation, recommended felony charges against Guild.
“Investigator Hawn had recommended criminal charges of tampering with public records and notices be filed against Guild,” the search warrant affidavit states.
That investigation file was forwarded to Simono after Schiek requested that Simono serve as the special prosecutor in the case.
Miljevich: I won’t lie
On Nov. 6, according to the search warrant affidavit, Oneida County sheriff’s captain Terri Hook — who signed the affidavit — was assigned to review the case and request a warrant in connection with Hawn’s investigation.
Hawn’s investigation was prompted last March by a complaint from Gregg Walker, the publisher of The Northwoods River News and The Lakeland Times, based on reporting by Jamie Taylor, who uncovered through an open records request what appeared to be altered emails.
“Taylor reported during several open records requests, he received two documents that appear to be similar but not the same,” Hook wrote in the affidavit. “The emails have the same date and time on them, but not all the text is the same.”
During his investigation, Hawn interviewed then Rhinelander city attorney Carrie Miljevich, who reported an incident at a January city council meeting in which council president George Kirby refused to take his seat so he could question Guild as a citizen about the purchase of office furniture.
Miljevich told Hawn that mayor Chris Frederickson told Miljevich that a letter had been sent asking “Kirby to step down from the president’s position.”
In fact, the letter questioned Kirby’s leadership but did not specifically ask Kirby to step down. The letter was signed by Frederickson, and council members Ryan Rossing, Steve Sauer, Andrew Larson, and David Holt.
In any event, Miljevich told Hawn, she received an open records request from the media asking for the letter and questioning whether it constituted an open meetings violation. The Northwoods River News and The Lakeland Times has contended the writing of the letter represented an illegal walking quorum; the matter is now in circuit court.
Miljevich consulted Guild about the request, she told the investigator, and she said Guild told her to tell the media it was not an open meetings violation. Miljevich reported she told Guild she would not lie, according to the affidavit.
“Miljevich reported that Guild told Miljevich that her client was the city of Rhinelander and it was Miljevich’s job to protect the city of Rhinelander,” the affidavit states. “Miljevich reported that Miljevich would not lie and instead told the media that it was not her decision to determine whether or not it was an open meetings violation.”
The emails, the alterations, the timelines
In her interview with Hawn, Miljevich said she was not initially aware that Guild on Jan. 31 had emailed the LWM executive director, Jerry Deschane, with a copy to the league’s legal counsel, Claire Silverman, about how to remove a council president, but was made aware by Silverman during a later conversation about another matter.
Miljevich then requested the Jan. 31 email exchanges between Silverman and Guild, as well as responses back and forth, which Silverman sent to her on Feb. 5, the affidavit states.
In the original email to Deschane and Silverman, Guild implied that a collective effort was underway to determine how to remove a council president.
“On behalf of mayor Frederickson and members of the Rhinelander Common Council, we need to get some information quickly,” the email stated.
The email also emphasized what the goal was: “We are not looking to remove from elected office, just the council presidency. This matter is time sensitive for us. Can you help?”
In a separate email in the string, Guild thanks Silverman for her quick responses: “I know there are people here in Rhinelander who will appreciate being so promptly informed.”
After receiving the email string from Silverman on Feb. 5, the next day, on Feb. 6 at 11:40 p.m., Miljevich told Hawn, she received the email string again, this time from Guild.
That latter email from Guild was apparently prompted by a Feb. 6 email from Silverman to Guild at 5:13 p.m. informing Guild that Kirby was looking for the original email Guild had sent to Silverman and that she intended to send it to Kirby the next day.
“It has long been our practice to be open and transparent when dealing with officials from member municipalities,” Silverman wrote. “Since your email was a request on behalf of the mayor and the common council and George Kirby is a member of the council, I see no reason not to share your email with him. I intend to do so tomorrow morning unless you can explain why that would be inappropriate.”
In the 11:40 p.m. email back to Silverman that same night, Guild informed Silverman the matter was taken care of. He pointed out he was including the entire string of email correspondence he had with the League and also pointed out he was sending a copy of it all to Kirby, Frederickson, and Miljevich.
“We are all aware of recent contacts made between Rhinelander people and the League, which have been part of our conversations,” Guild wrote to Silverman. “As you can see, I have copied council president George Kirby, attorney Carrie Miljevich, and mayor Chris Frederickson in on this email. Everyone should have access to the string of emails, below, and additional correspondence going forward.”
From many to one
What Guild did not point out was the emails he was giving everybody access to were not the actual emails he had originally sent to Silverman but altered versions. In the altered emails, what was an effort apparently by multiple people to remove the council president became one by Guild alone.
Miljevich noticed the changes.
“Miljevich reported to investigator Hawn that the email from January 31, 2019, at 4:58 p.m. that was within the chain was missing words that had been in the original email,” the affidavit states. “Along with a few other words, the specific words that were missing were ‘he,’ ‘we,’ and ‘us.’”
In other words, the sentence that originally read “On behalf of mayor Frederickson and members of the Rhinelander Common Council, we (emphasis added) need to get some information quickly,” now read: “On behalf of mayor Frederickson and members of the Rhinelander Common Council, need to get some information quickly.”
And the sentence that read, “We are not looking to remove from elected office, just the council presidency. This matter is time sensitive for us. Can you help?” (emphases added) now read: “not looking to remove from elected office, just the council presidency. This matter is time sensitive. Can you help?”
As Miljevich also reported that she noticed, the separate email in which Guild wrote, “I know there are people here in Rhinelander who will appreciate (emphasis added) being so promptly informed,” now read: “I appreciate being so promptly informed.”
What also could not be seen in the altered email string sent to Silverman and copied to Kirby, Frederickson, and Miljevich was that he had blind copied the altered email string to Ryan Rossing, Steve Sauer, Andrew Larson, David Holt, Tom Kelly, and Sherrie Belliveau.
Rossing, Larson, Holt, and Sauer, along with Frederickson, were all co-signers of the letter at the heart of the walking quorum controversy.
Again, Miljevich picked up on it.
“Miljevich told investigator Hawn that she believed that Guild blind copied others when Guild sent out the altered email to Kirby and Miljevich,” the warrant affidavit states. “Miljevich reported that when Miljevich was reviewing documents for another open records request, Miljevich observed the altered email in Ryan Rossing’s documents. Miljevich reported that Miljevich had not seen Rossing’s name on the email string.”
That the altered email chain was in fact blind-copied was confirmed after a River News open records request on Feb. 6. Interestingly, the affidavit states, the altered email string was included as part of the document release, along with showing the recipients of the blind copies.
However, in a response to a Feb. 8 River News request for all emails between Guild, Frederickson, Miljevich, Kirby, and Silverman, Guild included only the original unaltered email to Silverman, the affidavit states.
“Guild did not include Silverman’s response, Guild’s response to Silverman, nor the string of emails between Guild and Silverman that were carbon copied to Frederickson, Miljevich, and Kirby, as well as blind copied to Rossing, Larson, Sauer, Holt, Kelly and Belliveau that contained the altered email and altered response,” the affidavit states. “These emails occurred within the scope of this request and were found among the responses from Miljevich and Kirby.”
That’s not all, folks
Nonetheless, the affidavit states, Guild told the River News he was releasing all he had, or all that he was aware of.
“I am not aware of any other related and relevant records being in my possession pertaining to this request,” he wrote, according to the affidavit.
On March 29, Hawn made his own open records request to Guild and to the Rhinelander city clerk, Valerie Foley. Foley filled her part of the request that day, Hawn reported, but Guild did not.
“Investigator Hawn left the open records request for city administrator Guild with Foley as investigator Hawn attempted to give it to Guild, but Guild was not in his office,” the warrant affidavit states. “Investigator Hawn also attempted to contact Guild by phone but Guild did not answer.”
More than two months later, on June 10, Hawn emailed Guild’s attorney wanting to know if Guild intended to fulfill the records request, the affidavit stated. On June 13, Guild’s attorney informed Hawn that Foley had already responded to the request, but nonetheless included an attachment from Guild with his response.
“In this attachment was only the original email and response to Silverman,” the affidavit states. “The altered email and altered response were not included in the documents provided by Guild through his attorney, (Kevin) St. John.”
In June, Hawn recommended criminal charges of tampering with public records and notices against Guild.
In the end, the Forest County district attorney both rejected that recommendation and Schiek’s plea to have the case back, instead saying he saw nothing Guild changed indicated it was done with the intent to injure or defraud.
Simono did tell Guild he should consider adopting some best practices.
“Please note that the changing of such emails, especially given your public position, is always suspect and opens the door to greater concerns regarding your conduct and the work within your office,” Simono wrote to Guild on Nov. 18. “I suggest you consult with your city attorney or your personal attorney on a best practice moving forward in regards to emails so that you may avoid such allegations in the future.”
Simono did acknowledge that Guild had refused to cooperate with law enforcement.
“Please note that your cooperation and participation in the investigation would have been helpful to expedite the entire matter,” he wrote. “Despite repeated efforts to communicate with you, their efforts to obtain your insight into the matter went unanswered.”
The second search warrant executed in last week’s raid of city hall was related to another complaint by the River News to the sheriff’s office, for the personnel file of former Rhinelander public works director Tim Kingman, which has gone missing.
The warrant sought all of Kingman’s disciplinary records and related documentation involving any investigations conducted between Jan. 1, 2017, and July 23, 2018, located within Kingman’s personnel file and those of certain other employees, as well as any emails and documents created or sent from Guild’s computer about Kingman or Kingman’s personnel file.
The newspaper had asked for Kingman’s disciplinary records on July 23, 2018. On Aug. 3, 2018, the newspaper received a response from the city saying that at least one document had been located that may be responsive to the request.
According to the warrant affidavit, city clerk Valerie Foley is the authority who receives records requests and forwards the requests to the appropriate person or department.
The information is sent to Foley, who delivers the information to the requester.
However, Foley told investigators, she did not currently receive all the requests.
“Foley said Foley has become aware that requests are being sent through the mayor or city administrator,” the affidavit states.
As for the Kingman request, Foley told investigators she would not be the one to fill the request because personnel records are locked in the city administrator’s office. What’s more, because there was no city administrator when the request was made, Foley told investigators, the request would have been sent to Miljevich.
Miljevich sent the first response, which indicated that at least one document may be responsive to the request, Foley said, according to the warrant affidavit. However, a year later, on Aug. 1, 2019, Guild sent reporter Jamie Taylor an email saying the city had not located any records responsive to the request.
“The response went on to further explain that the personnel file of Tim Kingman was inappropriately removed from the city’s files,” the affidavit states.
Foley also said she was not involved in the request as the city administrator was in possession of the personnel files.
For her part, Miljevich told investigators she had on occasion been part of a special committee to deal with personnel complaints when there was no city administrator, and during one of those times the committee had dealt with several incidents involving Kingman and other employees from Aug. 16, 2016, through February 2017 and from April 25, 2018, through September 2018.
“Miljevich said she believed there should be documents in all of these files involving investigations involving Kingman,” the affidavit states.
And Miljevich had turned over some documents to Guild, she told investigators.
“Miljevich said when Daniel Guild was hired as the city administrator there was still an open investigation into an issue between Kingman and (another employee),” the affidavit states. “Miljevich said Miljevich turned over all the information Miljevich had about the issue to Guild and Guild blind-copied Miljevich in on an email sent to [the other employee] explaining that Guild was now the ‘chief personnel officer’ and Guild would be dealing with the issues.”
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.