OnFocus – Several citizens addressed the Common Council at Tuesday’s meeting, opening a discussion on several topics including Police Chief Rick Gramza’s voluntary leave, lack of City communication, and ongoing legal issues.
During Citizen Comments, police officers and citizens spoke about the firing of Officer Jared Beauchamp, questioned the legality of Marshfield Police Department’s job functions test, questioned the City’s ongoing legal costs, and called out the lack of communication from the Mayor, City Administrator, and leadership.
Retired Marshfield Police Officer Steve Leu voiced concerns over the direction of the police department.
“We have a Chief under investigation, not once but twice, now on extended leave,” he said. “With all of this going on in the department, one would think more information would be forthcoming. Not according to the minutes or duration of Police & Fire Commission meetings.”
Jim Hiller then addressed the Council, stating, “City politics is a wreck…the mayor is being investigated, as is the police chief, and hopefully the Police & Fire Commission will be investigated, too.”
“Where does it end?” he repeatedly asked. “We have an entire City government refusing to be transparent concerning our police department.”
Citizens Becky Huebner-Leu and Paul Helgerson questioned the job functions test, with Helgerson highlighting specifically the firing of Officer Beauchamp.
City Administrator Steve Barg responded and briefly addressed Chief Rick Gramza’s leave.
“I recognize that two months have passed, said Barg, adding that he “totally understands, respects, and appreciates” the public interest in the case.
He added that due to the highly sensitive manner of the case, the City is not able to provide certain information to the public due to the legal advice given.
“I respectfully request your continued patience with this process as it goes on and we will provide more information when we are able to do so,“ said Barg.
”We spend a lot of money on legal costs,” said Mayor Bob McManus. “We have to listen to what they tell us.”
During Council Comments, Alder Tom Buttke questioned the City’s ongoing legal costs, requesting a different law firm be considered.
Alder Rebecca Spiros highlighted comments made by citizen Jim Hiller and Bob McManus debunking statements made about the “15-minute” duration of Police and Fire Commission meetings. She then listed the duration of all recent meetings, all of which were longer than 15 minutes.
“I want to thank you all tonight but I do have a couple of follow-ups. I have concerns about some things that were said [in public comments] tonight,” said Spiros. “I have a Facebook. I watch social media and I’ve seen the repeated articles and comments and I just have a follow-up on something that has been said recently.This goes basically towards you, JD. You had put a post out on October 6, and in the post you reiterated – not once, not twice, not three times, but four times – that the Police and Fire Commission Meetings are only 15 minutes long and you questioned how they got anything done in that time frame. I felt like that was an easy thing for me to go back and look at, to see. I was curious because I’ve watched their meetings…”
“I did go through and I looked and I went back to the beginning of the year,” continued Spiros. “They did hold a meeting on January 15 and that meeting was 1 hour and 3 minutes. On February 13, their meeting was 42 minutes. On March 11, their meeting was 1 hour and 3 minutes. They did not have a meeting in April, which I assume was due to COVID. On May 13, their meeting was 1 hour and 9 minutes. On June 10, their meeting was 1 hour and 5 minutes. On July 22, their meeting was 51 minutes. On August 12, their meeting was 17 minutes so I did look look at their agenda to see what was on it. There were three things on it…On September 9, their meeting was 44 minutes. So I’m just very curious because I’ve also heard this 15 minutes from the Mayor. He was also saying their meetings are just 15 minutes, so I’m curious where you got that number…I understand your frustrations, I get it. But when I read something I want to check to make sure it’s accurate. Things can be said in jest and I’m not sure if that’s what this situation was… but I also feel like if you’re going to continue to put out information and have a credible argument, then the facts should be correct…that was a just one thing…In these heightened times, stressful times, when I read something, I prefer it to be accurate.”
Alder Ken Bargender addressed Gramza’s leave. ”Rick Gramza, like any American citizen, deserves due process,” he said.
During Committee Comments, Police and Fire Commission Mike Meyers spoke addressing allegations that PFC was not being transparent.
“The Police & Fire Commission is not involved at the advice of legal counsel,” said Meyers. “When PFC has something to address, the PFC will meet its obligations in taking care of business.”
“When the day comes that we can act on this, we will certainly bring it to closure,” Meyers later added.
Barg then provided an update on other topics, circling back to his original subject of transparency.
“I believe wholeheartedly in transparency,” Barg said. “We want a resolution that’s worked out, a good investigation, thoroughness, we also want them to get this right. I ask for your indulgence even though it seems like a long road.”
Editor’s Note: Updated 10/14 to include further Citizen and Council comments after meeting posted. Watch the full meeting at the link above.
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