What Happens Next After Mayor Removal
OnFocus – Marshfield Common Council concluded a two-day public hearing with an 8-2 vote to remove Mayor Bob McManus from office. After a nearly two-hour deliberation in Closed Session Monday night, the Council reconvened for the vote, with Aldermen Feirer and Rosandich being the only ones voting for McManus to stay.
The hearing was held pursuant to Wisconsin State Statute Section 17.16(3) and concerned verified charges filed by citizen Andy Keogh (dated January 28, 2021) asking for the removal of the Mayor and stating reasons for removal.
Keogh’s complaint stems from an April 2020 open records request filed by Randy Gershman. Gershman’s open records request was sent to the City of Marshfield, requesting documents relating to the Mayor’s involvement with fire and EMS personnel staffing, negotiations between the City of Marshfield and Marshfield Medical Center, and a dispute between the City of Marshfield and the police union.
On August 6, Gershman filed a complaint after learning that there were records that had not been turned over during the initial open records request.
On August 12, Portage County Detective Sgt Jason Meidl was assigned to the investigation regarding possible misconduct in public office relating to an open records violation by the Mayor.
Throughout the course of the subsequent investigation, it was learned that text messages prior to July 22, 2020 had disappeared from McManus’ phone and that McManus had delayed handing over records to investigators.
Also according to the report, in March and April of 2020 Barg advised McManus in writing that all employees are “required by city policy to maintain these records, subject to review by management” and therefore “Bob knew then that he would be responsible for maintaining his text messages.”
McManus failed to provide text messages relating to the open records request, and according to Gershman, McManus lied to the city administrator Steve Barg and city attorney Harold Wolfgram when he stated that no text messages existed.
The City of Marshfield was later able to determine from phone records that McManus sent and/or received text messages during the time period prior to July 22. The City was also able to recover some messages from employees who were in communications with McManus.
During his testimony, Detective Meidl noted that the Portage County DA did not feel criminal charges were appropriate and forwarded the information to the Wood County DA for processing.
On December 9, Wood County DA Craig Lambert sent a letter to McManus’ legal counsel, stating that no legal action would be filed by his office.
The letter from Lambert to McManus’s counsel also stated: “This letter does not necessarily exonerate your client.”
After the report was made public and available, citizen Andy Keogh filed a complaint with Council President Tom Witzel asking for the removal of Mayor Bob McManus.
Earlier this year, Marshfield’s Common Council voted unanimously to hold a hearing to review the complaint and take action as necessary.
At the hearing, Dr. Keogh and Mayor McManus were provided the opportunity to be heard, including presenting witnesses and evidence, and cross-examining witnesses. The Common Council then had the opportunity to ask questions and call witnesses. The Common Council was permitted to convene into closed session under State Statute Section 19.85(a) and Section 19.85(g) of the Wisconsin Statutes.
Keogh began the hearing Friday night (March 19) by outlining the basis for his complaint, citing issues he had with the the mayor’s behavior since taking office. He noted the intentionality to delete text messages, avoid open records requests, and “his attempts to blame others for the missing records from his phone.”
“These are serious matters for the City of Marshfield,” he said. “I ask the Council to be rigorous and vigorous in questing the witnesses. You need to develop your own understanding of the issues.”
Opening Statements: http://www.onfocus.news/opening-statements-given-in-mayor-mcmanus-hearing/
After opening statements, Detective Meidl, City Administrator Steve Barg, Attorney Harold “Hap” Wolfgram, and citizen Randy Gershman gave testimony surrounding the “4 Corners” of the case.
The first witness called was Detective Meidl, who completed the investigation and subsequent report.
Next was Barg, who affirmed that he felt he was lied to by McManus during the course of the open records request and investigation.
Wolfgram also affirmed that McManus’ actions were worthy of his removal.
When the proceeding continued on Monday, Gershman, IT Director Eng Ng, IT staffer Matt Sutton, Barg, and McManus gave testimony.
Technology department staffers Ng and Sutton indicated during their testimony that deleting text messages is a multi-step process and not one that is done by accident.
In closing statements, Keogh reiterated that it was Mayor’s responsibility to preserve and protect records and that he had been told multiple times that this was his responsibility.
“As a consequence of removing the text messages the city is/was unable to comply with an open records request, which is a violation of state statute,” he said. “In spite of being told a number of times and having signed a letter that explains text messages are not archived…that in my mind passes credibility.”
“Trust. That’s a very important concept to me,” added Keogh, noting that “you can’t work with people you don’t trust….I believe that the lies [McManus] told make it impossible to work with the Mayor in the future because you can’t trust what he says.”
“It is adequate reason for removal,” added Keogh. “We don’t know what other lies he made in his time as mayor. It could be none. But lies are the destroyer of trust, how are the staff and the Common Council going to work with a man who has lied in meeting his responsibilities as mayor?… I take no pleasure from any of this. This is one of the more difficult things I have done in my 80 years. I made my complaint because I felt it important to hold the mayor to account for actions I feel to be wrong.”
Keogh noted that the process is critical and that he would trust whatever Council determined.
In his closing statements, McManus reiterated that there is friction between himself and the PFC and that the citizens are behind him “100%.”
“It’s been political from the word ‘go’,” he said. “And that is where people have trust.”
“There have been some serious mistakes made and people don’t like accountability,” he added. “We have found nothing different from where we started on Friday night.”
“There were some things that were perceived to be a lie. I appreciate [Barg’s] opinion and if the citizens really thought there was a lie, they would not be lining up to support me,” said McManus, adding that he feels his call for removal on behalf of missing records is a “charade.”
Prior to deliberation, Kalny outlined the complaint and what the Council members were to be deliberating over.
“The law says that it’s presumed that the people sitting here are going to follow their oath and vote in accordance only in what occurred at the hearing,” he said. “They are going to base their decision on that.”
He also explained bias:
“One of the things I want to make sure I ask everybody before we go into deliberation: Is there any member of the Common Council that has a conflict of interest or a bias that would not allow them to determine the facts of this matter based solely on the evidence and information induced at this hearing?” he said.
Kalny then explained cause and burden, noting that Council would need to review the complaint’s three points:
- Did Mayor McManus destroy records?
- Was the mayor in any way deceitful?
- Did he try to blame someone else?
He added that the Council must determine:
- Have these points been proved?
- Does it equal cause as defined in the statute: inefficiently, neglect of duty, official misconduct, malfeasance?
- If proved, is it efficient to remove McManus from office?
After deliberation, Council reconvened and in a motion read by Alderman Spiros, moved to remove the mayor. The Council voted 8-2 to remove the mayor.
As of Tuesday, Bob McManus is still the mayor of Marshfield and will be until the papers from the hearing have been certified.
At this time, it is unclear if the City will have a mayor on the April ballot or will appoint someone and have a special election in the fall primary.
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