6/5/2019 4:15:00 PM Public works director placed on paid administrative leave Mayor says move came at recommendation of legal counsel
Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer of the River News
City of Rhinelander public works director Tim Kingman was placed on paid administrative leave Monday at the direction of mayor Chris Frederickson, who said the action came at the suggestion of the outside law firm investigating employee complaints.
The action was confirmed in an email from city administrator Daniel Guild to area media outlets Tuesday morning. Kingman also confirmed the change in his status with the city.
In an interview Tuesday evening, Frederickson told the River News that James Macy, an attorney with the von Briesen law firm, made the recommendation Friday ahead of the delivery of reports on investigations he has been conducting that are expected to be presented to the Common Council June 10.
"There are four investigations that Jim Macy will report on," Frederickson said. "I did not receive the results. I asked him to give the council all the results at once. I didn't want to be privy to any part of this as far as having half the information, when to share it or how to share it."
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Kingman confirmed that he was called to City Hall Monday and informed by Frederickson that he was being placed on administrative leave. At this time, Kingman has chosen not to share the details of his conversation with Frederickson.
For his part, Frederickson said his job as mayor is to lead an investigation to ensure the city's human resources culture "was done well and done correctly."
"I reached out to Rick Hermus, who was on CVMIC's (Cities and Villages Mutual Insurance Company, the city's insurance company) board," Frederickson said. "For 30 years, he was the city administrator of Kimberly. When I approached him, he said we need legal counsel, and he said Von Briesen he has worked with in the past, we use Von Briesen."
(In a separate interview Tuesday, Guild addressed his use of the description "my trusted colleague" in reference to Hermus. Guild told the River News he knows Hermus professionally and by reputation, but has no personal relationship with him. He said the word choice, used in a March email sent from his city account, was meant as a compliment to Hermus).
As he has in the past, Frederickson reiterated Tuesday that using Von Briesen to conduct the investigation is an extension of an existing service agreement the city has with the firm.
"It's not a new contract, it's an extension of the services that we're using," Frederickson said.
(It should be noted that other council members strongly disagree as to whether the mayor's interpretation of the city's past relationship with von Briesen is accurate).
According to Frederickson, the main reason for using Von Briesen was "urgency."
"Somebody files a complaint or something has happened, they want urgency in how we react, yet you have no resources to react," Frederickson said. "I asked them if this fits into my capabilities (as mayor) or whatever, Von Briesen said 100 percent they believe it does. So I said, OK, investigate."
(It would appear this statement is a reference to complaints issued by public works employees who presented a signed statement to the city council earlier this spring alleging they have been subjected to a hostile work environment).
While he didn't want an advance look at the reports in their entirety, Frederickson said he did ask Macy if there was anything he needed to know on Friday that would require action before the council meeting.
"(Macy) suggested, for all parties involved - it wasn't disciplinary - that we put him (Kingman) on administrative leave," Frederickson said. "It was to protect Tim as much as protect any employees involved."
When asked if the leave could be considered a cooling-off period, Frederickson said "when (Macy is a) $275 an hour (attorney), I don't ask him a lot of questions."
"I asked him if this was his recommendation, and he said yes," the mayor added.
(The River News also asked both Frederickson and Guild if the decision to put Kingman on leave was the result of his participation, or lack thereof, in interviews Macy has been conducting associated with the investigation. Both men indicated that was not the reason Kingman was placed on leave. It should also be noted that it is unclear whether Kingman participated in those interviews and, if he chose not to, whether he was acting within his rights as an employee to not participate).
Frederickson said residents and businesses along the Stevens Street reconstruction project, and the community in general, should not be concerned about public works projects in Kingman's absence.
"In the field, at that point once a project starts, as far as I understand it and from what I've been told, there are just little adjustments that happen," he said, adding that the engineers and project managers are in charge at this stage. "They have the plan, and probably the skills to correct the plan."
These corrections come in the form of change orders that are brought before the full council for approval, he added.
"We have followed their plan beat for beat," Frederickson said. "I don't think we have ever denied a change order. Therefore, that doesn't change."
There are no current plans to name an interim public works director, Frederickson added, noting that street foreman Dan Hekrdle, water utility foreman Tom Roeser and wastewater utility foreman Brad Vick will share the additional duties for the time being.
"The plan currently is functioning as best we can with communication avenues and build upon it," Frederickson said. "When it goes before council, they can make a suggestion, they can make a motion on anything on there to solve the problem as they see fit."
While Kingman declined to share the details of his meeting with the mayor, he stressed that he sincerely believes he is being targeted because he chose to join four other city employees in openly questioning Guild's performance and abilities as city administrator.
Kingman and four other City Hall employees presented a declaration of no confidence in Guild during the March 11 City Council meeting. In addition to Kingman, the letter was signed by city clerk Val Foley, assistant clerk Mary Stoll, utility clerk Beth Mannikko and administrative assistant Stephanie Rajnicek.
Rajnicek resigned in late April, citing an "extreme amount of tension" in City Hall.
"In my opinion, it is very much about that," Kingman said.
(For the record, Frederickson and Guild have strenuously denied the move to put Kingman on leave was retaliatory in nature).
Council president George Kirby agreed with Kingman.
"I totally feel it is (retaliatory)," he said. "And this is something that the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is definitely going to have to look into. I believe the mayor and the city administrator both have retaliated against Tim by doing this and I feel the City of Rhinelander is going to pay deeply for this."
Kirby also shared his opinion that one month into the $18 million Stevens Street project is not the time to remove, even temporarily, the person who has been at the center of putting the project together.
"I feel it is a shame that the mayor and the city administrator have taken the responsibility to relieve Tim, because the impact this could have on the project could be devastating," Kirby said, noting that he doesn't believe Macy, Frederickson or Guild have the necessary knowledge or qualifications to properly oversee the project in Kingman's absence.
"The bottom line is, if Tim is more than suspended, this could be devastating to the City of Rhinelander," Kirby said. "The taxpayers are the ones that are going to suffer because of the actions of the mayor and city administrator."
Alderman Lee Emmer, who has extensive experience with construction projects and currently works as a client services manager for MSA, a civil engineering company in Rhinelander, said he is concerned about the timing of the mayor's decision and its potential impact on the Stevens Street project.
"I think this could definitely impact the project," Emmer said in an email to the River News. "Tim is probably the one City employee that has a good feel for how the many aspects of the project should come together. I think he has a clear vision of what the expectations from this project are and how they can be obtained. I think his interaction with the engineer and contractors is very good and he is respected. Tim is also the person that communicates project information to residents and the Council. Currently, with no Public Works Committee in place at the City, I am not sure who is providing oversight for the projects. I do not know if this situation will impact business/property owners negatively but I do know it is not a positive action as far as the project goes."
Alderperson Tom Kelly said he also believes the decision to put Kingman on leave was at least in part retaliation for Kingman's statement questioning Guild's performance as administrator.
"I think that (the no confidence declaration) is still weighing very heavily on Daniel Guild's mind," Kelly said. "It's not a healthy workplace at City Hall right now."
Kelly also joined Kirby and Emmer in questioning the timing of the mayor's decision with respect to ongoing public works projects.
"This is the absolute wrong time to do something like this, without thinking about it, and without having any backup plan and I'm sure that they don't have any backup plan," he said.
In an email to the River News, alderperson Dave Holt said he believes residents and businesses along Stevens Street have nothing to worry about with respect to the possibility that the project might be negatively affected by Kingman's absence.
"It is never an ideal time to face such situations, as there are always ongoing projects," he wrote. "I have full confidence in those doing the work to continue unhindered and hope others do as well."
The other members of the council did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the mayor's move and its potential impact on the Stevens Street project.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2019
Article comment by:
why hes getting paid yet fire him find someone else wth city council s a joke the entire town is a total wreak the main street also
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce