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November 21, 2019

10/19/2019 7:30:00 AM
Sauer won't run for third term on common council
Alderman shares thoughts on ethics, council authority

Heather Schaefer
Associate Editor

Rhinelander alderman Steve Sauer is planning to end his stint on the Common Council in the spring of 2020.

Sauer, who represents District 7, which includes city wards 11 and 12, made the announcement during the public comment portion of Monday's council meeting.

"As some of you may already know, I do not plan on running for a third term representing District 7 on the Rhinelander Common Council," Sauer said, speaking from the podium rather than his chair.

Sauer went on to share observations he has made over his years on the council.

"With almost 8 years of experience as part of this governing body, I have decided to take these last few months to share some observations and voice my concerns facing this council which directly affect the city of Rhinelander as a whole," he explained. "For the sake of time I'm choosing to address one or two issues at our meetings going forward. I'll begin with what I consider to be the most detrimental I see facing the city council and the city itself. This is something I've seen throughout my tenure on council. It's an idea I like to call "perceived power." I see perceived power as the idea that any one alderperson has any power to speak for the council, to speak for the city or give the staff direction as their superior."

He then referenced a recent article in Municipality magazine, authored by a League of Wisconsin Municipalities attorney, that describes the role of a municipal alderperson.

According to the article, alderpersons do not have authority in their individual capacities. Rather, the council holds its authority collectively as a group.

Individual alderpersons also do not have superior supervisory authority over municipal employees and should refrain from directing municipal staff, Sauer continued, quoting the magazine article. He then went on to allege that he has observed a number of instances over the years where committee chairpersons have acted as a direct supervisor of their department of jurisdiction. He also said alderpersons have, at times, involved themselves in human resources issues.

Sauer went on to allege that alderpersons have kept "sensitive" personnel records, attempted to intimidate members of the business community using their "authority" as alderpersons and directed employees to complete tasks at their own home.

Sauer did not mention any names during this portion of his remarks nor did he offer any evidence to back up his claims.

The veteran alderman has seen his own behavior questioned on occasion over the years. He is one of four council members named in a pending lawsuit filed by River News general manager Heather Holmes regarding an alleged walking quorum. He and the other alderpersons named in the lawsuit have strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Sauer was also the subject of an ethics complaint and an open records complaint back in 2016, after he and another alderman, who no longer serves on the board, released to the media their evaluations of former city administrator Kristina Aschenbrenner following her termination.

Ultimately, district attorney Mike Schiek determined there was no open records violation because Aschenbrenner gave both men permission to release the documents. The city ethics complaint was ultimately dismissed by the complainant, alderman George Kirby.

It should also be noted that complaints of some sort were filed against all of the council members following Aschenbrenner's termination but no determination of wrongdoing was ever made against any of them.

Sauer finished his remarks Monday with a reminder about the parameters of alder authority.

"Individual members of the common council are not elected to micromanage our staff or direct operations of the city on a day-to-day basis," he said. "Our ability to govern ends at the adjournment of the meeting."

In addition to the seat currently held by Sauer, there are three other aldermanic seats up for election in April 2020. They are districts 1,3,5 which are currently held by Kirby, Lee Emmer (who is finishing the term former alderperson Sherri Belliveau started), and Dawn Rog.

According to the city clerk's office, prospective council candidates can take out nomination papers starting Dec. 1.

Those papers must be turned in by 5 p.m. Jan. 7, 2020.

The primary election will be held Feb. 18, if there are contested races, with the general election to coincide with the presidential preference primary April 7, 2020.

Incumbents who are not planning to run for re-election must also file a formal notice of non-candidacy with the clerk's office.

Heather Schaefer may be reached at

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