The Rhinelander Police Department is investigating "activity" at the city's wastewater treatment plant related to billing, police chief Lloyd Gauthier confirmed Tuesday.
"For two, three months now we've been looking at activity that has taken place at the wastewater treatment plant, billing and the process of billing," Gauthier explained.
The investigation involves alleged discrepancies between what a particular hauler brought into the plant and what was subsequently billed, he added.
"It is a current investigation and we do anticipate referring charges to the district attorney's office," Gauthier noted.
While a Wausau area media outlet, in an un-sourced article posted Tuesday, named potential targets of the investigation, the River News is reporting the words Gauthier used to describe the person or persons under investigation.
At no point in his sit-down interview with the River News did Gauthier name any names. Instead, he referred to those under investigation as follows: "a couple of those people were former city employees and one possibly that may be referred (to the district attorney's office) is not a city employee but did have a business transactional relationship with the wastewater treatment plant."
Gauthier also told the River News that he did not speak with the Wausau outlet and was unaware it was about to report on his department's investigation. He stated that he was aware the outlet had made an open records request of his department but was not aware of the content of their reporting until it was posted Tuesday. He said he is not a regular reader of the Wausau website and could recall seeing only one article, which he said was shared by city administrator Daniel Guild during a department head meeting, generated by the outlet.
"I think I've read one other article from them at a department head meeting. I think it was shared by Daniel Guild," he said. "That was the only connection."
According to Gauthier, a decision regarding whether anyone will face charges related to the wastewater treatment plant investigation should be made within the next few weeks.
"We have our case together, we're meeting with the district attorney's office," he said. "We move at the pace of the Oneida County district attorney's office."
Gauthier stressed that this investigation is not related to the Oneida County sheriff's department's ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct in public office and tampering with a public document.
Officers from three sheriff's departments and the Department of Justice executed search warrants at Rhinelander City Hall Nov. 21 in connection with that investigation.
The River News has previously reported Guild is a "person of interest" in connection with that investigation. That reporting is based on a police affidavit associated with the search warrants that specifically states Guild is a "person of interest." In the case of the wastewater plant investigation, we have no police statement or documentation describing any particular person as a "person of interest."
Hence, at this point, we are reporting Gauthier's description of those under investigation.
Gauthier was asked if there were any discussions about potentially referring the wastewater treatment plant investigation to another law enforcement agency. He stated that it was his decision to keep the investigation under RPD's jurisdiction.
"I allowed my detective bureau to investigate," he said.
The article posted by the Wausau outlet also included what is purported to be an audio recording of a City Council closed session discussion on Sept. 9, 2019 which the news outlet claims includes a statement from City Council president George Kirby that he and former city attorney Carrie Miljevich "were in possession of some records pertaining to (former public works director Tim Kingman), records that existed outside of the official chain of custody."
There is an intense interest, at present, in records associated with Kingman, who was fired by the City Council June 24, because Guild has claimed that Kingman's personnel file was "inappropriately removed" from City Hall.
Both Miljevich and Kirby strongly denied the allegations contained in the Wausau report.
Late Tuesday afternoon. Kirby released a written statement that reads as follows: "There is a disturbing claim on social media and some media outlets that claim I have the personnel file of Tim Kingman," Kirby wrote. "This is disturbing for two reasons. 1) I have never had the Tim Kingman personnel file. For a brief period of time, when we had no city administrator, I was on a committee that reviewed any complaints filed against Tim Kingman. As part of that, I had a copy of that complaint for committee discussion. These are the only records of the (sic) Tim Kingman I have ever had and those were copies. The city administrator has the task of keeping personnel files. So look to him wherever that file may be. Secondly, there is an allegation often put forth by Michelle Bennett on social media that at an executive session meeting on Sept. 9, 2019 that I made a statement that I had the Kingman personnel file. That is a misrepresentation of what I said. Although this meeting was in closed session, no official recording of that meeting was made. Someone present at the meeting made a secret recording and leaked it to the media. Talk about an ethical violation. To reiterate, I do not now have Tim Kingman's personnel file nor did I say I did in open or closed meetings. Maybe the search of the administrator and mayor files and computers will shed light on it."
In a follow-up conversation with the River News, Kirby reiterated that the documents referred to in his written statement released Tuesday were his personal notes. He also stated that he turned over the notes to the sheriff's department in October.
The River News reached out to Michelle Bennett via email to offer her an opportunity to respond to Kirby's statement.
She emailed the following response:
"There is also a Facebook post from Alderman Andrew Larson of the Common Council publicly stating that Kirby admitted to having the missing files. I have also personally spoken with more than one member of the Common Council regarding a rumor I heard about missing employee files. When I started investigating by asking questions about those files, I was advised by those members that George Kirby admitted to having the files at a meeting of the Common Council."
Miljevich also disputes the report published by the Wausau outlet.
"I am not in possession of any City documents since the termination of the contract on May 31, 2019," she said. "Any claims or suggestions to the contrary are totally false."
Questions have also been raised regarding the audio recording itself, including who made it and who distributed it to the Wausau news outlet.
"What is even more disturbing about that story, however, is that someone secretly recorded the closed session portion of the September, 2019 City Council meeting and then leaked it to a certain media outlet," Miljevich said. "This matter should be thoroughly investigated by the Mayor, and if the individual is identified, proper action should be taken against that elected official or city official."
Heather Schaefer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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