(Horicon) The Dodge County District Attorney’s office has declined to prosecute allegations of Misconduct In Office and Open Meetings Law violations related to the Horicon Common Council vote to dissolve the city’s Police and Fire Commission.
The council cast the vote in March following disagreement with the PFC on the hiring process to replace former Police Chief Joe Adamson, who retired in April. The PFC decided to post the position externally with any internal candidates who apply automatically advancing straight to final interviews. However, Horicon’s employee handbook says that openings for city positions must be posted internally first.
The PFC was steadfast noting that state statute considers the commission autonomous and their actions not subject to an employee handbook. The council, concerned about a lawsuit, disbanded the PFC replacing it with a three-person disciplinary board, which is allowed under state statute for communities with a population below 4000.
In declining to prosecute the case, Dodge County Managing Attorney Bob Barrington said the city council had the authority to disband the PFC and properly followed the legal advice of their city attorney.
The accusations of open meetings violations stemmed from – among other things – email exchanges involving elected officials, often times the entire council, discussing the disbanding of the PFC. There has been no case law in Wisconsin to determine if email exchanges with a quorum violates the open meetings law. The attorney general in the past had strongly urged governmental bodies to avoid using email. While something like instant messaging may be a more clear violation of open meetings law, there is a lot of gray area with emails.
The DA’s office concluded there was “not clear, satisfactory and convincing” proof of a violation. Barrington says that it is within the authority of a council member to notify the mayor of an anticipated need for a meeting or agenda item. He also noted that the mayor “did not specify how members should respond and did not state his opinion or advocate for a particular position.”
Barrington’s memorandum also noted that it is not the purpose of the district attorney’s office to “determine whether or not the city violated its own policies or to comment on any cronyism in the city’s governance or to discuss the motives of city council members in their successful attempt to abolish the PFC.”