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Stevens appointed new Howard municipal judge

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

HOWARD – After debating Monday, Sept. 23, whether to appoint someone as municipal judge or wait until a special election to fill the position, the Howard village board voted 5-3 to appoint attorney Brian Stevens, effective Nov. 1, 2019, and ending April 30, 2020.

A motion to table action on an appointment through next April was defeated on a 5-3 vote before Village President Burt McIntyre and trustees John Muraski, Scott Beyer, Adam Lemorande and Craig McAllister voted to appoint Stevens, while trustees Ray Suennen, Maria Lasecki and Chris Nielsen were opposed.

Trustee Catherine Hughes, who was also one of the three applicants along with Stevens and attorney Quinn Jolly, was absent from the meeting because of a work conflict.

Stevens is replacing Gregg Schreiber, who has served in the position since 1999 but isn’t completing the remainder of the current four-year term, which expires in April 2021, because of moving out of the village.

Schreiber remained in the position with a reserve appointment and could have stayed on through the end of the year had no one been appointed to replace him, McIntyre said.

Next April a special election will be held to fill the position for the term’s final year.

All three municipal judge applicants were interviewed earlier this month by a three-person team comprised McIntyre, Muraski and McAllister, who recommended Stevens.

“The selection was made based on the interview and based on the credentials of the applicant,” McIntyre said.

Stevens, a Howard resident since 2006, has had his own law practice in the Green Bay area since 2011.

His legal background of more than 20 years also includes being a staff attorney for the Oneida Nation from 2008-11 and a tribal attorney for the Ho-Chunk Nation from 2006-08, as well as other positions dating back to 1993.

Suennen spoke in favor of not appointing anyone, citing research from Princeton University showing incumbents who are appointed having an advantage in subsequently being elected.

“They found at the local municipality level, it gave the incumbent a 7.5 to a 10 percent voter advantage just by being in that position,” he said. “And we’re talking only freshman and sophomore positions of the terms.”

Considering the current municipal judge has been in office for about 20 years and doesn’t hold a law degree,

Suennen questioned whether Stevens, who has the most legal experience of the three applicants, would be the best fit for the position.

“When you have litigation experience, when you’ve worked for independent governmental entities, being self-employed, did multiple training stuff, that’s not the sort of position that we have here,” he said. “If we were looking for somebody to be an assistant administrator, that may be appropriate.”

Suennen said the way voters select candidates is different than the process used by the interview team in recommending Stevens for municipal judge.

“(An election) becomes more of a popularity vote or how the candidates get their points across,” he said.

Suennen said he preferred leaving the position open until next April and having village staff make arrangements for covering the municipal judge duties until someone was elected.

Nielsen said he didn’t have enough information to vote on appointing Stevens, who will represent the entire village.

“I don’t feel comfortable saying ‘yes’ at this time,” Nielsen said. “I would feel comfortable at saying, ‘Table it,’ or at this point I would probably have to say ‘no.’”

Without seeing the qualifications of the other two candidates, Lasecki said it would also be difficult for her to appoint Stevens, and she favored letting the voters decide.

“This person is definitely highly qualified,” she said. “I’m not saying that there is not enough qualification there by any stretch of the imagination. However, I didn’t see the other two candidates’ (qualifications). While I do trust the process, this is for the entire village, and that weighs heavily on my ability to be able to support the appointment.”

Muraski questioned what precedent would be set if the board didn’t appoint someone as municipal judge after board members agreed in June to have the interview process to fill the vacancy.

“It is certainly in your hands to accept or reject that recommendation, but I worry that – how many people on this board have been appointed? Please raise your hands,” he said. “Three of us have been appointed, and again that appointment was just for, conversely, a small number of people. Don’t we have more of an obligation to appoint someone that actually does represent the whole village? That would be my concern.”

McAllister said he fully supported the interview team’s recommendation.

“The interview process was difficult,” he said. “We had three really, really great candidates. We have one in front of us that is an excellent, excellent, interim candidate. It is only a six-month position.”

Stevens, who was on hand for the vote, said he appreciated the board’s confidence in appointing him.

“I’m very honored for the confidence the village board has given me,” he said. “It’s a position that I ran for at the last election term, so I intend to run again and I hope to serve the community.”

Stevens said he has been aspiring to be the village’s judge.

“I’ve been a long-term resident of Howard… so I’m looking forward to serving the community in this capacity,” he said.

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