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Public safety union votes no confidence in Swanson

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

ASHWAUBENON – The Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association (APSOA) has gone public with its dissatisfaction regarding Village Manager Allison Swanson.

Union representatives held a press conference Thursday, Feb. 6, to announce membership voted unanimously to issue a statement of no confidence in Swanson.

Officer Melanie Lovato, APSOA secretary, said the union made the statement “not based on opinion or hard feelings, but pure facts and indisputable evidence of her behavior.”

“It is fully recognized that it is not common for a labor union to publicly announce a vote of no confidence in someone who is not their chief or department head,” Lovato said. “However, Village Manager Swanson has ensured that she is essentially the only one allowed to act as a director of public safety for the last several years.”

Because of the unanimous no-confidence vote, Lovato said “not a single employee in the association feels that Village Manager Swanson is capable of managing the Village of Ashwaubenon.”

Allison Swanson

“The facts will show that Village Manager Swanson has not allowed the department heads of any village department to fully function in their position,” she said.

The APSOC released what it called a “partial list of just some of the egregious behaviors the Association has witnessed.”

Twenty-two bullet points are included in the list of complaints.

For instance, the union stated lawsuits are now pending because Swanson terminated a lieutenant, and demoted a captain and lieutenant, who were stripped of their seniority, without Police and Fire Commission approval or involvement.

The APSOA also stated lawsuits are pending because Swanson continues to violate the Family Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations, and applicable wage and hour laws even after being notified from the EEOC her actions were improper.

An internal affairs investigation related to a village board member’s conduct last September recommended criminal charges of battery and disorderly conduct.

The union stated Swanson emailed the head of internal affairs about her being “comfortable with no action being taken,” despite the fact her position has no law enforcement or prosecution component.

The union declined to publicly identify the board member who was the focus of that investigation.

Multiple grievances

The union has filed multiple grievances now pending against the village, and it blames Swanson for her handling of those matters.

This includes:

• Swanson ordering an outside investigation into Officer Jamie Zynda’s off-duty participation Aug. 3, 2018, in a Fraternal Order of Police golf outing at the Brown County Golf Course, where he was seen wearing a thong while teeing off on a hole. Though the investigation, which the union said cost around $13,000, did not find Zynda violated village policy, a letter of direction was placed in his personnel file. A grievance about the letter is pending an arbitrator’s ruling from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

• A grievance plus additional lawsuits are pending because the union stated the retirement payout structure for officers changed without negotiations or advance notice to the association to do so. Swanson is accused by the union of changing the payout amount for retiring officers, costing the average officer $15,000 to $50,000 each upon retirement.

• Grievances pending for officers not being disciplined equally or given instructor positions in accordance with the union contract.

Not calling for Swanson’s ouster

Despite the union’s list of complaints against Swanson, APSOA President Eric Paulowski said it’s not his intent, nor would he be authorized, to call for her to resign or be terminated by the village board.

“My intent is simply to get the village board to address the concerns that have been brought before it,” Paulowski said. “So, we’ve addressed the village board in several cases of arbitration, in several grievances that have come before the village board, and all of our concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Not a single time has the village board reached out to the (union) membership to try and improve communication.”

Conflict of interest?

When asked about Swanson being married to an Ashwaubenon public safety officer, Kevin Buckley, Paulowski said she has a conflict of interest and should abstain from matters related to the department and the union.

“She has openly acknowledged that she will abstain, but yet fails to do so at every hearing,” he said. “She continues to place herself in positions where there’s a clear conflict of interest.”

Paulowski said the union wants an independent party handling human resource matters involving the public safety department.

“We would be open and welcome to anybody, but it’s hard to have a village manager fill that role as a human resource provider as well,” he said. “Ultimately, it leaves your human resource department unable to fulfill several different functions due to a conflict of interest,” he said.

Support for incoming chief

The public safety department was without a chief since Eric Dunning retired June 21 after 25 years of service and 12 as the chief.

Brian Uhl, who has been the Village of Oregon’s police chief since August 2015, was selected last month by Ashwaubenon’s Police and Fire Commission to become the new permanent chief, effective Feb. 17.

Following Dunning’s retirement, Randy Tews became the interim chief of fire operations and Tom Rolling became the interim chief of police operations. Rolling recently left the public safety department.

The APSOA, which has attributed dissatisfaction with Swanson as a reason for department staff leaving, indicated it wholeheartedly supports the Police and Fire Commission’s selection of Uhl as Ashwaubenon’s next chief.

“We have full faith and respect in… Brian Uhl coming here,” Paulowski said. “I’ve had contact with him, I informed him of today’s press release and he will get full union support when he gets here. We welcome his change in leadership.”

The union is now seeking a new contract with the village after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of last year, but Paulowski said the complaints the APSOA has about Swanson are unrelated to reaching a new agreement as the union continues to work under the terms of the previous contract.

Village response

Following the union’s announcement of the no-confidence vote, Swanson, along with Tews, Village President Mary Kardoskee and Village Attorney Tony Wachewicz, issued a joint statement Thursday, Feb. 6, saying they are “disappointed that the union has chosen to make these allegations so personal to the village manager when the great majority of these decisions were made collectively with the village board and our fellow colleagues and employees.”

“However, we are most disappointed in the enormous breadth of factual inaccuracies contained throughout these allegations,” they further stated. “For example, some of the allegations of unethical behavior that are categorically false include: all development expenditures and disciplinary issues raised in the allegations were discussed multiple times and approved by the village board; and appointments to the Police and Fire Commission upon resignation or expiration of a member’s term are made by the village president and confirmed by the village board.”

Board members held a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 11, when they met for more than two hours to discuss matters related to the village manager, public safety department and the union.

Nine public safety officers who signed the attendance sheet were present to attend the meeting when the board convened in open session, though Paulowski informed The Press Times they had not been contacted by the board beforehand to address the concerns they raised at their press conference.

After the board came out of closed session, Kardoskee read a statement in response to the union’s no-confidence vote indicating the board “does not wish to engage in a public dispute on this matter nor can it respond in detail as mandated by law due to the sensitive and confidential personnel matters involved.”

“However, the board does wish to state and express its full confidence in Village Manager Swanson,” she said. “More importantly, the board disputes the union’s characterization that the board has not been informed or exercised their decision-making authority. The board is consistently informed by village staff on a wide array of village matters and is aware of many of the allegations contained within the union’s list, which include numerous items that we voted on and approved.”

Kardoskee said the board will “continue to listen and make decisions in the best interests of the Village of Ashwaubenon.”

“We do not understand what the union’s goal is in undertaking a personal attack on the village manager while these issues are board decisions,” she said. “The board will continue to deliberate over its options on how to fully address the union’s allegations, which will be addressed at a future board meeting.”

Seven department heads – which include Wachewicz, Tews, Director of Public Works Doug Martin, Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Rex Mehlberg, Clerk-Treasurer Patrick Moynihan Jr., Community Development Director Aaron Schuette and Director of Finance Greg Wenholz – signed onto their own statement issued the afternoon before the special board meeting to state they “vehemently disagree” with the statement the union made about Swanson having “not allowed department heads of any village department to fully function in their positions.”

“The union is free to speak for themselves, but not as department heads,” the statement further read. “Contrary to the union’s statement, Ms. Swanson encourages and supports each of us as department heads to utilize our unique skills and education to improve and enhance our respective departments all while holding to the high standards expected from the village board, village residents and village businesses.”

The department heads stated their “collaborative work environment and culture of open and honest communication is because of Ms. Swanson, who allows us to full function in our positions while maintaining her job duties as the village manager.”

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