By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Ashwaubenon Village Manager Allison Swanson has been cleared by the village board following a string of complaints.
After meeting in closed session Thursday, May 7, the village board directed Village Attorney Tony Wachewicz to draft a statement to announce an outside investigation cleared Swanson of any wrongdoing or unethical conduct.
The statement Wachewicz released Saturday, May 9, related to investigative reports provided to the board by attorney Jim Macy of von Briesen & Roper.
The law firm was hired by the board earlier this year to look into complaints about Swanson from the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association (APSOA).
The investigation also looked into Swanson making a complaint in response to the union’s allegations.
The investigative reports, for which The Press Times made an open records request, were not released as of the press deadline, and Macy declined to comment on the reports.
The union’s attorney, Aaron Halstead of the Hawks Quindel law firm, said those reports have not been provided to the APSOA either, after public safety officers were interviewed by Macy as part of the investigation.
“Even more disappointing is that the village manager was given a copy, despite the fact that the multiple officers against whom she filed her complaint have continued to be kept in the dark about the report’s contents,” Halstead said. “This calls into question, once again, whether the board continues to give the village manager preferential treatment as compared to the rank-and-file officers who provide public safety protection to the village’s residents 24 hours per days, seven days per week.”
The APSOA announced Feb. 6 its membership unanimously issued a vote of no confidence in Swanson and released a list of complaints with 22 bullet points containing what it called a “partial list of just some of the egregious behaviors the association has witnessed.”
Swanson responded by saying the union stated “numerous lies” to “imply illegal and unethical conduct by me.”
In a complaint she emailed Feb. 13 to Wachewicz and Village President Mary Kardoskee, Swanson stated the union’s president, Eric Paulowski, secretary, Melanie Lovato, and treasurer, Ben Walker, as well as other public safety officers, contributed to what she called “the false and misleading allegations contained in the (union’s Feb. 6) press release.”
According to Wachewicz’s statement, the board has “full faith and support in Ms. Swanson” after accepting the reports and their findings.
“As Investigator Macy stated, ‘The reality is that the village manager, to her credit, is doing her job,’” the statement quotes Macy. “‘She has not caved into the incredible pressure the association has placed upon her for standing up and making decisions in the best interest of the village overall.’”
Halstead disputes the statement’s claim “the APSOA never directly raised any of their reported concerns with the village board.”
He said when the union files a grievance, it brings its concerns to the board, which is the final step in the grievance process prior to seeking an arbitration hearing with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
Some of the union’s complaints about Swanson resulted in state and federal lawsuits along with labor grievances being filed on behalf of past and present union members.
For instance, public safety officers who retired are claiming they were not paid in full after Swanson changed the payout structure for officers without negotiations or advance notice to the union.
The union also noted an internal affairs investigation, conducted by Jody Crocker when he was a captain, concluded Village Trustee Ken Bukowski’s involvement last September in a disturbance “rises to the offense of battery and disorderly conduct.”
Swanson emailed Crocker and then interim public safety chiefs Randy Tews and Tom Rolling stating she and Wachewicz were “comfortable that this matter can be closed and no further action should be taken.”
An officer follow-up sheet from Crocker indicated the matter was a case for the district attorney with no prosecution recommended and “closed per Village Administrator Swanson.”
Bukowski was not present last week when the board went into closed session regarding the outside investigation, said Clerk-Treasurer Patrick Moynihan Jr.
Halstead said he takes issue with Swanson recommending no charges in the disturbance involving Bukowski, someone who has oversight of her as a board member, rather than that being decided by a prosecutor or law enforcement officer.
He also disputes the village’s claim Macy is an independent investigator, as identified in the board’s statement, with the board hiring him.
Halstead said the statement released on behalf of the board didn’t say it supports the public safety officers, who are not being disciplined after being accused by Swanson of making false and misleading allegations.
The statement also quoted Macy as saying “some of the allegations are matters of opinion on political and policy matters.”
Macy is identified by the von Briesen & Roper law firm as an attorney who “represents employers in labor negotiations, discrimination defense, disability and ADA issues, wrongful discharge or employment contract disputes, non-competition issues and other difficult personnel transactions…”
Wachewicz said the village agreed to pay $275 an hour for the firm’s services to conduct the investigation.
The Press Times has made an open records request for copies of billing records from the firm, but none had been provided to the newspaper as of press time.