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Attorney: Weston administrator’s suspension violated due process

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By Shereen Siewert

WESTON — An attorney for embattled Village of Weston Administrator Daniel Guild says his client’s due process rights were violated when he was ordered to serve an unpaid suspension, a move he says left both village staff members and pending projects in limbo.

Guild, who has been suspended since May 24, has hired attorney Kevin St. John of Bell Giftos St. John LLC to represent him in matters relating to his employment with the village. In a letter to Dean Dietrich, an employment attorney with Ruder Ware who has been retained by the village to handle the conflict, St. John calls Guild’s suspension an “unnecessary disruption” that violated the administrator’s rights.

Documents have also surfaced that outline ongoing conflict between Guild and former Everest Metro Police Chief Wally Sparks. Sparks, who retired in late February and was elected in April to the Weston Board of Trustees, is one of two board members who called for the May closed session meeting that resulted in Guild’s suspension.

Guild’s employment contract provides that he may only be suspended “for cause,” according to St. John. The same is true for termination of Guild’s employment, unless a six month notice is provided.

“Simply put, Mr. Guild was entitled to know the reason the board was contemplating suspension, and none was provided,” St. John wrote. “He was also entitled to an opportunity to be heard, and none was provided. His suspension is a violation of due process.”

Prior to Guild’s suspension, he had no idea what may have been a concern to the board. “To this day, Mr. Guild is in the dark,” St. John wrote.

Since his suspension, Guild has received a single letter from Village President Barb Ermeling, hand delivered by an Everest Metro Police Officer. The letter states that Guild has “not improved (his) performance or corrected (his) conduct as village administrator from (his) performance evaluation of July 2017,” which cited availability during work hours and unspecified interactions with board members, according to St. John.

That notion contradicts the board’s post-evaluation efforts, St. John said. Twice since his evaluation, Guild has been awarded salary increases and his employment agreement was renewed last February. In addition, the board was issued a letter one day before his suspension praising his leadership and working relationship with employees. The letter was signed by DPW Director Keith Donner, Deputy DPW Director Michael Wodalski, Planning and Development Director Jennifer Higgins, and Technology Services Director Nathan Crowe. The full letter, obtained by Wausau Pilot and Review, is embedded below.

Given those facts, Mr. Guild certainly believed that any matters stated in his last evaluation had been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction,” said St. John, who also represented former Wausau Alderman Keene Winters in a lawsuit against city officials.

In an interview with Wausau Pilot and Review, Guild said he intends to return to work July 12, when his suspension officially ends.

“I recognize that politics is a contact sport,” Guild said. “There are times when people will be hard on me. I have thick skin. But I care deeply about the work I do and enjoy working with this group of colleagues.”

An Oct. 17, 2016 document obtained by Wausau Pilot and Review signed by Ermeling and six trustees outlines “continued friction” between Guild and Sparks. In the letter, the trustees express concern over Sparks’ alleged efforts to “tarnish (Guild’s) reputation” with local officials and members of the community.

According to the letter, embedded below, Sparks had been investigating Guild’s past employment experiences and gave an incident report from Columbia County to finance committee personnel, an act not authorized by the board.

“The board wants you to know that our representatives on the Joint Finance Committee have spoken with Sparks and have asked him to stop this behavior,” the letter reads. “All parties should make an effort to treat each other with civility and professionalism.”

Wausau Pilot and Review has reached out to Sparks for comment.

The board of trustees will meet at Wednesday in closed session to review Guild’s employment and establish performance goals for the future. The meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. at the Village of Weston Municipal Center.

Guild’s statement, in its entirety, reads:

After careful thought, I have decided to say a few words about my recent suspension from my position as village administrator in Weston. To begin, my wife, Sara, and I have truly been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from friends and neighbors. Your faith and kind wishes have meant a lot to me and my family. Thank you.

In keeping with the open government culture that I have tried to foster in Weston, I would like to tell you more of what this is about. However, I honestly do not know any more than has been reported in the news. The village board has not provided me with any details about my alleged infraction, and I was not permitted to attend the closed session. We are all in the dark about the board’s thinking on this matter.

To be fair, a few days after the suspension, I received a letter from the village president with a vague reference to issues that arose during my July 2017 performance review. However, since evaluation, I have received two raises and a contract renewal, so it was my understanding that I was performing well and any issues raised in that review were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. To go from a contract renewal and raise in February to a suspension in May was quite a shock. At no time in between did the board express to me any concern about my performance or our work for Weston citizens. If they had, I would have addressed it. The board is this community’s elected leadership, and my job is to administer their laws and policies. And that’s what I intend to do when I return to work.

Today’s record’s release contains that 2017 review. It is what is known in human resources circles as a 360 review, where employees and possibly other stakeholders are surveyed for feedback. This feedback is important, recognizing of course that my position requires me to make difficult decisions in administering Board policy that is not always supported by each and every stakeholder. 360 reviews do not account for this dynamic. Nor do they necessarily solicit the feedback of people who have the most knowledge about my performance or who possess a big picture view of Village operations. To that end, I am supplementing the records release with a letter submitted to the Board by Village department directors, which describes their view of my performance and capabilities. I am also including other recent letters from community stakeholders. I am humbled by their support.1

I believe that the suspension is an unwarranted disruption that leaves village staff and a number of important projects in limbo. For reasons explained by Wisconsin’s former deputy attorney general in a letter I am attaching, the suspension also violated my due process rights. If the Board consulted with an attorney before suspending me (village attorney Matt Yde recused himself and Attorney Dietrich was only recently retained by the Board), perhaps they would have chosen a different course. Ideally that course would have included conversation before sanction; constructive dialogue and not immediate conflict; a transparent process, not a secret one. Weston deserves an accessible government working as one.

Weston had an election in April and seated some new board members. If the newly constituted board—acting on behalf of the electorate—would like a new direction, be it policy or personnel, that is their prerogative. So long as I am Village Administrator, my job is to serve them, regardless of their makeup. And serve the citizens of this community.

That’s what I intend to do.

2018 05 23 Support Ltr frm Directors
2016 10 17 Ltr to Guild from BOT re 2016 Perf Eval-1

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