By Shereen Siewert
Dozens of emails and audio recordings obtained by Wausau Pilot and Review reveal a complicated power struggle within the Rhinelander city government, which appears to be on the brink of losing its sixth city administrator in seven years.
The Rhinelander City Council on Monday night once again considered going into closed session to either censure or terminate Daniel Guild, the city’s current administrator who was the subject of two search warrants executed at City Hall on Nov. 13. But some city leaders are uncertain why Guild was the target of the warrants when Rhinelander police already have evidence of potential felony misconduct by a different former city official, and documents being sought by police were missing from City Hall before Guild was named city administrator.
The motion to move to closed session ultimately failed. Guild, who was the former Weston administrator until his resignation in 2018, has not been formally charged with a crime.
A portion of the controversy in Rhinelander stems from a personnel file for former Public Works Director Tim Kingman. Shortly after assuming the role of Rhinelander city administrator in September 2018, interviews with multiple employees who insisted they had previously filed complaints against Kingman resulted in Guild’s discovery that Kingman’s personnel file was basically empty and contained none of the complaints employees claimed were filed against him.
During a closed session meeting on Sept. 9, members of the council discussed the missing records, which by city ordinance should have been kept in the office of the administrator. Department heads are also allowed to keep a copy of the records in their own offices, but the file of record should have been kept in a safe.
At one point in the Sept. meeting, City Council President George Kirby said that he and then-City Attorney Carrie Miljevich both were in possession of some records pertaining to Kingman, records that existed outside of the official chain of custody.
In a recording of the meeting, obtained by Wausau Pilot and Review, council member Lee Emmer asked whether Kirby would “put (the records)” on the burn pile,” to which Kirby responded, “Ha ha, what records?”
Miljevich was terminated from her position in April, while Kingman was fired in June.
Hear the full audio below.
Wausau Pilot and Review has confirmed that Kingman is also the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation regarding allegations he defrauded the city by allowing the city’s former wastewater foreman, Brad Vick, and Vick’s family business, to illegally dump material into Rhinelander’s wastewater treatment plant without paying to do so. Vick was placed on administrative leave in July and resigned shortly thereafter.
The Rhinelander Police Department rejected a request Monday for investigative records pertaining to Kingman, telling Wausau Pilot and Review the case remains under investigation.
Kingman has filed an age discrimination complaint against the city of Rhinelander, which has since been withdrawn.
Additional shakeups have created a circus-like atmosphere in Rhinelander, where tensions are so high that two Rhinelander Police officers are required to attend every closed session meeting. One former council member, Sherrie Belliveau, resigned in December 2018 amid allegations of violating state law by disclosing closed session meetings on social media. She was replaced by Lee Emmer.
Council President Kirby also made headlines in January when he refused to take his seat at the council table because he wanted to make a statement regarding a furniture purchase Guild made for his office, though the purchase was one of many being made for city personnel during that time frame.
A letter signed by five elected officials voicing concern over Kirby’s behavior is the subject of a so-called “walking quorum” lawsuit currently being pursued by the Northwoods River News. A member of the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department, Det. Sgt. Ryan Rossing, also signed the letter and was placed on administrative leave as a result. Rossing ultimately resigned to take a job elsewhere.
Monday marked the third council vote on a suspension for Guild. Council members defeated previous motions in March and September
Guild was previously the Village Administrator in Weston for over six years. He voluntarily resigned in 2018, after an undisclosed conflict with the Weston Board of Trustees. Guild alleged that the Weston Board of Trustees violated his right to due process per state law and village ordinance. The Village settled their dispute with Guild, immediately after his resignation, which included a settlement payment of approximately $96,000.
“It is unfortunate that some local governments choose to conduct their affairs with such hostility towards their employees and such disrespect for people’s constitutional rights to due process,” Guild said. “While this behavior is nothing new, it continues to disappoint me every time I encounter it in a new community. However, I also take comfort in knowing so many wonderful community leaders who remain committed to lawful process and government transparency. I plan to focus on administrating the great ideas developed by the passionate people I interact with every day.”‘