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Do ethical lapses by a candidate for local office matter? It is easy to say, “yes, of course they do.” However, as a practical matter, a one-time error and a $100 fine probably will not swing a lot of votes. But, what if there was a pattern of behavior that crossed the line?
As readers may recall, Mayor Robert Mielke’s re-election campaign started out on a sour note. He had city staff set up a city podium and public address system on city property so that he could use city hall as a backdrop for his campaign announcement. Of course, it is unlawful to use public resources for personal gain, and that includes using them to win campaigns.
At the time, Mielke’s opponent voiced an informal complaint in the press. That should have been sufficient to bring the rules to everyone’s attention.
However, after that, the Mielke campaign still thought it would be okay to take excerpts from his campaign announcement, stick them in the city newsletter and mail them to everyone in town at taxpayer expense. The State Ethics Board flagged this as a violation and fined Mielke. That certainly should have made the boundaries clear to everyone. Using government resources for a political campaign is prohibited by law.
Yet, on February 6 , Mielke did it again. He had Chris Schock, the Director of Community Development, ghost-write a letter for him touting his record and sent it to 81 business leaders in the community. The letter was signed by Mielke, on city letterhead and mailed at taxpayer expense.
In many ways this last ethics violation is more serious than the previous two. There is no plausible reason for the letter and its timing besides campaigning. Not only was it done with full knowledge of the law, but it also enlisted a subordinate in a campaign activity, something that can result in a city employee’s termination.
Now, we have a supervisor exchanging favors with a subordinate. Mielke gets help drafting campaign materials, and Schock apparently gets mayoral approval to take as many vacation days as he would like. Or, that seems to have been the arrangement until Schock’s excessive vacationing made news.
That brings us to the mayor’s curious interview with the City Pages last week, announcing that Chris Schock would be leaving his job with the city at some unspecified point in the future. The article raises a lot of questions. Why hamper Schock’s ability to do his job by announcing that he is a short- timer? Why imply that the departure is for cause, impugning Schock publicly and exposing the city to litigation? Is a severance package being negotiated? Why keep a potentially disgruntled employee on the job after serving notice that he will be terminated? The only way to make sense of the interview is to see it as a self-serving mayor trying to save his own skin in an election cycle.
In my opinion, the pattern of behavior is clear. Wausau has a mayor who seems more than willing to bend the powers of his office for personal gain. Ending this at the ballot box is going to be much less costly than allowing it to continue.
Keene Winters, Wausau