Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from Marathon County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs.
By Shereen Siewert
The president of the Wausau School Board is calling for an ethics investigation into Marathon County’s clerk after an online exchange regarding a potential recall election.
Tricia Zunker said she is calling for action by the Marathon County Board not as a representative of the school board but as a private citizen and constituent seeking to ensure fair and impartial elections.
Marathon County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs said he is calling a meeting of the Executive Committee on Monday to review the information and to discuss the next steps.
Marathon County Clerk Kim Trueblood is a member of a “Parents for Wausau Schools Reopening” Facebook group that is calling for protests and recalls after the Wausau School Board voted to begin the fall semester virtually. Trueblood, who was previously employed by the Wausau School District as a substitute teacher, is the chief election official for Marathon County and conducts all federal, state, county, local and school district elections.
In a letter to Marathon County Board members obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review, Zunker calls Trueblood’s behavior, in which she offered to “get info & do anything behind the scenes” in regard to a potential recall election, “alarming and unacceptable in healthy government.
“Clerk Trueblood’s comments on this post regarding efforts to organize a recall election are unethical and frankly, likely illegal,” Zunker wrote. “She oversees elections in an official capacity. It could not be more wrong. It’s even more abundantly clear that she is aware of this as she prefaces the statement by indicating her need to be cautious publicly due to her official position.”
Screenshots of conversations in the group show Trueblood and Stettin Clerk Marlo Turner calling for the group to “leak” requests for a new public school board meeting to the press to garner public attention.
In her letter, Zunker openly questions Trueblood’s “behind the scenes” offer.
“Is this manipulating election results?” Zunker wrote. “Is this disposing of absentee ballots? ‘Anything’ is not an ambiguous word – it means any possible action is on the table.”
Zunker is requesting a formal ethics investigation, a formal resolution condemning Trueblood’s statements, an official censure by the board, a statement of further assurances by the board regarding the integrity of elections in Marathon County and any other necessary action to ensure Marathon County voters participate in fair and impartial elections.
Tensions run high
Tensions among some parents in the community are running high since the Wausau School Board on Monday voted to begin the fall semester virtually. On Tuesday, police in Wausau were summoned to the home of school board member Beth Martin after a parent pounded on her door and began screaming at her to open schools in the fall. The woman then then took photos of people in Martin’s backyard and wrote a message in chalk on Martin’s sidewalk to open schools before leaving.
According to documents obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review, the parent, identified as April Van Rixel, told the responding officer that as a single parent, she was frustrated with the board’s decision. Van Rixel is the organizer of the Facebook group that includes Trueblood and Turner.
In an email Thursday to Wausau Pilot & Review, Marathon County Administrator Lance Leonhard pointed to the county’s ethics policy and said he planned to discuss Trueblood’s conduct with Marathon County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs.
“The county’s ethics policy communicates our organization’s approach quite clearly,” Leonhard said. “I take our organization’s commitment to core values and ethics exceedingly seriously and I can assure you that I will consider this information closely and will take any, and all, steps that I believe to be appropriate.”
“I take ethics very seriously,” Zunker told Wausau Pilot & Review. “I have taken oaths to uphold the law and act ethically with my license to practice the law; in my service as judge for the Ho-Chunk Nation; and in my service to Wausau on the Board of Education. I teach ethics to graduate students at Colorado State University and to law students. Presumably Clerk Trueblood took an oath as well.Healthy government demands fair, impartial elections. The integrity of our elections at stake here.”
Gibbs said the committee agenda for Monday’s meeting will provide for the option to go into closed session if the committee chooses to do so.