By Shereen Siewert
Prosecutors in Oneida County have all but concluded the case against Rhinelander’s former administrator, after a judge found two charges filed against him without merit and reached a resolution in the third.
In December Circuit Judge Kevin Klein dismissed two counts of tampering with public records against Daniel Guild, finding no basis or probable cause to support the charges, according to court records. The third charge, misconduct in office, will officially be dismissed with prejudice against Guild after three months, part of a deferred prosecution agreement that will officially end the case. A dismissal with prejudice means the charge cannot be filed again in the future.
The agreement, which requires no new criminal charges to be filed against Guild between now and May 6, was finalized during a Feb. 5 hearing in Oneida County Circuit Court.
Guild, who was Rhinelander’s sixth administrator in a seven-year span, began his tenure in September 2018 in Rhinelander and quickly found himself in a complicated power struggle with other city leaders. Tensions were already high, and some are questioning why Guild was the target of a criminal investigation when Rhinelander police already had evidence of potential felony misconduct by a different former city official. Further, documents being sought by police were missing from City Hall before Guild was named city administrator, they say.
A circus-like atmosphere
Documents and audio recordings of city council meetings, obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review, detail a circus-like atmosphere where the level of conflict was so high that two Rhinelander Police officers were required to attend every closed session city council meeting.
As Wausau Pilot & Review previously reported, a portion of the past 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 from before Guild’s tenure was basically empty and contained none of the complaints employees claimed were filed against him.
During a closed session meeting 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.
Other reports of chaos and discord were frequent in Rhinelander. 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.
Former City Council President George Kirby also came under fire after he 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 2019, while Kingman was fired two months later.
Kirby, whose council term ended in April, died in May.
Investigation into public works director
Kingman was also the subject of a criminal investigation regarding allegations he defrauded the city by allowing the city’s former wastewater foreman, Brad Vick, and Vick’s family business, H&H Septic, to illegally dump material into Rhinelander’s wastewater treatment plant without paying to do so. A police investigation revealed that H&H Septic stole more than $31,000 over a six-year span, a theft allegedly made possible by Kingman.
Police say Kingman allowed H&H access to the city’s plant after hours by giving them the gate code, while at the same time ignoring employees’ concerns about the practice. Kingman also allegedly changed the amounts of septic waste dropped off by H&H in the plant’s internal billing system.
Police say Kingman claimed the errors were unintentional, saying, “if I made an error that’s what I did,” according to court documents obtained by the Antigo Daily Journal. But while H&H significantly benefited from those errors, the Journal reports, other septic companies did not.
Vick was placed on administrative leave in July 2019 and resigned shortly thereafter. Despite the evidence, the Oneida County District Attorney chose not to prosecute Kingman, reaching a plea agreement instead. H&H Septic paid $4,132 in restitution to the city as part of the deal.
Also of note, Kingman, in December 2019, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in federal court alleging he was “wrongfully retaliated against” after he spoke out about alleged workplace “harassment, intimidation, stifling of speech.” The lawsuit named Guild, the city of Rhinelander, Mayor Chris Fredrickson, and aldermen Steve Sauer, David Holt, Andrew Larson and Ryan Rossing as defendants. That case has not yet concluded.
Kingman has since accepted employment in Horicon as supervisor of public works and utilities.
A conflict of interest?
Investigators in 2019 swarmed Rhinelander City Hall, seizing documents as part of two state search warrants. Guild was arrested March 11, 2020 and was fired by Rhinelander two months later.
The tampering charges, dismissed in December, relate to an email to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities in which Guild inquired about the procedure necessary to remove Kirby from his role as president of the council. The email was written one day after Frederickson and four council members drafted a letter to Kirby asking him to step down after he refused to participate in a meeting.
Prosecutors alleged Guild broke the law because he removed first-person references in blind copies of the email to the League, for reasons that are not clear.
Due to a potential conflict of interest with Oneida County District Attorney Mike Schiek, the investigation was first forwarded to Forest County District Attorney Chuck Simono to act as a special prosecutor in the case. Cases involving public officials are often transferred to adjacent counties because of the close relationship prosecutors and judges have with city officials.
Simono, after reviewing the information, found no basis upon which to charge Guild.
“The slight change in wording does not remotely give rise to any appearance to injure or defraud as the content of both messages are essentially the same,” Simono wrote, in his memo.
But then on Nov. 8, 2019, despite the earlier conflict of interest, Schiek requested Simono transfer the case back to him and the case moved forward – until today.
Guild, 41, 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, in a settlement that included a lump sum payment of approximately $96,000.