Damakant Jayshi

The city’s Ethics Board will seek a sworn, written response from Wausau City Council member Debra Ryan as part of its investigation into allegations that she made false statements against Marathon County Board supervisor William Harris.

The Ethics Board met Wednesday for a discussion on the matter, which stems from a Dec. 7 complaint. Harris filed the complaint after he sent a letter to Ryan in August asking her to make a public apology on the council floor by trying to interfere with his employment and making untrue statements about him. Harris, who represents Dist. 3 on the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, said Ryan accused him of being “inappropriately engaged in the outside practice of law”and allegedly tried to get him fired from his law firm, Wisconsin Judicare, Inc. Ryan has also hired an attorney to assist her with the case. 

Board member Robyn DeVos suggested that a formal letter be sent to Ryan requesting a response in writing and under oath. The letter, which will be sent by Feb. 11, will ask Ryan whether she contests or admits to the contents of Harris’ complaint. If she contests all or parts of the complaint, she will need to provide her grounds for doing so. In addition, she will be asked to provide the names of people she spoke to about the allegations. Ryan, who represents Dist. 11, will have three weeks to respond.

The Ethics Board made it clear that Ryan is required to respond and do so under oath.

The Board also asked its legal advisor, Ted Waskowski, to write to each council member to ask whether Ryan spoke to them about the matter. Council members will be asked to respond in writing or appear before the Ethics Board at their March 14 meeting. Those letters, part of the board’s investigation of the matter, will be reviewed for approval by the acting chair of the Board, Doug Hosler.

The Ethics Board is currently limited to three members for consideration of this matter, one less than is required if a formal hearing is held. Mary Thao, who was chair of the Board, resigned after the first meeting for reasons that are unclear and a second member, Calvin Dexter, recused himself to avoid a conflict of interest. Dexter circulated nomination papers for Harris in the Marathon County Circuit Court judgeship race.

Waskowski, an outside attorney hired to advise the group, recommended finding an additional member for the Board, a move that would require amending city ordinance. That change could happen as soon as Feb. 8, when the City Council meets.

Hosler said voicemails and transcripts of Ryan’s phone calls to Wisconsin Judicare staff have been provided to her. 

Speaking about the next steps, legal advisor Waskowski said the Board would be required to make a preliminary determination after the investigation and submit written findings.

Ryan, who was present throughout Wednesday’s meeting, declined an offer to speak to the Board.

(For the complaint and other related documents, click here and go to page 2.)