Debra Ryan

Damakant Jayshi

Wausau City Council member Debra Ryan is denying violating the city’s ethics code, according to a reply her attorney sent to the Ethics Board last week.

Ryan is facing a complaint filed by Marathon County Supervisor, a Wausau attorney who is running for Marathon County Circuit Judge. Ricky Cveykus is also running for the judgeship.

In a letter addressed to the Ethics Board and sent by her attorneys, Ryan, who represents Dist. 11, said that she had not violated any policy outlined in the city’s ethics code. Ryan shared the letter with Wausau Pilot & Review.

“Harris did not submit any evidence that Ryan committed an official act as an alder for personal financial gain nor that she knowingly did anything that she was legally forbidden to do,” wrote Ryan’s attorneys, from the law firm Ellison & O’Connor.

The letter was written following a Feb. 2 decision by the Ethics Board that asked Ryan to submit a sworn, written response to the allegations. On Jan. 12, The Ethics Board opted to proceed with an investigation on the complaint, which was filed Dec. 7.

Harris filed the complaint after an August letter asking Ryan to make a public apology on the council floor for allegedly 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 the law” and allegedly tried to get him fired from his law firm, Wisconsin Judicare, Inc.

Harris asked the Board to investigate Ryan’s allegation that Harris interfered inappropriately during the debate over the city’s “A Community for All” diversity resolution and obstructing City Attorney Anne Jacobson. 

In a response to the Ethics Board, Ryan’s attorneys asserted that “clearly, there is a public record that shows that Harris was involved in the design and promotion of the city resolution.” As evidence, they refer to the Wausau’s Economic Development Committee’s June 1 agenda, a copy of the CFA resolution, a YouTube video of the committee meeting and transcripts of Mayor Katie Rosenberg’s remarks.

Rosenberg, who was instrumental in the City Council adopting the diversity resolution in August thanked Harris during the meeting. “I do believe that the copy you have in front of you is a lot of his work, so thank you for that,” Mayor Rosenberg told the Economic Development Committee. Harris had worked on a similar diversity resolution at the Marathon County meetings. The resolution failed at the county board meeting after the members deadlocked 18-18.

Ryan’s letter did not, however, address how Harris was inappropriately engaged in the “inappropriately engaged in the outside practice of the law,” a key element of Harris’ complaint.

Ryan also disputed the characterization of her phone call with the Executive Director of Judicare – Harris’ employer – as being an attempt to get Harris fired.

Ryan’s response also denied that she defamed Harris.

“Defamation would require that Ryan knowingly and falsely accused Harris of an illegal act in a public way that caused meaningful damage to his reputation,” the letter says. “Acts of defamation are not covered by the City of Wausau Ethics Code.”

The letter questioned “the timing of the complaint, filed to coincide with the spring elections, betrays its obvious political motive.” Ryan has drawn a challenger, Chad Henke, for the April 5 local elections.

Harris did not respond to Wausau Pilot & Review’s request for comment.