As legal fees continue to climb, Wausau City Council member Debra Ryan is demanding the city’s Ethics Board cease their investigation amid allegations of a conspiracy to unseat her in the upcoming election.
The ethics investigation has already cost taxpayers more than $10,000 in legal fees, money paid to outside counsel assisting the Ethics Board for its investigation into allegations accusing Ryan of making false statements against Marathon County Board supervisor William Harris. An attorney from the Stafford Rosenbaum law firm is assisting the Board.
Ryan is facing a complaint filed by Supervisor, William Harris, a Wausau attorney who is running for Marathon County Circuit Judge. Ricky Cveykus is also running for the judgeship. Ryan has denied any ethics code violations.
“The City has paid a total of $10,370.03 to Stafford Rosenbaum for the Harris ethics complaint. This is for charges through January 27, 2022,” Lisa Parsch from the City Attorney’s office told Wausau Pilot & Review. In December, that amount was $4,436. No figures stemming from services after Jan. 27 are available.
Last week, Ryan accused Mayor Katie Rosenberg of conspiring with Marathon County Supervisor Alyson Leahy and her husband, Chad Henke, to defeat her in the Spring election. Henke is challenging Ryan in the April 5 election to represent Wausau’s 11th District, which is on the city’s west side.
“The battlelines are draw (sic) in the contest for Wausau’s District 11 council seat,” Ryan said in a press release issued on Tuesday, Mar. 8. “All indications are that Mayor Katie Rosenberg is pulling out all the stops to defeat incumbent Alderperson Debra Ryan in April. To begin, Rosenburg is good friends with County Board Supervisor Alyson Leahy. Leahy’s husband is running against Ryan in the spring election.”
Mayor Rosenberg refuted the accusation. “Alder Ryan’s accusations against me are ridiculous and false,” Rosenberg told Wausau Pilot & Review.
Henke too has denied that he is seeking the seat as part of any conspiracy against Ryan.
“I decided to run for City Council because I feel if we want more young adults to call Wausau home, more of us need to be involved in the city’s decision making,” said Henke, an engineer who has lived in Wausau for about eight years. “I think my professional experience will be an asset in discussing city issues, and I am ready to help Wausau become a desirable destination for everyone. Neither my wife, nor Mayor Rosenberg, told me to run for office.”
The Ethics Board investigation stems from a Dec. 7 complaint by Harris. He 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.
The Ethics Board is meeting at the City Hall at 2:30 p.m. Monday.
Ryan also accused the mayor of hand-picking the members of the Ethics Board “who will act as prosecuters (sic), judges and jurors in Ryan’s case.” She also accused the city of holding back information that could help with her defense. She said her records request for communications to and from Mary Thao, the Ethics Board chairperson “who resigned in protest, remains unfilled.”
Neither Ryan nor her attorneys from the Ellison & O’Connor, LLC. has responded to Wausau Pilot & Review’s questions about whether she is receiving pro bono legal service and the monetary value of such service.