Damakant Jayshi

The Kronenwetter Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved severance package for the ousted village administrator and suspended citizen standing committees – effectively shutting down citizen participation at the committee level – for 90 days.

The severance package for Village Administrator Richard Downey, who had been on paid administrative since July 8, was determined in closed session and details have not yet been released. Wausau Pilot & Review submitted an open records request for the package on Thursday.

Downey’s departure has been shrouded in secrecy with no one from the village or the board willing to comment on the matter, including Downey himself.

Finance Director Roger Habeck said Downey was drawing an annual salary of $94,083.

Board President Chris Voll, and trustees Tami Block and Tim Shaw, voted in favor of the package, while trustees Ken Charneski and Kim Tapper voted against it. Two trustees, Joel Straub and Christopher Eiden, were absent from the meeting.

On Tuesday, board members agreed to suspend citizen standing committees at the suggestion of Interim Village Administrator Duane Gau, who was appointed on July 11. In his agenda memo to the board, Gau cited staff shortages for the change and suggested forming a Committee of the Whole, or COW, to move more quickly on key matters.

As an advantage, Gau wrote, a COW would have only two meetings each month, allowing staff time to address Village business with limited standing committee input. The downside, he acknowledged, is that citizen standing committee members feel their input is being “left out and hope this move will not eliminate the standing committee process.”

One of the citizen members on the Utility Committee, Alexander Vedvik, said the July 11 meeting that first discussed forming a COW potential violated Wisconsin open meeting laws. He told Wausau Pilot & review that he sees the move as an attempt to muzzle citizens’ voices.

Village Board President Chris Voll defended the move.

“Duane Gau made a statement during public comment last night that explained the discussion and direction for the Committee as a Whole,” Voll told Wausau Pilot & Review on Wednesday. “Taking this temporary direction was part of his agreement to take the position.”

The Kronenwetter Board finalized other measures during the meeting on Tuesday, including hiring two financial consultants through Public Administration Associates, which is also Gau’s employer. Gau said doing so would help the village staff, including the finance director.

The village has seen significant staff departures in recent weeks, creating a staff shortage that led to curtailed services and Friday office closures. A news release issued last week said the closures, each Friday, will stretch through Oct. 7. According to the outgoing administrator’s report, prepared for the July 11 meeting he did not attend, the village is without a community development director, and will be welcoming a new village clerk, a new communication specialist and a new utility clerk.

The financial services contract is set to commence on July 20 through Oct. 19, unless renewed by the village and Public Administration Associates. The contract has a cap of $25,000. Some residents, including Vedvik, deem the contract expensive.

Gau’s memo also acknowledges that the hourly rates to be paid to PAA for their financial services and cross-training education would be more expensive than a regular full-time employee with full benefits.

The senior financial consultant, who will be working 24 to 16 hours a week, will be paid $60 per hour and a mileage supplement to fund her drive to and from her home in Rio. She will also receive a daily per diem of $110 on days when she works on-site in Kronenwetter. Part of her work will be done remotely, according to the documents. The other financial consultant will be paid $37 per hour and will work 24 hours each week. The interim administrator said doing nothing would impact services to people in the Village of Kronenwetter.

The financial services contract says the “PAA Associates are independent contractors and as such will retain control over the manner and sequence of the work to be performed, the location where work is to be performed as well as the hours that are worked, subject to the nature of the work being performed and direction of the Village Finance Director.”