Melichar blames radio host, ex-clerk for turning innocent mistake into innuendos of corruption
Port Washington Town Chairman Jim Melichar went on the offensive this week, saying a Milwaukee radio talk show host falsely accused the town of corruption because of a $713 salary mistake that was the result of an honest error.
“For that amount of money, we were exposed as a corrupt town by Mark Belling. Thank you, former clerk,” Melichar, who said former town clerk Jennifer Schlenvogt contacted Belling, wrote in a letter to residents.
Melichar’s letter was prompted by a segment on Belling’s WISN radio show last week that, he said, unfairly slammed the Town Board and recently appointed Town Clerk Cheryl Karrels, who refunded the overpayment shortly after the mistake was discovered.
Karrels said Tuesday she has been criticized by a number of residents since the radio show aired.
“I’ve had people say I’m stealing from the town,” she said. “I’m new to this. You learn and you fix things. That’s what happened here.”
Schlenvogt, who resigned as clerk on June 30 and questioned Karrels’ salary at last week’s town board meeting, did not return phone calls but in an e-mail wrote that the salary issue has led her to question how well the town board is overseeing the clerk’s work.
The salary discrepancy came to light last week as the town board reviewed the budget and discussed the clerk’s salary.
While the minutes of the July 10 Town Board meeting setting Karrels’ salary called for her to receive 10% less than Schlenvogt — which would have amounted to $35,100 annually — the resolution formally appointing Karrels set the salary at $37,000.
When she began work on July 15, Karrels said, she found the salary resolution on her desk and used the figure in it to determine her semiweekly pay, not realizing there was a discrepancy.
The board decided on Dec. 7 to have Town Attorney Steve Cain review the matter. When Cain said on Dec. 8 that he interpreted the documents as setting the annual salary at $35,100 plus per diem pay, Karrels said she immediately calculated the overpayment and wrote a check to the township for that amount.
“I wanted it clean and done immediately,” Karrels said.
“It was an oversight by all of us,” Melichar said. “I’ll take responsibility because I’m the chairman.”
Melichar said he believes the mistake occurred because Cain may have combined Schlenvogt’s salary and per diem pay instead of using just her annual salary when calculating Karrels’ salary.
Schlenvogt has been critical of Karrels’ performance, Melichar said, but hasn’t given her a chance to learn the job.
“The former clerk said it would take three years for a new clerk to get up to speed with all that has to be done,” he wrote. “She got 5.5 years of support from the board. She only gave Cheryl four months. Don’t know why, but in a small town you never know.
“There was a motion made, a resolution printed, all public record, it has been corrected.”
Melichar noted that the town had repeatedly tried to contact Schlenvogt to help train the new clerk, but she did not respond.
In her e-mail, Schlenvogt said she offered to interview and train the next clerk.
“No one took me up on that offer,” she wrote.