Newburg seeks to regroup by hiring administrator

Split board OKs $78,900 contract in effort to move on from controversy that prompted employee resignations
Ozaukee Press staff

Newburg trustees voted last week to make Deanna Alexander their administrator and clerk through 2021, bringing some stability to the village after its two-person staff abruptly resigned in May.
Not that all the village’s problems are solved, however.

Alexander was hired as interim clerk in June, a month after former Administrator Rick Goeckner and treasurer Chrissie Brynwood abruptly resigned, saying the atmosphere in village government had become toxic and that they felt unsafe.

After their resignation, village officials were unable to access bank accounts, payroll and other basic information.

After meeting in closed session, the village board voted 4-2 to hire Alexander at an annual salary of $68,000 through 2021. The village offer also includes a stipend of $10,900 for health insurance since the village does not offer benefits.

Voting to hire Alexander were Village President Rena Chesak and trustees Sarah Beimborn, Sandy Stockhausen and Lynn Burkhard. 

Voting no were Dave De Luka and Amy Marquardt.

Trustee Chris Stangel was absent.

“I voted for Deanna because she is a true professional,” Chesak said in an email. “She brings new and modern ideas to the table.  She has developed standards that help the board and the village as a whole and it’s refreshing to get a new set of eyes on things. 

“We were in a real bind and she has done a remarkable job in the interim role helping the village with next steps. Ultimately, she is qualified, committed, and capable.” 

  Emails sent to each of the trustees asking why they voted the way they did were not returned.

  Alexander has served as a Milwaukee County supervisor for nearly eight years for the state in foster care administration. She holds an undergraduate degree in business management from University of Wisconsin-Parkside and  said she is completing master’s degrees in taxation and public administration presently. She also served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

Alexander said the village is looking at hiring a part-time deputy clerk or treasurer in the coming months.

Last week, Alexander told trustees she received one proposal from an accounting firm in which it would cost $39,000 a year to provide an accountant one day a week.

Other work beyond the one day a week would be billed at the rate of $110 per hour, Alexander said.

Controversy has dogged the village since last year when the Village Board negotiated its contract with the Newburg Fire Department. Some trustees and residents said the department was overcharging the village.

Then-trustee Rena Chesak, the wife of Fire Chief Mark Chesak, argued in favor of the department’s proposal. She ran for village president but also was found by the village Ethics Commission to have violated the village ethics code for having a conflict of interest and participating in the debate over the contract. 

Alexander last week told trustees the controversy is not over, as she has been occupied dealing with open records requests.

Two of those requests have been from Goeckner, she said.

In June, Goeckner asked for emails sent from his and Brynwood’s former accounts after a temporary staff person used Brynwood’s account to answer an email from a village resident, raising concerns about identity theft.

More recently, Goeckner has asked for emails and phone texts from May 21, 2018, to July 21, 2019, on Chesak’s public and private accounts. 

Goeckner wants the emails and texts in their original forms so as to include attachments and response chains. That has proved to be difficult, Alexander said, and has cost village close to $600 so far to bring in information technology specialists to ferret out those messages.

That includes reaching out to Ozaukee County, which manages the village’s email accounts for assistance “but they were unable to help,” Alexander told trustees last week.

Alexander said she expects to have the first batch of messages to Goeckner this week. 

The rest will follow, as will more bills to pay, she told trustees.

Another open records request was by an  anonymous person for Burkhard’s texts from Nov. 21, 2018, to July 31, 2019. 

The request specifically states it is seeking texts between Burkhard and Ethics Commission Chairman Mike Heili, Interim Public Works Director Frank Schneider and any messages containing the words Chesak, confidential, confidentiality, committee, village board, grievance, meeting, Wick, Chrissie, Deanna, Barb, Rena, Dave or any names of Village Board members.

The state attorney general’s compliance guide states that “the requester generally does not have to identify himself or herself,” except possibly in the case of student or hospital records or when there is a safety concern. In addition, requesters do not have to explain why they are requesting the information.

Alexander said she had spent about 20 hours out of a 70-hour week just responding to open records requests.

Alexander added that there have been other open records requests, including several people who have walked into village offices inquiring how to submit an open records request.

That prompted Stockhausen to wonder out loud whether they are a priority.

“On the one hand we’re spending 70 hours a week trying to get things done and then we’re faced with this,” she said. “Can’t we just put them on the back burner?”

Village Attorney Ian Prust said no, pointing out that state law advises that responses to open records requests are required to be made generally within 10 days, if possible.

“While they’re not top priority, they’re second or third priority,” after basic government functions, such as public safety, he said.

Alexander took the opportunity to caution trustees that content on their private phones and email accounts are public records and are subject to the state open records law if they use those accounts for public business.

A check this week of trustee email links on the village website showed only one trustee, Stangel, using a village email address. Chesak, De Luka, Burkhard and Stockhausen used private email addresses. Beimborn’s and Alexander’s email links were not functioning.

Last month, Heili filed another ethics complaint against Chesak, saying she lied to the commission.

Afterward, however, the board voted to abolish the commission and will direct future complaints to the Washington County District Attorney.

Having their own ethics commission was added expense to the village because it required the village to not only use its own attorney but also to hire outside legal counsel, officials said. Ethics Commission members were also paid to attend meetings, in addition to adding to administrative duties of the clerk.

  In another matter, former village trustee Harry Gramoll told the board that he had been notified by Washington County that he had not paid his property taxes, even though he had a canceled check from the village proving that he had paid them.

Alexander confirmed he had paid his taxes at Village Hall in January and that the funds had been deposited in the village bank account in February. 

“But the proceeds were not forwarded to the county,” Alexander said. “At this point we believe it was some sort of clerical error.”

Alexander said she believes no other residents were affected.

Several changes also have been made in recent weeks in how Village Board meetings are run.

  People wishing to speak to the board must first fill out a card beforehand, speak from a table set up in front of the board and address the board directly. At previous meetings public comment has been somewhat of a free for all with people speaking from the audience, sometimes without being recognized, and responding to each other.



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