Village trustees blast Wagner, Dickmann

Seitz, Fischer accuse administrator, president of withholding info; longtime officials say they run government responsibly
Ozaukee Press staff

Two Saukville Trustees are voicing concerns about how the village is run, with one writing he is “truly disappointed and disgusted” with Village Administrator Dawn Wagner and President Barb Dickmann after the two refused to disclose a business considering building a facility in Ansay Development’s Northern Gateway Community Collective during the July 12 Finance Committee meeting.

“I am truly disgusted and disappointed with the village president and the village administrator,” Trustee Trevor Seitz wrote in an email to Wagner, Dickmann and fellow trustees. “We talk of transparency and truthfulness. As we discussed future businesses coming to the village in closed session, and after several attempts to find out what business will be coming, the village president and village administrator chose to withhold the information from six village trustees.”

In a joint interview, Dickmann said “There were no discussions at that point,” but Wagner followed saying the committee was negotiating a developer’s agreement, which sets obligations for both the business and the village to follow.

Dickmann said the company wanted to remain confidential to avoid worrying employees with a potential move. Hence, Wagner and Dickmann withheld the information from trustees despite being in a closed session unavailable to the general public or press.

“Don’t release, to me, means not to release it to the public,” Seitz said. “Not to withhold it from trustees.”

However, Dickmann said the fact her response to Seitz’s email was leaked to  Ozaukee Press illustrates the need to keep some information from trustees.

“I think the fact that you are fully aware of the email I sent to the trustees after the July meeting indicates the fact that the trustees didn’t necessarily respect the closed session,” Dickmann said.

Seitz, who forwarded Dickmann’s email to Ozaukee Press, said its contents did not disclose what was said in closed session, but rather shed light on the lack of transparency in village government.

“It was more about the procedure than the topics of the closed session,” Seitz said.

In her email to trustees, Dickmann revealed the business while later on writing another email saying concerns should have been voiced during the closed session. Seitz said he asked for the company’s name multiple times during the closed session.

Trustees Scott Fischer and Seitz said Starbucks is another example. A plan for the Starbucks coffee shop, that is now at 827 E. Green Bay Ave., came to the Plan Commission in March 2020, which is when Starbucks became known to commission members. Wagner, who works with businesses inquiring about Saukville, said she knew the business intended to build in the village since roughly May 2019.

“Starbucks was nothing short of a rumor when they said what was going in,” Fischer said. “You’d ask Dawn (Wagner) and Barb (Dickmann) and they’d say they don’t know. I find it odd they didn’t know what was showing up and then Starbucks pulls up.”

Wagner said business matters in preliminary discussions aren’t brought to trustees because there are certain hoops businesses need to pass through. She said she doesn’t want to bring a project to trustees that doesn’t have its “I’s dotted and T’s crossed.”

“There were deed restrictions as related to that outlet of a Walmart,” Wagner said. “They had to get cross easements to allow for enough parking and then the developer had to get approval from Walmart. (They also needed approval) from Starbucks. Just because a site is approved, they still have to make sure ... they’re able to actually sign the contract with Starbucks too.”

Dickmann said she wasn’t informed about Starbucks at first either because it was a staff concern, not an elected official concern at the time. She said she learned about Starbucks coming to the village while in the McDonald’s drive-through.

Wagner said she tries to update trustees on developments prior to a vote during the “other matters” section of the Plan Commission agenda. At the Aug. 2 meeting, Wagner informed trustees that the Cadiville Bar & Grill will likely make the September Plan Commission agenda.

In addition to elusive business developments, Seitz and Fischer said Wagner and Dickmann discourage trustees from speaking to the press. Wagner and Dickmann said the village spokespersons should be the president and administrator, rather than trustees.

“The reason Dawn is the spokesperson is obvious from the chain of command,” Dickmann said. “She is responsible for the day to day operations.”

Dickmann said not getting the president’s input would be “disregarding who (she is as) the chief elected official.”

Since Wagner and Dickmann facilitate what information is given out, it paints a tainted picture of what is happening in the village, the two trustees said. Only showing their perspective rather than that of the entire Village Board.

“When we became trustees, we were told not to talk to department heads, people in the office or the press,” Fischer said. “(They said) you have to show a united front, ‘If the press calls, direct them to Barb and Dawn.’”

Seitz said this and withholding the business name makes him believe the two don’t trust village trustees.

“It shows their lack of trust for trustees,” Seitz said. “You’re telling me I can’t keep my constituents informed — leave them in the dark.”

Seitz and Fischer said asking Wagner questions doesn’t always yield the answers they are looking for either.

“She doesn’t (disclose) any information,” Fischer said. “You have to ask specifically what address, building and location for any direct information. Otherwise she’ll give you a roundabout answer.”

At the Aug. 2 Finance Committee meeting, trustees voted on reallocating police funds that were intended for new police radios. However, the county helped pay for the radios and the funds were no longer needed.

Seitz emailed Wagner asking for documents regarding the funds to help make an informed vote. Wagner failed to address his request for related documents and wrote in an email response, “Chief (Robert) Meyer is out of the office until Tuesday. He will be attending the (meeting) to discuss the request.”

After further questioning by Seitz, Wagner said there was no documentation but disclosed $12,045 was in question — a fact Seitz thought should have been originally included.

Seitz said Wagner could have been transparent by including additional information, such as providing multiple options to allocate funds, especially considering Meyer wanted the money set aside for building maintenance — something already in the budget — instead of rolling the money over for next year to preserve taxpayer money.

Without Seitz’s questioning, trustees wouldn’t have had any information regarding reallocating the funds prior to voting on it.

Another trustee complaint is that Wagner prohibits trustees from asking department heads questions. Seitz said if he has a question about an item on the agenda, it would be nice to discuss it with the appropriate department head to allow for a more educated vote.

Wagner said trustee inquiries should go through her because department heads report to her as shown in the village’s chain of command.

“The department (heads work) for me, they report to me on a day-to-day basis,” Wagner said. “So obviously I need to know what they’re working on. It’s important that we don’t have trustees trying to direct or assign job responsibilities or duties.”

Trustees aren’t trying to assign duties. They’re trying to ask questions, Fischer and Seitz said. Wagner said she has facilitated meetings between trustees and department heads with her present.

“This worked very well in the past, because everybody is on the same page,” Wagner said. “There’s no blindsiding or doing anything like that. (Trustees say) ‘I have some questions regarding this upcoming policy, is there any way we could get together and talk about this?’”

Wagner referenced the wastewater facility in her response. Fischer, who is chairman of the Utility Committee, said he had meetings with Wagner and the appropriate department head for facility updates but experienced limited success in getting direct answers from the department head.

“You show up to ask a question and she’ll just answer,” Fischer said. “It’s uncomfortable because I can’t just meet with the department heads.”

Seitz said this communication barrier would make things difficult if followed, citing the water filter project, which could cost $2.65 million, as an example.

Dickmann said she and Wagner have been in their respective roles for roughly 20 years and have never faced transparency concerns before — this is how things have been done and have worked. But Fischer said there’s a difference between tenure and ethics.

“Just because that’s the way they’ve done it, doesn’t make it right,” Fischer said.



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