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Sheriff's deviations from policy leads to corrective plan

The Barron County Board of Supervisors will vote on June 17 on a resolution designed to mend the financial miscue caused when the Sheriff Department's unauthorized contract with Spillman Technologies Inc. for $744,238.50 was signed in December 2017.

Back on April 23, the Sheriff's Department received a $105,576 bill from Motorola Solutions, parent company of Spillman, for 911 dispatch software currently in County operation.

On April 25, County Finance Director Jodi Busch found out a contract had been signed when the Sheriff's Department notified her of the bill. It was determined the department did not have the payment allocated in its budget.

This resolution would provide that payment in the form of a lump sum of $422,306.40 paid to Motorola in January 2020.

Initially, a payment of $105,576.60 was to be paid February of every year, with the last payment occurring in 2022.

The Sheriff's Department would pay $88,784 of the $105,577. Other departments in the County using the software would provide the difference.

The four payments would be compressed into one.

On June 11, Busch told the Chronotype the resolution would help clean up the situation by allowing a new contract to be signed which would then be filed with the government. The County's bond rating with Standard & Poor's, its borrowing power, its debt levy plan and its financing would not be affected as she had warned was possible during the May 20 Board of

Supervisors meeting.

The new agreement also evades the messy discussion of the legality of the original contract, since the sheriff does not have the authority to bind the County into an agreement.

This may be one reason Motorola brought this agreement re-write to the attention of County Administrator Jeff French on May 17. It's a win for the company, as it lends goodwill by providing a solution, and it gets its money 2 years sooner.

The resolution would authorize a 0% General Obligation Debt—which Busch explained was similar to accessing a savings fund—for the full total of $422,306.40. This agreement would add no interest to the County's bill and would not effect the tax levy except for 2020.

An audit will be conducted, but Busch said at this time it is unknown what it will involve.

For the resolution to pass on Monday, three-fourths of Supervisors must be in favor.

Busch said this agreement would work with current County obligations including a resolution to borrow $529,000 from the state trust fund for the Waste to Energy plant that will be reviewed Monday and two bonds due in 2021 and 2022 for the Justice Center.

The Highway Department will be adversely affected. Funding for its new facility would be pushed back to 2023 to bankroll the Spillman payment.

Busch stated that with approximately 20 departments, good communication is needed.

Communication an issue

During the May 20 meeting, Busch said the crux of the contract matter was that it didn't go through the proper process. At the time, the County's policy for contract approval required a Contract Approval Form and approval of the County Administrator and the Corporation Counsel.

The one page approval form's purpose is "to limit the County's exposure to liability and prevent the purchase of duplicate services." An updated form will be presented to the board in June that increases the signatures required by adding the Finance Director's.

No approval of the Spillman contract occurred.

The contract—with 16 pages redacted by Motorola Solutions for proprietary reasons—was provided to the Chronotype by the County through a records request.

The contract is separated into two areas: section A, maintenance; and section B, software.

French told the Chronotype he had seen the maintenance portion, section A, on April 25.

The sheriff approached the board with an offer from Spillman for prepayment of the maintenance. This deal would save the County $38,902.44. The Board of Supervisors approved the prepayment of the maintenance portion for an amount not to exceed $216,355.50.

The maintenance payment of $45,675 was properly budgeted by the Sheriff's department. It was the software agreement, section B, that was neglected.

French said he saved the full 51-page contract, including the software agreement, to his computer on May 17. Up until then, he said, the total contract had not been revealed to him.

The software agreement was the four yearly payments of $105,577.

When asked how that large of a payment slips through a budget review process involving the head of the department, finance director and county administrator, French explained that he hadn't known about it. "It's just that simple," he said.

Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald has made himself available at public meetings to clarify the mistake was unintentional and has apologized ad nauseam.

Contacted by phone Tuesday, Fitzgerald said this was the only contract he signed as sheriff. He stated the Spillman software had not been a secret and the purchase had been approved but the final paperwork had not been complete.

It was exciting, he said, and the software was going to benefit the County.

He signed the contract, he said, because "it said 'Sheriff sign here.'"

The contract was written by Spillman, which likely did not know County policy, and assumed the Sheriff could bind the County.

Typed into the contract is "Accepted and Approved by: Barron County Sheriff's Office," followed by a signature line. Fitzgerald's signature appears on four pages of the contract.

On Monday, Supervisors will vote on a 10 point Corrective Action Plan (CAP) that would limit the Sheriff's Department's autonomy.

The plan would require existing contracts to be turned over to the Counsel's office and would freeze the Sheriff's Department's budget for 2 years, excluding percentage increases in wages and health insurance. Hiring would also be on hold 2 years.

One of the CAP items concerns the County's fixed assets—defined in the Contract approval form as any item who's working life is more than 1 year in length: anything from a stapler to a squad car.

The County's new Comprehensive Fixed Asset Policy states that when disposing of an asset, if it was originally purchased for over $500, it must be sold on public auction.

The new policy was put in place due to a motorcycle sold by the Sheriff's Department through consignment at the Harley Davidson store in Rice Lake instead of being sold at auction. This did not violate any County policy.

Fitzgerald said the motorcycle was used to serve court papers and sold after its operator retired and no one expressed interest in driving it. He said it was thought the County would get a good price by trying the consignment route.

A records request revealed the 2013 Harley Davidson FLHTP Electra Glide was originally purchased for $21,392.21 in May of 2013. It was sold by the sheriff's department on August 17, 2018 for $9,513.16.

Fitzgerald said Harley Davidson charged a small consignment fee, similar to the fees charged by the auto auction. He did not know the vehicle's milage, but said there were not very many.

Kelly Blue Book states a trade in value for that bike of $8,030 and a dealer's listing at $10,940 with "average condition and milage."

Fitzgerald explained the department would sometimes trade vehicles in or send squad cars to a dealer auction at Chippewa Valley Auto. The dealer would clean the cars and remove their police markings, he said, which saved the department time and money.

Everything would now be going through public auction, he said.

The CAP would also require a fixed asset review—separate from the annual budget review—with the Finance Director/County Auditor. A physical inspection of the department's assets could be requested.

The final stipulation cryptically states the use of County property is for County purposes only. French told the Chronotype he had no knowledge of anyone in the Sheriff's Department improperly using County property and said it was included to reinforce the policy.

Fitzgerald suspected the provision was added due to a photo op involving the Cameron High School Softball Team and the Sheriff Department's BearCat armored tactical vehicle. Fitzgerald said a softball coach, who is also a member of the SWAT team, and had requested permission to use it for team photos.

The photos were posted on the Cameron Girls Softball Facebook page on May 5.

Fitzgerald said he approved the request and that it was similar to other public relation activities the department has brought the BearCat to. He said the photo had not been discussed between him and County Administration but he planned on bringing it up.

The CAP has been agreed to by the Sheriff's Department and County Administration and would take affect if approved by Supervisors on Monday.

RLFD: Response slowed by short staffing issue

Almost 13-year-old Darrin Thompson Jr. said he woke up to an alarm coming from the basement after midnight on Tuesday. As he approached the basement door, it smelled like a burnt coffee pot, he said. When he opened the door smoke came out, so he shut it and alerted the rest of his family.

The Rice Lake Fire Department was dispatched to the fire on S. Main Street at 12:14 a.m. Tuesday. Homeowner Holly Thompson said she had called 911 as they quickly exited the house. Darrin Jr. left his walking cast behind.

All occupants were out of the home, and smoke was coming from the basement when the first fire crew appeared on scene, according to a RLFD press release.

The fire department could not perform an interior attack due to reduced on-duty staffing, the release stated. Thompson said fire fighters prepared for an attack by laying out hose while they waited for more responders.

Thompson said her husband was able to smoke a cigarette before the next crew arrived.

The department's ladder truck arrived on scene 12 minutes later, according to the call detail report, and an interior attack was begun about 17 minutes after a crew was initially on scene.

The press release stated the interior attack was delayed by nearly 17 minutes. Once adequate staffing was on scene, RLFD confined flames to the basement, however there was smoke damage throughout the home.

Numerous windows of the home were open June 11 to air it out, and a smoke smell lingered around the edges of the structure.

Thompson said the fire's origin was in the southeast corner of the basement.

Eighteen Rice Lake firefighters, two engines, an aerial apparatus and a command vehicle responded to the incident, the release stated.

The Red Cross provided assistance and temporary lodging to the family of five.


Complaints have DNR's attention
Birchwood Manufacturing air permit in doubt

Nuisance complaints against Besse Forest Products, doing business as Birchwood Manufacturing in Rice Lake, that have persisted for more than a year now have the attention of the Department of Natural Resources.

Susan Lindem, an environment engineer in the DNR's air management division, told the Rice Lake City Council on Tuesday that the DNR is allocating resources into investigating air quality complaints and ensuring Besse is in compliance.

"We've received several complaints in the past year," said Lindem. "It appears issues with particulate matter have been escalating."

Lindem led off her comments to the Council with a question: "What's the desired outcome here?"

Alderman Jim Dorrance indicated that since a severe storm damaged the facility during June of 2017, noise, soot and dust emanating from the facility have increased.

"It seems all we hear is excuses and nothing changes," he said.

Nearby residents, particularly on Highland Street, have complained to Besse and the City that the facility is affecting their quality of life.

The perception that enforcement is overdue was furthered Tuesday when Lindem said Besse had been operating

under its DNR issued air permit since 2010, and their renewal application submitted in 2015 had not been acted on by the DNR. Therefore, the previous permit remains active.

"We do not have the resources and have not had the resources to address minor sources," said Lindem, indicating that Besse was considered a minor source, rather than a major source based on emission standards.

"The application you're dealing with is not current," reiterated Mayor Mike Diercks.

"It does expire, but the department has not acted on it," said Lindem. "It's in the state's court to process that application when we have the resources."

While Lindem said the DNR would be looking into air quality issues, it cannot address the complaints of excessive sound.

That issue may be left up to the City. The City's contracted legal counsel Arnold Koehler said, "It's a very tough area of the law."

But the matter of sound ordinance enforcement will be discussed by the Council in July.

Other business

In other business, the Council took the following actions:

• Approved issuing a Class B liquor and Class B beer license to Jama Investments, doing business as Jaybirds of Rice Lake at 202 N. Wilson Ave. Jama Investments is owned by Andrew Schmitz, of Onalaska.

• Accepted a bid from DeSantis Excavating and Underground Utilities, of Cumberland, to relocate a water main at the former City street department for $107,092.

• Approved a street use permit to Benjamin's House Emergency Shelter to close Marshall Street between Main Street and Wilson Avenue for the Street Eats event on Sept. 14.

Also, after a closed session, the Council took no action on a harassment complaint against Jim Anderson, director of the Community Services Department. When the Council returned to open session, Dorrance said, "The Council feels we have come to a satisfactory decision on this and all the people will be talked to in private about what we decided."

Jeopardy! champ has local connection

Chicago librarian Emma Boettcher, at right, next to "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.

Emma Boettcher, granddaughter of Ted and Helen Krenzke of Rice Lake, defeated the second most winning Jeopardy! champion of all time during an episode that aired June 4.

Boettcher correctly answered "who is Marlowe?" to the Final Jeopardy! question on Shakespeare's "As You Like It," and accepted a congratulatory high five from 32-time champion James Holzhauer. Boettcher went on to win twice more and finished with a three-game prize total of $97,002. Ted Krenzke described his granddaughter as "remarkably bright," and said that when the family gets together and plays Trivial Pursuit everyone wants Emma on their team.

Boettcher was not allowed to tell anyone the results of the game before it aired. She kept the secret from her grandparents, as well as her own sister, since the original taping on March 12. Her parents were at the taping and were under the same secrecy conditions.

Krenzke said he had an inkling about the results, though, as when he was talking to Boettcher's mother the Sunday before the episode aired she had mentioned planning a watch party at their home near Philadelphia.

Krenzke figured if she was putting together a party, there must be something to celebrate.

Boettcher is a librarian at the University of Chicago, graduated from Princeton and received a Masters in information science from the University of North Carolina. She also, Ted said, does the Friday and Saturday New York Times crosswords with no erasures and no references.

According to The Daily Princetonian, Boettcher will use her winnings to pay off loans and to make church and alumni donations.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)