April 5th was Election Day here in Kewaunee. Our little city gained two new council members and a new mayor. Additionally, we have a new Clerk/Treasurer who started last week. I am so excited. I really want to write about productive accomplishments—and not about wrongdoings and secrecy. Our city is full of honest, positive people who deserve a competent, friendly city government. The intrigue in my blogs is out of step with normal Kewaunee culture. Our Kewaunee residents expect their city to be self-governed by elected officials, not staff-governed and certainly not shadow-governed. Strategy and major decisions should be known and voted on by elected officials, not by some secret cabal of staff and people trying to make a killing from money-making schemes at the taxpayers’ expense.
It’s hard to imagine the shenanigans that have occurred in the past two years in Kewaunee. How did all these pseudo-legal transactions happen? How could people design these schemes and get them through the council with ordinances/resolutions, contracts and back-room deals? Well, our previous administration couldn’t possibly have pulled it off without a morally-flexible lawyer. And that is what we have here in Kewaunee.
For many years we had a great city attorney who donated much of his time and was generally trusted by everybody I have talked to. But after he retired four years ago, the city brought in an outsider from Door County. I can’t speak to the first few years he was here, but I can speak to my experience in the past twelve months. And I can tell you that our lawyer was in some way tied to much of the mischief going on. Whether it was looking the other way, crafting contracts which did not protect the city, or simply advising on how to get around the council, our city attorney spent countless hours advising our previous mayor and administrator on schemes that bypassed council scrutiny. And if you squinted, you could just make out how they could appear barely legal. But legal or not, that did not stop the stench of corruption everywhere.
Let me pause to point out that attacking a lawyer like this is not recommended. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. For those with impure driving records, owners of local businesses, people with legal skeletons in the closet or those who can’t withstand frivolous lawsuits, calling out a city attorney is ill-advised. But I have spent a year documenting. My husband and I are both retired and our children are out on their own. I own no local business. And I happen to be ready for this fight. As it turns out, there is only one time to get rid of a loosely ethical city attorney, and that is every two years when the council votes for reappointment. And that time to reappoint or choose a new attorney is quickly approaching. If the council votes to reappoint him, no matter what he does after that, it would be an expensive, long, drawn-out fight to rid the city of him before May 2024.
So let me make my case here and now. In little over two years, he has moved from law firm to law firm. He is on his third in less than three years. In my very first council meeting, our city attorney rendered a wrong decision, clearly not knowing the law. He sat in other council meetings with knowledge the council should have known, but he withheld. Contracts that he reviewed proved to leave the city vulnerable. Why was Doug the Inspector allowed to waltz into our city without proof of licensure or even a last name? It’s because the inspector’s contract with the city did not protect us. Why was the previous city administrator allowed to leave town with an extra $10K without council knowledge or approval? Because our contract with him did not protect us. Why was the mayor allowed to sign off on the continuation of legal services when our attorney changed firms without council knowledge or approval? Because our city attorney sat in council meetings with all this knowledge, not saying a word, not disclosing important facts. We investigated and had to uncover them.
And finally, this past year’s Council was painfully aware of this attorney’s flaws—if you remember in August of 2021 we voted 6-2 to hire outside counsel because we did not trust the current attorney to protect the council members or represent the city’s best interest.
And let’s get one thing straight. We are paying our city attorney more than any previous attorney. At least as far back as I can find records, we have never paid more for a city attorney. Even at a slightly lower rate, his bills are still very high. To him, it seems the city of Kewaunee is a cash cow. Large checks have flowed to him, and we have only one chance to turn off the spigot. There is no reason to pay for an attorney who does not respect the people of Kewaunee or their elected officials, and whose advice and rulings have proven to be flawed.
So let us start out with a clean slate. Let’s scrub City Hall of the last vestiges of shady dealings. Let’s not let this bad apple remain in our bushel. We have a wonderful new team, and Kewaunee and Brown counties have smart, ethical lawyers who would love to provide some public service and competent, ethical legal work. Let’s chose one of those to become part of our new team. Kewaunee deserves a City Hall that is clean and works for the voters.
Thanks for listening.
P.S. To all the lawyers, judges, juries and other readers who may read this blog, this and all my blogs are my opinion, communicated to the citizens of Kewaunee. My writings are intended to describe my personal interpretations of my experiences as a Kewaunee citizen and councilperson. I am not a lawyer or professional of any kind. The only purpose of this blog is to fulfill a campaign promise of transparency.