October 23, 2014
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Imagine Lake Geneva streets without parking meters.
October 23, 2014
The investigation into the Lake Geneva Street Department generated more than a thousand pages of reports and transcripts of police interviews of more than 30 people.
Not all of the testimony deals with the alleged illegal trade of services, sand and salt between the city and private companies.
Some transcripted comments touch on issues unrelated to charges filed against two city employees but which may lay bare the functions and malfunctions of city government.
Former mayor Bill Chesen is unsparing in his criticism of city management, in particular City Administrator Dennis Jordan and Dan Winkler, public works director and utility director.
Jordan and Winkler deny any wrongdoing. Neither have been charged with anything.
“They sure as heck knew what was going on,” Chesen said in a recent telephone interview, referring to Winkler and Jordan.
It turns out that what was allegedly “going on,” as Chesen termed it, was an informal system set up between former street department superintendent Ron Carstensen and two local landscaping companies that involved trading road grit (sand and salt) from the city in exchange for other services and materials from the two companies. Don Hoeft Jr., former street department foreman, was also implicated in the informal exchange system. The alleged arrangement may violate state law which forbids municipalities selling or otherwise giving materials bought through a state contract to private persons or businesses.
Carstensen and Hoeft face multiple felony charges of official misconduct along with related misdemeanor charges.
Carstensen has since pleaded not guilty to all charges. Both he and Hoeft will be in court Nov. 14, Carstensen on a status hearing and Hoeft to enter his plea.
Chesen voluntarily came to the Lake Geneva Police Department, where he was interviewed by Lake Geneva Police Detective Joe Ecklund on Dec. 20, 2013.
Ecklund started the interview with a question about an alleged street department slush fund....subscribers>>
Chesen said he heard of the slush fund and talked with Jordan and Carstensen about it.
An allegation that a street department employee was taking coins from the Riviera fountain and used the funds to buy a classic car drew attention to potential problems in the street department, Chesen said.
A district attorney’s opinion that the coins were technically abandoned property, led Chesen to approach Jordan and suggest the city take charge of the coins in the fountain and cash them in.
And, according to Chesen’s testimony, he met with Carstensen and Jordan to discuss the alleged slush fund. Carstensen argued the street department needed the fund to pay for small items, Chesen told police.
In his interview with the Regional News, Chesen said he suggested that a petty cash fund of $100 or $200 would be appropriate, which would be replenished when the street department submitted its receipts at the end of the month.
Jordan was reluctant to take on either of the issues without being prodded into action, Chesen claimed.
Chesen makes it clear in the transcript that he believes the rot started at the head of city administration.
According to Chesen, when he first took office, Jordan approached him and asked whether he could play golf.
“As crazy as this is gonna sound, I get elected mayor and in my first week at city hall, Dennis Jordan comes to me and says ‘I play golf on Tuesdays and Thursdays, do you have a problem with that?’” Chesen said, according to the transcripts.
Later, in a telephone interview, Chesen said the request took him aback.
“I told him, Dennis, you are the lead professional,” Chesen said. Employees in the city hall were looking up to him to be a leader, he said.
Called for comment, Jordan seemed surprised by Chesen’s comments, and said that golf conversation did not take place.
Jordan denied he talked with Chesen about taking two days a week to play golf.
Jordan, who was hired by Mayor Charlie Rude in 2002, said he first talked with Rude about whether it would be OK for him to join a golf league.
“I wouldn’t even think of going two days a week,” Jordan said.
However, when a staff person has worked well beyond 40 hours, they can take time off, Jordan said. He said city staff does it now.
“It hasn’t been abused,” Jordan said.
During his own Jan. 3 interview with police, Jordan was asked if there was anything in writing that might have guided the street department in what was proper and what was not.
Jordan expressed exasperation with the decision by the department heads to apparently bend the rules.
“Monthly staff meetings, for god’s sakes,” Jordan said in the transcripts. “Everybody knows you’re not supposed to do that stuff … I mean, I can’t believe, you know, you just keep doing the same old same old.”
Jordan also said that the street department slush fund was ended shortly after his meeting with Chesen. But, said Jordan, the slush fund was apparently restarted.
Jordan maintains that the total amount of money recovered from the fountain does not amount to much, and that the coins must be cleaned before a bank will take them.
He said he still believes the costs to collect and clean the coins from the fountain outstrips what the coins are worth.
Chesen also claimed that bids were mishandled through the department of public works.
Chesen told police he saw bid envelopes that were opened before they went to the city clerk.
At the very least, Chesen said, it indicated a bad process. He did not accuse anyone of bid rigging.
Dan Winkler denied that bids were pre-opened at any time.
He said his department doesn’t even handle most bid envelopes. Those are delivered to the city clerk by the contractors, Winkler said.
He said that on the day of the bid openings, if the city clerk is not available, the city administrator and he, as public works director, would open the bids, usually in the presence of the deputy clerk.
However, it becomes clear from Winkler that, while he was nominally in control of the street department, he did not have complete control.
In his Jan. 20 police interview, Winkler explained that when he was first hired, he was head of both utilities and public works. However, in 2001, under former mayor Spyro Condos, Winkler was no longer public works director, but was retained by the utility commission.
When Rude became mayor, Winkler was brought back as public works director, but he was still paid through the utilities commission and he didn’t have the authority he once had.
“It was all … because of the politics side of it,” Winkler said in the transcripts. He said his entire salary was still paid by the utility commission, which left some of the city council members with some “heartburn” over his position.
He said some council members resented that they had no direct control over him.
“They don’t do my performance evaluations. They don’t pay me as an employee. I do everything I do en gratis by resolution and agreement between me and the city,” Winkler told the interviewing officers.
Subsequent city councils did not want to relinquish their control of the street department.
Asked why he does the job, Winkler replied “because it needs to be done.”
While the issue of bid openings never came up during his interview with police,, other rumors were broached that Winkler was getting free services from companies to improve his personal property.
Winkler denied taking any services from private firms, saying he paid for all work done on his personal property.
However, he did point out that his home is very close to a hiking path.
He said he’s asked the street department to clear out brush. He said he’s spread bark chips himself on the path.
In his interview, Chesen presents the role of the mayor of Lake Geneva as that of a cheerleader or movie director, calling on department heads and staff to perform their jobs properly. But when the day is done, the mayor has to rely on those department heads.
And without the support of the city council, that task becomes almost impossible for the mayor, Chesen said.
Chesen had a rocky relationship the city council that eventually led him to dismiss four council members for allegedly violating the state Open Meetings Act. He unsuccessfully tried to replace them with four appointees. It is very clear from the interview transcripts that the former alderman and mayor has had his fill of city politics.
But, he said, he still loves Lake Geneva.
October 23, 2014
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Former Lake Geneva City Clerk Mike Hawes was not interviewed by police about the situation in the city street department.
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