By a 24-4 margin, and with three supervisors choosing not to vote, the Sauk County Board appointed a new chief government administrator late Tuesday night.
Baraboo City Attorney Alene Kleczek Bolin will replace Renae Fry – who signed a separation agreement with the county Dec. 2 – as the county’s next administrative coordinator.
The move came amid a swirl of controversy over Fry’s departure, which will cost taxpayers nearly $135,000, and the process used to replace her.
The hour-long debate over Kleczek Bolin’s appointment did not center on her qualifications. Most said she was well-suited for the job. Supervisors disagreed about the manner in which she was selected.
Although some said the committee that handled the search did everything above board, others said the search was flawed, and accused Sauk County Board Chair Marty Krueger of manipulating the process.
The contentious meeting included multiple calls from members of the public for Krueger to resign.
To open the discussion, Vice Chair Joan Fordham of Baraboo, a member of the search committee, shot back against criticism by providing a version of events leading up to Kleczek Bolin’s appointment.
“The committee determined what the process was going to be,” Fordham said. “This was not anything, as I heard here tonight, that Mr. Krueger engineered at all.”
Krueger met with Kleczek Bolin for coffee Dec. 6 to ask if she was interested in the position. That private discussion took place 23 days before the board’s five-person Executive and Legislative Committee publicly discussed the process for making a hire.
On Dec. 29, the committee decided its first step should be to review a list of finalists from last year’s search in closed session Jan. 3. Krueger prepared an agenda for the Jan. 3 meeting that included a closed session interview with Kleczek Bolin and an open session item to recommend a hire.
He did not reach out to six people the committee publicly deemed “final candidates” during the prior search because they already had been interviewed, Fordham said. Those interviews took place nearly a year ago.
Fordham said Kleczek Bolin was among four additional candidates who were passed over for interviews last year.
During a phone interview Wednesday, Fordham said Krueger informed the committee Jan. 3 that the other three no longer were in the running, because they had moved on or were not interested. That’s why he only invited Kleczek Bolin to interview Jan. 3.
The identities of those candidates were not available Wednesday. Krueger did not return a phone call or email. Prior conversations about the four additional candidates took place in closed session, which committee members refused to discuss before Tuesday’s board meeting.
During the Jan. 3 closed session, Fordham said, the committee grilled Kleczek Bolin with tough questions, and she provided satisfactory answers. The panel also spent time reviewing the qualifications of finalists who were not invited to interview before reconvening in open session to select Kleczek Bolin.
Process in dispute
Some supervisors that don’t serve on the committee, but attended the meetings, said Fordham’s version of events didn’t match with what they witnessed. Others, including several who missed the meetings, said her explanation convinced them the process was fair.
“I believe maybe that there is a little bit of some transparency problems,” said Supervisor Andy Andrews of Baraboo. “Maybe (the personnel department) wasn’t involved enough, or something like that, but overall we’ve got an extremely qualified candidate, a process that was followed fairly well, and I think it’s time we move on and get a very excellent person to take this position.”
Supervisor Bill Wenzel of Prairie du Sac, who previously served as the board’s chair, said the administrator search is an example of Krueger overstepping his authority and controlling processes that should be left to county staff.
Piggybacking on another supervisor’s criticisms, Wenzel said Sauk County Personnel Director Michelle Posewitz should have handled candidate outreach, not Krueger.
“I think what my esteemed colleague… meant to say is that Michelle should have had the cup of coffee with Alene,” said Wenzel, who voted to appoint Kleczek Bolin. “I think it’s that simple.”
Six members of the public who spoke Tuesday chastised Krueger for his involvement in Fry’s departure and Kleczek Bolin’s selection. Several suggested he resign.
Rose E. Lee of Baraboo criticized the use of an anonymous letter of allegations against Fry during her performance review in late October, saying the former administrative coordinator should have had the right to face her accuser. She said Krueger’s actions have gone beyond his position description.
“The word ‘chair’ means that you preside over something,” Lee said. “It means you make sure the meeting runs according to Roberts Rules of Order and you make sure that people get a chance to speak their position. It does not mean that you get to come in and crack your whip and make sure that everybody does it your way.”
One member of the public, former one-term county board member Jeff Giebel of Reedsburg, spoke briefly in support of Krueger’s performance as chair.
Baraboo Alderman Joel Petty spoke to the board in support of Kleczek Bolin. When she was being considered for the city job, Petty said, he spoke with those who worked with her in her previous role as attorney in the county’s legal office.
“There was nothing but accolades about her abilities, her intellect, her organizational skills, and her independence,” Petty said.
One supervisor, Nathan Johnson of LaValle, asked whether Kleczek Bolin had enough administrative experience to manage an $84 million government operation. He said he never received a copy of her resume, and county staff confirmed it was not sent out.
Krueger assured Johnson, saying he had a discussion with someone from the firm that conducted the last search who said Kleczek Bolin had great potential. Krueger also said she had a positive history with the county, and had gained perspective during her city time, making her an ideal candidate.
Kleczek Bolin worked in the county’s legal office for nearly nine years beginning in 2007. She managed that department for a short period while Sauk County Corporation Counsel Todd Liebman was away, and later accepted the city job in February 2016. Her initial salary as administrative coordinator will be nearly $115,000.
The resolution to appoint Kleczek Bolin declares that she is not a public official for the purposes of a state law that requires a two-thirds majority board vote to remove appointive county officers.