Speakers Scold Mayor For Personnel HandlingIssue Date: August 8, 2019
Two of the five speakers who addressed Peshtigo City Council during time for public comment at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6 used their allotted three minutes to scold Mayor Cathi Malke for her handling of city business.
Their comments appeared to be related to the Aug. 1 firing of David Zahn from his position as Parks and Recreation Director for the city.
After the small amount of regular business was taken care of during the open portion of the meeting, which lasted only half an hour, council went into closed executive session for the purpose of "Conferring with legal counsel for the governmental body who is rendering oral or written advice concerning strategyt o be adopted by the body with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved."
According to Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal, Council then returned to open session and voted without dissent "to grant authority to the mayor and attorney to act as discussed in closed session."
Aldermen John Berendt, Brigitte Schmidt, Mike Behnke and Jillian Schutte were present and voting. Aldermen Debbie Sievert and Archer Leupp were absent and excused because they were on vacation.
Just before adjourning Council scheduled a Streets and Drainage committee meeting for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29. Malke wanted an evening meeting to try to get as many citizens as possible to come and voice their opinions on whether or not the city should switch to an automated garbage collection system when it buys a new garbage truck next year.
This would involve purchase of garbage carts, and two types were on display during the meeting. Malke mentioned trying to get a vendor to bring a garbage truck to Peshtigo for a demonstration in connection with the Aug. 29 meeting.
The Aug. 6 Council meeting was heavily attended, with 17 people in the audience.
The only business items included accepting a $17,610.67 bid from M&M Automated Services LLC for a security and surveillance camera system for the Parks and Recreation Department, agreeing to return a driveway variance issue to committee, and approval of bartender licenses for Kara Bresnahan, Hanah Lemke, Ronald Wilch, Daniel Maye and Kenneth Perry.
"I am here to talk about trees falling on my house for 10 years," Ken Gable, told the Council when it was his turn to speak. He said the trees are falling from city owned property north of his house. Two fell in the past two years, and they were not small ones, he declared. Six trees fell on his house in the past 10 years. He said the smaller trees he has been taking care of himself, but the larger ones were turned in to his insurance company, which subsequently informed him his insurance could be cancelled due to the number of claims.
He said he had talked to Zahn about the problem three times in the past 10 years, and called Alderman Mike Behnke as well. He then called Public Works Director George Cowell, who came and walked the property and looked things over, but "....nothing has happened and trees keep falling on my house!"
He added, "If my insurance gets cancelled, I want it on record that I have done all I can."
Malke asked Cowell to take another look and come back with suggestions. Cowell is forester for the city.
Next speaker was Pete Villas, on behalf of Jamie Villas, who has been seeking a variance to install a driveway without a culvert at the curve in the Lake Court cul de sac. Villas said they learned much at the previous Streets and Drainage Committee meeting, and he felt there were more things to consider. Committee Chair Berendt agreed to withhold a recommendation to refuse the variance request and have it discussed again in committee.
Pam Dura spoke on behalf of Alateen, a group she said serves teens aged 10 to 18 whose lives are affected by other people's additions, and work with the Al-Anon program. They meet at 7 p.m every Tuesday night at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 917 Church Street, Marinette, and at 4 p.m. every Wednesday at the Stephenson Public Library in Marinette. Malke suggested she hand out literature, and said they appreciate referrals.
Next at the podium was Jenifer Fox-Gerrits, who said she was present "to address the recent termination of several city employees and what is perceived by the public as a caustic environment in the city." She said she had attended previous meetings here and witnessed first hand "the hostility directed not only toward staff but at residents of our community."
"Research identifies six characteristics of effective leaders. They are honesty and integrity, the ability to inspire others, the willingness to be held accountable, the ability to delegate and empower, empathy, and good communication skills, specifically being a good listener with strong conflict resolution skills. I am challenging the mayor's possession of these skills," she went on. She asked Malke, "given the possibility that you could remain mayor for the next eight months...how do you plan to improve these skills in an effort to become a better leader and to prevent the continued loss of quality employees?"
She asked if Malke would take advantage of training opportunities through the Wisconsin League of Municipalities of if she would continue with a negative attitude "and risk continued loss of valuable employees."
Next up was John Breault, who had resigned as a city employee shortly after Zahn's termination was announced. Breault said he was pretty much here to say the same things that Fox-Gerrits had said. "I believe we need a trained city manager," he said, and told Malke he believed she was micro-managing to the point where "employees are on pins and needles." "You made a lot of decisions that don't make sense," he said, "but you can do that because you're the queen."
Malke said due to legal technicalities she could not discuss one of the firings, but she could talk about the other. That she said, had come when she discovered a city employee wearing open sandals while operating a city lawn mower. She told him he could not do that, and he told her Zahn had said he could. She made him get off the machine, and he then made disparaging remarks, disparaging hand signals and later created a disturbance at city hall. He was discharged.
Asked about an invoice for a security camera with recording software, Malke said that was not an invoice, it was a price quote for an other entity that she was helping with another problem. That was verified by another member of the audience who had been assisting with the same issue.
Asked if one of the security cameras would going into the city skate park, Malke said it would, and was part of the package Council had just approved. She said it could have been installed sooner, but things kept getting delayed, "and due to poor job performance, it was not."
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