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100 citizens file joint complaint asking for investigation and removal of Marshfield city officials

Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 8:35 PM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) - About 100 Marshfield citizens jointly filed three complaints Monday morning with the City of Marshfield and the Marshfield Police Department against members of the city government asking for an investigation into their conduct and removal from office.

All complaints were filed with the police department, but only two were filed with the city. Those two complaints were against Fire and Police Commissioners Andy Keogh and Randy Gershman. The other complaint involved seven of the 10 members of the common council.

Group members told 7 Investigates they did not file a complaint against the council members with the city because they were still waiting for responses to records requests related to their accusations. However, they provided their concerns and what documentation they have to the police department hoping investigators would be able to get answers more quickly and easily.

The citizens stated in their complaint that they “believe that Ken Bargender, Ed Wagner, Tom Witzel, Adam Fischer, Rebecca Spiros, Peter Hendler, and Tom Buttke…have committed misconduct…” by conspiring to intentionally and forcibly remove the mayor from office, violating open meeting laws, and failing to maintain electronic records.

City administrator, Steve Barg declined to comment about the complaints but said the city attorney is reviewing them to ensure the complaints followed the legal protocol to go forward to the city council. He was uncertain exactly how the complaints would proceed if law enforcement investigates the common council members.

The complaints filed against Keogh and Gershman had many common charges including accusations of violations of open meeting laws, failing to maintain a proper record of electronic communication, failure to provide adequate oversight of the now-former police chief, Rick Gramza, failure to provide a safe working environment for police staff, and adoption and enforcement of the Fit for Duty policy which the group said was discriminatory.

The group said the violation of open meeting laws happened when Keogh and Gershman would have conversations with each other or other members of the commission privately about city business. Their complaint cites text messages between Gershman and Gramza relating to who the mayor would choose as his nominee for Keogh’s open position on the commission in 2020 and who on the council would be against his perceived choice for the position. The text messages reference that Gershman spoke with Keogh about this privately too.

The accusation of the two failing to maintain a proper record of electronic communication is in reference to records requests asking for communication including emails and text messages between particular dates for Keogh and Gershman, among other items. The response Barg gave to that request was that the city did not have records relating to those requests with the exception of one item, “All e-mails with the name Randy Gershman or Andy Keough (sic) either sent or received to City of Marshfield employees or Elected officials between the dates of April 10, 2020 thru April 30, 2020.” Commission members do not have city-issued emails or phones.

Several items were cited as failure to provide adequate oversight for Gramza, including an incident involving teenage girls and Gramza on Tik Tok, Gramza retrieving employee emails which had personal information contained and sending them to unauthorized people, and Gramza modifying work schedules which the city determined was outside of his authority to do because it would modify the terms of the police union agreement.

The failure to provide a safe working environment for police staff, group members told 7 Investigates, refers to complaints filed with the city from department employees. The group did not provide documents on this accusation because they did not believe they would be able to access those complaints but noted those complaints should be reviewed when investigating this accusation.

The adoption and enforcement of the Fit for Duty policy the group said was discriminatory on the basis of gender as well as age and disability. They cited an incident where a female police officer was not allowed to return to her normal duties after maternity leave until she passed the test.

This policy is under review at this time after then-officer Jared Beauchamp was fired for failing the test. He appealed and had an arbitration hearing in December, but it has yet to be determined whether he would be allowed back on the force. The merits of the policy are at the center of the appeal.

Individually, Keogh is also accused of signing two separate contract agreements with the Marshfield hospital without an open discussion about the agreements in commission meetings and without bringing it to the common council.

The group accuses Gershman of lying in his testimony during then-mayor Bob McManus’ removal hearing. Specifically, the group believes he had help from city employees when creating his records requests about McManus in the spring of 2020. Gershman testified that he did not have help with the request. The group also accused him of using his position to benefit himself by asking city employees for assistance with two personal matters.

While members spoke with 7 Investigates, they declined an interview saying they feared retaliation if they were to speak individually. They said some people declined to sign the complaint for the same reason. They noted some of the records requests were filed in the summer and said the complaints were not retaliation for the removal of the mayor, though they worked off of points he made and issues he was looking into. Many of those who signed the complaints have publicly supported the mayor or Beauchamp over the last year. Two of the three council members who were not part of the complaint voted against removing the mayor from office in March.

One council member who is part of the complaint is up for re-election Tuesday.

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