3rd employee of Taylor County Veterans Service Office quits within past 9 months

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 8:19 PM CDT
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MEDFORD, Wis. (WSAW) - The Taylor County Veterans Benefits Specialist abruptly resigned Monday. She is now the third person to leave the Veterans Service Office in the last nine months.

Nikki Sherman had worked in the office for about two years. She told 7 Investigates she loves working with the veterans and it hurts to leave, but she has had enough. She sent an email Monday to several people she has worked with, particularly veterans, to let them know her reasons for leaving. This includes what she called harassment and bullying from county employees and board members since last summer.

Nikki Sherman (left) and Shellie Shaw (right) are two of the three employees who have left the...
Nikki Sherman (left) and Shellie Shaw (right) are two of the three employees who have left the Taylor County Veterans Services Office in the last nine months.(WSAW)

In August, Veterans Service Officer Shellie Shaw resigned for similar reasons. Dan Judnic took Shaw’s place alongside Sherman for about five months until he resigned in March after what he saw from county board members and staff.

“They said, ‘Oh yeah, we know she’s good, we know she’s the best,’ well, you’re not showing it. And I didn’t like any of that. I didn’t like the way they hired me. I didn’t like the disrespect that they showed towards the benefits specialist.”

7 Investigates sent an email to the county’s human resources officer, Nicole Hager, along with other county staff and board members mentioned in Sherman’s resignation email to provide an opportunity to respond. We also asked for confirmation that Sherman had resigned.

Hager responded on behalf of the group stating:

“Nikki Sherman was scheduled to work on May 22, 2023 and did not report to work. Later in the day, we were notified by someone that received an email from her stating she had resigned her position. Based on this information we are considering her as resigned.

Ms. Sherman had been off work using her accrued leave since May 8th. Ms. Wundrow, Veterans Service Officer, was covering the office while Ms. Sherman was using her leave and anticipated her return on May 22nd.”

She added that the county disagrees with Sherman’s accusations and characterization of the interactions she listed in her resignation letter. Hager concluded, “We will be recruiting for the Veterans Benefits Specialist position and are working with other Veterans Service Officers to continue to provide service to our vets and their families.” Sheila Wundrow was recently hired as the Veterans Services Officer and will handle both her role and the benefits specialist role in the interim.

Sherman confirmed that she was on leave during the time Hager mentioned and that she did not send the resignation email to the county. She added that she has also not heard from the county since her resignation.

Sherman’s resignation email states:

It is with great sadness that I am emailing you this.

I am resigning from my position as the Veteran Benefits Specialist for Taylor County effective 5/22/2023.

I have been through a lot in the last year in my position at Taylor County and the environment is not getting any better. The continuous harassment, intimidation, and bullying continued.

I am truly sorry and feel awful for our Taylor County Veterans.

One thing I have learned in the past year is some Taylor County supervisors do not support their Veterans or their employees. They are the good old boys and must be right.

On June 15, 2022, Lester Lewis, and Catherine Lemke (both county board supervisors) came into my office for 52 minutes to intimidate me, and wrongfully accuse me of actions. I asked Lester to please leave as I felt he was verbally attacking me, making me feel uncomfortable, and intimating me. Lester laughed at me and then asked Catherine if he intimidated her, and stated he has never heard that before. I made a complaint with HR, and nothing happened again.

On July 20, 2022, Lester Lewis should have been removed after the reading of a sheriff’s complaint by made Mrs. Shaw and then the “shove/gab” incident with a Veteran. Rollie Thums should have been removed after telling all the Veterans in the audience that same day “You all think you're better than the rest of us.” I do really believe that Mr. Lewis’s actions toward me were unprofessional and unacceptable and that he should be held accountable.

In October 2022, Lester tried to destroy the Taylor County Housing Authority and Forestry Dept by making uncalled cuts to those departments.

The last and final straw for me was what happened to me on my earned benefit time.

1) Monday 5/08/2023, receive an email from Nicole Hager (HR), stating I can not respond to emails on my benefit time off.

2) Tuesday 5/09/2023, my emails and log-in get disconnected.

3) Wednesday 5/10/23, Shelia cried at the VFW (American Legion) meeting and said negative things about me.

4) Thursday 5/11/23 at 1:19 pm, I received a threatening voicemail from Nicole Hager stating that the County will be having the police come to my house if I do not return a county laptop and filing cabinet key by 4:30 pm on 5/11/23. That gave me 3 hours to stop my move/packing and bring in this laptop and key to HR's office. This threat to return to the workplace while on vacation was days after I was instructed not to come to work or check emails while on vacation per Nicole Hager’s email on 5/08/23, along with Rachel Ogle’s Facebook message on 5/11/23.

5) Thursday 5/11/23, Sheila Wundrow texted me that I can only come to work on 5/12/23 between the hours of 10 am-11 am to check my email and put an out-of-office on. (5/12/23 – my son had 5th grade track and field event)

6) Friday 5/12/23 at 8:23 am, Sheila Wundrow texted me and demanded that I change my out-of-office by 5/15/23 at 4:30 PM. So again, I must go into the office on my earned time off to do these unrealistic demands.

I have concerns about multiple processes in the county. The concerns seem to be founded as Taylor County hired a third party to investigate comprehensive concerns and complaints back in October 2022 and the report was made public in January 2023, with no action taken, the report is attached.

I believe that I am a reasonable person and that I generally have good intentions. I genuinely care and am passionate about helping Veterans. The above is just another example of the good old boys. I honestly wish the best and nothing but good things for our Veterans. I simply wanted that, and I tried. The behavior, micromanaging, control, and unprofessionalism are inappropriate.

So, to our Veterans, I am sorry, and I pray you will forgive me for this decision that I had to make.

Nikki Sherman

Nikki Sherman resignation email to various parties

The county’s response to the accusations was simply:

“Taylor County disagrees that contacting Ms. Sherman while she was out of the office for an extended period of time was bullying, harassment or intimidation. While she was gone she had property in her possession that was needed to run the Veterans Service Office.

The communication that occurred while she was off was to promote Ms. Sherman’s work life balance and to ensure continued operations of the office.”

Sherman explained to 7 Investigates that she had received a professional email during her time off relating to a records request. She forwarded it to Sheila Wundrow so it could be addressed in a timely manner, per open records law, otherwise, it would have been about two weeks before the request would have been addressed.

Sherman added there is no policy stating she cannot check emails while on her time off. She said during that time Wundrow would text her and she “was between a rock and a hard place,” as to whether she should answer those texts following the directive for her not to look at her email.

As for her laptop, Sherman claims Wundrow would not have needed the laptop to perform her duties, as she regularly has her laptop with her.

7 Investigates has been looking into these resignations since Shaw resigned in August, but is still working to confirm further information and will provide more reporting in the near future.

correction: A graphic in the broadcast version of this story incorrectly stated the Veterans Service Office was without a leader. The VSO does have a Veterans Service Officer, Sheila Wundrow, who leads that department.