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St. Joseph Town Board takes dispute to court

Mary Stanley

In the latest development on a board torn by conflict, the St. Joseph town chairman filed a petition in St. Croix County civil court last week asking that the new clerk-treasurer be removed from office.

On Aug. 23 Judge Scott Needham signed a restraining order temporarily prohibiting Mary E. Stanley, Houlton, from exercising any authorities, performing any duties of clerk or performing any function on behalf of the town. She is also prohibited from entering any town-owned property and accessing or handling any town records or accounts. Stanley was ordered to return all keys, a laptop computer, all town records and property, and to provide all passwords and information that will be needed by other town workers to access computers, accounts and files and perform clerk-treasurer functions until this action is settled.

The complaint filed by Town Chairman Daniel Gavin, Hudson, alleges that Stanley used the town credit card for the unauthorized purchase of a laptop computer; failed to provide minutes of town board meetings; refused to attend and serve as clerk at meetings and to post town meetings, hearings and actions; and refused to cooperate with an audit of town financial records.

She is also accused of giving the combination for the lock on exterior doors of the town hall and fire hall to an unauthorized person: Perry Hecht, her husband/ significant other. Hecht used his access to the town hall to enter a closed meeting of the Town Board and threatened a town supervisor, according to the complaint.

The petition for removal claims that in late April or early May, Stanley used the town credit card to buy the laptop. The complaint says Town Board members don't know how much she paid for the computer because she has not provided documentation of the purchase.

According to the complaint, Stanley first told the board the money came out of her budget, but when challenged at a Town Board meeting, she admitted she didn't have authority to buy the computer without board approval and offered to reimburse the town for about $498.

She was given time to reimburse the town. But, according to the complaint, she didn't and instead showed supervisors a personal check made out to the town, promising to deposit it the next day.

But during that meeting, Stanley abruptly left, putting all her documents for the meeting, including checks and bills to be approved for payment, in the town hall office and locking the door.

The deputy clerk retrieved the checks and bills so the board could proceed. Then, according to the complaint, the board found Stanley had not signed the check for the computer.

According to the complaint, when the chairman met with the town's banker to see if any check from Stanley had been deposited in the town's account, the banker "expressed concern about the handling of the town accounts by (Stanley)."

The banker said there had frequently been overdrafts and the bank had to call Stanley to transfer funds to cover the overdrafts, often having difficulty reaching her.

Stanley took office April 12, 2011. According to the complaint, from April through Aug. 19 six payroll checks were issued to her, ranging in amounts from $2,367 to $3,302. But according to the town chairman, at least two of the checks were not authorized or approved by the town board and were not signed by him. Those two checks were for $3,302 and $2,417.

The complaint says it also appears that Stanley cashed some checks before the Town Board could approve them and issued some checks to herself that exceeded her salary, which is $35,000 per year or $2,917 per month.

On Aug. 18, the board went into closed session and locked the doors to the town hall as was customary for such closed meetings. Sometime after the start of the meeting, Hecht entered the town hall. He told the board that he had the code to the locks.

According to the complaint, when told to leave, Hecht remained and "threatened Town Supervisor (Brian) Gullickson, stating something to the effect that 'You, Mr. Gullickson, you're in big trouble.'"

Hecht left, saying he would return with other people. A deputy sheriff was called to the meeting and stayed until it was over.

The suit accuses Stanley of official misconduct and neglect of official duties and asks the court to hold a hearing and order that she be removed as clerk-treasurer "for cause."

Two court hearings on the case are scheduled, one for Sept. 2 and one for Oct. 4.

Stanley could not be reached for comment. A cell phone number listed to her in the county directory is not a working number, and no other listing in her name could be found.

A history of conflict

Past animosity on the board was one topic raised last March during a voter forum prior to the April election.

Candidate Gavin said that was one the main reasons he wanted to be town chairman.

A reporter quoted him as saying, "I've learned over a lifetime of working with people that nothing gets done if you can't get along ... I hope if I am elected I'll be able to conduct these meetings in such a way that everyone will be proud of it."

In response to the same question, Stanley said it is important to listen to others with an open mind.

"There's always a middle ground," she said. "There's always a way to compromise and (reach) a solution without bantering back and forth, yelling."

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.