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The city saw its first ethics complaint in history in 2022 resulting in a much deeper dive into the efficacy of its ethics code

2022 Year in Review

Alderperson Joyce Hall faced an ethics complaint filed by John Kraft, former St. Croix County Republican Party chairman who resigned from his post following what Hall called “a call to violence” on the county party’s website.

Hall contended that Kraft’s comments and other actions made him unfit to be an elections worker and asked council not to appoint him during a December 2021 council meeting. 

The council went ahead and approved Kraft as a poll worker.

Deliberations of the financial committee who sat as the ethics committee were made up of Council members Bill Alms, Randy Morrissette and Sarah Bruch, as well as Mayor Rich O'Connor. The committee unanimously voted to recommend a call for Hall to apologize to Kraft for the comments.

Hall complied.

The council voted to dismiss the recommendation to censure Hall following the apology statement she made. 

In response to the discussions that occurred following the complaint against Hall, a number of other ethics violation accusations were filed. 

City Administrator Aaron Reeves, City Attorney Nick Vivian, Alderperson Randy Morrissette II and Mayor Rich O’Connor were accused of ethics code violations. 

The complaint, filed by Sherie Krisitie, opened by stating at the Dec. 6, 2021, council meeting, the mayor, Morrissette, city attorney and administrator violated the code of ethics by obstructing and preventing the council from faithfully and diligently discharging its duties as it pertains to approving poll workers.

Vivian provided the council with an overview of his professional, third-party consultation recommending the complaints against Reeves be dismissed at a special meeting in January. The complaints against Reeves and Vivian were seamlessly dismissed. 

The complaints against Morrissette and O’Connor were subsequently dismissed as well. The only two votes on the dismissal came from Alderpersons Bill Alms and Paul Deziel, neither of whom remain on the council at the end of 2022. The remainder of the council members recused themself from the vote. 

All of these ethics complaints were dealt with without an official filing process. 

In the state it was in, Bruch saw the ethics code as an unattainable standard, inquiring to revisit it after complaints were handled. 

The council brought in outside counselto make recommendations, addressing its applicability and its effects in practice. 

After consulting on counsel’s recommendations, city staff recommended changes including that of verbiage, an addition of an ethics complaint form to the policy and an expectation of open sessions and public hearings of the ethics committee. 

One of the options presented by counsel was a stand-alone committee whose role is to address complaints, something Hall and Bruch saw as a necessary divide between colleague and fellow council members when addressing ethics complaints received.

“More often than not, I see stand-alone committees and I see committees with odd numbers,” Jerilyn Jacobs of Crivello Carlson S.C. Attorneys and Counselors of Law told the council back in early May.

The finance committee serves as the ethics committee and will continue to do so. There are four members, and it is chaired by the mayor. 

“Most large municipalities have a dedicated ethics board, with a typical seven-member board,” Jacobs wrote. 

A positive factor in favor of the creation of an independent Ethics Committee is that it would eliminate the possibility of a conflict or the appearance of a conflict should any issue involving a member of the Finance Committee or issues directly impacting the Finance Committee arise.

The city’s code provides for the recusal of any Finance Committee member who is the subject of an ethics violation complaint, concerns regarding influence and objectivity – or seeming influence and the possibility of lack of objectivity – remain.

These changes were adopted by the council in October

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