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Computer at center of town of Delavan investigation

Mike Heine/The Week
Ann Marie Ames/The Janesville Gazette

(Published Sept. 5, 2007, 10:36 a.m.)

Town of Delavan police are holding Town Clerk Dixie Bernsteen's work computer as evidence, Chief Andrew Mayer said earlier this week.

The department has received a complaint related to the computer, but Mayer would not tell The Week who filed it, give The Week a copy of it or tell the nature of the complaint, saying it is under investigation.

The Week has filed a request under the state Open Records Law seeking a copy of the complaint.

Town supervisors have received copies of the complaint, and supervisor Frank Jones told The Week that Bernsteen suspected someone had been tampering with her computer.

Bernsteen would not comment if her computer had been tampered with or about whom she thought had done so. But there are records on the computer only she and the deputy clerk have access to, she said.

"All public records are all the responsibility of the clerk," Bernsteen said. "If they are missing or come up missing, that's her responsibility. There are confidential records that I and the deputy clerk are only privy to the information."

Town attorney Steve Wassel asked two town supervisors--Jim Wolfgram and Kay Franzen--to meet him at the town hall Aug. 24 to act as witnesses while he seized Bernsteen's computer, Wolfgram said.

Wassel did not take the computer because it was at the repair shop at the time, Wolfgram said.

When asked why he wanted to confiscate Bernsteen's computer, Wassel told The Week he "could not comment on personnel matters."

He said conflict between the town board and the clerk was the reason for the interest in the computer.

"The board has been trying to work with the clerk to resolve the issues and to get some closure on issues that exist," Wassel said.

The tension between Bernsteen and the board boiled over at a July 17 meeting, according to the Delavan Enterprise.

There, Bernsteen alleged the board had an improper meeting on June 9 because she was a topic of discussion and that was not on the agenda, according to the July 26 edition of the paper. She called it "rude, disrespectful, unacceptable behavior" by the board.

Town Chairman Wayne Polzin then criticized Bernsteen's work as clerk, saying she makes mistakes and doesn't use her time on the job appropriately, according to the paper's recount of the meeting.

"I don't feel that you are doing your job," the paper quoted Polzin as saying at the meeting. "You are spending too much time on other garbage and I think it is high time that you start being the town clerk and working with the entire town board in getting your job done..."

The minutes for the meeting say Bernsteen read a statement about her disappointment in the board over a work meeting held while she was gone.

Wassel would not comment on specific issues, but a letter Bernsteen read at an Aug. 21 board meeting sheds more light.

The letter was written by former Clerk Colleen Endisch. In it, Endisch defends herself from--among other things--what she said were accusations by Wassel that Endisch trained Bernsteen not to do enough work for the town chairman.

"The town clerk's job is not to be a secretary to the town chair," Endisch wrote. "The town clerk's job is an elected position, just like the town chair's, and she is not his 'staff.'"

Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said the police contacted his office regarding the investigation.

He said he contacted the Wisconsin Attorney General's office for advice, but had not gotten a call back as of Tuesday.

The attorney general's office also has not responded to The Week about whether an investigation is underway.

Koss thinks only the clerk or her deputy should have ready access to the computer. However, there are ways for town officials to access the computer, he said.

Koss did not think any crime had been committed by others trying to access the clerk's computer.

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