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Complaint alleges misconduct by town of Delavan officials

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Sept. 26, 2007, 3:21 p.m.)

A former town of Delavan supervisor and the town's last treasurer filed complaints with the Walworth County Sheriff's Department alleging multiple instances of misconduct by current town officials.

A list of complaints by ex-supervisor Larry Malsch and former treasurer Shari Wisniewski alleges walking quorums were had without agendas, meeting agendas were not sufficient, open meetings laws were violated, expense reimbursements are questionable and an office key was copied that shouldn't have been. The Week received the list Tuesday afternoon from Wisniewski.

Malsch said he also complained to the sheriff's department that public records were being withheld despite his request to see them.

The sheriff's department conformed receiving complaints regarding the town, but could not discuss the nature of them or who filed them because it is an open investigation, Detective Bureau Capt. Dana Nigbor said. She declined a request to provide a copy to The Week.

A detective has been assigned and the case will be referred to the district attorney's office for an opinion when the investigation is done, Nigbor said.

The department has not sought the assistance of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Public Integrity Unit, which investigates allegations of official misconduct, Nigbor said.

Wisniewski said the allegations are not serious, but show a pattern of misbehavior by town officials.

"The work of the town isn't being done," she said.

Malsch, who was voted out of office in April, said the alleged misdeeds are the result of a power trip by Chairman Wayne Polzin.

"This is not isolated incident. It's pattern of abuse and allegedly illegal stuff. I think (District Attorney) Phil (Koss) should look at this closer than just slap on the hand," Malsch said.

Polzin said Tuesday that he was unaware of the complaints being filed. He added that he isn't worried about it.

"I won't make any comment until I know what's going on," Polzin said.

After being told of the complaints, town attorney Steve Wassel feels neither he nor the town board did anything wrong.

"There has been strict compliance with open meetings laws," he said. "From what you've read to me, it's baseless. I can only hope that there is a thorough investigation of these citizens' complaints. It's unfortunate that people who were previously involved in town government fired this off without understanding the total dynamics."

The allegations from Wisniewski and Malsch came on the heels of another complaint related to the town government received by the town's police department.

Local police were holding Clerk Dixie Bernsteen's work computer as evidence after it appeared someone had been tampering with it, according to police and town sources.

Bernsteen told police her computer had not been working right and that she noticed cables had been installed improperly, suggesting someone else was using it, according to a town source who wished not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation. It is unclear who attempted to use the computer, which has files that should only be accessible by the clerk or deputy clerk.

Wassel had 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 a repair shop at the time because it may have previously been tampered with, according the source.

When asked why he wanted to confiscate Bernsteen's computer, Wassel told a Janesville Gazette reporter 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.

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