Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief
After nearly a year without a steady Corporation Counsel, the Sauk County Board voted to hire Brian Desmond to fill the long-empty office and end a period of heavy turnover for the county.
Desmond has served as corporation counsel in Oneida County for 14 years, and will begin in his position in Sauk on March 22, with a starting salary of approximately $120,000.
During his time in Oneida County, Desmond was responsible for overseeing the general counsel for the county, land use, zoning and land conservation as well as termination of parental rights. The job description in Sauk County will require much of the same.
Desmond was one of seven applicants for the job, according to County Administrator Brent Miller. The hiring process was handled by a committee which included various county department heads and county board supervisors.
Miller said the hiring of Desmond was unanimously approved by the Executive and Legislative and Personnel Committees prior to full board approval. The board unanimously voted in favor of his hiring, a 28-0 vote and three supervisors absent.
Supervisor and member of the Executive and Legislative Committee, Wally Czuprynko, expressed that he believed Desmond will be a good fit in the county.
“I think he will fit in very well with our little county family,” said Czuprynko.
Supervisor Brian Peper expressed his desire for Desmond to excel in the long-vacant position.
“He seems like a well qualified young man. I hope he does a good job and with a first name like Brian, how could we go wrong?” Peper said.
The county’s corporation counsel office has remained without in-house counsel since January 2020, after former corporation counsel Daniel Olson was placed on paid leave pending the results of an investigation into personnel complaints from within his department.
In December 2019, Olson brought forth findings of a private investigation that he conducted to the Executive and Legislative Committee, that alleged misconduct by 11 different county officials, department heads and staff. The alleged misconduct included violation of open meetings law, misuse of public comment period by staff members and an unauthorized investigation of a department head by a county board member.
Olson’s independent investigation of county officials was unrelated to personnel matters he was allegedly under investigation for.
The names of the officials and staff Olson alleged misconduct against were never officially released.
In January 2020, the Executive and Legislative Committee voted to send Olson’s report to the Sauk County District Attorney Micheal Albrecht, who denied investigation. Albrecht forwarded the report to the Sauk County Sheriff ’s office, who also denied an investigation, citing a conflict of interest.
The Sheriff ’s office forwarded the report to the Attorney General’s office, who in April 2020 stated it would not be pursuing criminal investigation or prosecution of any Sauk County officials or staff named in Olson’s report.
Following his leave, Olson fi led a civil lawsuit against the county in February 2020, seeking relief and the court to reverse the county’s decision to place him on paid leave.
Olson claimed without his work privileges, he would be unable to combat misconduct by “public officials who chose politics over principle and personal interest over public trust.”
Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Barrett dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning Olson could not file the same case again. Barrett ruled Olson did not fulfill the burden of proof.
Olson was officially fired from the county in May 2020.
While the corporation counsel’s office remained vacant for almost a year, the county contracted with various attorneys to provide corporation counsel services.
Directly following Olson’s leave, the county hired Gary Rehfeldt, a retired former corporation counsel for Dane County. Rehfeldt worked with the county from February to June, after being hired to fulfill the role two or three months, at a rate of $200 per hour.
Rehfeldt left his contract with the county to return to retirement, but voiced concerns of a large amount of backlogged work in the corporation counsel office.
Rehfeldt expressed the office was experiencing a six to nine month backlog of work in land use, land conservation and child support. The county contracted with outside lawyers to complete the outstanding work.
Following Rehfeldt’s return to retirement, the county contracted corporation counsel services with Von Brisen and Roper, for $17,500 per month. The prestigious Madison law firm provided three attorneys to the county to provide corporation counsel services.
In the middle of last year, the county was facing an approximately $150,000 deficit in the corporation counsel’s budget because of the on-going outside contracting.
Miller said in 2020 and 2021, the county has spent a total of $681,491 in contracted attorney fees. This includes $303,174 for contracted counsel for Human Services legal cases, such as mental commitments, guardianships and children’s matters.
“The number of cases in 2020 was exceedingly high, and we have no way of knowing if this was tied to COVID-19 or not,” said Miller.
The county spent $378,316 for all other contract attorney’s fees, such as contracted attorney’s for land and zoning cases and corporation counsel services.