Arena Public Works superintendent resigns, rush to fill position internally leads to open meetings law complaints

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

Arena Village Hall (File photo)

On Feb. 15, Village of Arena’s Public Works Superintendent Michael Schmidt submitted his resignation, with a month and a half notice. By the next week, the village was already holding a meeting to interview internal candidates. That rush to hold an interview resulted in several village officials having open meetings law complaints filed against them.

In his letter of resignation, Schmidt thanked the village board for the opportunity to work in and improve the town that he grew up as a part of, while stating his last day will be March 31.

Hired several years ago in the midst of complete turnover in the village public works department, in a matter of months Schmidt rose from a part time position, to full time, to the department’s first formal superintendent. 

In his letter of resignation, Schmidt encouraged the board to continue with projects they had worked to begin: the second well and improvements on the sewer system he said are necessary long term investments to make for Arena, seeing the parks as an asset that can bring families into the village and work with the community to use the parks and improve them, continuing to work for village employees to retain the talent the village already has.

With a second municipal water well and a long-sought path to the village’s West Pond Park incoming, as well as a dog park and more established during Schmidt’s tenure, Schmidt was humble when asked what he was most proud of. 

“I am proud of the things that we have done, and I appreciate the opportunity I had here,” said Schmidt, demurring. “But I feel that the focus now should be on the future. The village board and whomever they select as the next superintendent will be able to decide what that future will look like.”

As for the future?

“The board should ask [public works assistant] Andrew Bauer to take on the superintendent position. Andy has the knowledge, work ethic, and judgment to take on this role. He is the best person for this position,” said Schmidt. “During the remainder of my time I will work with Andrew to make sure he is prepared to take on the superintendent position.”

Seeming to take Schmidt’s advice, the Village of Arena Personnel Committee set a meeting for Feb. 22 in order to interview Bauer in closed session. However, notice of the meeting wasn’t legally sufficient and the committee went into closed session apparently without any sort of vote, both violations of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. 

Editor’s Note: Due to multiple violations of open meetings law, Valley Sentinel filed complaints with the Iowa County District Attorney’s office on Feb. 23. The complaints are civil and may result in forfeiture or, in some cases, voiding of the meeting.

The complaints, legal analysis of the meeting and the application of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings law can be found in our legal editor’s column here.

This story has been updated to clarify that it appears the Personnel Committee did not take a vote at all to go into closed session (rather than the emphasis being on a lack of roll call vote), a motion and a second do not preclude a vote from being taken after the motion and second are made, even if the committee is only two or three people.

Wis. Stat. § 19.85(1): Any meeting of a governmental body, upon motion duly made and carried, may be convened in closed session under one or more of the exemptions provided in this section. The motion shall be carried by a majority vote in such manner that the vote of each member is ascertained and recorded in the minutes. […] [emphasis added]

Audio and witness to the meeting reflect a motion was duly made, but not carried by any sort of vote.