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Sub-committee created to decide details of future fire station in Milton

MILTON

It is not up for debate whether the Milton Fire Department needs a new fire station.

But still to be determined are where the station will be located, who can use it and how it will be paid for.

At its June meeting, the Milton Joint Fire Commission decided to create a subcommittee to hash out details of how the Milton Fire Department should move forward toward a new station.

Fire Chief Randy Banker said he hopes the subcommittee can start working by the end of July. Committee membership and meeting times have yet to be determined.

The subcommittee will include representatives from Janesville, the city of Milton and the town of Milton, said Lynda Clark, member of the Milton Joint Fire Commission representing the city of Milton.

In October, the Milton and Janesville fire departments began sharing administrative resources, making Banker the chief for both departments.

It is one of the latest steps in a reorganization plan from the Milton Fire Department that included creating a shared services agreement with the Janesville Fire Department.

Shared services between the two departments began in February 2016, Banker said. An intergovernmental agreement between the cities expanded shared services in early 2017.

Building a station

The Janesville Fire Department for years has needed a fire station on the north side of Janesville, according to a previous report from The Gazette.

Milton has outgrown its fire station on Madison Avenue, and the building has structural issues, Banker said.

A consultant hired by the city of Milton in August 2015 recommended the Milton Joint Fire Commission come up with a plan to replace the current fire station.

Janesville has locked down a lot for a new fire station at County Y and Overhead Trail between Milton and Janesville, Banker said.

Banker in January 2017 said the cities eventually could build a new fire station on the north side of Janesville for the departments to share, according to a previous report from The Gazette. A new station could happen sooner with financial help from both cities, Banker said earlier.

A number of representatives from the city of Milton thought during the Milton Fire Department reorganization that the Janesville and Milton fire departments would share a new station, said Theresa Rusch, member of the Milton Joint Fire Commission representing the city of Milton.

But some town of Milton representatives on the fire commission believed the Milton Fire Department would build its own station separate from Janesville’s new station, Rusch said.

The Gazette was unable to reach town representatives on the fire commission for comment.

Milton sees a greater need for services on the south end of the city, where there has been more growth, but that does not mean the commission can ignore the needs of the rest of the district, Rusch said.

The Milton Fire Department services 90 square miles in the city of Milton, town of Milton, town of Harmony, town of Johnstown, town of Lima and a small portion of Jefferson County.

Rusch believes a south-side fire station shared with Janesville would run more efficiently than the current station.

The cost of a shared station and agreement on what portions each municipality would pay would be negotiated, Banker said. That’s what shared services is all about. But it first needs to be decided whether the municipalities would share a station at all.

A decision needs to be made soon because it affects each municipality’s financial decisions, Rusch said.

Sharing services

The biggest change to come from shared services is in response time, Banker said. Both departments have improved.

The departments can access each other’s ambulances when needed, Banker said. The two departments also share a fire marshal.

Since the reorganization, Milton has EMT services available and might soon have paramedic services, Banker said.

The Milton Fire Department has submitted an application to the state Department of Health for paramedic service approval, Banker said.

The approval will take months. Banker hopes it will be approved by the end of the year.

The shared services agreement has been good for both departments, Banker said. Costs have not increased for either department as a result.

The primary goal remains keeping firefighters and the community safe, Banker said.


Federalist Society’s Leo has worked for years to transform the Supreme Court

WASHINGTON

Leonard Leo, a vice president of the conservative Federalist Society, will soon have his own grateful bloc of ideological allies on the Supreme Court.

Since the 1990s, he has been one of the most important inside players in the conservative legal movement and the man to see for those who aspire to sit on the nation’s highest courts.

Leo has been a longtime friend and champion of Justice Clarence Thomas, and he played a crucial role in promoting the two most recent Republican appointees to the high court: Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch.

And Monday, President Donald Trump is expected to nominate another new justice from the short list prepared by Leo and the Federalist Society.

It is quite an accomplishment for a young lawyer who came to Washington not for money or prestige, but instead to transform the Supreme Court and to bring it in line with conservative principles, including ending a court-created right to abortion.

“No one has been more dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe vs. Wade than the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo,” Ed Whelan, a former clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote in December 2016, shortly before Trump nominated Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s seat.

For his part, Leo, 52, downplays the talk of overturning the abortion right. “The left has been using Roe vs. Wade as a scare tactic since 1982,” he said in a recent TV interview. “This is not about overturning a particular case. It’s about getting the Constitution right.”

Leo’s detractors scoff at such claims and predict that a solidly conservative court will target liberal rulings.

Leo is always careful to emphasize that Trump is in charge of the court selection process, with the assistance of White House Counsel Donald McGahn, who describes himself as a proud member of the Federalist Society. Leo describes the task of his group and the Heritage Foundation as one of screening judges to find the best thinkers and writers who adhere to the principles of “textualism” and “originalism” that are favored on the right.

Coming out on the wrong side in a highly charged case—like with the dispute over President Barack Obama’s health care law—could knock any Republican judge out of contention.

In interviews, Leo often speaks of his Catholic faith and of the role it plays in his daily life. He and his wife, Sally, have had seven children. Their first, Margaret, was born with spina bifida. She used a wheelchair for mobility and suffered from medical problems, but he has said she had a spirit that lifted her family. Since her death in 2007, Leo says he has gone to Mass daily.

He first gained attention in 2005 when he played a key role in elevating a little-known judge from New Jersey. Alito had served on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for 15 years and had compiled a record as a smart and reliable conservative. Alito was not a familiar name to many in the Washington legal community. He was, however, known and admired by Leo.

In early October 2005, President George W. Bush announced he was nominating White House Counsel Harriet Miers to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. But leaders of the conservative legal movement objected loudly.

Bush retreated and withdrew her nomination at the end of month. Four days later, he announced he was nominating Alito to the Supreme Court. In the 12 years since then, Alito has been a steady, predictable conservative. When the court has been split, he has not joined with the liberals in any case of significance.

Leo’s role has grown since Trump took office. Trump promised repeatedly on the campaign trail that he would name conservative, “pro-life justices” to the high court, but he did not have a deep and experienced team of legal advisers.

But Leo and the Federalist Society were prepared. A few days after Trump’s surprise election victory, Leo was at Trump Tower in New York offering his thoughts on how to proceed in filling the seat left vacant by Scalia’s death.

During the campaign, Trump took the unusual step of announcing he would choose his Supreme Court nominees from two lists that included 20 names. Since then, a third list added five more people. Although the outside groups prepared the lists, Leo says Trump deserves the credit.

“This was his idea,” he said. “He had three criteria. He wanted people who were extraordinarily well-qualified. People who were not weak. And he wanted people who would interpret the Constitution as the framers meant it to be interpreted.”

The exit interviews of 2016 voters suggest Trump’s emphasis on conservative judges helped him win over those who were wavering or undecided.

With the first vacancy, both Leo and White House lawyers favored the idea of nominating a judge who had a significant track record of conservative rulings. Gorsuch, a Supreme Court clerk for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, had served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver since 2006. He was an excellent writer and echoed Scalia’s approach to deciding cases.

This time, two of the top three candidates have a similar appeal, and all come with Leo’s stamp of approval. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, 53, was a law clerk for Kennedy the same year as Gorsuch, has served on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals since 2006, and his more than 300 opinions have been reliably conservative.

Judge Raymond Kethledge, 51, another former Kennedy clerk, is from Michigan and has served on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a decade. His blunt put-downs of federal agencies have won plaudits on the right.

The other top contender, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, has only a brief record on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. She is 46 and has been a judge since November, but she has won support from conservative and religious groups across the country.


Randy Swatek


Fall_2018_primary_election
Documents tell tales about Rock County sheriff candidates

JANESVILLE

Records about two Rock County sheriff candidates released by the sheriff’s office Saturday are sure to play a role in voters’ decisions in upcoming elections.

Gary Groelle, a captain with the sheriff’s office, and Troy Knudson, a commander at the office, face off in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary.

The records charge Groelle violated sheriff’s office rules and state statutes in incidents over the past year.

Groelle responded to those allegations Thursday in a Gazette story, saying his personnel file was “spiked” with a disciplinary report that is “phony,” and he alleges Sheriff Robert Spoden has political motives for doing so.

Spoden has denied that charge.

The Gazette reviewed the reports Saturday. They cover allegations against Groelle already reported in The Gazette and some that were not made public until now. The records show:

  • Groelle used information about official sheriff’s office business on his campaign Facebook page. The information was about a forum for the Janesville Area Rental Property Association that Groelle attended in March.

Chief Deputy Barbara Tillman issued a “fair warning” performance review to Groelle for this violation of the sheriff’s office’s general orders.

  • Groelle violated the same rules at a May 17 Rock County law enforcement memorial ceremony for officers who died in the line of duty.

Someone posted photos of Groelle in uniform, posing with the memorial’s keynote speaker, on his campaign Facebook page.

Ignoring the warning about political activity issued in March constitutes insubordination, Tillman wrote.

In an interview transcript, Groelle says he’s not sure if he posted the photo to his Facebook page or if someone else did.

“If I did it, I did it unknowingly,” he said.

Groelle told investigators that he didn’t go to the memorial for political purposes.

  • Groelle submitted a time sheet showing two hours of work for attending the memorial, even though no one had assigned him to attend it.

Sheriff’s office officials had appointed two other captains to be the sheriff’s office’s representatives at the ceremony, but not Groelle, records show.

The time sheet entry could constitute misconduct in public office, a state law violation, Tillman wrote.

  • Groelle violated a sheriff’s office policy regarding the raffle law violations. Groelle previously admitted to The Gazette he held raffles at bars to raise money for his campaign. He said he didn’t know of the prohibition, and he will donate the proceeds to charity.

Groelle told Tillman that he donated raffle proceeds to charity because he “just felt it was the right thing to do,” but he later admitted that state investigators had suggested it, and District Attorney David O’Leary had told him in writing that if he donated the money, O’Leary would take no action against him.

This was a case of untruthfulness because Groelle omitted information, Tillman wrote, and being untruthful violates policy.

The records show that the raffle violations came to light when a Knudson campaign worker called a state official, asking for a raffle permit, and was told that raffles are illegal for political purposes.

The worker then told the official that the Groelle campaign had run raffles, and that’s what started a state investigation, records show.

Groelle is required to report to his superior any contact with other law enforcement agencies that might result in criminal prosecution or disciplinary action, but he did not report his contact with state Division of Criminal Investigation agents who were investigating the raffles, or with O’Leary, records indicate.

Groelle told investigators he assumed the state agents had informed sheriff’s office.

Groelle admitted he also conducted raffles during his 2014 campaign for sheriff.

Tillman said as she was completing her report in early June, Spoden received an envelope containing Groelle’s resignation, effective July 9.

The reports also detail allegations that Groelle slept on the job, as reported earlier.

Groelle received a written reprimand for the sleeping incidents after an investigation by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office.

The reprimand says that if Groelle has difficulty staying awake, he is to notify his supervisor and take “benefit time off” and that any future infractions will result in discipline “up to and including termination.”

Groelle wrote a response to the reprimand, saying he never admitted to sleeping on duty.

The Waukesha County detective conducting the investigation, however, reported Groelle admitted he “nodded off” at the computer on a day that someone told him Spoden had seen him dozing.

Other witnesses mentioned hearing a “snort” or “quick snore” that they thought indicated sleep, and one described a time she or he entered Groelle’s office when Groelle had his head down and then appeared to awaken abruptly.

Groelle wrote that once, he was not feeling well, so he put his head in his hands on his desk for 30 to 40 minutes, but he never slept.

Groelle cited a sheriff’s office rule that says supervisors who see an employee who is unable to safely perform should immediately remedy the situation. So if Groelle was sleeping, Spoden should have taken action at the time, Groelle argued.

The documents are heavily redacted, apparently blotting out mentions of Groelle’s health. Groelle told The Gazette earlier that he has sleep apnea.

In a redacted passage that appears to refer to that condition, attorney for the county James Korom wrote that Groelle never made a “request for accommodation.”

Groelle wrote that Spoden was informed about (redacted words) shortly after the first alleged sleeping incident in summer 2017, and yet Spoden never questioned Groelle about his “ability to properly and safely work. ...

“Not until after I announced my candidacy for sheriff on Dec. 13, 2017, and he receives information that I ‘snorted’ in my office on Dec. 17, 2017, does he decide to take some action against me,” Groelle wrote.

Spoden told an investigator that a few days after the incident, he told his command staff about it and expected follow-up. But Groelle noted that others told investigators they didn’t believe they were ordered to follow up.

Two people, apparently administrators, told investigators that Spoden had brought up the subject at a meeting, but they didn’t believe he had ordered them to investigate at that time.

Groelle admitted to sleeping at work, once in summer 2017, but he said that was during his lunch hour.

Groelle submitted a performance review by his supervisor, covering January through October 2017—which included the time of at least one alleged sleeping incident—in which he is graded as exceeding expectations in one category and meeting expectations in all the others.

One witness whose name was redacted told investigators that Spoden should have awakened Groelle when he saw him sleeping and he or she “believes the fact that they were ‘political rivals’ had a part in the fact that Sheriff Spoden did not wake Capt. Groelle.”

Other witnesses said the sleeping was well known and was a common subject for office jokes.

In requesting a grievance process, Groelle asked that the written reprimand be reduced to an “observation report.” The grievance was denied.

Groelle requested an evidentiary hearing to, in part, discuss “political bias,” which Impartial Hearing Officer Scott Herrick of Herrick & Kasdorf denied.

Herrick wrote that he asked Groelle to submit an explanation of what he wanted to prove and how he would prove it, and Groelle did not do so.

Herrick wrote: “Mr. Groelle has a fantasy that Sheriff Spoden harbors some fundamental dislike of Mr. Groelle because four years ago Mr. Groelle ran against him in an election. Even if that were true, it cannot prevent the county from ever taking disciplinary action against Mr. Groelle in the future. The sheriff played no role in the disciplinary decision in this case.”

Tillman and the county human resources department were the ones involved in the discipline actions, documents indicate.

K-9 story

Another set of records released Saturday details an investigation 20 years ago, when a dog handled by then-Sgt. Knudson died after a training accident.

No discipline was issued for Knudson, but some Groelle supporters brought it up recently.

Knudson said a sign posted along a highway advised people to ask Knudson about a “dog incident,” and a photo of the sign was posted on Facebook.

Knudson said he saw Groelle’s parade vehicle in the Evansville Fourth of July parade had the words “Justice for Quatro” printed on it.

Quatro is the name of the dog who died.

“Quatro was my K-9 partner, my companion and a member of my family. We were participating in a training exercise when Quatro was exposed to a great deal of smoke and had an adverse reaction,” Knudson wrote. “He was treated by a local veterinarian; however, he did not survive.”

Records indicate that training with smoke was an acceptable practice to acclimate dogs to possible real-life conditions.

“It was later determined that the smoke had likely aggravated a previously unknown and undiagnosed heart condition that he had,” Knudson wrote.

“There was an immediate and extensive investigation into the incident, which identified areas of the training that I could have improved, but discipline was not recommended,” Knudson continued. “Now, an allegation is being made 20 years after the incident, and just a few weeks before a primary election, that justice was not served. This seems inflammatory and impugns the integrity of that investigation.”

The records back up Knudson’s statement.

Knudson said he still mourns Quatro’s death.

Groelle issued an apology on social media Saturday night, saying “Justice for Quatro” was written without his knowledge, and he had it removed before the parade started and admonished the person responsible.

“I apologize for it causing tragic and heartfelt feelings to be resurfaced. I in no way hold Troy accountable for Quatro’s unfortunate passing,” he wrote.


Gary Groelle


 

Troy Knudson


Robert Spoden