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CRG fires barbs at county board leader

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Mike Heine
January 12, 2008
— The holidays are over, and political season is here.

Bret Strong, chairman of Walworth County Citizens for Responsible Government, has fired the first political shot in the county board election.


With a letter he wrote and distributed to all county supervisors Tuesday, Strong accused Walworth County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell of playing hooky from the Nov. 13, 2006, county board meeting. The hotly disputed 2007 county budget was discussed and approved at that meeting.


Strong said he overheard Russell telling a colleague in the hall that night that she would be leaving the meeting early to attend the city of Lake Geneva’s “finance committee” meeting Russell was a city alderwoman at the time.


In his letter, Strong says Russell never attended that city meeting and missed the important county budget debate.


“Based on information and belief, Nancy’s departure from the county meeting occurred after the meeting in Lake Geneva was over and record will reflect that Nancy returned at 11:00 that evening. This is troubling. Where was she during this time? Was this a fabrication? Why did she mislead the board and not follow through her duties to the people of Walworth (County) and, in hindsight, the people of Lake Geneva?”


Russell said Strong has his facts wrong.


She said she left the county board meeting about 8:15 p.m. to attend Lake Geneva’s common council meeting to vote on city bonding issues. She was excused from the finance committee meeting, she said.


Although she missed 16 votes on county budget amendments, she returned to the county board meeting about 10 p.m. and voted on passing the entire county budget, she said.


The meeting county board minutes incorrectly state she returned at 11 p.m. The meeting, as noted in the minutes, was over at 10:55 p.m., she said.


Times were incorrectly recorded because the clock on the clerk’s desk was an hour fast, County Clerk Kim Bushey said.


Russell said she asked for and was granted permission to leave the county board meeting.


Strong admitted never looking the city council minutes, which show Russell arrived at 8:30 p.m. and left at 9:25 p.m. Nor did he ask Russell where she went.


Russell said Strong should have checked his facts before making accusations.


“I think it would have been prudent for him to make sure he had the right minutes in the first place,” Russell said. “In the second place, he could have easily called me, and we could have straightened this out.”


Strong said he was incensed upon hearing Russell, who at the time was the county’s finance committee chair, would leave an important budget meeting early.


“After pulling out the public record ... what I was shown on paper, it just didn’t add up to what was going on,” Strong said.


He said he wrote the letter because of the upcoming elections.


“I don’t trust anybody on that board. I don’t trust anybody as far as I can throw them,” said Strong, who championed for a downsized county board.


“I am trying to do everything I can at this point to eradicate the incumbents. I have no faith in them at all.”


Strong criticized the clerk’s office for making mistakes on the minutes. The board approved the minutes the following month without correcting the mistake.


A note was added to the file about the mistake, Bushey said.


Russell noted and the minutes reflect that Strong still was at the county meeting when she returned. He even commented about the budget before the final vote.


“I think it’s pretty serious business to make those kinds of accusations without checking your facts very carefully,” she said.



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