Janesville47.2°

Attorney probes alleged destruction of city records

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
October 29, 2008
— Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz has hired an outside attorney to investigate whether a city employee illegally destroyed records.

"The investigation is to determine if records were destroyed, and if records were destroyed, if they were public documents," Winzenz said.


The destruction might have violated state statutes on retaining public records, Winzenz said this week.


The city hired Steve Zach of the Boardman Law Firm in Madison. He specializes in labor and employment relations.


On May 27, Bonnie Davis, recreation director, taped a conversation with Mike Williams, leisure services director. Davis said she taped Williams, her boss, to protect herself and her employees.


On the tape, Williams can be heard saying that he destroyed documents.


At the time the tape was made, former City Manager Steve Sheiffer was asking questions about a dispute between a teen relative of his employed at the city ice rink and the relative's supervisor, Steve Fisher.


The Janesville Gazette had requested records about the dispute under the state's open records law.


Here is a transcript of the relevant part of Davis' tape:


Davis: "Do you know, though, Mike, what are they going to do? Are they going to turn over those things that they told us to destroy? Because it does make Steve look real bad."


Williams: "I don't know ..."


Davis: "So you're not even making those decisions?"


Williams: "Absolutely not. I, I—They asked me for Steve Fisher's file. And I says, I don't have one."


Davis: "Did you destroy everything?"


Williams: "Yeah. I told Steve I would do that. And my word is my honor. I didn't keep any of those documents. In fact, I went into the ‘J' drive and deleted the document."


It is not clear which "Steve"—Steve Sheiffer or Steve Fisher—Williams refers to on the tape.


In a letter to the Gazette, Sheiffer denied that it was him.


Williams, in an e-mail to City Attorney Wald Klimczyk, indicates he was referring to Steve Fisher.


Fisher told the Gazette he never asked Williams to destroy records.


In the e-mail to Klimczyk, Williams admits he asked Davis and another city employee to destroy their notes from an interview with Fisher. The Gazette received a copy of the e-mail while gathering information for an article about nepotism in the city's hiring of seasonal employees.


City Council President Amy Loasching said she has read a transcript of the tape. She said it shouldn't matter whether Williams was speaking about Steve Sheiffer or Steve Fisher.


"If it's a public document, it shouldn't be destroyed," she said.


When council members questioned Winzenz about the tape, Winzenz told them he had hired an attorney to investigate, Loasching said.


Steve Sheiffer retired Sept. 5.


Council members are awaiting the outcome of the investigation.


"I definitely think that some of us council members—hopefully all of us—believe in a transparent government," Loasching said. "We have questioned in our own minds as to why any document would be destroyed."


Loasching said she understands if Fisher wanted something removed from his personnel records. But she wonders why his boss, Mike Williams, thought it was necessary to go to the "J" drive on the computer system to get rid of them.


"It just seems like a lot of work at the request of an employee. And I question why the director of a department would do what an employee asked. That doesn't make sense to me.


"I do think there's more to this story. I'm very curious as to what the outcome of this investigation will be."


Winzenz said the investigation could be finished as early as Friday.


"...We don't know for sure what happened," Winzenz said. "If we did, we wouldn't need to investigate it."


The penalty for destroying public records is a fine of not less than $25 and not more than $2,000 to be paid to the entity whose records were destroyed.



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