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Mediation set in Lake Geneva City Council case

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Kayla Bunge
November 13, 2009
— A Walworth County judge is hoping the mayor and the four city council members the mayor has charged with violations can work out a resolution through mediation.

Judge Michael Gibbs this week scheduled a court-ordered mediation session for Wednesday, Nov. 25, in his chambers at the courthouse in Elkhorn, his clerk said.


The session is not a court hearing and is not open to the public, she said.


The mayor, the city clerk and the two recently-appointed replacement council members have been asked to attend, said Joe Wirth, the attorney representing them.


The four charged council members also have been asked to attend, said David Williams, the attorney representing them.


Two other attorneys representing all or some of the charged council members also are expected to attend, he said.


A mediator has not yet been appointed, the attorneys said. The judge could serve as the mediator or act as a facilitator, they said.


Mayor Bill Chesen on Sept. 10 suspended council members Mary Jo Fesenmaier, Arleen Krohn, Penny Roehrer and Tom Spellman, accusing them of misconduct and violating the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law. He has accused Roehrer and Spellman also of neglecting their duties.


Chesen on Sept. 21 rescinded the suspensions of Roehrer and Krohn to restore quorum to the council, and the council on Sept. 23 approved Larry Magee and Sturges Taggart as replacements for Fesenmaier and Spellman, respectively.


The charges against all four council members still stand, and a removal hearing has been postponed until a special prosecutor is appointed.


The city council was unable to make progress on the matter Monday night. The council declined to dismiss charges against four council members but also declined to fund a special prosecutor.


Both parties are hopeful the mediation session will bring an end to the divisive standoff.


Williams said it is likely the parties will agree to have an arbitrator hear the charges against the four council members because there has been a "serious issue" raised as to whether the city council can be "relatively unbiased" in deciding whether to remove the council members.


The council now includes Magee, who lost to Roehrer in 2008, and Taggart, who lost to Krohn in 2007.


"We're at the extremes here," Williams said. "You've got an inherent conflict of interest. The people who wanted that office are being asked to rule whether the people they ran against should be allowed to stay.


"Can they really be open minded about it?"


Wirth agreed that the case might soon land in the hands of an arbitrator if for no other reason than to expedite the process.


"Both sides agree on what the outcome should be, but we need to get a plan in place and get it going," he said.


Both parties have been in negotiations to resolve the fight.


Williams said they were close to working out a deal but talks "broke down" on the issue of rescinding the suspensions of Fesenmaier and Spellman if the matter was sent to an arbitrator. He argued they should be reinstated until a hearing on the charges, but Chesen would not agree to that, he said.


Wirth said the devil is in the details.


"I think everybody agrees on the big picture of what could be put into place, but there are a lot of details and a lot of people involved in those details," he said. "So that's what we're working on."


Negotiations continue, the attorneys said, and a resolution could be reached before the scheduled mediation session.



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