In running away from a vote on censuring Sheriff Robert Spoden, the Rock County Board has shown loyalty to the sheriff matters more than its own integrity.
We’d have some respect for this board if the full body had gone on record in rejecting the censure. Instead, the board relied on a small committee to kill the resolution so that it would never come to the full board. That committee barely discussed the merits of the resolution, and public input involved one person stating Spoden has done a “wonderful job.”
Whether Spoden has done the greatest job on earth has nothing to do with him impeding a Janesville police investigation last year. District Attorney David O’Leary was alarmed enough to call on the state to investigate. Though no criminal wrongdoing was found, the state inquiry revealed Spoden tried to halt an investigation into an underage drinking party that Spoden’s son had attended.
When a Janesville police officer questioned Spoden’s “role ethically in what is going on,” Spoden evoked his status as sheriff and declared, “I am offended by you questioning the sheriff of Rock County.” The officer stated in a report that the sheriff “suggested I excuse myself from the case because of the prominent people involved and the problems it could cause for me and my family.”
Spoden remains in denial that he did anything wrong, implying that a serious injury at the party justified his meddling. “As a man of Christian faith, my thoughts and daily prayers continue to center on praying for both the physical healing and emotional strength for Max Rammer, who is bravely dealing with paralysis as a result of an extremely tragic pool accident,” he said in a statement issued after the committee shelved the censure resolution.
To be sure, Rammer’s injury was tragic, but Spoden’s ethical compass is off. He doesn’t seem to understand that when someone is seriously injured in an incident, that’s all the more reason to investigate. Janesville police knew it was important to complete their investigation, and so did the district attorney.
County board members not demanding a vote on the censure resolution implies the board members—except for the member who introduced the resolution, Rick Richard—don’t know what constitutes ethical behavior.
After meeting with Spoden, County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni turned into a Spoden apologist, echoing Spoden’s rationalizations for behaving unethically. “The comments I’ve gotten are basically that the sheriff is doing a very, very good job, that he acted emotionally as a concerned parent,” Podzilni said, adding, “I back him.”
Despite the committee’s 4-0 vote Monday to reject the resolution, Podzilni at the time left the door open for other board members to place the resolution on the full body’s agenda.
But on Thursday, Podzilni said no member asked that the resolution be placed on the board’s agenda. It is surprising and disappointing that no member but Richard finds Spoden’s behavior deserving of censure.
Podzilni and other board members responsible for burying this censure resolution had nothing to do with Spoden’s original sin, but now they share in the culpability. Now they are part of the problem—part of the reason why “prominent people” and their backers in government believe the rules shouldn’t apply to them.