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Milton's Schigur, Schuetz resigning

MILTON

Milton School District Superintendent Tim Schigur and Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz will resign at the end of this school year.

School board President Joe Martin announced the resignations during a community information meeting Wednesday morning.

Schigur and Schuetz submitted their resignations voluntarily early this week. Both will be effective June 30, Martin said.

“Dr. Schigur and Dr. Schuetz have both indicated that they don’t want their presence in the district to stand in the way of what is most important: student opportunities and achievement,” Martin said.

The school board will meet in coming weeks to determine an interim superintendent. The board will look within and outside the district to make sure the job duties Schigur and Schuetz performed will be fulfilled, Martin said.

Martin’s public statement differs from a hard copy of the statement given to the media at the meeting.

The hard copy states “the resignation agreements address issues with respect to potential claims against the district regarding the illegal release of their employment records earlier this year.”

It also states the district will share the resignation agreements after Schuetz and Schigur are allowed time to augment the records. The agreements are expected to be released by the middle of next week and might include an additional prepared statement clarifying details in the agreements.

In an interview after the announcement, Martin said the prepared statement changed multiple times, and the version he read was the “final version.”

He said the hard copy given to the media might have been a previous version and was not intended to be the board’s official statement.

When asked why the resignation agreements and potential claims against the district were no longer part of the official statement, Martin said the board had chosen not to mention those subjects because of possible “legal ramifications” and would wait to comment until the resignation process was complete.

Both Schigur’s and Schuetz’s contracts allow termination without penalty or prejudice under a mutual written agreement between the board and administrators.

The school board has approved resignation agreements for both Schuetz and Schigur, Martin told The Gazette.

In a mutual termination, the board can pay out unpaid salary and benefits accrued before termination, according to the contracts.

Both contracts are effective until June 2020.

Schuetz, Schigur and board members refused to answer media questions immediately after the meeting.

At the meeting, Martin lauded the district’s successes under Schigur’s and Schuetz’s leadership, including better test scores, lower property tax rates, increased safety and better communication. He also attributed April’s successful facilities referendum and the 2016 operational referendum to Schigur and Schuetz.

The resignations follow months of controversy over an investigation into employee compensation and the release of open records.

The investigation specifically delved into the handling of stipends given to both Schigur and Schuetz.

A $10,500 payment to Schigur for obtaining his doctorate degree was determined to have violated board policy because it was approved only by former board President Tom Westrick. The full board approved the stipend retroactively after the investigation.

A $10,000 payment to Schuetz for additional job duties was given properly, according to the investigation, because the money had been budgeted for another position that went unfilled.

Multiple community members have called on Schigur and Schuetz to resign during board meetings and on social media.

“We are, as a school board, directly responsible for creating some of those challenges and must now own them,” Martin said at the meeting.

“As the newly elected board president, it is my sincere hope that we can all learn from these events and work to ensure that the unfortunate experiences some of our staff members and their families have had to endure the past few months will not happen again in the future,” Martin said.

The board has launched a financial audit dating back nine years and has said it will review and update policies to prevent future errors and miscommunication.

“... They (policy changes) can’t undo the internal and external damage done to the gentlemen seated with me here today. To that extent, collectively, we have all decided it is time to move forward,” Martin said.


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Want a GM brick? Here's the plan

JANESVILLE

Come early and wait in line for the memories.

If you’re not too late, a memento—a bona fide brick from the Janesville General Motors plant—could be yours.

That’ll be how it goes for anybody who heads out Saturday afternoon to Blackhawk Community Credit Union’s drive-through distribution of bricks salvaged from the ruins of the former GM assembly plant in Janesville.

Volunteers—most of them former UAW workers at GM, some members of the credit union—are continuing to clean up and place on pallets at least 2,500 bricks that came from a wall inside the 100-year-old plant on Industrial Drive.

Angela Major 

Steve Knox arranges GM plant bricks on a pallet Wednesday in Janesville.

Blackhawk, which originally was run as a credit union for Janesville’s GM plant workers, plans to distribute the sandy, reddish-tan bricks for free—up to two bricks per vehicle—to whoever shows up Saturday to claim them at the credit union’s corporate headquarters at 2640 W. Court St.

Steve Knox, a member of Blackhawk’s board of directors and a volunteer in the GM brick distribution, said volunteers initially readied about 2,000 bricks for distribution, but earlier this week Blackhawk got access to about 500 more.

The bricks are being made available to Blackhawk by the GM site’s new owner, Commercial Development Company. For months, Commercial Development has been demolishing the 4.8 million-square-foot former GM plant to ready it as an industrial redevelopment site.

On Wednesday, Knox was cagey about exactly how many bricks would be available by 1 p.m. Saturday, when the distribution starts.

“Enough to get us through 4 o’clock,” he said.

Volunteers have worked with the Janesville Police Department to set up a traffic route for the brick distribution. Officially, vehicles will line up on North Crosby Avenue. They will be routed south to West Wall Street, then through the credit union’s parking area, where volunteers will distribute bricks in a “drive-through” operation.

“That’s to keep West Court from getting congested with cars waiting in line,” Knox said.

The bulk of the bricks people will get Saturday are from a dividing wall between the plant’s former Fisher Body and Chevrolet divisions. They’re among the oldest bricks at the plant.

Knox said the credit union has a tentative date set for a second distribution, and Commercial Development might make more bricks available to Blackhawk at a later date. At some point, the credit union might get bricks from the iconic GM smokestack that demolition crews toppled Sunday.

On Wednesday, former GM autoworker Cindy Jensen was one of about 10 volunteers who combed through a rubble pile that contained hundreds of whole and half bricks.

Had the GM plant not effectively shuttered in 2009, Wednesday would have been the 100-year anniversary of its official opening May 1, 1919, volunteers sorting bricks told The Gazette.

The volunteers’ sorting work is being handled at a location volunteers want to keep secret. That, Knox said, is to try to prevent anyone from carting off piles of bricks before the credit union can distribute them Saturday.

Knox said he has heard from people who aim to get GM bricks Saturday and enshrine them on their mantles at home. One person, he said, plans to use a GM brick as a cornerstone in an outdoor patio.

Jensen worked at the GM plant in inspection and quality control for nearly 29 years. She wants to keep a few GM bricks herself. She said her whole family from her grandfather up through her generation were autoworkers—some at GM, some for Chrysler and others for Ford.

“I’ve got motor oil in my blood,” Jensen said. “Keeping a brick would be to remember a little bit of that. It’d be for my grandfather all the way up through my generation.”

Angela Major 

Steve Knox moves GM plant bricks onto a pallet with other volunteers Wednesday in Janesville.


Obituaries and death notices for May 2, 2019

Verona C. Arnold

Mary Ann (Finnane) Bickle

Frederick “Fred” Forrest Jr.

Zachary James Olson

Rose A. Wozniak


Anthony Wahl 

A sign marks the Devil’s Staircase portion of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Riverside Park in Janesville.


AP
Barr, Mueller trade barbs as Russia probe rift goes public

WASHINGTON

Private tensions between Justice Department leaders and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team broke into public view in extraordinary fashion Wednesday as Attorney General William Barr pushed back at the special counsel’s “snitty” complaints over his handling of the Trump-Russia investigation report.

Testifying for the first time since releasing Mueller’s report, Barr faced sharp questioning from Senate Democrats who accused him of making misleading comments and seeming at times to be President Donald Trump’s protector as much as the country’s top law enforcement official.

The rift fueled allegations that Barr has spun Mueller’s findings in Trump’s favor and understated the gravity of Trump’s behavior. The dispute is certain to persist as Democrats push to give Mueller a chance to answer Barr’s testimony with his own later this month.

Barr separately informed the House Judiciary Committee that he would not appear for its scheduled hearing today because of the panel’s insistence that he be questioned by committee lawyers as well as lawmakers. That refusal sets the stage for Barr to possibly be held in contempt of Congress.

At Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee session, Barr spent hours defending his handling of Mueller’s report against complaints from Democrats and the special counsel himself. He said, for instance, that he had been surprised that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had tried to obstruct justice and that he had felt compelled to step in with his own judgment that the president committed no crime.

“I’m not really sure of his reasoning,” Barr said of Mueller’s obstruction analysis, which neither accused the president of a crime nor exonerated him. If Mueller wasn’t prepared to make a decision on whether to bring charges, Barr added, “then he shouldn’t have investigated. That was the time to pull up.”

Barr was also perturbed by a private letter Mueller, a longtime friend, sent him complaining that the attorney general had not properly portrayed the special counsel’s findings in a four-page memo summarizing the report’s main conclusions. The attorney general called the note “a bit snitty.”

“I said: ‘Bob, what’s with the letter? Just pick up the phone and call me if there is an issue,’” Barr said.

The airing of disagreements was all the more striking since the Justice Department leadership and Mueller’s team had appeared unified in approach for most of the two-year investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. The revelation that Mueller, who had been publicly silent for the entire investigation, was agitated enough to send a letter to Barr—which could, and did, become public—lent his words extra credibility with Democrats, who accused Barr of lying under oath last month when he said he was unaware Mueller’s team was unhappy with how its work had been characterized.

Barr downplayed the special counsel’s complaints, saying they were mostly about process, not substance, while raising a few objections of his own in the other direction. He said that Mueller did not, as requested, identify grand jury material in his report when he submitted it, slowing the public release of the report as the Justice Department worked to black out sensitive information.

He also insisted that once Mueller submitted his report, the special counsel’s work was done and the document became “my baby.”

“It was my decision how and when to make it public,” Barr said. “Not Bob Mueller’s.”

Wednesday’s contentious Senate hearing gave Barr his most extensive opportunity to date to defend recent Justice Department actions, including a press conference before the report’s release and his decision to release a brief summary letter two days after getting the report.

The hearing, which included three Democratic presidential candidates, also laid bare the partisan divide over the handling of Mueller’s report.

Some Republicans, in addition to defending Trump, focused on the president’s 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s email practices and what they argued has been a lack of investigation of them.

Televisions across the West Wing, including one just off the Oval Office used by the president, were tuned to cable coverage of Barr’s testimony. Trump told advisers he was pleased with Barr’s combative stance with Democratic senators, according to an administration official and a Republican close to the White House who were not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the probe was “The greatest con-job in the history of American Politics!” He has told those around him that, after being disappointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he has found an attorney general loyal to him.

Democrats also moved to exploit the daylight between Barr and Mueller to impugn the attorney general’s credibility. Some also called for Barr to resign or to recuse himself from Justice Department investigations that have been spun off from Mueller’s probe.

“I think the American public has seen quite well you are biased in this situation and not objective, and that is the conflict of interest,” said Sen. Kamala Harris of California, one of the Democratic contenders for president.

They pressed him on whether he had misled Congress last month when, at an unrelated congressional hearing, he professed ignorance about complaints from the special counsel’s team. Barr suggested he had not lied because he was in touch with Mueller himself and not his team.

Unswayed, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont said, “Mr. Barr, I feel your answer was purposefully misleading, and I think others do, too.”

Neither side broke much new ground Wednesday on the specifics of Mueller’s investigation, though Barr did articulate a robust defense of Trump as he made clear his firm conviction that there was no prosecutable case against the president for obstruction of justice.

The attorney general asserted that Trump was “falsely accused” during the investigation and that the president therefore lacked the criminal intent required to commit obstruction. Democrats seized on multiple instances in Mueller’s report in which Trump was said to have asked aides to lie or sought to seize control of the probe, but in each instance, Barr said Trump’s conduct wasn’t a crime.

“I didn’t exonerate. I said that we did not believe that there was sufficient evidence to establish an obstruction offense, which is the job of the Justice Department, and the job of the Justice Department is now over,” Barr said.

He was asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, about an episode recounted in Mueller’s report in which Trump pressed White House Counsel Don McGahn to seek the removal of Mueller on conflict-of-interest grounds. Trump later asked McGahn to deny a press report that such a directive had been given.

Barr responded, “There’s something very different firing a special counsel outright, which suggests ending an investigation, and having a special counsel removed for conflict—which suggests you’re going to have another special counsel.”

Barr entered the hearing on the defensive following reports hours earlier that Mueller had complained to him in a letter and over the phone about the way his findings were being portrayed.

Two days after receiving Mueller’s report, Barr had released a four-page letter that summarized the main conclusions.

Mueller’s letter, dated March 27, conveyed his unhappiness that Barr released what the attorney general saw as the bottom-line conclusions of the investigation and not the introductions and executive summaries that Mueller’s team had prepared and believed conveyed more nuance and context than Barr’s own letter. Mueller said he had communicated the same concern days earlier.

“There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation,” Mueller wrote in his letter to Barr. “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Barr appeared unmoved by the criticism. He said repeatedly that Mueller had assured him that Barr’s letter of conclusions was not inaccurate and that he simply wanted more information out. Barr said he didn’t believe a piecemeal release of information would have been beneficial, and besides, it wasn’t Mueller’s call to make.

Barr also noted that Mueller concluded his investigation without any interference and that neither the attorney general nor any other Justice Department official overruled the special counsel on any action he wanted to take.