By Frank Schultz
A Rock County Board member introduced a resolution reprimanding Sheriff Robert Spoden at the board meeting Thursday night.
The resolution of censure says the sheriff violated the public trust and his office’s code of ethics for officers.
The resolution quotes from that code: “I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions.”
Spoden could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
The county board did not discuss the resolution and took no action. County board Chairman Russ Podzilni said he would refer the resolution to “the appropriate committee.”
The resolution refers to Spoden’s actions during a recent Janesville police investigation of an underage drinking party Spoden’s son attended and where another young man was seriously injured.
Spoden told an investigating officer that there was no basis for the investigation, that those involved were good kids from good families and that police should drop the matter.
Janesville police turned Spoden’s comments over to District Attorney David O’Leary, who referred the matter to the state Department of Justice.
The department found nothing criminal in Spoden’s actions, but O’Leary said Spoden had interfered with an investigation and should have known better.
The resolution says Spoden also violated another sheriff’s office policy, which says officers should not create a situation in which an officer’s private interests conflict with the officer’s impartial conduct of official duties.
Board member Rick Richard, who introduced the resolution, would answer only written questions submitted by The Gazette.
Richard said a constituent asked him to see if the county could take any action about the sheriff’s conduct, “so I asked some questions about it, and the resolution was drafted,” Richard said.
Richard said he doesn’t know if other board members will support it and is not involved in any campaign for sheriff.
“I think it’s important to keep partisan politics out of county board business,” he wrote.
Asked what the resolution could accomplish, Richard said it’s “simply an official disapproval of an official’s action” that identifies apparent violations of the sheriff’s office’s standards of conduct and code of ethics.
It’s not a request for a new investigation or a contradiction of the Department of Justice’s investigation, he said.
“The constituent (who came to him) can at least see something was done by the board after the sheriff’s actions,” Richard wrote. “To my knowledge, if a deputy would have committed these apparent ethics violations, he or she would have been formally reprimanded, suspended or worse. Since the county board is the only body which can censure an elected county official, I thought it was important it be introduced for supervisor review.”
While the board might be able to censure, it has no authority to remove a sheriff. Only the governor can do that.
Spoden defended himself when The Gazette reported on the episode last month, saying he was acting as a father and on behalf of the friends of the injured man, including Spoden’s son, who was a high school classmate and close friend of the injured man.
“I stand by my actions, and I stand by what I did. Was I emotional? You bet I was. I still am,” Spoden said.