Zeglin refutes ‘power abuse,’ keeps chair
After accusations that Tim Zeglin abused his power as county chair and his defense that he was doing the work of a county administrator, the county board voted 11-to-four to keep him as chair until at least April.
Monday’s vote came after six weeks of closed meetings, investigations and citizen complaints about what some board members said was Zeglin’s “abuse” of two county employees and the committees overseeing them at a January hearing. Other supervisors contended, however, that it would be too disruptive to oust Zeglin when a chair would be selected after the April election.
“If we do this,” said supervisor Douglas Winters, “we’ll have three chairmans in two months.” Zeglin could have been replaced by vice chair John Aasen and then a new chair elected in April.
“I think we should just move on,” said supervisor Richard Sacia. Adding that Zeglin “has been scolded publicly and scolded by the attorneys.”
Supervisor Sally Miller, who, with supervisors Dick Frey, Jeanne Nutter and Jon Schultz, voted to remove Zeglin as chair, said her concerns about him covered issues beyond his comments at the January hearing. At that hearing on ATV and UTV use of county roads, Zeglin said county highway commissioner Al Rinka and director of economic development and tourism Rob Grover were inappropriately trying to control county policy.
“My concerns about abuse of power began almost immediately” after Zeglin’s election as chair in 2018, Miller said. Miller added that while two investigations contended that Zeglin’s comments at the hearing were not legally defaming and did not warrant his removal from the board, they did violate county policy.
Zeglin prefaced his “defense” with the concern that he has had to “sit in the hallway” for hours as the board discussed his behavior during closed meetings. He then listed his accomplishment, including his work regarding a new county building, securing financing for roads, running board meetings “briskly” and maintaining good relationships with employees.
“I think my efforts at efficiency have threatened some people who were used to pressuring board members to get what they want,” Zeglin said. “It’s possible that doing these things made me unpopular, but someone had to do them and I blamed no one else for my decisions.”
He said he was doing work for $7,000 a year that a county administrator would otherwise do at $120,000 a year.
He also read excerpts from emails be gathered under a freedom of information request that discussed a conflict between Rinka and Shultz about County Road JJ, and communications with county corporation counsel Rick Niemeier. Schultz said his remarks about road work were delivered in a private email, not voiced at a public hearing.
Miller said, however, that what Zeglin considered accomplishments often had no formal board backing. “He hijacked the building project,” Miller said of the county’s plans to add facilities perhaps as a criminal justice center. “The board hasn’t even met to decide if we’re building anything.
“He issued a statement (about an accident at Hi-Crush to free a bulldozer driver in 2018) that seemed to say we the board cared more about the environment than that a man got to go home to his family,” Miller said.
“Rather than two rogue employees going behind the board’s back, (Zeglin) has gone behind the back of the committees” that voted to explore a county ordinance to open county roads to ATVs and UTVs, she continued. She said that Zeglin, in a February written report, “doubled down” on his criticism of Rinka and Grover and said he was speaking on the board’s behalf.
“We never authorized that,” she said.
Frey said Zeglin “micromanaged committees and department heads.”
“You intimidate people,” he added.
Schultz said Zeglin was aware of the work on the ATV and UTV ordinance as early as September 2019.
“The parks, tourism and economic development committee,” Nutter said, “knew for years that we would be looking at this ordinance and Rob (Grover) just did what we asked him to do.”
Miller said it would be appropriate to “embarrass” Zeglin by voting him out as chair because he “publicly embarrassed two employees who were just doing their jobs.”
The board also heard from two winners of the county Department of Land Management’s conservation contest. Andrew Bishop, who attends Ettrick Elementary School, read his essay on the emerald ash bore and Charlie Thompson, junior winner from SS Peter and Paul School in Independence, read his submission on cover crops. Both will compete at a March 4 Wisconsin Land Water Conference in Green Bay.