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Investigation into Horicon officials finds no open meeting law violations, misconduct

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Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 7:19 PM CDT
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HORICON, Wis. (WMTV) - An investigation into the disbandment of the City of Horicon Police and Fire Commission found there were no open meeting law violations in public office by City of Horicon elected officials or misconduct, according to the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, but the sheriff says the lines between branches of government and the PFC were blurred.

Sheriff Dale Schmidt explained that he received a formal complaint from members of the PFC with the allegations against current and former City of Horicon officials in early April regarding events leading up to the commission’s disbandment. Schmidt assigned a detective to investigate the complaint.

According to the Dodge County District Attorney’s Office, the claims are the result of debate between the PFC and City Council members on how a new police chief should be hired. Chief Joseph Adamson announced in December of 2020 that he would be retiring in April.

Some city leaders favored following city policy for hiring, which requires a position to initially be posted internally, while others wanted the position to be posted internally and externally at the same time. The PFC stated after receiving guidance from the Wisconsin Chief of Police Association, as well as conversations with the mayor and other officials, that it would be looking through internal and external candidates.

Prior to a March 16 meeting where disbanding the PFC was discussed and was voted on, the discussion was not listed on any prior agendas. The city attorney’s office stated Council members had talked to each other and the mayor informally about dispending the PFC. The Council voted 5-1 during that meeting to disband the commission.

The Dodge County District Attorney’s Office said it could not conclude a violation of the law could be proven to the necessary legal standard, as council members had discussed the police chief recruitment after meetings, but could not recall specific dates or who was present. The attorney also said there was no misconduct, as city officials had followed the legal advice of its attorney for the police chief hiring process.

Sheriff Schmidt did note that lines between the Mayor/City Council and the PFC were blurred, with political influences possibly diminishing the integrity of the hiring process.

“It is clear that the mayor and City Council’s motivation was vastly influenced by trying to avoid a lawsuit rather than ensuring that the best selection process was in place,” Schmidt said. “It is clear that other motivations were likely in play along with an errant belief that the PFC must follow the directions of the mayor. Additionally, in an interview with a sheriff’s office detective, the mayor stated that after the police chief is hired, the PFC will probably return.”

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