Investigated Sauk County highway commissioner may become trail consultant

The Great Sauk Trail will convert eight miles of unused rail corridor into a multi-use trail from Sauk City through the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area and into Devil’s Lake State Park.

Although an investigation into alleged financial improprieties involving a recently retired Sauk County highway commissioner is incomplete, two officials familiar with the matter already have suggested him for a new job involving public money.

An engineering contractor says Sauk County Board Chair Marty Krueger and Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin approached him earlier this month to recommend that he hire former Highway Commissioner Steve Muchow as a consultant on the Great Sauk State Trail project.

Greg Jewell, president of Jewell Associates Engineers, said he later learned of an investigation into Muchow when he read about it in the News Republic last week. He said the allegations are concerning.

“I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our company, as well as the county,” Jewell said, adding that he is scheduled to meet Monday with Krueger and Kleczek Bolin to discuss hiring Muchow as a consultant.

On April 26, a Madison attorney secured by the county traveled to Baraboo to investigate complaints against Muchow, who had been with the county 26 years. The next day, Muchow submitted his retirement notice. The county then dropped the probe, and Muchow remained on staff until June 2.

Allegations against the highway commissioner included personal use of county equipment and materials, altering employee time cards, and undisclosed cost overages on a building project. Muchow denies any wrongdoing.

Kleczek Bolin, who initiated the investigation after receiving employee complaints, denied Friday that she had “recommended” Muchow for the consulting job. She said she and Krueger only wanted to find a way to retain the experience Muchow had with the trail project. They hope to alter the contract with Jewell to include funds for an additional consultant.

“We contacted Jewell to see if they would be interested in contracting with (Muchow) or with someone else with similar experience,” Kleczek Bolin said. “We are still discussing this with Jewell to decide the best way forward.”

Kleczek Bolin and Krueger both were aware of the the probe involving the retired highway commissioner when they spoke with Jewell Associates earlier this month.

Krueger, the county board chair, has been overseeing the effort to convert an unused section of railroad into a multi-purpose trail. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Although Kleczek Bolin said Muchow's role as a consultant has not yet been approved, he already has begun working in that capacity.

In an interview Thursday, Muchow said he is receiving an hourly wage from Jewell Associates under a “verbal deal” with the company.

Sauk County Supervisor Dave Riek of Spring Green said Muchow appeared Thursday before a subcommittee of the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission and was introduced as a consultant with Jewell Associates.

Riek also sits on the county board's highway committee, which has oversight over the county's involvement with the trail project. He said that committee has not been asked to consider Muchow's hiring as a consultant.

"This didn’t go through official channels," Riek said.

Jewell said he was not aware that Muchow had appeared at a meeting on behalf of his company. After checking with his employees, he said that Krueger called the firm Thursday morning, asked staff to alert Muchow of the meeting and have him appear.

Jewell said Muchow has filled out application documents, but is not yet an employee of his firm. He said he likely would not have considered the arrangement involving the former highway commissioner if he had known of the investigation.

“He would only become an employee if we get a signed contract with Sauk County, which we will be discussing more at our meeting on Monday,” Jewell said.

The first phase of the trail through Sauk Prairie is estimated to cost $1.9 million and involves significant taxpayer money, including funds from the county, local municipalities, a state grant, and a fundraising group.

Jewell Associates has provided design services, and the Sauk County Highway Department is handling construction.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.