Sauk County government paid its highway czar more than $40,000 after his retirement prompted officials to drop an investigation into his alleged misconduct.
Sauk County Finance Director Kerry Beghin said that because Highway Commissioner Steve Muchow retired in good standing, he qualified to receive $24,652 in accrued sick leave. Such a payout is not awarded to employees who are terminated.
Since the date he announced his intention to retire, Muchow also has been paid $8,560 in hourly wages, $6,848 in vacation accruals, and $250 in prorated longevity.
The 26-year county employee submitted his retirement letter April 27, the day after a Madison attorney secured by the county traveled to Baraboo to investigate allegations raised by his employees.
The letter prompted county officials to drop the probe, and Muchow remained on the government’s payroll until June 2.
Allegations against Muchow included personal use of county property, altering time cards, undisclosed cost overages on a building project and employee mistreatment. He has denied any wrongdoing, and said he was not aware of the investigation when he decided to retire.
The Madison attorney billed the county’s insurance company $2,524 before dropping the case. The county also retained a private accountant to look into the matter, although documents related to that portion of the inquiry have not yet been released.
Citizens want complete investigation
Four members of the public who spoke to the County Board during its meeting Tuesday encouraged officials to complete the investigation into Muchow.
One citizen, Jason Belter, said he was a former highway department employee, and provided supervisors with a photo of a work-release inmate’s truck parked in a Highway Department storage building.
Belter also supplied a report from the Sheriff’s Department’s investigation of the matter. The report said a highway department supervisor confirmed that Muchow had given the inmate permission to store his truck in the facility.
The supervisor denied allegations that the inmate – who did not have a valid license – also was permitted to drive the truck offsite.
“I guarantee, if you dig a little deeper, you’re just scratching the surface,” said Belter, alleging that he was harassed on the job after reporting the incident.
Muchow out as consultant
Members of the County Board’s Highway and Parks Committee were not informed of the investigation into Muchow’s activities. The County Board learned of the matter from an anonymous letter sent to all 31 supervisors earlier this month.
The committee, which oversees the county’s involvement in the Great Sauk State Trail project, also was not consulted about Muchow’s hiring as a consultant on that project after his retirement.
Jewell Associates Engineers President Greg Jewell said last week that two county officials recommended earlier this month that he hire Muchow, but did not inform him of the incomplete investigation. He later read about the probe in the News Republic.
The two officials, County Board Chair Marty Krueger and Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin, were aware of the investigation when they approached the engineering firm.
Jewell said last week that Muchow did not have a signed contract, but had filled out application documents with his firm.
Muchow said in an interview that he was receiving an hourly wage under a “verbal deal” with the company.
Under questioning from board members at Tuesday night’s meeting, Krueger acknowledged Muchow’s role as a consultant.
But when asked whether he and Kleczek Bolin recommended Muchow for the position, Krueger didn’t provide a direct answer. “It was just, if there was, if Steve was going to be retained or help with the project, he had to be a consultant with Jewell,” Krueger said.
Jewell said Krueger and Kleczek Bolin this week dropped their request that he retain Muchow as a consultant, but have asked for additional assistance on the trail project.
In approving a $128,230 contract with Jewell Associates in January, the County Board authorized its parks director to approve up to $25,646 of additional work.
Kleczek Bolin said it’s not clear exactly how much additional assistance will be required. But she said Muchow will not be involved.