Investigated highway czar paid $3K for consulting services

Workers from Scott Construction lay asphalt along a two-mile section of the Great Sauk State Trail in Prairie du Sac on Sept. 26.

Sauk Prairie Eagle file photo

After he retired amid allegations of misconduct, Sauk County’s former highway commissioner was paid $3,000 as a private consultant on a project that involved public money.

The contractor who billed the county for that work said he had not hired Steve Muchow when the retired highway czar began working on behalf of his firm, and there was never a written contract in place.

Jewell Associates Engineers President Greg Jewell said Thursday he retroactively agreed to pay Muchow for the work he did under an “arrangement” with the county. He then billed the county for reimbursement.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Jewell said. “It’s one of those weird arrangements. The whole thing was weird.”

The payment to Muchow is ambiguously listed in a document recently obtained under an open records request. The document, a contract amendment between Sauk County and Jewell Associates, discloses 40 hours of work completed by a “construction manager” at a rate of $75 per hour.

Jewell confirmed in a phone interview Thursday the item refers to work done by Muchow.

The former highway commissioner gave notice of his pending retirement in April, which prompted county officials to drop a personnel investigation into numerous employee allegations against him. His last day on the job was June 2.

Employees complained that Muchow repeatedly used county property for personal reasons, misrepresented financial information, manipulated bids, misused his relationships with private businesses and falsified timecards.

Attorneys with expertise in criminal law have said some of the allegations, if proven, may constitute violations of a state law prohibiting misconduct in public office. Muchow has denied any wrongdoing and said he was not aware of the investigation when he decided to retire.

Prior to his retirement, Muchow had overseen the county’s involvement in the construction of a multi-use trail through the Sauk Prairie area. The county had hired Jewell Associates for design work.

After Muchow left county service in June, Sauk County Board Chair Marty Krueger and Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin asked Jewell to consider hiring the former highway commissioner as a consultant.

Jewell said Thursday that Muchow then began working in that role “without ever being hired by us.” He later learned of the allegations against Muchow from a newspaper article, and decided not to hire him.

Reached by phone Thursday, Muchow said he could not remember who authorized him to begin working on behalf of Jewell’s firm.

“I can’t say,” Muchow said. “I don’t recall.”

The Baraboo News Republic first disclosed the suggested hiring of Muchow in a June article. At the time, Kleczek Bolin said the county wanted to find a way to retain the expertise Muchow brought to the project.

When asked Thursday, she could not say who might have authorized Muchow to begin working as a consultant without a written contract in place.

“I do not know what, if any, arrangements Mr. Muchow made with Jewell,” Kleczek Bolin said in an emailed response. “I do know that Jewell agreed orally to hire Steve to do the project management. This was a fluid situation and we were attempting to find ways to keep the project moving forward.”

The county’s original contract with Jewell Associates was for $128,230. Muchow’s payment was part of $37,862 in contract additions for unexpected work that the county approved Aug. 21.

Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister determined in June that the allegations against Muchow were not worthy of criminal investigation.

In August, the News Republic published a story disclosing that Meister and Muchow were members of a social group that dined together monthly.

The story also quoted attorneys with expertise in criminal law who said they disagreed with the sheriff’s determination, and that he should have recused himself from the matter.

The day that story was published, Meister asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice to review his determination. Days later, the DOJ confirmed that it had opened an investigation.

DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos confirmed in an email Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.