Sauk County Board leaders' sworn affidavits inaccurate

Sauk County Board Chair Marty Krueger and Vice Chair Joan Fordham, shown in this March 2017 file photo, filed sworn affidavits in response to a public records lawsuit that are refuted by a recording.

News Republic file photo

In affidavits involving a legal dispute over documents, two Sauk County Board members made claims that are refuted by a recording.

Board Chair Marty Krueger, of Reedsburg, and Vice Chair Joan Fordham, of Baraboo, submitted the sworn statements earlier this month in response to a lawsuit filed by the Baraboo News Republic.

The newspaper is suing for documents related to the county’s search for a new administrative coordinator. If successful, the lawsuit may allow the public to learn more about how the final candidate was chosen.

The affidavits of Krueger and Fordham contain identical passages about a Dec. 29, 2016, meeting during which the board’s Executive and Legislative Committee discussed how to begin the hiring process.

They claim the committee discussed candidates from a prior administrative coordinator search and decided on one who should be invited to interview at a future meeting.

If their accounts were true, it would explain why former county attorney Alene Kleczek Bolin — who ultimately was chosen for the job — was the only candidate in attendance and waiting to appear before the committee for a closed session interview days later, on Jan. 3.

However, a recording of the Dec. 29 meeting shows there were no such discussions or decisions as described in the affidavits.

Fordham admits error

Reached by phone Friday morning, Fordham initially stood by her sworn statements. “That’s what my memory is,” she said. “Understand, this is a year ago and there were a lot of meetings, but that is my memory.”

After learning that a recording of the Dec. 29 meeting conflicted with her version of events, Fordham acknowledged she may have been incorrect. She said the discussions described in the affidavit did occur prior to Jan. 3, although maybe at a different meeting.

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Joan Fordham

Fordham

Fordham said the committee definitely knew prior to Jan. 3 that Kleczek Bolin was interested and would appear for an interview. “We knew that,” Fordham said. “She didn’t just walk in and we said ‘Oh, we’re interviewing you today?’”

But Fordham could not explain how the committee would have had that knowledge. There were no other public meetings prior to Jan. 3 during which the discussion she described legally could have occurred.

The Dec. 29 recording shows the committee did not discuss individual candidates, or decide which ones should be interviewed. In fact, Kleczek Bolin’s name never was mentioned.

The only decision the committee made was to discuss the qualifications of finalists from a prior administrative coordinator search at its next meeting.

After that discussion, Krueger and then-Corporation Counsel Todd Liebman crafted a Jan. 3 meeting agenda that defied the committee’s wishes. It did not include a discussion of prior finalists.

Instead, the agenda included a closed session to interview a candidate, immediately followed by an open session to recommend a new hire. The discrepancy between the process agreed to in public and the agenda Krueger and Liebman prepared led some county board supervisors and members of the public to cry foul.

After reviewing personal notes, Fordham called back later Friday and said the statements she made over the phone that morning were incorrect as well.

Fordham then acknowledged the committee had not decided which candidates to interview prior to Jan. 3. During a closed session that day, she said, the committee discussed the prior finalists, decided not to re-interview them, learned of Kleczek Bolin’s interest, decided to interview her, and then immediately interviewed her.

The committee then reconvened in open session and recommended Kleczek Bolin for the job. That was the first time the public learned she was ever a candidate.

Fordham said Kleczek Bolin was in the building and ready to be brought before the committee that day. But she could not explain why one candidate was waiting in the wings if the committee had not previously decided who should or should not be invited to interview.

“I can’t answer that question,” Fordham said.

The newspaper has previously revealed that Krueger, the board chair, met privately with Kleczek Bolin weeks before the search officially began to ask if she wanted the job.

Hiring came amid controversy

At the time, the county board was engulfed in controversy over the departure of former Administrative Coordinator Renae Fry, who had been hired only eight months earlier.

Documents show Krueger and Liebman made numerous allegations against Fry during her first performance review. They also took steps to advance her removal that never were approved by Fry’s oversight committee.

Fry resisted the effort and ultimately negotiated a controversial contract buyout that entitled her to a full year’s salary in exchange for her resignation. The agreement also prevented Fry, Krueger and Liebman from speaking openly about the matter.

During the prior search that resulted in Fry’s hiring, a consultant found 10 candidates who were qualified for the position. The Executive and Legislative Committee decided to interview six of them, including Fry, and the county identified those six.

Candidates among that group have said no one from the county contacted them after Fry’s departure to ask if they still were interested in the position, or wished to be reinterviewed.

Kleczek Bolin was among the four other candidates from the list of 10 who were not interviewed or identified during the first search. The county still has not identified the other three.

Fordham said someone — either Krueger or Liebman — informed the committee during its Jan. 3 closed session that those three candidates no longer were interested or available. “All I know is that we were told that the other three were no longer interested,” she said.

The newspaper hopes to verify that the information provided to the committee about those three candidates was accurate. It is suing for documents that would identify them.

If the candidates can be reached, they may divulge whether anyone from the county reached out to them prior to the Jan. 3 meeting to ask if they still were interested in the job.

News Republic Editor Todd Krysiak said the lawsuit was a last resort, and the only path toward learning exactly how county officials selected the next leader of a $90 million government operation.

“The hiring of the county’s top administrator should be a transparent process,” Krysiak said. “The more we learn about how the candidate was chosen, the more apparent it becomes that decisions were made outside of public purview.”

Madison attorneys Lori Lubinsky and Danielle Baudhuin, who represent the county in the lawsuit, did not return messages. Neither did Krueger. He and Fordham both are seeking re-election, and currently face no opposition as the Jan. 2 deadline to file candidacy paperwork nears.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.