Oneida County corporation counsel to draft changes to rules of procedure
BY KEVIN BONESKE
The ongoing absences of Oneida County Board supervisor Bill Freudenberg from County Board and committee meetings has resulted in the county’s Administration Committee directing county corporation counsel Brian Desmond to revise the rules of procedure for supervisors.
Freudenberg, who represents Wards 7, 11 and 13 in the city of Rhinelander, has been leaving the County Board meetings early. Supervisor Tom Kelly, who represents Wards 3 and 4 in Rhinelander, has taken exception with Freudenberg leaving those monthly morning meetings when the County Board hasn’t completed voting on all the agenda items. Desmond and Kelly were both on hand for Monday’s Administration Committee meeting.
Desmond, who provided the committee with an overview of the current County Board rules and suggested some changes, said attendance at meetings of the full County Board is governed by state statutes.
“If someone leaves, they’re unexcused, you certainly have the power to issue a warrant and bring them back to the meeting,” Desmond said. “I think that’s clear in statute, so your County Board meetings are covered by that attendance rule.”
Attendance by supervisors at committee meetings, Desmond said, includes a provision in the rules of procedure about three unexcused absences being recorded in any committee to which a member has been appointed over a 12-month period, but doesn’t specify what should be done when that is brought to the attention of the County Board.
“I think a couple things need to be added here,” he said. “We need to add that the chairman of the committee has the ability to excuse members, and that (committee chairmen) will reasonably exercise their power in that regard.”
As an example, Desmond said someone found with three unexcused absences could be removed from a committee or receive a censure in the form of taking away per diem pay.
Committee member Bob Mott suggested revising the definition of an unexcused absence to also include when a supervisor leaves a meeting early.
“The other part of it is when somebody’s at a meeting and leaves, and that is one of the problems that we’re having,” said Mott, who chairs the Health and Aging Committee of which Freudenberg is a member. “Can the chairman determine that’s unexcused?”
“(The electorate) ultimately makes the decision as to whether or not they feel that individual is appropriately representing them,” said committee member Robb Jensen. “Now granted, it may take maybe a year before the electorate is able to make that decision.”
Kelly informed the committee that somebody would be running against Freudenberg when his term in office comes up for election.
Desmond also pointed out state law contains a provision in which a supervisor could be removed by a two-thirds vote of the County Board “for cause.”
Kelly said “there’s a long history” of Freudenberg being absent from meetings going back to when he was a member of the Rhinelander City Council.
When a County Board meeting would run into the afternoon, Kelly noted he objects to Freudenberg leaving early to go to sleep and receiving the same per diem as the supervisors who stay for the entire meeting.
“Quarter after 10 he’s gone to go home to sleep,” Kelly said. “Wait until noon and you go home to sleep.”
Kelly said he previously had undergone chemotherapy for 10 months and only missed one meeting during that time, compared to Freudenberg continually being absent from meetings.
“I missed one meeting undergoing chemotherapy, and this individual wants to go home and sleep,” he said. “It just rubs me the wrong way.”
“You’re at that point, at least with this individual you speak of, that the election may clear this up without having to go through super laborious processes,” added Desmond.
“Hopefully the election will take care of the problem,” said committee member Ted Cushing.
Mott also suggested that the attendance requirements be “cleaned up” so that supervisors would have to notify the County Board or committee chair in advance of a meeting of their planned absence and the reason for not being at a meeting so that the chairmen could determine if the absence would be excused.
“If they decide it is not a legitimate reason for leaving early, then I think the per diem (should) be withheld for that meeting,” Mott said. “The second part of that would be that if the person asking to be excused – he thinks it’s adequate, the chair doesn’t – then that be decided by (the committee of jurisdiction.)”
County Board chairman Dave Hintz said it would be “fine and appropriate” for committee chairs to bring the matter of supervisors being absent from meetings to his attention, so that he could decide whether someone should be removed from a committee.
Desmond said he would be drafting language for the suggested changes provided by the committee members for them to consider when they meet next month.