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Suspensions put brakes on Lake Geneva council

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Kayla Bunge
September 15, 2009
— Unprecedented things are happening in the city, and the latest political turn of events essentially has left residents without a representative government.

Mayor Bill Chesen on Monday night was stopped in his tracks as he tried to appoint four people to temporarily serve on the city council while council members Mary Jo Fesenmaier, Arleen Krohn, Penny Roehrer and Tom Spellman are suspended pending a hearing before the council next week.


Chesen has accused the four of neglecting their duties, misconduct and violating the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law.


The council Monday failed to raise a quorum, which is six council members, according to municipal code. Only four were present at the meeting. After about a half-hour of discussion with an independent attorney representing the council, they voted to adjourn.


The council chambers were packed Monday. Those who support Chesen sat on one side of the room, while those who support the suspended council members and newly appointed Alderman Spyro "Speedo" Condos—including a few who carried signs that depicted Chesen as a dictator—sat on the other.


Condos questioned the validity of Chesen filing petitions to remove the council members and appointing people to take their seats and hear the charges against them.


"If this is to be allowed … then any mayor in the state can drum up some charges and wipe out the city council if he doesn't agree with them. Where's the democracy?" he said. " … This is the judge, the jury and the executioner, and again I ask, where's the democracy?"


Chesen, in a statement he read at the start of the meeting, said he had no choice after learning the council members had orchestrated an effort to appoint Condos to fill a vacant position rather than hold a special election, as suggested by many residents and the mayor.


"I could not veto that action, and I could not find any way to deal with what they had done," he said. "This is an incredible amount of power to be given to one person (by state statute) … and I did not do it without a careful amount of consideration."


The council and its attorney, Kyle Gulya, seemed puzzled Monday night about whether a quorum is needed to take the actions favored by the mayor.


Gulya said state statutes do not seem to require a quorum to suspend council members, but the statutes are unclear about the need for a quorum to appoint temporary replacements.


Condos maintained that a quorum is necessary.


"It's the checks and balances of government," he said, "and that's why it's very important to have quorum. … It represents the voters, but in this case, when (the mayor) suspended four people, he wiped out the city's quorum."


Alderman Todd Krause asked the attorney what the city council should do. But Gulya said if was "difficult to speculate" because no action had been put before the council.


"There's no requirement that you take immediate action to approve these individuals," he said, referring to the four Chesen planned to appoint.


Condos said if the council determined the appointment of temporary council members was necessary to conduct city business, and if the council approved their appointment, it would set a bad precedent.


"How do we rectify it if we act out of order to do this and not follow our municipal code?" he said. "My opinion is this is an unlawful meeting because we do not have a quorum, and I do not believe we can move forward without a legal quorum."


Alderman Frank Marsala asked Gulya if the mayor still has a right to make appointments if the council does not approve them. Gulya said the law is unclear and said it probably would be wise for the council to meet with him in closed session to discuss the matter.


Condos moved the council delay the appointments until after it confers with Gulya. But Chesen stopped him, saying the council had failed to raise a quorum and therefore could not vote on the motion.


Condos moved to adjourn, and the crowd applauded. Many people lingered in council chambers, awaiting word that the regular finance committee and city council meetings scheduled for later Monday night were canceled.


Business will be conducted by executive order, Chesen said.


CITY COUNCIL TIMELINE
Aug. 7: Alderman Gary Dunham resigns.
Aug. 10: A meeting to appoint a replacement for Dunham is canceled for lack of a quorum. Aldermen Mary Jo Fesenmaier and Penny Roehrer are excused from the meeting. Alderman Tom Spellman is not excused. A special meeting is scheduled for the next day, and the aldermen are summoned to appear at the special meeting.
Aug. 11: A special meeting to appoint a replacement for Dunham is canceled for lack of a quorum. Fesenmaier and Roehrer again are excused from the meeting. Spellman again is not excused. Mayor Bill Chesen believes their absences are part of an effort to ensure former mayor Spyro "Speedo" Condos is appointed to the city council.
Aug. 24: The city council votes, 4-2, to appoint Condos to fill the vacant seat. Fesenmaier, Roehrer and Spellman, along with Alderman Arleen Krohn, vote in favor of the appointment. The council defeats, 4-3, a resolution to hold a special election to fill the seat.
Sept. 9: Three people file paperwork to take out recall petitions against Roehrer, Spellman and Condos. Bea Dale, a former mayor who helped successfully recall Condos when he was mayor in 2001, is among those leading the recall effort.
Sept. 10: Chesen files petitions to remove Fesenmaier, Krohn, Roehrer and Spellman from office. He also immediately suspends the aldermen, barring them from secure areas of City Hall and requiring them to relinquish their keys to City Hall offices. He accuses them of neglecting their duties, misconduct and violating the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law.
Sept. 14: Fesenmaier, Krohn, Roehrer and Spellman ask a Walworth County judge for an injunction to block Chesen from appointing temporary replacements. Judge John Race declines to act without a formal hearing including both parties.

A special meeting to appoint temporary replacements for the suspended aldermen is adjourned after the city council fails to raise a quorum. A regular finance committee and city council meeting are canceled.



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