Jefferson Davis is a longtime resident of Menomonee Falls. He is the proud parent of two wonderful boys. He enjoys singing, volunteering, reading, gardening, politics, antiques, history, guitar, violin, piano, officiating, helping neighbors and yard work. He served as Village President of Menomonee Falls from 2003-05. He is a member of Northbrook Church and serves on the Advisory Council for the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center. He is an independent registered representative practicing in the areas of insurance, investments and retirement.
A huge thank you for reading The Vanguard over the last two weeks. Like Oldies 95.7, the hits just keep coming. By the time this posting is logged, we will have received over 2,400 hits in less than two weeks on our way to 3,000 and beyond. We promise to keep the blog interesting, informative and insightful. Thank you.Citizens Approach The Vanguard for Follow up on Village President
A number of citizens have either emailed, called or stopped members of The Vanguard on the street over the last two weeks asking for a follow up on a vast number of issues involving the Village President that they feel the mainstream press and media choose not to cover or follow up on for whatever reason.
The Vanguard, with the help and assistance of its readers, has attempted to do some research in an effort to bring our community those updates. The Vanguard also realizes the commitment, time and effort that is expected and required of an elected official to hold office, which is deeply appreciated by the community.
The citizens have just simply asked what happened with certain issues involving the Village President over the last couple of years of which there seems to be no follow up. We will attempt to answer those questions. We apologize up front for the length of this post, but there is so much to cover that it requires a lot of inches.
President’s Law Firm Marketing Brochure Accompanies Condo Sale Solicitation
One reader of The Vanguard from the south side of the Falls provided us with the Village President’s Law Firm marketing brochure that they had received some time in 2006 as an insert with a promotional flyer for the solicitation of condo sales in their newspaper box. Apparently, there were many other flyers and law firm brochures distributed at this time in 2006 soliciting the sale of these condos with the Village President.
The reader thought it was very odd that the Village President would be offering his legal real estate services as a packaged program for the sale of condos that the Village President may have approved in his capacity as the Village President and as a Planning Commission Member. The reader also wondered if this might be in violation of any state statutes that govern the “standards of local officials” and or “code of ethics” for local officials based on the reader's personal knowledge and experience of having worked with elected officials for over 30 years in their capacity with a very well respected financial organization in Wisconsin.
Like an NFL referee who is asked by a coach to take a look at a questionable play during the game, “Upon further review…” we have found the following information to verify the reader’s concerns:
- The marketing brochure is indeed that of the Village President’s Law Firm promoting himself as a real estate attorney as well as being the Village President and serving on the Village Planning Commission which approves or denies all business proposals before the Village.
- The condo solicitation brochure is that of a company that had just completed and was now in a position to sell a large number of condos in Menomonee Falls very near the Village President’s former residence just off of Good Hope and Appleton Avenue.
- The Village President did indeed approve this businesses’ condo proposal at the August 9, 2005 Planning Commission Meeting.
- The Village President did indeed approve this businesses’ condo proposal at the September 6, 2005 Village Board Meeting.
- The Citizens’ Guide to Standards of Conduct for Local Government Officials strictly prohibits the following:
- Act officially in a matter in which the official is privately interested.
- Use government position for private financial benefit.
- Accept transportation, food, beverages, lodging or anything else of more than token value offered because the official holds a government position.
- Solicit or accept rewards or items or services likely to influence the official.
- Offer or provide influence in exchange for campaign contributions.
- Wisconsin State Statute 19.59 strictly prohibits the following:
- A local public official may not accept items or services of substantial value for private benefit, or for the benefit of the official’s immediate family or associated organization, if offered because of public position.
- A local public official may not accept (and no one may offer or give) anything of value that could reasonably be expected to influence the official’s vote, official action or judgment.
- A local public official may not accept (and no one may offer or give) anything of value that could reasonably be considered a reward for any official action or inaction.
- A local public official may not take official action substantially affecting a matter in which the official, the official’s immediate family, or associated organization has a substantial financial interest.
- A local public official may not use office or position to produce a substantial benefit for the official, the official's immediate family, or associated organization.
The Vanguard spoke with a number of realtors and attorneys who practice in this profession regarding this type of an arrangement and they made it very clear that an attorney stands to make a lot of money with these types of closings as there is very little work to do for condo sales.
Everyone has to make a living. That living should be done in an open, honest and ethical way. Especially for elected officials who are entrusted with the public’s money. The Vanguard would have asked the Village President questions about this matter for the citizen who raised the issue, but he makes it a practice to not return phone calls or answer emails.
Abstention, Apparent Bartering and Strong Arm Tactics Lead to More Questions
A number of citizens have observed that the Village President has abstained from voting over the last couple of years on a number of business proposals before him at the Planning Commission and Village Board because of his close ties or association with these business people when they don’t recall him ever doing so over the last 15-20 years when these same business people had come before him for approval of their proposals.
It has been reported by the local press over the last couple of years that the Village President has abstained from voting for proposals from at least two business people because he is now or has been their attorney in the past. He did not abstain from voting on the condo business sale proposal in late 2005 near his former residence referred to in the first part of this blog. He voted twice to approve this proposal at the Planning Commission and Village Board levels.
The Vanguard has looked at a lot of documents and has spoken to a number of people who have asked for anonymity about this matter. It is clear that the Village President never abstained from voting on these business proposals during his many years on the Planning Commission until he became Village President and started representing these same business people. The Village President told the Journal Sentinel in March of 2007 when he was asked about this issue, that he now abstains from voting for these business proposals because he represents them in matters not associated with their proposals before the Village.
If that is true, then why didn't the Village President abstain from voting for their proposals over the last 15-20 years when they came before him at the Planning Commission level?
One businessman contacted The Vanguard on the condition of anonymity and out of frustration because his proposal was being stonewalled by The Village Board for several years. He said he spoke to one of the business people who were regularly getting their proposals approved on a very timely basis by the Planning Commission and Village Board to see how this was getting done for them. The business person told him it was simple, “All you have to do is hire the Village President as your attorney, he abstains from voting to make it look ethical, the votes are gotten for approval and then you pay him afterwards.”
Another local longtime business person contacted The Vanguard and said he had some legal work done for him by the Village President and wanted to pay him for his legal bill. The Village President said, “Let’s just call it even. If you do some work for me in exchange for what I did for you to settle up for whatever is owed to each other, that'll be fine.”
This practice is legal and is called bartering but must be disclosed. This is similar to the situation that the Village President found himself in when it was reported by the Journal Sentinel that he had sold his Menomonee Falls home in 2006 to move to Sussex and live rent free from a business person that he represented with proposals before the Planning Commission and Village Board at the time. More on that later.
Another very popular and prominent business person spoke with The Vanguard on the condition of anonymity about a local company that had hired the Village President to represent them in a strong armed tactic maneuver for the sale of their property in a very high profile area of the Falls.
The business person refused to sell the property to the Village President’s client which could have ultimately resulted in the Village President having to once again possibly abstain from voting because he represents the very company who would be trying to get Village approval for this proposal.
Unfortunately, the business person was forced to hire his own attorney at a great expense to stop the strong armed sale by the Village President’s client and to refute an altered document accusation.
Who Paid the Rent Bill for the Village President’s Sussex Apartment?
A number of The Vanguard readers have asked, “Who paid the Village President’s rent bill when he sold his house in the Falls and moved to Sussex in 2006?”
The Journal Sentinel reported in 2006-2007 that the Village President had sold his home in Menomonee Falls and had moved to Sussex to live rent free from a Menomonee Falls business person because his house sold unexpectedly. This same business person had proposals before the Village President at the Planning Commission and Village Board levels at the same time he was living in Sussex rent free from this business person. The paper also reported that $600 in campaign contributions were made to the Village President in early 2007 by this business person shortly after their proposals were approved by the Village in late 2006 of which the Village President had recused himself when he had not done so on the Planning Commission before becoming Village President for this same business person.
It was reported that the Village President moved to Sussex for 4 or 5 months in 2006 and as of March of 2007, some 6 months after he had moved back to the Falls from Sussex, had not yet paid his rent bill of some $3,000 because in his words, “…had not received a bill yet”. This business person, whom the Village President represents, also requires his Sussex renters to pay a $100 a month premium for renters who rent from him for less than 6 months.
The readers of The Vanguard would like to know if the some $3,000 rent bill and $400 premium fee from 2006 were ever paid or were they simply part of a possible bartering exchange between the two parties?
The Vanguard also learned that the Village President asked the taxpayers to pay his legal bill of some $700-$1,000 for a personal legal opinion that he had requested when he sold his house in the Falls to move to Sussex rent free in 2006 for residency requirements of elected officials.
The readers of The Vanguard found it incredibly interesting that the Village President was able to sell his residence in June of 2006 for nearly $80,000 more than it was assessed at just 180 days earlier.
The Village had a village wide re-assessment in 2005 with the Village President’s house being assessed at $235,400 and then was sold just 180 days later for $312,000 at a gain of nearly $80,000 or about 35%.
This can only mean one of several things. The property was greatly under assessed for many years. The company who assesses property for the Village didn’t do their job very well or that Menomonee Falls has the hottest real estate market in all of southeastern Wisconsin. Or, is it something else that is not known?
Real estate agents that were contacted about this found it almost impossible for a property to sell at a 35% premium unless there were extenuating circumstances for a possible development or takings by the Village Government. They also said that the market in the Falls had already started to soften in 2006 at the time the Village President sold his house and moved to Sussex rent free.
Citizens Appointment Committee Abolished
The Village President lead the way to abolish the Appointment Committee in 2006-2007 that was created by the Village Board to have a fair and balanced way of reviewing those individuals who volunteered to serve on various Village Committees as nominees of the Village President.
The process involved public notices to the community in the newspapers and on the village website for vacancies or renewals of committee appointments and considerations. The Village President would accept applications and the Appointment Committee made up of Village Trustees would review and interview the applicants nominated by the Village President for Village Board approval.
This system worked extremely well for the some 15-20 committees involving some 100 people
The obvious reason for this was to avoid any hint of nepotism, the alleged good ole’ boys’ network or the wink/wink nod/nod way of doing things for committee appointments.
The Village President led the way for the abolishment of the Appointment Committee to go back to the old way of putting citizens on various committees as a personal choice of favoritism or reward from the Village President. That is his prerogative, but once again the citizens are shut out of the very community that they live in and want to serve because of an apparent closed system.
Perhaps the Village President and our community could have been spared the embarrassment of the August 2006 incident involving Menomonee Falls resident and WTMJ TV Channel 4 personality John Mercure, being appointed to a Village Committee that he did not seek nor could he accept because of Journal Communications corporate policy if he had simply followed Village Policy that was in place instead of ignoring it.
There are a lot of citizens that would love to serve the Village if they were only given a chance instead of the closed system that apparently exists with the current Village President.
Town Hall Broadcasts…Fade to Black
Lights, camera…good bye Town Hall Broadcasts.
Another citizen contacted The Vanguard last week to report that the Village President has led the way to shut down the live broadcasts of Town Hall Meetings at the Village Board Meeting.
The Village Board Meetings are preceded by a 15 minute live broadcast of a Town Hall Meeting giving residents the opportunity to make public comments to the Village Board. This process has been in effect for many years and has worked extremely well giving the citizens a voice and a chance to meet with their elected officials on the record and in person.
It has been reported in the Express News that the Village President wanted to abolish this longtime policy with a resolution to the Village Board to shut it down.
With the elimination of this longtime policy, there will no longer be any record of issues or questions brought to the attention of the Village Board by the citizens because this part of the Board Meeting will no longer be recorded or broadcast for the public to view.
The citizens should be given every opportunity possible to ask questions of their elected officials and have a record of it regarding policy decisions, financial matters and or the behavior of those individuals that affect the citizenry.
Citizens are not buying the rational of the Village Manager or Village Attorney for shutting the broadcast down due to this function not being open to television and that it could be in violation of Open Meetings Law.
Why not have the Village President simply announce before the broadcast that citizens are welcome to make comments and ask questions and that officials would be happy to respond to them at a future time if they would simply leave their contact information.
Village President's Political Campaign Account Makes Large Contribution to High School
Another citizen asked if it was legal when Express News reported that the Village President recently gave a large sum ($4-$5,000?) of money from his campaign account to the school district for the renovation of the press box at the high school.
It is clearly understood that political campaign accounts should only be used for political purposes unless one tries to exercise a little known state statute to try and get around it.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that prior to May of 2006, this practice was strictly prohibited and then the legislature passed a law that allowed political campaign accounts to give monies out for other purposes because some campaigns had taken contributions from felons and did not want to keep those contributions once they were discovered.
While the GAO said the law remains open to interpretation, politicians are allowed to do this but may have some explaining to do with contributors who thought they were making a contribution for political purposes and not charitable giving purposes.
State Statutes 11.25 and 11.65 are very clear that this type of practice is strictly prohibited. If it is done, there has to be a full disclosure within 5 days to the Clerk’s Office and an explanation as to why the monies were not retained for political purposes. One would have to check with the Clerk's Office to see if this has been done for the Village President's Campaign Account or if the Waukesha County DA's Office has received any inquiries.
This practice is usually done when a person is no longer going to be running for public office and their account is closed out. The Village President has announced publicly on several occasions that he is not going to run again in 2009.
Attendance Record Continues to Raise Questions
The Journal Sentinel reported in March of 2007 that the Village President had missed 12 Board Meetings in his first nearly two years in office.
Citizens have asked what his attendance record has been since then and it appears, according to the village website (www.menomonee-falls.org) that another 8 meetings have been missed in a little over a year.
That seems like a lot of Board Meetings to miss. One could only hope that if a person really wants to hold public office that they would attend scheduled meetings for that position.
Being Taken to the Woodshed is not fun
One official with the Village shared with The Vanguard an experience they had with the Village President where they were in the words of their father, "...taken to the woodshed" by the Village President because this official needed to be, in the words of the Village President, "more cooperative" and provide a "unified front" to the public with their comments in the press and the questions they were asking at various meetings.
The Village Attorney was required to be at this meeting by the Village President with State Statutes in hand to remind this official what "could" and "could not" be done without certain potential consequences if they continued with their ways.
Fortunately, this official didn't cave in to the Village President and his tactics and continues to do what they think is best for our community. Many thanks for having the courage to stand up and do the right thing in the face of these types of circumstances.
What do you think?
Please let The Vanguard know what you think about these issues involving the Village President.
Should the Village President pay the rent bill ($3,000) and rental premium fee ($400) when he lived in Sussex in 2006 to the company whom he represented for business in the Falls?
Should the Village President have agreements with businesses that have proposals before the Village or should he avoid any appearance of these types of agreements for ethical reasons?
_____It’s ok to have the agreements.
_____Avoid these types of agreements for ethical reasons.
Should the Village President reimburse the taxpayers some $700-$1,000 in residency opinion legal fees when he sold his house in the Falls and moved to Sussex in 2006?
What is an acceptable attendance record for elected officials at Village Board Meetings?
Do you want the Town Hall portion of the Village Board Meetings broadcast live or shut down like the Village President wants?
Next week’s post…An in-depth look at Falls Fest