City staff investigated
Reports reveal conflict in New London
By Robert Cloud
Two investigative reports on personnel provide insight into ongoing conflicts at New London City Hall.
Strife among city staff first became public during a Finance and Personnel Committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.
At the meeting, city Treasurer and Finance Director Judy Radtke described the work environment as a “continuous battle.”
After meeting in closed session on May 18, the New London Common Council voted to authorize the city attorney to negotiate severance packages for City Administrator Lou Leone, Human Resources Coordinator Jill Maus and Radtke.
At a special common council meeting on May 21, the council named Chad Hoerth as the interim city administrator.
Several people spoke against the council’s decision to terminate the finance director and human resources coordinator.
At another special meeting on May 28, the council voted to rescind the city attorney’s authorization to offer severance packages to the finance director and human resources manager.
After meeting in closed session for 30 minutes, the council voted to place Radtke and Maus on unpaid leave for one month and ordered them to obtain anger management counseling.
Previously, the city contracted for two independent investigations of its employees.
City Attorney Earl Luaders sent the reports to the New London Press-Star.
Both the subjects of the investigations and city elected officials allowed sharing the reports with the press.
In December 2019, Edward Reed, a retired Wood County human resource director, concluded his investigation into several harassment complaints at city hall.
Among those Reed interviewed were Radtke, Maus, City Clerk Jackie Beyer and Leone.
Radtke said she did not feel she had been harassed by Leone.
“However, she later discussed a concern regarding possible gender discrimination in not appointing her interim city administrator,” Reed reported.
In his report, he noted Radtke had assumed many of the former city administrator’s duties as he withdrew from active management prior to retirement and immediately after he left.
“She continued to informally fill the vacuum,” Reed wrote in his report. “Given her years of service and position this is fairly normal.”
Reed observed that when Leone was appointed as the new city administrator, he started to assume the duties and authorities that go with the position, which caused conflict with Radtke.
“This sets up the classic physics question of ‘What happens when the irresistible force (city administrator) meets the immobile object (finance director)?’ Answer: It’s not pretty,” Reed wrote.
Reed also interviewed Maus, who said the atmosphere in the office was “very tense.”
Maus described a meeting in which Leone told her and Radtke to “stop harassing and badgering the city clerk (regarding performance issues).”
“During that meeting, the city administrator pointed toward Jill and in an angry tone of voice told her she was not to report to Judy anymore regarding Human Resources issues,” Reed said.
According to Reed’s report, Maus told him “problems related to the city clerk’s performance go back several years and has caused stress between staff.”
Beyer told Reed that Radtke and Maus were “badgering” her about errors she made during the normal course of doing her job.
Reed noted Beyer seemed to make more errors than would be normal for her position.
Leone told Reed he felt that Radtke had rewritten their job descriptions to reduce the city administrator’s authority and increase the authority of the finance director.
Reed concluded that “The city administrator walked into an already messy situation. He appears to have a ‘football linebacker’ approach to problems. That is to run head long into (and hopefully through) them. This management style may not be the best for the current situation and the current employees.”
Ann Barry Hanneman, an attorney with von Briesen and Roper out of Wausau, also conducted an investigation.
Dated May 14, her report focused on the city’s legal exposure in a potential discrimination and harassment complaint.
Unlike Reed’s report, Hanneman’s report does not name the parties involved.
Instead, she identifies them as the “probable complainant” and “two employees.”
In March 2019, the probable complainant was diagnosed with cancer. She began taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act for surgery, chemotherapy, follow-up treatments and recovery.
On April 26, 2019, she returned to work part time.
After she was diagnosed with cancer, “the probable complainant’s job performance was subject to scrutiny by the identified two employees every day. These employees were not the probable complainant’s supervisors,” Hanneman reported.
“Prior to March of 2019, no documentation was ever maintained of these errors, no performance evaluation was ever conducted, no legal consultation was ever sought, and no disciplinary action was ever issued to the probable complainant. The timing of this documentation, only first initiated after such disclosure, suggests the probable complainant’s disability and/or use of FMLA prompted the different treatment.”
Hanneman said the two employees began tracking the probable complainant’s errors “no matter how minor, or whether directly or indirectly related to the probable complainant’s disability, treatment or symptoms. At least two known documents were created by these employees for tracking these errors.”
Hanneman observed the documents showed a level of scrutiny not applied to any other employees.
“One of the two employees incredibly denied ever documenting any issues whatsoever regarding the probable complainant’s errors or performance. She further denied ever seeing the two documents before, despite the second employee’s representation otherwise. One of the two documents was actually sent from that denying employee’s City email address to her own Gmail address,” Hanneman said in her report.
Hanneman said the purpose of the documents was to have the “probable complainant” disciplined and/or discharged from city employment.
The two employees brought their concerns about the probable complainant to the mayor and the new city administrator “and stated ‘they’ had consulted a lawyer about documenting these mistakes so that the City would be in a position to take disciplinary action or discharge the probable complainant. When told by the two about the nature of the mistakes, one supervisor told the pair that the errors recorded do not warrant disciplinary action and were ‘trivial.’”
Hanneman reported the two employees would blame the probable complainant for errors in front of other staff.
“In one incident the probable complainant was blamed by the two employees for misplacing mail, despite the time records showing that the probable complainant was not in the office at the time,” according to Hanneman’s report.
Their supervisors told the two employees to be more compassionate toward the probable complainant because she was going through chemotherapy.
“Memory and mood may be affected by the chemotherapy treatment,” Hanneman noted. “Nevertheless, the documentation of errors shows intolerance and frustration for the probable complainant’s admitted forgetfulness with such tasks as accurately recording the detailed hours for FMLA use and/or what was described as ‘visible irritation” when being questioned by the two employees.”
Hanneman said the probable complainant described the workplace environment as toxic and described the two employees’ behavior as “bullying.”
“Others interviewed confirmed that the probable complainant was treated harshly, impolitely and in an accusatory fashion by these two employees as to work performance,” Hanneman said.
Hanneman noted the two employees applied a discriminatory standard when seeking to discipline or discharge the probable complainant for her errors while the employee who had a supervisory role took no disciplinary action when the other employee allowed $10,000 to be stolen from the city through email fraud.
“This investigator concludes the facts show that the two employees engaged in conduct and behavior toward the probable complainant that exposed the City to potential liability under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and in violation of relevant City policies,” Hanneman said in her report.