Fallout from illegal drainage project spurs discipline
State and county regulators have ordered Greenville to restore a navigable, disappearing stream and karst feature that was illegally dredged on farmland west of State 76. Duke Behnke/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREENVILLE - Town government is undergoing a shakedown in the wake of an illegal drainage project that has cost the town about $100,000 and counting.
Earlier this month the Town Board censured one of its own, Supervisor Mike Woods, for his role in the unpermitted dredging and rerouting of a navigable stream on farmland west of State 76 that he rents from Lin Family LLC.
On Thursday, Oct. 19, the town placed Dave Tebo, former town administrator and current director of community and economic development, on paid administrative leave.
Town Administrator Joel Gregozeski said Tebo's leave is indefinite "pending the final outcome of a confidential personnel matter."
"It's not related to any type of criminal misconduct or misconduct in office," Gregozeski told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. "It's a performance-related item that we're dealing with."
Tebo served as town administrator for 17 years before he filled the newly created position of director of community and economic development earlier this year.
Gregozeski declined to disclose whether Tebo's leave relates to the illegal dredging on the Lin Family property.
"I can't get into the details of it yet because it's still pending," he said. "We anticipate that within the next two to three weeks we will have a final resolution."
The censure of Woods came six months after the illegal dredging was exposed in an April 7 report by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. State and county regulators said the dredging drastically altered the nature of the stream and damaged a reported karst feature.
Gregozeski said the Town Board sought to punish Woods but doesn't have the authority to remove him from office.
"A censure really is the highest level of reprimand a board or council could give to one of its peers as an elected official," Gregozeski said. "It draws the line in the sand that says, 'Look, this is not ethical behavior. We feel that you were doing things that were not in the best interest of the town.'"
The censure, titled Resolution 16-17, states Woods "has engaged in conduct unbecoming an elected town supervisor" and that he "placed the Town Board and staff in a compromising position by directing and coordinating an unpermitted agricultural drainage project" on land he rents and farms.
The resolution further states that Woods "directly and substantially benefited from improving the drainage," contrary to state law that prohibits public officials from using their office or position to produce a substantial benefit for themselves.
"Now, therefore be it resolved," the resolution says, "the Town Board of the Town of Greenville objects to the actions of Supervisor Woods.
"Be it further resolved, the Town Board of the Town of Greenville hereby censure(s) Supervisor Woods for conduct in violation of Wisconsin State Statutes, Chapter 19, Subchapter III — Code of Ethics for Public Officials and Employees."
The resolution passed 3-0. Town Chairman Jack Anderson and supervisors Dean Culbertson and Andy Peters voted in favor, Woods abstained, and Supervisor Mark Strobel was absent.
Woods said he was caught off guard by the resolution.
"They had a closed-door meeting without me," Woods told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. "Then they brought me in and handed me the resolution. I was kind of shocked."
Woods is working with his attorney to respond to statements in the resolution. "I want to know how I profited," he said. "There was no profiting."
The resolution says the Town Board didn't authorize the dredging and wasn't aware of Woods' actions until after the project was completed.
Woods said he's been unfairly singled out as the scapegoat. He pointed to a Dec. 12 report informing the Town Board that Dan Klansky, the town's sanitary district superintendent, was "working on coordinating the cleaning of the ditch right next to the sewer interceptor on the Lin property because it is flooding over the top of our easement."
"It's not all on me," Woods said, "and you're going to find this out in the next few weeks."
The bill for the dredging was paid by the town, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources named the town, Woods and the contractor that did the dredging, Robert J. Immel Excavating Inc., as defendants in an enforcement action alleging violations of the state's water laws.
The case has been referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice for prosecution.
The town has taken the lead in stabilizing the streambed and in developing a restoration plan to avoid fines that could amount to as much as $10,000 a day. By early September, the town had incurred about $100,000 in expenses, with the restoration work still to come.
Gregozeski said that once the restoration is done to the satisfaction of regulators, the responsible parties would meet to negotiate reimbursements to the town.
Town resident Steve Nagy said the censure of Woods is a good first step but would amount to nothing more than "a little slap on the hand" without additional action to recover the expenses racked up by the town.
"I'm guessing that they're going to have to file a lawsuit against Michael Woods," Nagy said.