Update: Karas filed the complaint this afternoon with DA Mike Nieskes. He asserts the July 7 executive committee meeting was not properly noticed. He also noted the City Council itself may have had a quorem (at least eight aldermen) at the meeting, which itself could be illegal because that wasn't officially noticed.
We talked with Alderman Greg Helding, who said the complaint had no merit. The meeting was officially noticed and the committee had "good cause" to hold an emergency session. He added that the state has never defined "good cause," so Karas would need a court to determine what that means. "He can take me all the way to the Supreme Court on that," Helding said.
Helding, who is named in Karas' complaint, also said the meeting clearly wasn't held with bad intent. If the council wanted to hold a secret meeting it would have done a better job, he reasoned. The fact that Alderman Maack asked if the meeting needed to be noticed was a sign the council was aware of the law it had to follow.
And, the meeting was open to all aldermen because it's against the law for the city to ban City Council members from committee meetings, even if they're in closed session.
Interestingly, Karas filed another records request today to determine who actually attended the meeting. He was sent minutes from the City Attorney's office, which you can read here. They differ from the minutes that were posted in Legistar as of this morning, which you can read here.
Pete Karas is set to file a complaint with the District Attorney's office regarding the July 7 Executive Committee where City Council members and Mayor John Dickert discussed new City Administrator Tom Friedel's contract.
Karas, a former alderman and mayoral candidate, is alleging the committee illegally called an "emergency meeting" to discuss Friedel's contract before the regularly scheduled July 7 City Council meeting. The meeting was held in closed session and vaguely noticed. Following the meeting, where council members reached an agreement on important aspects of Friedel's contract, the council voted to hire Friedel.
The Executive Committee is chaired by Dickert and is made up of the City Council's committee chairmen, City Council president and an at-large member. Current members include: Dickert and Aldermen Q.A. Shakoor, Sandy Weidner, Greg Helding, Aron Wisneski and Jim Spangenberg.
Along with the committee members, other aldermen were in attendance including Alderman Jeff Coe, who recently blasted the mayor and council for approving Friedel's contract without seeing the final document. Coe said he would not have voted for the contract if he had known in advance Friedel was going to make $95,000 per year.
Karas' claim is the meeting was illegal because the committee had no grounds to call an emergency meeting, which is reserved for extreme circumstances that demand a meeting without the customary 24-hour notice. The Attorney General's office has ruled that "inconvenience" is not a justifiable reason to call an emergency meeting.
The meeting is also questionable because enough City Council members attended the meeting to require an official meeting notice of the council. No such notice was filed. RacinePost earlier reported at least 10 people were in the meeting, though it's unclear how many aldermen actually attended. The entire City Council was invited.
The Executive Committee meeting was held July 7 for council members to reach agreement on Friedel's contract without sending the document to a regular council committee. (In 2007, the Personnel and Finance Committee reviewed the contract for former City Administrator Ben Hughes before the full council voted on it.)
Greg Bach, Dickert's assistant, announced the meeting by email on Monday, July 6 p.m., but the meeting wasn't noticed by City Attorney Rob Weber until Tuesday, July 7, according to records obtained by Karas through the Wisconsin Open Records Law.
After Bach called the meeting, Alderman David Maack emailed him asking if the meeting was properly posted and said he was concerned it could be viewed as an illegal meeting, according to the records obtained by Karas.
Bach then emailed City Attorney Rob Weber, but the city redacted the entire email citing attorney/client privilege, according to records obtained by Karas.
"Representative democracy can only work in the sunshine," said Karas, who is pursuing the complaint over concerns with how city government has been holding meetings in recent months. He called the Executive Committee's emergency meeting a "red flag."
"I thought when the Gary Becker administration left office this would end, but apparently it hasn't," Karas said.
Karas added the complaint was not personally directed at the mayor or any of the alderman. "It's only procedural," he said.
If found guilty of an illegal meeting, committee members can be fined between $25 and $300. A judge could also, in theory, void Friedel's contract for holding illegal discussions.
The Executive Committee has met three times this year. On Feb. 16 the committee met to discuss a legal issue and city personnel data. On Jan. 20, the committee was scheduled to meet to discuss removing former Mayor Gary Becker from office.