Gillett mayor, council work on differences

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Beaton hopes closed session improves ‘dynamic at City Hall’

It took more than an hour of sometimes passionate discussion behind closed doors, but Gillett Mayor James Beaton has been granted a key to the front door at City Hall.

Tensions that apparently had been bubbling under the surface since Beaton’s write-in election in April spilled over Thursday during a hastily called meeting of the City Council’s Finance and Personnel Committee before the council’s regular August meeting.

The agenda, posted at City Hall 25 hours before it began but not shared with local media, called for discussion and possible action of a formal complaint against a city employee, the keys to the clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk-treasurer offices and posting for a new city attorney.

It also called for a closed session under the open meetings law exemption that allows public bodies to close the doors to discuss “matters of employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of public employees.”

The committee is chaired by Alderperson Nanette Mohr, whom Beaton defeated by a 55-41 percent margin after a write-in campaign this spring. Apparently the new mayor had been denied keys to city offices, and he had received advice about his position’s rights and responsibilities under state statutes from city attorney Katie Sloma, who was appointed to the position in April.

The committee – Mohr, Marie Blaser and Josh McCarthy – entered closed session with Beaton, the rest of the City Council and the city’s full-time department heads while about a half-dozen members of the public waited outside.

Raised voices could be heard at times, but not to the level that the words could be understood. The closed session continued for slightly more than an hour.

When they emerged, the committee passed a motion to “proceed as discussed in closed session” on the matter of the citizen complaint. They also voted to approve giving the mayor a key to the front door.

Mohr said Beaton could have access to utility manager Ron Anderson’s office.

“If he wants to have an office in here or if someone wants to talk to him in private, there’s a little table in there and they can discuss matters in Ron’s office so that there’s some privacy,” she said.

On the subject of hiring a new city attorney, McCarthy said, “I’m satisfied” with Sloma, and Blaser said, “Satisfied, for now.”

“OK, then we will leave that lay,” Mohr said.

Then it was time for the full council meeting, which proceeded normally. The Community Development Authority said discussions are under way for possible expansion of the city’s tax increment financing (TIF) district. Anderson reported that the intersection of Richmond and Main streets would be closed for about a week starting Monday as part of the Richmond reconstruction project. “We’re putting a lot of spaghetti in there,” he said, referring to various utility lines. Invoices for the street work in progress were approved, and Clerk-Treasurer Kim Greutzmacher said she and deputy Chelsea Henkel had attended and passed training at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Beaton said it’s become clear that he’s approaching his new role differently from previous mayors and conceded the result has been “a dynamic in the City Hall that we’re ever going to try to improve.”

He described the closed meeting as a “bruising” session that he hoped led to overcoming some of the challenges of his early tenure.

“If I could express anything to the City Council and to the city department heads and to the folks that live here in the city and work here, it’s that I really want to work with everybody,” Beaton said. “I’m really not trying to step on anyone’s toes. I’m really just trying to figure out how to serve you as employees the best way, how to serve you as taxpayers the best way, and also serve myself the best way. Because I am employed, as so many of us are, and I have so much time that I can commit to this position, and I want it to be good time that can be used to move the city forward.”

Beaton said it was never his intention to cause discomfort. As for the airing of issues in the closed session, he said, “I hope that when we leave here and we come back through these doors the next time, that we can kind of approach things on that vein and that note — that it’s for the betterment of the city.”