County officials can’t decide whether to move on disciplinary action requested by County Exec
By Brandi Makuski
After three closed-door meetings in as many weeks, officials from Portage Co. have been unable to decide whether they should discipline a lawyer employed by the county on charges he violated several internal policies.
Portage Co. Corporation Counsel Mike McKenna has been accused of violating County Executive Patty Dreier’s directives, as well as three additional county policies governing computer use, secondary employment, and Policy 3.11, which regulates several elements of professional behavior including tardiness, insubordination and discrimination.
In a letter dated Dec. 5, Dreier also accused McKenna of taking on a conflict of interest when he was appointed as a Municipal Court Judge in 2014. That position oversees the Stevens Point/Plover Municipal Court, which has different interests than the county, she said, and McKenna was warned to keep the two jobs separate.
“You were told you could not leave your job as Corporate Counsel to perform your Municipal Court duties,” the letter read in part. “In addition, you were instructed to provide a written plan to avoid and address any conflict of interest which may arise. You did not obey either directive.”
Dreier said McKenna regularly leaves his county job to conduct Municipal Court duties. She also accused him of belittling a female coworker, using his work computer for personal use, doing a crossword while on duty, and making an inappropriate joke about Mexico.
McKenna denies the claims, saying the charges are retaliation for a discrimination complaint he filed against Dreier in August of 2015.
“I am the victim of a massive and illegal vendetta — centered and authored by the County Executive,” McKenna’s email statement read in part, adding Dreier’s claims of his racist and sexist remarks are “slanderous and false”.
In his original complaint to the Dept. of Workforce Development, McKenna alleged Dreier created a hostile work environment in county government via instances of favoritism where Dreier levied no disciplinary action against certain employees for infractions ranging from “huge budget overruns” and unnecessary purchases to lack of training by HR.
McKenna’s complaint also indicated Dreier fired various county dept. heads over the age of 40 in favor of younger employees.
The DWD later determined McKenna’s complaint involved no probable cause for the state to intervene. When McKenna filed an appeal on that case in August of 2016, he said that’s when his office came under surveillance by both an internal employee and an outside lawyer.
McKenna’s attorney, Jared Redfield, said after his client filed an appeal on the state’s ruling this summer, an existing county employee was then charged with shadowing McKenna’s movements and statements, to include how long he was gone for lunch and how many times he left his office.
An outside investigation into his office was also prompted by the county, via a Milwaukee-based lawyer Susan Love, who was hired in closed session by the County HR Committee in September.
McKenna called the investigation a “comprehensive and secret all-out investigation of my office and work activities,” adding the surveillance of his computer, emails and phone calls violated the sanctity of his legal work for the county.
Redfield and McKenna maintain the investigation meets the legal definition of a “retaliatory action”, and have filed a retaliation complaint with the state.
“It violates the law to retaliate against anyone who exercises their rights under the Equal Right Law for an age and discrimination employment complaint,” McKenna said. “It’s retaliation to increase surveillance.”
According to county policy, the charges against McKenna can be grounds for termination. But county officials haven’t been able to decide how to move forward.
The Portage Co. HR Committee discussed the matter during a closed-door session on Dec. 1 that lasted more than two hours. Two additional closed-session meetings where held on Dec. 8 and 12, each about an hour long.
It was not immediately known when the committee would continue its discussion.