Board weighs review of street sweeper firing

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

At a board meeting last week, Trustee Martha Brock joined Trustee Robert Milstein in requesting that an independent investigation be launched into the firing of former public works employee Butch Diederich.

As of press time, it remained unclear if the board was going to further discuss Diederich's case, but trustees have received a legal opinion stating that a conversation could be held in closed session. At an unrelated meeting Monday, Pope said he would be further surveying board members as to whether they wanted to hold a meeting.

Diederich was fired in 2002 for allowing village workers to perform plumbing work on his home. Diederich said at the time he arranged the work, he didn't believe it would be illegal, and argued that he was unfairly fired while some other employees accused of misconduct were allowed to keep their jobs.

Village Manager Carl Swenson, however, rebuffed claims the Diederich was unaware his actions were illegal, and argued that he wasn't treated unfairly. "There absolutely was no disparate treatment of one group of employees over another," Swenson said, reading from a letter printed in the last week's Wednesday Journal. Swenson originally declined to comment on the case.

"Mr. Diederich's actions constituted both the misappropriation of village vehicles, equipment and tools for private purposes and the prohibited use of an on-duty village crew paid for with taxpayer dollars for his private purposes," Swenson continued. "He knew it was wrong; he got caught; and he lost his job."

The village board discussed Diederich's case in executive session in both 2001 and 2003, said Trustee Ray Johnson. Johnson argued that the case did not require further review.

"An outside investigation was handled by our police. I have confidence that if the [village] manager hadn't acted the way he did, it would have been a dereliction of his duty," Johnson said.

Milstein and Brock showed the strongest support for further discussing the matter, while some other trustees said they would be open to the idea.

"I don't have an objection to further discussions. Issues hang around for a reason," said Trustee Greg Marsey. "There is enough question in my mind."

Diversity Assurance loan reduced

Resolving an issue first pulled from an agenda in May, the village board two weeks ago agreed to reduce the amount of a loan that would be offered to a multifamily building owner as part of the village's Diversity Assurance Program.

The village's Housing Programs Advisory Committee (HPAC) had recommended that the owner of a building near downtown receive a $200,000 loan from the village, which would be paid back over 15 years at a rate of 6.75 percent. The village would also offer the owner a $68,000 grant.

As part of the program, the building owner would improve the property, and agree to market available units through the Housing Center.

Some board members had argued that the subsidy being offered to the building owner was too high, and the board later agreed to reduce the loan to $150,000.

Meanwhile, some trustees also cautioned that the board should be reviewing systematic changes, rather than making changes to individual agreements.

"I don't want this to become a practice for us, as a board, to address these issues on an ad hoc basis," said Village President David Pope, who also said an investment in this building was appropriate, because it could likely otherwise turn condo.

Rick Kuner, chair of the Housing Center's board, also said he had concerns about "retroactively changing the rules."

 

 

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