UPDATED 7pm 4/5/10
MacIver News Service – The controversy over the newest government building in Iowa County Wisconsin just grew by leaps and bounds.
Already the subject of one lawsuit, a new grassroots organization filed another civil suit this past Friday. The new suit alleges Board Chairman Mark Masters surrendered his post on the Board after serving as acting County Administrator for more than 15 days last fall, thus making him ineligible to cast the deciding votes to authorize the construction and financing of the Health and Human Services building in October.
Eric O’Keefe, head of the newly formed Concerned Citizens of Iowa County (CCIC), calls the new building a “palace for government” and “a monument to the Supervisors’ time on the Board.”
The new lawsuit alleges that Board Chairman Mark Masters was appointed “to the interim position of County Administrator”
on August 18, 2009 and, having served in that position for more than 15 days, was therefore no longer a member of the full County Board when he led the October 20, 2009 Board meeting and cast the deciding vote to approve the financing and construction of the $6.1 million dollar building. The measure passed with 11 yes votes (including Masters’) and 10 no votes.
According to CCIC’s court filing, State Statutes provide that when a County Board member is appointed acting county administrator his/her status as a Board member terminates. The only exception to the law is when the Administrator is appointed for a temporary time period “of up to 15 days.”
Mr. Masters, however, was initially appointed by the Iowa County board as acting County Administrator on August 18, 2009 “for a period not to exceed more than 30 days.”
We have filed suit and are asking for a preliminary injunction prohibiting any further construction of the building, any further expenditures and the closing of the bond sale,” said Mike Dean, attorney for the First Freedoms Foundation which filed the suit for the newly-formed Concerned Citizens of Iowa County.
After the Master’s tenure as acting County Administrator surpassed the 15 day mark, the suit alleges, Masters was automatically removed member of the County Board and therefore could not legally cast the deciding vote in favor of the project. Despite this fact, the suit says that the county then proceeded with the sale of the bonds last Friday.
Calls placed to current County Administrator Curt Kephart seeking comment to this story were not returned.
First Freedoms Foundation describes itself as a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation whose “mission is to defend historic civil liberties and constitutional principles through public interest litigation and education.”
Members of the Concerned Citizens of Iowa County, are all residents and property owners in Iowa County.
The Iowa County Court held two hearings Monday (over the phone) regarding a second lawsuit over the new Health and Human Services building. Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges Mark Masters, Iowa County Board Chair, was not formally on the Board when he cast the tie-breaking vote to go forward with the project and to issue bonds to finance it, because he had served as acting County Administrator for more than 15 days.
Masters said he is not sure how long he served in the interim position. “I don’t remember the time frame exactly. I’d have to check the minutes,” Masters told MacIver News Service
When Masters spoke with the MacIver News Service Monday evening, he had not yet spoken with his attorney and was unable to comment on the litigation itself.
Masters admits he did not file a formal letter of resignation when he stepped down as acting County Administrator.
However “I informed our corporate counsel and the Board that I wasn’t interested in holding a non-paid position any longer and giving up my county supervisor seat.”
Masters was not on the conference calls Monday for the hearings.
For more information on the Iowa County, Wisconsin public works controversy, see this earlier report by MacIver’s Bill Osmulski: