BLACK RIVER FALLS — The mayor and street superintendent of Black River Falls denied any wrongdoing after the city’s police department referred a misconduct investigation to the Jackson County district attorney.
The department investigation found that more than $26,000 in payroll records were falsified and that the city did work on property belonging to the mayor’s brother. Police also contend Mayor Ron Danielson and street superintendent Todd Gomer wrongfully approved an undocumented barter arrangement that allowed an employee to haul city gravel and sand for his private business.
Both Danielson and Gomer told police they were aware of all three situations, but they denied any wrongdoing.
Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox said he has requested more information and would not comment further on possible charges, pointing out that “everyone in these reports is presumed innocent and may ultimately be exonerated of any suspicion once the investigations are completed to my satisfaction.”
Danielson, who is seeking a fourth term, said Tuesday he isn’t concerned about the investigations. He said they show there was nothing improperly done and that neither decisions nor influence came from his office.
“I have nothing to hide and nothing to hold back on, but I didn’t have anything to do with (those decisions),” Danielson said. “That’s why we have department heads, and they don’t report to me. They report to the Committee of the Whole.”
Gomer, reached Monday, said he was disappointed questions about his department led to a police investigation.
“If there were questions, it should have went to department heads and the city administrator and the mayor and before the (city) council to be explained before some police department investigation,” said Gomer, who has headed the street department for 14 years.
Danielson told police he doesn’t have issues with how Gomer runs the street department, noting that Gomer is “authorized to run his department as he sees fit,” according to the police reports. Gomer said most decisions had received prior council or committee approval, although police said they could not find meeting minutes to support that contention.
The investigations began in mid-December after police were informed that the street department took on repairing a sewer lateral for the mayor’s brother at his Pine Street home earlier in 2013. The repair should have been the homeowner’s responsibility and should have cost as much as $1,425, according to police.
But Gomer said the repair was the city’s responsibility due to a connection problem from a previous city project. He said other properties in that area also might have similar issues and those repairs should be the city’s responsibility as well.
Danielson said he was aware of the repair on his brother’s property but said he was not involved in the decision nor was it a favor. Police also said state law and city ordinance were violated because city workers making the repair were not licensed plumbers.
The initial investigation led to police looking into falsified time records for recycling employees allegedly paid for more time than they worked. A comparison of time cards and payroll records showed employees received more than $26,000 over what they should have earned during the past six years, according to the report.
Gomer admitted to changing the actual hours worked and said it was done as a way to retain employees due to low pay, according to the report. Some current street department employees said they were aware of the practice.
Gomer said the procedure was presented before the Public Works Committee in 2005 or 2006, but neither then-Mayor Joe Hunter nor then-committee chairwoman Marilyn Reinart recalled the change when asked by police.
Only Gomer was referred on misconduct charges in that investigation. Danielson was referred for obstruction: Police reported he gave differing accounts of whether Gomer or the hiring committee was authorized to set terms and conditions of employment.
A third investigation involved Gomer and Danielson having knowledge of street department employee Chris Olson using city equipment to load and haul away city-owned sand and gravel for his personal company. Gomer said this was done through a barter system: Olson, a 10-year employee, repays the city with use of his tools and by bringing in material such as black dirt for city projects.
Gomer said the setup has saved the city money, but the amount of material taken has not been tracked and full records showing what has been given back to the city have not been kept, according to the police report.
The arrangement has been in place for several years, but Gomer said Monday that Olson’s business was once subcontracted to haul city material for a project.
Danielson and Gomer told police they didn’t believe Olson had an unfair advantage over other companies.
All three were referred for misconduct.
Gomer stated he believed the police investigations were politically motivated and driven by a former city employee, but he declined to offer details.
The city and BRF police union were at odds while trying to settle new contracts, which were agreed on in December. The police union filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission against Danielson.
“I think it’s politically motivated and against the mayor by the police department and a disgruntled ex-employee,” Gomer said.
Police Sgt. Roger Hackman, speaking on behalf of the department, said there was no ulterior motive behind the investigations. He said the department had received a complaint and looked into.
Hackman said the department ensured objectivity by notifying the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation and having DCI review the cases before forwarding them to the district attorney.
Danielson said the investigations won’t affect his re-election campaign.