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Jury finds five Monroe County Supervisors violated Open Meetings Law

Jury finds five Monroe County Supervisors violated Open Meetings Law

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Five members of the Monroe County Board of Supervisors have been found guilty of knowingly violating Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law.

A jury before presiding La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Scott Horne determined that the supervisors acted illegally while circulating a Rule 5 petition regarding the site of the new Rolling Hills Nursing Home.

The jury found that supervisors Pete Peterson, Rod Sherwood, Paul Steele, Carol Las and Doug Path deliberately kept the petition secret from other supervisors until after the board authorized the project’s financing.

The board approved $16 million in financing during a Dec. 20, 2017 meeting, and the Rule 5 petition was submitted to the Rolling Hills Committee Jan. 23, 2018.

The committee approved the petition, and one day later, the full county board voted 10-6 to move the Rolling Hills site from Sparta to Tomah.

The board originally voted to construct the new nursing home across the road from the existing site on Hwy. B north of Sparta. However, questions arose over the city of Sparta’s commitment to supply utilities to the site. The city of Tomah countered with a $500,000 incentive package to locate the nursing home on the 44-acre site that houses Tomah Health and Gundersen Health System clinic. Both facilities opened in 2019.

The jury determined there was insufficient evidence that five other defendants − supervisors Nodji Van Wychen, James Schroeder, David Pierce, Dean Peterson and Mary Cook − knowingly violated the statute.

The financing for the project has been placed on hold since the litigation began. Monroe County voters by a nearly two-to-one margin affirmed their support for the new nursing home in an April 2019 advisory referendum. The proposed new facility includes:

  • Fifty skilled nursing home beds, including 16 beds dedicated to short-term rehabilitation.
  • Twenty-four community-based residential facility (assisted living) beds for frail elderly and memory care.
  • Twenty-four apartments for independent living and assisted living services.

The revised cost estimate for the new facility is $20 million.

Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at steve.rundio@lee.net.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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