Town of Waukesha seeing changes with clerk, attorney and auditor

Published on: 12/24/2013

The year began with a major leadership change in the Town of Waukesha when a new chairman was elected.

The year is ending with more changes in the town.

In the last month, the clerk-treasurer, town attorney and auditor all announced their resignations.

Clerk-Treasurer Jamie Salentine's last day was Monday while Hector de la Mora's firm — de la Mora & de la Mora Attorneys At Law — is stepping down at the end of the month. Meanwhile, the town's auditor, Clifton Larson Allen, left within the last month.

The Town Board has quickly moved forward on Salentine's and de la Mora's replacement after meeting in closed session last week.

Macy is 'gold standard'

Chairman John Marek said an announcement will be made on the new clerk-treasurer shortly, while the board selected municipal attorney John Macy and his firm, Arenz, Molter, Macy, Riffle & Larson, S.C., as its new town attorney after a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Mike Laska voted against Macy's firm.

Macy, whose first day is Jan. 1, 2014, is the chairman of the Waukesha County Republican Party.

"John Macy is the gold standard for municipal attorneys in southeastern Wisconsin," Marek said. "This is going to help the town finally reign in legal expenses to historical norms rather than absurd amounts."

For Marek, hiring Macy as the town's attorney was eight months in the making. The day after Marek was sworn in as chairman, he held a special board meeting to look into removing de la Mora and hire Macy.

That meeting, however, was quickly adjourned at the request of Supervisor Joe Banske. Marek said at the time he wanted an attorney with more experience in local municipal government.

Since then, the relationship between the chairman and de la Mora has been strained.

"I think the dissatisfaction with the representation is well known," Marek said this week.

Risk for the town

de la Mora, who has offices in Elm Grove and Hartland, cited a lack of communication with Marek and an inability to have a working relationship as the reason for resigning. de la Mora has been with the town since early 2011. He replaced Jim Hammes, who stepped down once also representing the Town of Brookfield created a conflict of interest in its effort to incorporate in the Town of Waukesha.

Banske says de la Mora's departure is a loss to the town but the relationship was "beyond repair."

"The de la Mora firm is well known and they have been involved in municipal law for a very long time," Banske said. "They have a very good reputation and I have nothing bad to say about the de la Mora firm. They have genuinely cared about the product and service they have delivered to the town.

"But because of the lack of communication they were experiencing with the town chairman it's the best course of action because it was clearly causing a risk for the town."

Banske said Marek's refusal to listen to de la Mora during the Walgreens/Aldi saga this year was just one example.

"I can't change the people on the board but can find an attorney that John will respect and follow the advice and legal opinion," Banske said.

With Macy on board, Banske said there has now been some "good dialogue" between town supervisors about reducing the amount the town needs its attorney.

This could include having the town attorney attend just one meeting a month (the combined Plan Commission/Board meeting on the second Thursday of each month) instead of both of the regularly scheduled board meetings. Banske said the items that the board would need legal advice on could be put on that joint meeting or, if needed, the board could hold a special meeting.

"Just that issue I think would be saving the town $500 a month," Banske said. "I think the hiring was a collaborative effort where we really talked about the issue and looked at what we wanted from our attorney."

Macy's firm will charge $197.50 an hour.

Caught in the middle

The Town Board considered four firms for the position, while it interviewed five for the newly-vacated clerk-treasurer's position. Banske said there were two "very qualified" candidates before the board made its offer.

Banske said Salentine sent a resignation letter to the board that said she found a job elsewhere.

"It doesn't describe reasons for her resignation," Banske said. "She sought another employment but would she have been looking if there wasn't chaos in the town? I doubt it. People leave jobs if the opportunity is there for advancement or for unhappiness in their current position. It's just my observation but I would suspect the job search was triggered as a way to remove herself from the stress of the environment."

Banske felt Salentine was often caught in the middle of a contentious Town Board.

"I liked Jamie and I think she was effective as a clerk-treasurer and I think people in the town enjoyed having her," Banske said, before adding "I think she did get in positions where she couldn't ultimately satisfy the outcomes."

He said after new leadership was elected in the spring, "it seemed like information was being stonewalled" from the clerk-treasurer's office.

"In the past if I asked for something (Jamie) would just give it to me," Banske said. "But now things have been refused and that was an unfortunate turn in my relationship with Jamie."

Marek said Salentine confided in him in private about her future plans.

"The bottom line is this was an opportunity for her to move upward in her career and I applaud that," Marek said. “This is a career move and I congratulate her on bettering herself.”

Salentine didn't return a phone message or an email request to discuss her resignation.

Auditor also resigns

Meanwhile, Marek said the town will continue to look at a number of auditing firms since Clifton Larson Allen resigned.

"It probably has to do with some of the tough questions that they refused to answer," Marek said on the resignation. "I wrote to them that certain town board members should not have had access to the accounting books without approval and asked about budget amendments. My questions were who gave access and why. It was inappropriate."

"John created an environment in which the service provider said it isn't worth it to deal with John's antics to serve this community," Banske countered. “We had a high level of expertise at a great price but because of their interaction with John Marek we lost that.”

Mixed opinions on future

When asked if he feels the changes will help the discord among the Town Board, Banske didn't think so.

"If I was going to predict the future, the political rhetoric in the coming months will be mean-spirited, visceral with lies and mischaracterizations that has no benefit to Town of Waukesha residents," said Banske, who added he is undecided on whether he will seek another term as supervisor with his seat up for re-election in 2014.

"I don't know if I want to put in the effort with the baloney and malarkey that a certain group of people accuse me of. I could definitely hold a valid debate on topics and philosophy but no one can agree to disagree. It always becomes personal and you can't make a decision without people accusing you of having an ax to grind.

“These resignations should show that the environment since John came into office has gotten worse. He and his supporters have published erroneous and spiteful things against myself and (Supervisor) Mike Laska. Last year there were bogus ethic complaints, so I’m expecting a lot of those shenanigans. I don’t know if I want to go through that. I can always sell my house and move. I don’t know what I want to do with my level of acceptability to their nonsense.”

Marek, however, said he is confused by anyone saying he has mischaracterized others.

"Every statement I make I fact check," Marek said. "Everything I say has been factually based and backed by writing."

Looking forward, Marek likes where the town is heading.

"I'm absolutely optimistic," he said.