Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney and dozens of voters filed suit against 13 county board members on Monday. The federal court filing argues Haney’s efforts to implement reform after winning the election have been thwarted by board members stripping Haney of his executive powers. Haney was elected in Nov. 2016.
The lawsuit is the latest in continued infighting among county leadership.
The lawsuit notes June 2017 when the board enacted a measure that the Chairman cannot terminate the County Administrator and CFO without Board approval. This lawsuit argues that "this was the first in a series of changes that provided an avenue for a few Board members to, when taken to an extreme, triangulate, undercut and undermine Haney in 'leading the effective administration of the county.'"
The suit mentions several subsequent measures “which removed the Chairman’s authority and power to supervise, direct and control the County Administrator and instead placed such authority and power with the Board and placed additional County departments solely under control by the Administrator. Additionally, it removed the ability of the Chairman to assign other duties to the County Administrator and gave this power to the Board. The Chairman position functionally no longer existed on the organizational chart.”
Haney and the plaintiffs argue the change was planned for several months over private email and was forecast in a series of text messages. The complaint also argues that "having open, transparent discussions about the merits of this change proved extremely difficult. This midterm power shift completely fractured the day to day working environment between the Chairman and those directly involved in driving the change.”
The lawsuit says the Board continues to try to pass ordinances that strip duties and responsibilities from Haney.
According to the filing, “The position of Chairman has been under endless threat of change over the past two years. The majority of the Board has repeatedly placed limitations on Haney’s position. The enacted changes have constructively terminated the position of County Chairman by severely limiting the authority of Haney, reassigning the Chairman responsibilities, for which he was elected, to the County Administrator who is an unelected employee, and restricted the Chairman’s and Haney’s authority to speak at Board meetings about pending ordinances and further to perform his statutory and constitutional duties.”
According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs include:
Frank Haney, Scott Anderson, Richard Crosby, Ed Geeser, Jan Mansfield, David Dale Johnson, Johanna Koslofski, Dee Premo, Kevin Hortsman, Sarah Pipitone, Anthony Pipitone, Dennis Greier, Judy Greier, Gerry Miller, Carol Miller, Becky Ecker, Mark Beaulieu, Janice Butitta, Jim Butitta, Jodi Amans, Jackie Sciortino, Keith Thompson, Brendan Blackler, Lorraine Blackler, Kristin Dixon, Leslie Haney, Marilyn Paladino, John Paladino, Nick Paladino, Dom Grisanzio, Barb Betts, Brenda Christiansen, Ken Christiansen, Patricia Alms, Gary Alms, Bill Gelshen, Janette Grisanzio, Vito Grisanzio, Michael Grisanzio, Phyllis Grisanzio, Frank Giammarese, Robert Haney, Mary Jo Haney, William Gehlsen, Mary Kay Gehlsen, Dominic Paladino, Jennifer Lavasseur and Brian Maier.
David Boomer, Dave Fiduccia, Joe Hoffman, Fred Wescott, Jim Webster, Jamie Salgado, Angie Goral, Dorothy Redd, Dave Tassoni, Burt Gerl, Steve Schultz, Keith McDonald, and Paul Arena.