Lincoln County board ousts Highway Commissioner John Hanz

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

MERRILL – In a meeting this week that was disrupted by and ultimately cut short due to severe weather, the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors dismissed a department head from his position.

During its meeting at the Lincoln County Service Center in Merrill on Tuesday, May 21, the board voted 15-4 to terminate Lincoln County Highway Commissioner John Hanz.

The recommendation to oust Hanz came from the county’s Highway Committee, which is made up of District 11 Supervisor Randy Detert, District 14 Supervisor Marguerite Lyskawa, District 15 Supervisor Marty Lemke, District 18 Supervisor Ken Wickham and District 21 Supervisor Eugene Simon.

The committee acts as the “policy and oversight committee for the Highway Department,” according to the Lincoln County website.

The board discussed the matter during a roughly hour-long closed session, per Wisconsin statutes.

Prior to the closed session, Andy Phillips, counsel for the Wisconsin Counties Association, provided procedural and legal information on behalf of the board.

Phillips said he was “brought in because of the nature of the relationship” among Hanz, Corporation Counsel Karry Johnson, Administrative Coordinator Renee Krueger, Board Chair and District 10 Supervisor Jesse Boyd and the board itself.

Phillips explained that because of the rarity of instances in which a county board considers the dismissal of an official in a position such as Highway Commissioner, it is “always advisable” to have outside counsel assist in the potentially “legally tricky” process, as well as to help avoid appearances of potential favoritism, or lack of favoritism, due to the regular interactions of those involved.

Phillips said there would be a presentation during the closed session providing information relating to Hanz’s “performance and conduct,” and that Hanz would be allowed the opportunity to address the board during the closed session. Hanz would then be excused, and the board would deliberate on the matter of Hanz’s potential dismissal.

Following deliberations, the board would then reconvene into open session and take action on the Highway Committee’s recommendation to terminate Hanz, Phillips said.

After Phillips fielded several questions from the board regarding procedures and legality, the board moved into closed session.

Upon returning to open session, a motion was made to remove Hanz from the position, but a tornado warning led to those in attendance moving to a safer location before a vote occurred. The board reconvened about 30 minutes later, during which time, the vote to dismiss Hanz took place.

Voting in favor of removing Hanz were Boyd, District 1 Supervisor William Bialecki, District 2 Supervisor Lori Anderson-Malm, District 3 Supervisor Elizabeth McCrank, District 6 Supervisor Norbert Ashbeck, District 7 Supervisor Donald Dunphy, District 8 Supervisor Laurie Theil, District 12 Supervisor Julie DePasse, District 14 Supervisor Marguerite Lyskawa, District 15 Supervisor Marty Lemke, District 16 Supervisor Dana Miller, District 17 Supervisor James Meunier, District 18 Supervisor Ken Wickham, District 20 Supervisor Angela Cummings and District 22 Supervisor Greg Hartwig.

Voting in favor of reinstating Hanz were District 9 Supervisor Christine Vorpagel, District 13 Supervisor Alan Bishop, District 19 Supervisor Joseph Dorava and District 21 Supervisor Eugene Simon.

Several minutes after the vote, a second tornado warning led to Boyd’s adjournment of the meeting before it could be completed. The board is scheduled to address the remaining agenda items during a meeting at the Lincoln County Service Center this evening (Wednesday, May 29) at 6 p.m.

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