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Committee Split on Alderwoman's Legal Fee Reimbursement

Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings is looking to have the city pay for the attorney she hired to represent her in an ethics complaint.

Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings has to wait a week to learn if the city will reimburse her for legal fees she incurred over an ethics complaint filed against her.

The Finance Committee was split Tuesday night when it was taking up  Cummings' request to have the city pay $240 to local attorney Shawn Reilly for his representation on the matter.

“I take this very seriously,” Cummings told the Finance Committee.

Because the ethics complaint “would affect my reputation and affect how I would conduct business,” she told the committee she hired the attorney because she wanted to be prepared going before the Ethics Board.

Leather Restorations owner Shay Johnson alleged it was unethical for her to vote on the future of the city’s dispatch center because she also serves on the Waukesha County Board. Also targeted in the ethics complaint was Alderman Duane Paulson, who is a county supervisor.

The city was exploring the possibility of consolidating its dispatch center with the county’s dispatch center when the complaint was filed by Johnson against Paulson and Cummings. The city’s against Paulson and Cummings

"My preference would be that we charge Mr. Johnson for this item," Cummings said.

Paulson, who serves on the Finance Committee, said he didn’t see the need to hire an attorney for the Ethics Board deliberations.

“There is nothing that an attorney was going to do,” Paulson said.

Alderman Joe Pieper voted against reimbursing the fees, saying he felt the legal fee is an expense that should be paid for by the elected official.

“One of the consequences or one of the risks of being a public official is that someone can bring a claim against us. … That is a cost of the position,” Pieper said. “We are compensated by the city for this position.”

How they voted

  • Denying the reimbursement: Pieper; Paulson
  • Approving the reimbursement: Andy Reiland; John Kalblinger
  • Absent: Rick Hastings
Johnny Paycheck August 01, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Hopefully the alderwoman has learned something from this experience and in the future will know to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest. Luckily for her the city's ethics board has lax standards for this type of thing. Any private business that I've ever worked for would have fired her instantly for trying to make decisions as a buyer and the seller. Good luck to her in trying to get the complainant to pay her outside legal bill... I have to wonder why she didn't just have the city attorney handle it for her. Given the way the ethics board handles complaints I doubt that they would have had any problem with it, even if that meant that the city attorney was filling multiple roles with opposing interests.
Shawn Reilly August 01, 2012 at 10:05 PM
There areso mny things wrong with Mr. Paychecks statement. First of all, there was no appearance of a conflict of interest. There is a Statute saying that an Alderperson can act as both a County Supervisor and a Alderperson. Then there was the letter from the City Attorney stating that an Alderperson who is also a County Supervisor can vote on issues affecting both entities. Then there is the fact that Alderwoman Cummings entire District lies within the City of Waukesha. Then there is the fact that if Alderwoman Cummings had not voted on the issue then she then would have disenfranchised her entire district as to that issue. (ok - that is the short response o Mr.Paychecks first sentence). Mr Paycheck then slams the Ethics Board as having lax standards. He doesn't provide anything substantive though to indicate how the Ethics Board's standards are lax. I guess if everyone just concludes that there was an Ethics violation and the Ethics Board purposefully found otherwise, then Mr. Paycheck has a point. Otherwise, his statement is worthless. so as to not exceed my limit on # of characters, I will need to follow up wit another post
Shawn Reilly August 01, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Then Mr. Paycheck states that if Mrs. Cummings did what she did in the private business sector, she would be fired. Mr. Paycheck states that this is so because Mrs. Cummings was acting as both the Buyer and the Seller. Not sure how to respond to something that has no basis in reality. In the governmental arena, there are actual rules for ethics that include penalties. In the private sector, ethical rules are close to nonexisitent except for a few profesions. I can agree with one statement made by Mr. Paycheck, it is extremely unlikey that Mr. Johnson has to pay her legal blls. From what I read above though, I assume that Alderwoman Cummings recognizes that is not going to happen. I assume the context in which she made the statement was that since the Complaint was without merit, it would be fair for the one who filed the Complaint to be the one that had to pay the bill. Then Mr. Paycheck states that he doesn't understand why Alderwoman Cummings didn't have the City Attorny handle "it" for her. Mr. Paycheck either hasn't read the ordinance (or the media reports) or he just wishs to be deceitful. The City Attorney is required to represent the Ethics Board by the City's ordinance. The City Attorney is also prohibited by case law from representing both a quasijudicial board and the individual that Board is investigating. The fact that the Complaint was without merit doesnt matter as to whether the City Attorney can represent both the Board and the individual(s)
Johnny Paycheck August 01, 2012 at 10:54 PM
It's not against the law in private companies either to represent the company as a buyer and a different company as the seller-- it's just considered bad judgement since nobody really knows where your loyalties lie. It seems to be quite fashionable now to try to justify conduct that's in the ethical gray area by citing that it's not against the law. Not being against the law doesn't mean it's right, it just means whoever did it isn't going to jail for it. Obviously someone thought it was a conflict of interest, or there would be no story here. The ethics boards standards are lax since their sole focus seems to be whether a violation of law occurred and not whether the conduct of the alderwoman was ethical. Just because there is no law against something does not mean that you should do it. The law simply sets a minimum standard and simply complying with that minimum doesn't mean that anything you may decide to do within technical compliance is right or ethical or should be done. She should have recused herself from voting on that issue-- and if doing so means that she would have disenfranchised the district then that would be an indication that it might not be a good idea to have dual roles with the city and the county-- even if there isn't any law against it.
Johnny Paycheck August 01, 2012 at 10:57 PM
I have to disagree with your conclusion that the alderwoman made a righteous decision simply because there is no law against what she did.
Shawn Reilly August 01, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Mr. Paycheck states; "someone thought it was a conflict of interest, or there would be no story here." I assume that Mr. Paycheck's point is that in the event someone takes a position that anyone did something wrong, (likes filing a meritless ethical complaint) then it is true that that person did do something wrong. Anyone else agree that it appears that this is the point he is trying to make and if so, do you agree that it is an illogical position?
Johnny Paycheck August 02, 2012 at 04:57 AM
I guess the joke is on me here since I just realized that you are the lawyer that is representing Alderwoman Cathleen Cummings... One could hardly expect that you'd come here and take a position against her, could they? :) Since it's your job to defend her and you've been paid your $240 for it, I now understand where you're coming from. :) The support of the voters comes without cost, however it's a lot easier to lose and unfortunately for her she has probably already lost enough of us that she won't be our alderwoman again.
@-;-'---- Rose August 02, 2012 at 05:37 PM
I would think being Ms. Cummings attorney makes Mr. Reilly's statements quite credible Why would he lie or twist the truth here and put his own reputation in jeopardy? Also JP doesn't always seem to do his homework.
Johnny Paycheck August 02, 2012 at 07:03 PM
You are asking why a lawyer would twist the truth? That has got to be one of the funniest things I have heard all week. Thanks Rose!

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