- Update: new story 7-18:
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus – for a snafu in reporting votes in the state Supreme Court election – is coming under fire from county leaders again after an error made by her staff nearly cost the county $1 million.
The latest controversy surrounds a crucial letter that Waste Management Inc. sent to Nickolaus’ office in May regarding the expansion of a landfill the company .
The letter notifying the county of the expansion should have prompted the County Board to take action to join a local committee that will have oversight over the expansion. By joining the committee, the county also will receive $1 million from Waste Management over the next decade.
However, that May 9 letter was lost by someone in the clerk’s office – even though it was delivered via certified mail and signed by someone in that office.
After not hearing from the county, Waste Management on June 29 sent a second letter to the Nickolaus’ office – and a copy to another county department. It was that department – not the clerk’s office – that ultimately brought it to the County Board.
But by the time county supervisors received the letter, the July 10 deadline for joining the committee was just around the corner. So a hastily-called County Board meeting was held on July 8 – with supervisors showing up during the lunch hour to take action on joining the committee.
County Board chairman: 'Another flaw'
“The letter was forwarded to someone, but nobody in the clerk’s office knew who that was,” County Board Chairman Jim Dwyer said. “Yet again, it’s another flaw in the process with that office.”
County Supervisor Pat Haukohl said it appears to her the letter just got “lost in the shuffle” in the clerk’s office when it came in. But she said a County Board committee on Monday is going to review the policies and procedures in the clerk’s office.
"I can’t place blame because I can’t know for sure what happened because I wasn’t there," Haukohl said. "But I will say that it should have definitely, definitely been forwarded. I’m concerned because a letter of that importance should have received prompt and immediate attention."
If the board hadn’t approved the resolution on time, the county would have lost the ability to appoint two members to the committee, which negotiates and arbitrates with Waste Management about the landfill.
The committee also deals concerns about ground water, well contamination and wear on county roads used by trucks going to the landfill.
In addition, being on the committee means the county will collect about $1 million in fees to the county from Waste Management.
Nickolaus says lack of staff was the problem
In an e-mail to Patch, Nickolaus said she didn’t realize the letter was missing until the second one was mailed and brought to her attention by the other county department. But the clerk's office has since changed policy to make sure certified letters don't get misplaced again.
Certified mail will no longer be placed with interdepartmental mail, and any county departments receiving certified letters now have to come to her clerks' office to pick them up and sign for them.
Nickolaus also said her staff was overworked because of its involvement in the . The May 9 letter was delivered when the clerk's office was overseeing the recount.
"The office was under a lot of pressure and was very understaffed due to the recount," she said. "A request was made to the county board chairman for his staff to assist, but (we were) not given the help requested. The pressure and lack of staff may have been the reason."
But Dwyer isn't buying that argument.
"I do believe the letter came during the recount process," he said. "But when she has another person signing her name to say she received something, she should have had a process in place to know where that document is going."
Because the county runs all resolutions and ordinance through committees before approving them at the County Board level, Dwyer said officials first called the joint committee meeting at 12:15 p.m. July 8 and then held a full County Board meeting at 12:30 p.m. in order to allow supervisors to attend during lunch breaks from their full-time jobs.
He said 23 of the 25 supervisors were able to attend the meeting and they approved the resolution and the appointment of two officials to the local committee for the landfill.
Nickolaus has been heavily criticized since the state Supreme Court election in April, when she made an error in reporting the results from Brookfield. Nickolaus in her unofficial media report on Election Night — causing challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg to declare victory.
When the mistake was discovered, it was determined that incumbent Jusitice David Prosser won the election by about 7,000 votes, a figure that was upheld after a statewide recount.
The mistake prompted accusations of misconduct by Nickolaus, who is now under investigation by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.