Waukesha County Clerk's Latest Snafu Nearly a $1 Million Mistake

Embattled Clerk Nickolaus in hot water again after her office loses crucial letter.

  • 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.

LEFTY July 16, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Nate- the Teamsters don't own Waste Management.
chicago6611 July 16, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Nate, Here is a link to the Waste Management Website http://investors.wm.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=119743&p=irol-financiallanding It does not have union employees and teamsters is a union. You just lost all credibility with all of your comments. Either you are not well informed or you are willing to lie to further your anti union agenda. Either way, you have no credibility.
mod1730 July 16, 2011 at 03:15 PM
the irony is that after attacking public employees for over a year they blame the lack of public employees as an excuse. they could have saved $1million if only they had hired a co0uple of more clerks for $30k a year. what a bunch of hypocrite dumb asses.
Patrick L. Tolle July 16, 2011 at 03:30 PM
@Brenda Why is it that for wingnutters any commentary that's less than glowing about some Republican or conservative figure- elected official or not- automatically becomes "hatred". I can only speculate tht arises from someone for whom that's their basis of thought and nearly their whole perspective, especially when you can expand it from comments about a specific person/instance to include a whole economic class Weird perspective.
John F July 16, 2011 at 03:48 PM
The bottom line is that you are getting the government that you deserve. The people of Waukesha County voted for this person, who has repeatedly shown her inability to organize her office, and you are now getting what you asked for. You have to wait until the next election before you can do anything and even then, I doubt you will.
clearthinker July 16, 2011 at 03:49 PM
To the Waukesha County residents who are so concerned about Kathy Nickolaus. Put some actions behind your blowhard posts. Go out and organize a recall of her(who knows I might even sign it as she does appear to not be up to the job) or vote her out in the next election. To the residents of other counties (especially Milwaukee), go pound sand. You have plenty of issues that you should address (Chris Abele, Tom Barrett's $100 million-2 mile street car, slum landlord/county board president Lee Holloway, billions of gallons of poop dumped into the lake, crime,crime,crime, millions of dollars of pension back-drops, crime) before you poke around out here.
David Blackburn July 16, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Political leaders have been told this lady is incompetent! When are you going to fire her!
Hashtag July 16, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Just when you thought the reputation of Waukesha & WI couldn't get any lower.....
Nate July 16, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Thanks, I'd like to know why a garbage tax was put in place the year after the village negotiated higher wages with Teamsters then as seen in the Menomonee Falls News.
Fred Wordell July 16, 2011 at 05:33 PM
That is absolutely absurd and irresponsible. This was not a do or die situation. The county has participated in similar expansion discussions in the past and there have been several articles in local papers about this expansion proposal over the last few weeks. IMO Dwyer should be mindful of the multiple fingers pointing back at him while pointing one in another direction! This qualifies as NBD!
Flash July 16, 2011 at 06:24 PM
@Jane. Agree, WHY does she still have her job? As a department head, her head needs to roll for sure because taxpayers cannot afford her department's multiple and costly mistakes. How many chances is she going to get to prove she isn't fit, competent or skilled enough? Her personnel file must surely be bulging enough to offer and insist she say goodbye.
Flash July 16, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Spoken like a true blue unionized public employee there mod1730. Make excuses for the incompetent.
Hannah July 16, 2011 at 06:29 PM
This is what you get when one political party contols all the elected offices (partisan or not). They don't have to answer for their poor performance or bad decisions. The highest duty for these people is loyalty to the GOP, so why care about mistakes like Nichlaus has made?. We have the same (mis)rule in Madison, with legislative and executive (and mostly judicial, too) branches controlled by one party. People who disagree do turn out to vote- heck, even some of them run for office against these party hacks. But until the majority wakes up and smells the coffee (to quote Ann Landers), nothing will change. Nicholas's replacement will be some GOP hand-picked yes-man or yes-woman. With the "R" next to his/her name, that's who the majority will vote for.
Cassandra July 16, 2011 at 08:20 PM
To people like you, you ARE the problem. Those of us in the rest of the state have to put up with consequences from your incompetent (at best) clerk. We should have outside supervision of all results from Waukesha County for every statewide election while she is in office. Then the rest of us won't care how incompetent or crooked she is.
Nate July 16, 2011 at 08:34 PM
The Antipowell speaks the truth! I don't know which one of Milwaukee County's problems entertains me most.
Anne July 16, 2011 at 09:53 PM
She's always got an excuse, doesn't she? How much does this person make for doing such a sub-par job?
Rich July 16, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Carl, That is absolutely, the most absurd waste/abuse of government funds I have heard of this week. Unreal is really a better way to describe it. It is thinking like this that has gotten us to where we are today. WMI SENT 2 CERTIFIED LETTERS that were signed for. Not one, but 2, and the office is not disputing that. Phone calls and emails can be avoided, but not 2 certified letters that were actually signed for. So, I guess what you want is someone investigated for doing their job correctly and making sure the 2 (count them Carl, not one, but two) letters were delivered into the hands of someone in that office. For that there is no excuse, and you my friend are a perfect example of the thinking that has allowed this to happen. You seriously want to investigate a company for insuring that this letter was received by the county clerks office? The office has already admitted it received these letters 2 different times. It is not waste management's fault "Kathy" didn't read the letter. Investigate the office? In any private sector job, they would have fired her for gross incompetence , and instead of an outside source having to come in and explain how it went wrong, I guarantee that the problem would have been solved by doing the following: There would be an initialed chain of custody, and there would be a directive for all certified mail to be read by someone at the end of that chain of custody. Period. Spend taxpayers money on an investigation. Seriously?
Ron Clone July 16, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Something especially noteworthy is that she blames this mistake on the fact that she was busy cleaning up her other "mistake". I teach children and have taught every grade, pre-K through 12. Small children make the same kind of excuses. Usually, by senior high age, personal responsibility has developed. Key word - usually. It seems to be declining rapidly in many elected positions especially.
Steven July 16, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Blames it on a reduced staff due to recount. I thought they wanted smaller government????
LEFTY July 16, 2011 at 11:35 PM
She's too busy shredding all the documents related to her election fraud.
the 'sha guy July 17, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Election Fraud? Are you claiming that she committed a crime? Sure seems as though you are. Time to act like an adult and admit that Kloppenberg lost and there was no fraud involved.
Ron Clone July 17, 2011 at 03:10 AM
A skunk by any other name still stinks.
LEFTY July 17, 2011 at 04:15 AM
And the winner is Prosser?? Tell me something sha- is Prosser a winner? It will be interesting to see if indeed fraud was committed after the investigation. You know about the investigation - right?
Carl Gregory July 17, 2011 at 05:23 AM
@Rich, ---- PART 3 ---- But again, I digress; people like you are the reason why companies like Halliburton/KBR, are allowed to go about doing their business, even when it comes at the immorally high cost of American lives defending our Nation. So Rich if my way of thinking is to question corporations when there seems to be a cloud of impropriety, I prefer my way of thinking, to yours. Good day Sir.
Carl Gregory July 17, 2011 at 05:23 AM
@Rich, ---- PART 2 ---- But of course why would taxpayers want to spend tax dollars on an investigation? But to your accusatory and childlike defense of WMI, If WMI had never done anything unlawful or untoward in the eyes of the law, then their cooperation in this matter would be of second status, but seeing that WMI is not only responsible for one of the largest frauds in US history, only outdone by Enron, then questions should be asked. And as the article clearly states Rich, that they did not “admit” anything. They were forced to recognize that FACT that the letter(s) yes I know there are two, had been delivered because a competent individual from another 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.” brought it to their attention two days before it would have been too late. As you seek to blame my thinking for the actions of an incompetent lap dog and that asking questions of the saintly and noble WMI, who can do no wrong, is the reason why things are the way they are, then I hope for your sake you expand your associations so that you can enrich your mind and form a more thorough understanding of the interworking’s of reality.
Carl Gregory July 17, 2011 at 05:24 AM
Rich, ---- PART 1 ---- I am well aware that there are two (2) certified letters in the possession of the Waukesha County Clerk's office, even if they were not. To have to state that in my response, to what I assumed were a group of competent adults instead of a juvenile malcontent, such as yourself, would be like having to explain to a four-year old that the sky is blue when the clouds aren’t there. But I digress, the fact that you try and use what “you believe” to be an omission by me as to the number of letters WMI sent to the clerk’s office as the root basis for you farcical argument to discredit my observations which seem to be supported by fellow commenters, is ludicrous. I find the simplicity of you argument tantamount to the same low level intellect that allows individuals such as yourself, and Waukesha County Clerk, to continue play-acting their way through life. It is the responsibility of the individuals elected to public office to be held accountable for their choices and the actions relating to those choices. It is also a fact that companies that chose to do business with any of our governmental entities, also to be held to account if there is the appearance of impropriety; such as with Halliburton/KBR’s alleged “Negligent Homicide” of several of our US Service personal in showers they constructed in Iraq. But of course why would taxpayers want to spend tax dollars on an investigation?
Gerardo Lemus July 17, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Regressives will always defend their own even in the face of incompetence. Remember Bush, the reason why we have this resession and looming deficit.
Nate July 18, 2011 at 03:13 AM
kathy is my girl
Mark S July 18, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Ummm.... yes Prosser won, deal with it. Everything you libs choose to fight needs to be decided in the courts. So now we will be taking that majority back and staying on the right side! The Conservatives were foolish to let the courts be a side bar, now I believe you awakened the beast. We will be fighting to make sure open minded judges are on the courts, the kind we have had since this great country started. Judges that don't vote for just one issue....
Mark S July 18, 2011 at 04:10 AM
Whatever loser..... nice try


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