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Hammond Village Board taking a stand to support employees

Even though a few weeks have passed since its publishing, Hammond Village Board members agreed at their Monday, Dec. 22, meeting that a united response is needed to a letter to the editor in the New Richmond News concerning the professional behavior of Hammond Police Chief Rick Coltrain.

Not only is a response needed for that specific letter, which was written by Hammond resident Tony Endres about his dissatisfaction with open records requests of the Hammond Police Department, but a stand of support for all village employees is needed, all board members agreed. Trustee Laurie Gruber was absent.

Trustee Mark Benton drafted a response, which he read aloud at the meeting as sort of a rough draft to run by other trustees. He said he struggled with what to write, while trying to convey an appropriate response and keeping his personal feelings out of it.

“We’ve been elected to represent the public at large,” Benton read. “None of us does this because we are thinking of running for governorship. … We just do this essentially free because we like Hammond and want to help where we can. This job is rewarding and thankless at the same time. We open ourselves up to attack and have to get thicker skin. … However, we will make mistakes and let personal emotions come through at times. Additionally, the public needs to understand this and act in a similar manner. We all have the right and need to voice our opinions. This in turn needs to be relayed and reported as an unbiased manner; unbiased, matter of factly in the media platform.

“The amount of time and money spent on cases like this over the past couple years is appalling. We try to do everything as transparent as possible and when resources are consumed on this, then we do a great disservice to the Village of Hammond.

“And as for the latter, both parties involved, we all, myself included, should behave as adults and come to work together. If we can’t, then we’ve all failed the village and we’ve doomed Hammond to the end. The village would be better served as unincorporated.

“So I got a little harsh there at the end, and personal, but as the public goes, everyone is entitled to voice their opinion and we definitely encourage it. But also, I think as things get talked about, they get biased over time and when things go to the paper, or Facebook or what have you, facts and details and nuances get missed. I just think that this isn’t the first time since we’ve lived here and I’ve been involved with the village that there has been extraneous time wastes that we’ve been doing as a board that serve no purpose other than bring down this village and tarnish our face and reputations.”

Village President Tony Bibeau said he agreed and Trustee Wally Graf said while Benton’s letter was good, it needed to stand more behind the employees and put the facts out there.

Attorney Tim Scott reminded them that as public officials, they open themselves up to criticism, but recommended a line be drawn when it comes to employees’ reputations being attacked.

“I’d prefer to not see your police chief in that position…” Scott said about accusations made against Coltrain in Endres’ letter to the editor. “Bring forward your claim, why. We know that was done once already (Police Review Board hearing) and it didn’t go anywhere and it cost literally thousands of dollars to get that one settled. I guess the point is … something like that should ideally never be done lightly because you’re messing with a person’s reputation, you’re messing with their integrity and you’re messing with their job.”

Scott said Coltrain has told him that the Endres’ letter to the editor and claims that he did not receive all open records requests despite the Police Review Board’s findings that Coltrain acted appropriately have affected his reputation with Hammond residents and beyond.

Trustee Lynn Pabst said the board needs to stop replying to and worrying about letters to the editor and move on. He suggested the board draft a short statement in a letter to the editor saying it stands behind Coltrain, that he did his job correctly and that allegations against him are false. He offered to work with village administrator/clerk Sandi Hazer to write the statement to have ready for discussion at the Jan. 12 meeting.

Resident Royce Fritz said he felt it was a little late to be responding, considering the letter was published Nov. 20. He said the issue was dead and should be left alone.

Village President Tony Bibeau replied that it’s important that the board show its support for Coltrain, even though it’s many weeks later.

“I personally think it needs to be brought up that we do stand behind Rick,” Bibeau said. “Because it was found out that he gave everything he was asked.”

“What do village residents think out there right now?” Pabst asked. “Do they think Rick did something wrong by what they’ve read in the newspaper? If we don’t respond, then people may think that’s correct and it’s not.”

Fritz answered with “Nobody in this town knows nothing, and we know that.”

Graf suggested Benton submit his written statement as a letter to the editor. Bibeau said the board should also submit its letter to the editor once Pabst and Hazer have it written, because it’s responding in the same forum as the letter written by Endres about Coltrain. He also suggested adding the board’s united statement to the new village newsletter.

“Rumors are out there. This way we’re clarifying it to the whole village,” Graf said.

Other business

— A property recently purchased by the school district at 1315 Davis St. was rezoned from residential to public. St. Croix Central School Board member Scott DeGross told the board the house on the lot will most likely be demolished or offered to the fire department for a practice burn.

— The board approved a village newsletter format designed by Hazer and deputy clerk/treasurer Angie Blodgett. The village newsletter will be mailed monthly in residents’ water bills beginning in February.

— Village President Tony Bibeau and Trustee Wally Graf plan to contact New Richmond News Editor Micheal Foley to set up a meeting to discuss letter to the editor publishing policies.

— Operator’s licenses were approved for Lloyd Holden (SSG) and JJ’s employees Jimmie Johnson, Megan Johnson, Zachary Gilbertson, Michael Fiedler and Tasha Fiedler.

— The board approved the purchase of a new Canon Image Runner 1025 IF copier for the police department/municipal court costing $1,881. The current copier is 11 years old and parts no longer exist for its repair. The police and court will split the cost of the new copier.

— The board approved the purchase of a fertilizer spreader for the public works department at the price of $415.

— The board approved the purchase of a grapple for the skidsteer, which will cost $1,596. According to public works employee Bob Trudell, the department has been borrowing a a grapple, which is used for loading branches, trimming trees and working the village brush pile.

— Hammond Police Department part time officer Kali Bechel started Nov. 20.

— The board convened to closed session to discuss the seepage cell litigation, which will continue as no agreement was reached in a recent mediation session.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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