RACINE — Racine aldermen aren’t ready to ink an agreement with the City of Kenosha that would allow Racine’s Ethics Board to rule on ethics complaints made against Kenosha city officials and employees.
The City Council’s Committee of the Whole voted 11-1 on Tuesday to defer taking action on a proposal to recommend the agreement to the full City Council. Alderman Ray DeHahn voted against deferring the measure.
Under the proposed agreement, anyone filing an ethics complaint with the City of Racine would have the right to ask that the complaint be reviewed by Kenosha’s Ethics Board, as long as the Racine Ethics Board found probable cause that a violation of the ethics code had occurred.
Likewise, anyone filing a complaint against a Kenosha official could have their complaint heard by the Racine Ethics Board as long as the Kenosha Ethics Board already determined that there was probable cause that a violation of Kenosha’s ethics code had occurred.
“What this agreement ... does is provide a change of venue, much like in a criminal trial,” City Attorney Rob Weber explained to the committee on Tuesday. “The idea of this was to provide for a hearing before a board that is not appointed by the mayor of the city where the complaint was filed.”
Pitching the proposal to fellow aldermen this summer, Alderman Greg Helding said the measure would provide an option to local complainants who might cry foul if their claim was rejected by the Racine Ethics Board. It also would help the city save money by eliminating the need to hire outside attorneys for complaints that proceed past the probable cause stage, he said.
Aldermen seemed to understand those benefits on Tuesday, but that didn’t stop several of them from expressing discomfort.
Alderman Sandy Weidner worried that the agreement could create issues for both municipalities, especially given a recent push by some Kenosha officials to create a rule that would punish those who bring complaints against officials that are later deemed to be “frivolous.”
“My concern is that Kenosha’s ethics board is relatively new ... I don’t think we have the ‘frivolous criteria’ and I just want to make sure that both Racine and Kenosha are on an equal playing field,” Weidner said.
While some aldermen argued that any complaint deemed “frivolous” would not make it past the probable cause stage, others seemed to agree with Weidner that it might be best to wait to see how the Kenosha City Council votes on the “frivolous complaints” proposal.
“This, just on its face, seems like a good idea,” Helding said Tuesday. “My concern is that, with the current climate, are we sort of asking for trouble?”
Some aldermen also worried about the cost of such an agreement.
In July, Weber said his main interest in hashing out a deal with Kenosha would be to save his department money. On Tuesday, he said that being called upon to prosecute ethics complaints for the City of Kenosha might mean lots of extra workload for his office.
There are currently seven complaints awaiting review in Kenosha, he said.
The committee could reconsider the proposal in two weeks.
What is the Ethics Board?
Appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council, the Ethics Board consists of six members tasked with the responsibility of hearing complaints regarding alleged violations to the city’s ethics code. Members serve six-year terms.