RACINE — A local citizens group filed a complaint against Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney on Wednesday, accusing him of misconduct and asking for his resignation.
“An expedient retirement by Mr. Letteney would be best for both the city, and for him, and I truly hope he makes that choice,” a spokesperson for Honest Open Transparent (HOT) Government wrote in the group’s news release. “A lengthy and expensive process to arrive at the same result would not be in anyone’s interest, other than perhaps the attorneys who could bank hours for it.”
According to Ken Yorgan, a member of the group who unsuccessfully ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress last November against Republican Bryan Steil and Democrat Randy Bryce, the complaint was hand-delivered to City Hall on Wednesday. It was also sent via email to city officials.
Shannon Powell, communications consultant for the Office of the Mayor, said he could confirm that the city received a complaint from a Union Grove resident on Wednesday. He said the item would be on Tuesday’s City Council agenda.
Harry Wait — a citizens’ rights advocate and member of HOT Government — filed the complaint with the City Council, recommending sanctions against Letteney and his removal from office.
The complaint alleges that Letteney has “an extensive history of egregious conduct while in office, undermining the interest of the people and the City of Racine,” the complaint begins.
The complaint, signed by Wait, alleges that Letteney violates Wisconsin Public Records statutes, “undermines and thwarts the responsibilities” of the City Council, and abuses the powers of the city attorney’s office to “silence and stifle a political candidate.”
The complaint also alleges that Letteney “exhibited negligence in the legal oversight of Machinery Row.” Machinery Row was a $65 million riverfront development proposal first introduced in the summer of 2014. It did not come to fruition.
“Mr. Letteney should be well aware of the irregularities of Machinery Row and of the filed criminal complaint, which includes fraud,” the complaint states.
“A growing citizens’ movement has directed serious allegations of misconduct and malfeasance at City Attorney Scott Letteney for a list of his actions in office,” said a statement by the group, which calls itself HOT Government.
Legal fees, study fees
The complaint claims that Letteney abused his powers in the open records case involving Alderman Sandy Weidner and its associated legal fees.
The case stems from a closed-session meeting in the fall of 2017, during which Letteney showed City Council members a collection of emails that Weidner and two other aldermen had sent to constituents that Letteney thought violated attorney-client privilege.
The sealed emails included correspondence about everything from the city’s Redevelopment Authority to a case involving a bar’s liquor license.
Letteney said he was going to send the emails to the city’s Ethics Board for review. When Weidner requested a copy of the emails, she was denied. She filed a lawsuit in December 2017 demanding the records.
“Abusing the powers of the City Attorney’s Office, Mr. Letteney brought forth ethics proceedings against then mayoral candidate Sandy Weidner in a most timely manner to inflict maximum damage to candidate Weidner’s campaign,” the complaint reads. “This egregious conduct of Attorney Scott Letteney along with the frivolous filings have squandered public funds in the excess of $75,000 dollars and still counting.”
Earlier this month, The Journal Times obtained invoices through a public records request of the attorney fees associated with the open records case against Weidner.
The first invoice, dated Jan. 19, 2018, shows that attorney Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee firm of Meissner, Tierney, Fisher and Nichols was hired on Dec. 5, 2017 to handle the suit brought by Weidner. The monthly invoices, the last of which was dated Jan. 21 of this year, total $76,669.01.
The complaint also criticizes the cost of a police study Mayor Cory Mason ordered after allegations of racism, sexism and low morale were revealed by a survey of the Racine Police Department, which earlier this month, had cost a total of $118,088.73 to date.
This billing by the hour arrangement circumvented oversight and scrutiny by the Common Council, thus avoiding any discussions by Common Council concerning the focus, scope, cost or spending caps of the study,” the complaint states. “These types of actions by both the mayor and city attorney Letteney undermines the authority of the Common Council and renders the council as irrelevant.”
"Abusing the powers of the City Attorney's Office, Mr. Letteney brought forth ethics proceedings against then mayoral candidate Sandy Weidner in a most timely manner to inflict maximum damage to candidate Weidner's campaign."
Complaint filed by Honest Open Transparent (HOT) Government