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Hearing begins for possible removal of Marshfield Mayor

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 7:42 PM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) - The hearing for the Marshfield Common Council to determine whether to remove its mayor from office began Friday at 6 p.m. in the council chambers.

The hearing was called after Fire and Police Commission member, Andy Keogh filed a complaint with the council asking for Mayor Bob McManus’ removal. McManus issued his thoughts about the complaint and hearing in February both in an interview with WDLB radio and at the regular council meeting. He stated the unanimous vote to hold a hearing was part of the council’s duty to hear out complaints against public officials.

The complaint stems from a records request FPC president, Randy Gershman, made last April asking for communications between the mayor and the police and fire chiefs.

In August, Gershman filed a complaint with the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the complaint as he believed McManus may have violated some laws. Ultimately, the Portage County district attorney declined to prosecute finding no crime committed, but that it was a forfeiture violation, raising concern about possible city policy violations.

Gershman told the investigator he filed the investigation because after receiving the response to his records request, he knew there were items missing, specifically text messages. He said he knew this because they found them on the police chief’s phone, which was not with the chief at the time due to him being on leave for a separate investigation.

Email documents between the city administrator, Steve Barg, and McManus show that McManus was notified about the request on June 15, 2020, and June 16, 2020 and a note at the top of the later date states the notice was delivered to him in person. An email from Barg to McManus a few weeks later on July 27 states in part, “...you indicated that you have not sent or received any such text messages.”

Steve Barg sent an email to Bob McManus confirming whether he did not have text messages...
Steve Barg sent an email to Bob McManus confirming whether he did not have text messages responsive to Randy Gershman's records request.(City of Marshfield)

McManus replied Aug. 7 in part, “My expectation and understanding has been, that the City of Marshfield has kept all records and should be able to issue items requested for any such request.”

As Barg notes in his July email to McManus, “the City relies on each individual city official to maintain any text message...” It also mentions that in the policy, which McManus signed and it was part of an unrelated email discussion McManus was a part of that April.

McManus clarified this past February that he deleted the text messages and thought that the IT department would have access to a folder of deleted text messages. Ultimately, IT was able to recover some, but not all of the text messages.

Before addressing what was in those text messages, here is some more background. The reason Gershman made the records request in the first place, he told the Portage County investigator, was because he believed the “mayor had an unusual and unhealthy interest in both” the police and fire departments. He said prior to McManus being elected, he promised the police union that he would get rid of the Fit For Duty test, a new physical fitness requirement at the police department, and he promised the fire department that they would get nine additional staff members plus a training officer.

Gershman expressed concern about this, as it is the FPC’s duty to handling these types of things without political influence.

“What I started seeing over, well since he’s been there, is just really odd things in terms of interactions with the chief or with the union and the mayor had been communicating with like the police department union and all this stuff, but I couldn’t prove it. At the time I just felt, like there were too many things that were happening that I couldn’t show,” Gershman said to the investigator in a recorded interview.

Then, last year as FPC member Andy Keogh’s term was ending, McManus made a recommendation to the Common Council for a new person to fill his spot. McManus is within his right to make a recommendation. However, Keogh and Gershman did not see it that way.

”Our last commissioner, Andy Keogh, met with the mayor two weeks prior to being reappointed,” Gershman said to the investigator. “The mayor approached him with a request. He said, ‘Andy, if you give officer Beauchamp his job back, the one that failed on the function test, I’ll consider putting you back on the commission.”

Former Marshfield Police officer Jared Beauchamp was fired from the department after he failed his Fit For Duty test. His arbitration to appeal that decision happened in December, but he said Friday he is still waiting to hear a decision from the FPC. The Fit For Duty test and Beauchamp’s firing have caused a lot of controversy within Marshfield, with other police departments watching on to see what happens with the decision.

This brings us back to the text messages from Gershman’s records request. Many of the exchanges were mundane, but a few texts between McManus and then-police chief Rick Gramza stand out.

On Dec. 20, 2018, Gramza sent this picture with a text saying, “This goes for police too...mic drop…”

On Dec. 20, 2018 Gramza sent a text to McManus with this picture and this message, “This goes...
On Dec. 20, 2018 Gramza sent a text to McManus with this picture and this message, “This goes for police too...mic drop…”(Portage County Sheriff's Office Records)

On April 3, 2019 Gramza sent a text message to McManus related to his recommendation for the open FPC seat.

“Good morning Mr Mayor 􀳦􀳦􀳦􀳦, I know how you like that. Big selection coming up...not any more important selection for the city than placing someone on pfc, this 5 year commitment could catapult the PD forward or cause it to spin its wheels, which had happened in many other communities. I will be praying for your discernment in selecting the right person! Have a great day Bob!”

March 5, 2020, Gramza and McManus had met in person and Gramza sent a text after that meeting.

“I have a parting thought...before you would ever speak publically in opposition, I would think the attorneys who the city is paying for would want to know if you were going to say or do something which may undermine or oppose their efforts. I dont think anyone from the city should be saying anything at the podium at this stage of things.”

What exactly this potential opposition is in reference to is not clear from the records and McManus told he did not want to do an interview with 7 Investigates until after his hearing, but the message lines up with other events happening in the city.

On July 24, 2020, McManus texted Gramza relating to the investigation into Gramza that summer.

“Tomorrow morning at 9:40 or 9:45 on WDLB WILL BE THE mayor’s update. The first 2 minutes we go over investigation and that the allegations were completely unfounded and no wrong doing whatsoever and I reiterated my complete support for you and the PD. I wanted you to be aware my statement. It plays tomorrow at 9:45ish and Sunday at 8:30ish.”

Gramza replied:

“Ok. I am nervous about us...would like to meet Monday or Tuesday...willing?”

Keogh kept his spot on the FPC and his term will last until 2025. Gershman’s term is up this spring.

Keogh did not respond to 7 Investigates’ interview request. Gershman stated he was willing to speak after the hearing was complete.

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