The Pierce County Board Jan. 24 voted 12-5 to approve a 4% wage increase for County Administrator Jason Matthys, despite several citizens asking for an investigation into what they say is Matthys’ misconduct in dealing with Pierce County Sheriff’s Office personnel issues.
Matthys has come under fire recently after a transcript from a phone call between him and retired Chief Deputy Steve Albarado, which Albarado recorded on a sheriff’s office-issued cell phone, was released in an affidavit filed by retired Sheriff Nancy Hove’s attorney in a civil case Pierce County brought against Hove Nov. 7 for allegedly violating county personnel policies. Judge Ramona Gonzalez dismissed the case in December, but several citizens have expressed outrage at the content of the phone call, which County Board Chair Jon Aubart said was taken out of context.
Supervisors Dean Bergseng, Sheila Lorentz, Angela Mathison, Melissa Petersen and Mel Pittman voted against the wage increase, recommended by the Finance & Personnel Committee after Matthys’ annual evaluation. Pittman had proposed a 0% wage increase, but the amendment failed 5-12.
Aubart explained in a phone call Wednesday, Jan. 25 that F& P is charged with doing the county administrator’s annual review and they make a recommendation for a raise (or none) to the county board, the process of which follows a county ordinance. The administrative coordinator position is not on the county’s pay grid, which Aubart said was done before Matthys’ predecessor JoAnn Miller was in the role.
The 4% increase will bring Matthys’ salary for 2023 to $136,368. The county board recently voted to increase wages for all non-represented staff on the county’s salary matrix by a minimum of 4%, effective Jan. 1. County staff will also experience a step increase on their anniversary date of employment, pending a favorable review, which will equate to an additional 2 to 2.5% wage increase.
County administrators in Wisconsin made on average $137,835 annually, according to Carlson Dettman Consulting Firm.
Aubart said the evaluation follows a form with specific performance measures, such as preparing the budget, attending meetings, providing evaluations for all department heads (with input from committees), etc.
“If they meet standards, they’re entitled to the raise,” Aubart said. “Everybody in the county this year, which is a little bit unusual because of the updated pay matrix, everybody got a minimum of 4% this year. If they had a grade step, they would get more. Jason has always been up front that he won’t accept any more than anyone else.”
As for the public comments made asking the board to place Matthys on leave, Aubart said it’s important people have their say but he won’t get into an argument with them.
“I just let people have their say and not get into a back and forth,” he said. “That’s a no win for me as chair, because it’s just not going to end well. It’s public comment and they can make their comments. The thing that bothers me as much as anything, is that it’s taken out of context (Matthys’ comments in the phone call). Nobody has ever talked to Jason and asked him about it. No one has talked to Jason or Brad (Lawrence, Corporation Counsel) or me. Many make up what they just think is the truth.”
Town of River Falls resident Martin Kretzmann said he wants answers about the attorney’s fees paid on Albarado’s behalf, allegations that Lawrence “crossed an ethics line” and that former Human Resources Director Ron Schmidt was forced to resign, and why Albarado received alleged support from Matthys, Lawrence, Aubart and then Board Chair Jeff Holst in his hostile work environment complaint against Hove. He demanded that the board cooperate fully with a Dunn County investigation (which is already complete, concerning policy violations allegedly committed by Albarado). Kretzmann said he collected 296 signatures on one petition and 126 on another from people who want the board to reject F& P’s wage increase recommendation.
River Falls resident Stephanie Brown asked the board to reject the raise recommendation until an investigation into Matthys’ conduct is complete. She also claimed the county is ignoring Freedom of Information Act requests.
“Matthys is not elected, you are,” Brown said. “How many voices are you willing to ignore or silence?”
Board Supervisor Melissa Petersen brought up the county filing suit against Hove before a required resolution was passed by the full board. That ultimately factored into the case’s dismissal. She also asked the board to table Matthys’ raise until the La Crosse County district attorney reviews the goings on in Pierce County (which could end up in charges being filed or nothing at all).
An online attendee, who didn’t give his name, chastised those who had spoken.
“Why did Sheriff Hove even launch the investigation (into Albarado’s alleged policy violations)? Why was Dunn County involved at all? You don’t have any idea what they’re talking about. They have very little understanding of what went on in the first place,” he said. “Start there and you will then realize how foolish you are.”
John Shafer, town of Gilman, called recent events “a circus show type witch hunt against the county board and the current administrator.”
“It appears that former Sheriff Nancy Hove and her supporters believe that the county board and the administrator are guilty of ‘contempt of cop,’” Shafer said. “It is a type of abuse of power that many abusive law enforcement officers try to employ to intentionally violate the constitutional rights of all people.”
Shafer said he doesn’t want to go back to the days of former County Administrator Mark Schroeder, former District Attorney John O’Boyle, former Judge Robert Wing and former Law Enforcement Committee Chair John Kucinski, whom he called horrible and dangerous people who created a toxic work environment.
Shafer also accused Hove of covering up a crime years ago of one of her “friends and allies.”
Hove said in an email Jan. 25 that Shafer was referring to a case brought to the sheriff’s office before she was sheriff, investigated after she became sheriff and when brought to the district attorney for charging, he refused to do so.
“The case was a family member who didn’t like the way the family was treating him so he left the farm and went on his own,” Hove said. “The dispute was over property that was taken. There was no proof to show who was owner of the property. The Shafer family brought their issue to the county board and the board told them they were not going to deal with it. The Shafers then took this case to the Ethics Board in Madison. It was found that there were no ethical violations on the county’s behalf. The Shafers were told that this is a civil matter.”
Shafer asked the board to investigate Hove for misconduct and ethical violations.
“What she and her allies did would have landed most people in prison,” Shafer said. “My hope and prayer is that we can make progress towards civility and put people and country ahead of any personal, political agendas.”
Bergseng said he didn’t support the court case against Sheriff Nancy, filed Nov. 7, and the findings in the Dunn County investigation exposed some areas of how the county is run.
“The Albarado fees is one area,” Bergseng said. “I would like to ask at our next county board meeting to have a closed session to discuss how our county has been run the past couple of years and discuss solutions and better transparency.”
The Journal provided supervisors a chance to comment on the wage increase vote by email.
Supervisor Neil Gulbranson, a former PCSO chief deputy, voted in favor of Matthys’ raise, which was the same percentage other county employees received this year.
“Personnel matters and evaluations are regulated by state and federal law and handled not in public meetings, but in closed sessions,” Gulbranson said. “It is unlawful to disclose publicly what takes place in closed sessions and I will not break that law. What I will say is I find recording private conversations completely wrong, sneaky and unethical. If this type of activity is condoned or encouraged by the Board of Supervisors and we fail to communicate that it will not be tolerated by any employee in any way without authorization, what will stop other employees from doing the same?
“I will say to the citizens of Pierce County, our Administrative Coordinator Jason Matthys, whom I have known personally for more than 20 years, is a professional and will keep Pierce County’s best interests in mind. Additionally, I know Sheriff Koranda and most of his employees want to move forward and they deserve our full support along with all the other county departments. They have mine and I know they have Jason’s.”
Supervisor Angela Mathison, who voted against the raise, said she struggled heavily with the decision because she thinks Matthys does a great job as county admin.
“With me being brand new to the board, I find Jason to be very knowledgeable and accessible for all questions and he is always prepared at our meetings,” Mathison said. “With that being said, the news about the phone call transcripts and the ongoing investigation led me to think a pause on this might be in order until all the facts were straightened out. I received several emails from my constituents demanding we wait on this decision and more.
“When I ran for Pierce County Board, I was adamant about having transparency in our government. When making decisions/votes I’ve been very conscious about reading all the facts in our packets, and listening to my constituents. After all, they are why I’m sitting on that board. I never want to be complacent on the board. I work for the people who just want their voices heard. My hope for when the dust settles on all of this: more transparency and regained trust in our local government.”
Supervisor Jim Ashbach voted in favor of Matthys’ raise, he said, based upon the guidelines provided to F& P for his 2022 review.
“I chose not to deviate from these guidelines as that could open the county and any supervisors to potential litigation,” Ashbach said.
Supervisor Dale Auckland was on the same page as Ashbach and said Matthys has consistently met or exceeded the position’s requirements.
Pittman said he has spent much time the past three months researching and receiving information through FOIA from Pierce County in an attempt to understand what has been going on in the sheriff’s office and county.
“One year ago at the AC’s pay adjustment, I became concerned with remarks made about the Sheriff with comments coming from AC and some County Board members. This piqued my attention as to what is actually the case,” Pittman said. “Last evening at the County Board meeting when numerous times there were comments made about the information disclosed about Matthys and former CD (Albarado) recently retired being false and taken out of context, in my opinion that is a lame excuse to deflect what actually occurred. Mr. Matthys’ words and actions taken are accurate in the FOIA documents. Myself as a County Supervisor, I need to hold him accountable and certainly not reward him with any pay increase. I had high regard for Mr. Matthys prior to this past year; integrity means a lot to me and once it’s diminished, trust is difficult.”
Supervisor/Vice Chair Michael Kahlow said he’s sad to see Aubart’s and Matthys’ integrity questioned.
“These are two men who, before they took on their respective positions, were the #2 leaders in their respective law enforcement organizations (River Falls Police Department and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department). Both are among the most honest people I’ve ever met,” Kahlow said. “Jason Matthys has saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, first through his leadership (as Deputy Sheriff) in guiding the construction of the Pierce County Law Enforcement Center (bringing it in under budget), and currently through his stewardship of the county’s employees and budget as Administrative Coordinator. He is an asset to the county, and we are lucky to have him.
“The particular issue involves quotes by AC Matthys which are completely devoid of context. Due to the threats of ongoing litigation by the former sheriff, and the personnel issues involved, I and other board members are unable to give details surrounding this conversation. However, I trust that at the end of the day, it will be clear that the Finance and Personnel Committee and the Pierce County Board have been acting in the best interests of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the citizens of the county.”