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Cambridge

Newspaper files second fire and EMS open meetings complaint

Cambridge Fire Chief Terry Johnson and Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission Chair Eugene Kapsner were named in the complaint

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A second complaint has been filed with the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, alleging Cambridge fire and EMS commission-related open meetings law violations.

The complaint, filed on June 2 by the Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent, said a verbal exchange that occurred at a May 27 Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission meeting was confirmation that a fire and EMS station Building Committee has been meeting regularly “without proper notice nor reporting of minutes, at undisclosed locations and on undisclosed dates, for at least the past four years.”

Cambridge Fire Chief Terry Johnson and Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission Chair Eugene Kapsner were named in the complaint.

“Decisions have come out of these meetings, including a vote to increase the size of the Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission’s Building Review Committee (a separate body from the Building Committee). The vote to increase the committee from 11 to 13 members should have been made in an open session meeting of the Cambridge Community Fire and EMS Commission. And any other conversations and decisions should have occurred in an open public setting and the meetings should have from the beginning been publicly noticed," the complaint said.

The complaint referenced a newspaper article, published on the Cambridge News & Deerfield Independent’s website on May 31 and in print on June 3, that detailed the conversation at the May 27 commission meeting. It noted that a reporter had audio taped it.

At that meeting, Cambridge Village President Mark McNally questioned who decided prior to the Building Review Committee’s May 13 meeting to increase it from 11 to 13 members.

McNally said there was no action to that effect at the most recent meeting of the fire and EMS commission, which the committee reports to.

“I’m just wondering where the authority came from to change that?” McNally said.

Kapsner responded that the decision was made by yet another committee, that he acknowledged has never noticed its meetings and never released minutes. He and Johnson said it has been meeting monthly, sometimes weekly, for at least 4-5 years.

Attending have been — at least — Kapsner, Johnson and Devin Flanigan from Keller, Inc., the Kaukauna design-build firm hired by the commission for the station expansion project.

Kapsner said he has been attending those meeting since January. He said it meets the definition of an ad hoc committee allowed to meet behind closed doors without public notice.

“I discussed it with Terry and Devin at the previous building committee meeting,” Kapsner said, regarding the decision to add two more at-large members to the new Building Review Commitee. “And we decided on four.”

“Has anyone scribed the notes, is there anything (that has been made public) about your discussions that have taken place?” McNally questioned.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Kapsner said.

“I just don’t know what’s being covered…to the extent that there are items of a substantial nature,” McNally said. “If there are meetings that are going on I would appreciate minutes of whatever was discussed.”

In response to the exchange, the commission voted to retroactively add two at-large members to the committee.

Kapsner and Johnson didn’t respond to a request for comment on the June 2 complaint.

May 14 complaint

Kapsner, also Oakland town chairman, on May 27 apologized for misconstruing that the recently formed Building Review Committee, charged with reviewing the proposed expansion of the fire and EMS station in Cambridge following  failed April referendums to do that at a cost of $6.5 million split by five area towns and villages, could meet behind closed doors and without publicly posting its agendas.

“I was under the assumption that we had an ad hoc committee and that ad hoc committees did not require posting and open meetings,” Kapsner said. Since then, “we have found out from the (Wisconsin) Towns Association attorneys that, being there’s an appointment from each municipality, it is a government body,” whose meetings must be open and posted.

“I am sorry about that,” Kapsner said.

The Cambridge News and Deerfield Independent filed a complaint on May 14 with the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, alleging that the Building Review Committee’s kick-off meeting on May 13 violated the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, for not being posted and for internal email communication from  Johnson to committee members, that the newspaper obtained, that said it would be closed to the public. Facing pressure to do so, Johnson ultimately opened the meeting but it was never posted. He has since said the committee will meet in open session going forward.

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