Nancy Wild feels as though the rug has been pulled out from under her. A potential job with her former employer, the Dane County Sheriff's Office, has turned into a contentious rift, with harsh accusations from both sides.
"I cannot believe this," she says. "I'd be a Nobel Prize winner if I could make all this up."
In late May, Wild says she was urged by Lori Prieur of the Dane County jail to apply for an LTE position as a jail mail clerk, working 18 hours a week at $11.56 an hour. Wild, whose last fulltime job was with the Madison Police Department, from 1995 to late 2000, had worked in the Sheriff's Office as an LTE from early 2001 to mid-2003.
Wild applied and was interviewed. Afterward, "Lori called, said I was their number one candidate and offered me the job pending background checks." This took awhile.
On July 10, Wild was contacted by a deputy who, she says, asked her to supply a more thorough job history, going back to her very first job.
"Do you know how old I am?" Wild recalls asking. "I'm 68. That's 50 years [of job history]. I can't reconstruct that." She says the deputy asked what she was trying to hide and "continued to push for this information." Wild objected, saying, she recalls, "With all the illegals there are running around the country and all the Washington officials constantly under indictment, why does the first job I had in 1957 matter?"
The deputy allegedly replied, "You have some pretty strong political opinions," adding that the Sheriff's Office might not want someone like that.
Later, Wild says Prieur ascribed the need for thorough background checks to 9/11 and the Patriot Act. Prieur disputes this, saying it was Wild who brought these up.
Wild withdrew her application but groused to former Ald. Dorothy Borchardt, a longtime friend. Borchardt, who calls Wild "a very truthful person," contacted two county supervisors. They got a fuller accounting from Chief Deputy Ron Boylan. He denied that Wild had to give a 50-year employment history, but confirmed that applicants are asked to "provide as much prior employment details as they can."
Boylan also claimed Wild made "racially offensive comments" to the deputy doing the background check. Isthmus' call to Boylan was fielded by Capt. Brian Willison, who says Wild referred to "illegal Mexicans," offending the deputy's sensibilities. (Wild denies making any ethnic reference.)
Willison says the Sheriff's Office, over the last several years, has begun doing thorough background checks on all new hires - not just deputies, as has long been done. But while "everybody's sense of security was heightened by 9/11," this isn't what prompted the change.
Rather, the office is worried about employee access to sensitive records and management systems. In other places, Willison says, "motorcycle gangs" have sought to install members in law enforcement offices, to serve as spies.
Has the Dane County Sheriff's Office ever been compromised from within? "No single incident springs to mind," replies Willison. But he defends the office's vigilance, which includes reviews of police contacts and home visits to talk to job applicants' neighbors.
"It's a hurdle," he says of the background-check process. "We don't pretend it's not."
Wild also wrote to County Executive Kathleen Falk. Her aide, Jose Sentmanat, says Boylan told him the real problem wasn't that Wild was unwilling or unable to provide a thorough history of long-past jobs, but that she refused to say what she's done since leaving her earlier LTE post. ("Hell's Angels, undercover reconnaissance, 2003-present"?)
"They asked about the last three years, but she was not forthcoming," relates Sentmanat. "She didn't want to tell them about it."
Wild says this explanation - not offered by Boylan in his response to the county supervisors - is a complete fabrication, one that makes her fear the office's power over people's lives. "The disappointing thing is," she adds, "I really liked the Sheriff's Office when I worked there previously."
Jail fee issue: If not now, when?
Dane County Supv. Ashok Kumar says county officials are dragging their feet on his proposal to end the "morally reprehensible" practice of profiting off the families of jail inmates through exorbitant charges for phone calls.
"There is resistance from the power structure," says Kumar, citing fellow Supv. Paul Rusk, who chairs the board's Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, and the office of County Executive Kathleen Falk.
Earlier this week, over Rusk's objections, PP&J voted to hold a hearing on the proposed ordinance amendment on Monday, Aug. 13, in the City-County Building, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The amendment has 16 cosponsors, including a majority of PP&J members. Says Kumar, "There is overwhelming support from the County Board and the public."
Rusk argued and still believes this matter should be part of budget deliberations this fall. "Philosophically, I think it's a good idea," he says of the proposal. "Nobody likes that we are generating around $700,000 to $800,000 a year from these phone calls."
But Rusk and Falk aide Jose Sentmanat say the amendment as worded would shut down electronic monitoring programs which charge inmates a fee - just when the county is hoping to expand such arrangements.
Kumar disputes this, and Assistant Corporation Counsel David Gault says it would be a simple matter to "just tweak the wording" to address this concern. He doesn't agree the current language would affect monitoring programs, but says there's "room for interpretation."
Rusk and Sentmanat also say a more urgent issue is reviewing and implementing a consultant's recommendations to reduce the number of jail inmates - especially since the county's contract with the phone provider runs for two more years.
"Why don't we concentrate our energy on that, instead of a jail phone contract that doesn't come up for two years?" asks Sentmanat.
Ashok thinks this is a sham. He says Falk favored the added charges on calls to inmates when the five-year contract was signed three years ago, and that the contract allows for a fee reduction at any time.
Finally, Ashok says it makes perfect sense to address the phone issue in concert with the consultant's recommendations, which promise to save the county up to $4 million a year: "This would guarantee that at least part of that money will go to relieve the burden on the poorest populations of Dane County."
If at first you don't succeed...
Last week, shortly after completing a major rewiring of data and telecommunications cable at the UW-Madison Educational Sciences Building, work crews came back to do the job all over again. A memo to staff said that due to "a terrible oversight," the new cable did not meet fire code.
Wonders one staffer, "Who eats the cost of hiring 15 guys to come and undo everything they just did (a month's work) and then redo it, using the right kind of cable?"
The answer: You do.
"The mistake was made by our staff here," says Dan Schooff, deputy secretary of the state Department of Administration. "The contractor asked for clarification and we gave the wrong info." The error was discovered by the DOA's project manager.
The job is part of a $4.2 million project involving 27 buildings. Schooff says the $138,000 cost of installing the wrong cable will be lost, chased down with an estimated $26,000 to remove it and $151,000 for the proper wiring. "It's taxpayers' money, so it's disappointing when we make mistakes."
With God on their side
Charter Communications, the local cable monopoly, will soon be adding 14 new stations to its digital lineup.
So excited you could wet yourself? Don't. Nearly all the new channels fall into the "faith and values" category. They include: EWT (Eternal Word Television), TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network), JCTV (you figure it out), The Church Channel, Family Net, 3 Angels Broadcasting Network, BYU (Brigham Young University) Television, Inspirational Life and the Gospel Music Channel.
Guess that next rate hike is going to be a cinch.