Rhinelander city administrator, council president pledge to move forward after office furniture replacement conflictSubmitted: 02/06/2019
Story By Lane Kimble

Rhinelander city administrator, council president pledge to move forward after office furniture replacement conflict
RHINELANDER - The Rhinelander city administrator and city council president sat next to each other and stayed in the council chambers Wednesday afternoon, which was a change from just last week.

"This is water under the bridge," City Administrator Daniel Guild said.

Monday, Jan. 28, Council President George Kirby refused to join the council for its bimonthly meeting.  Instead, he sat in the gallery and made a brief statement before walking out.

"I was trying to prove a point as a taxpayer, I wanted to sit with the taxpayers," Kirby told the media during a joint press conference Wednesday.

Kirby was upset with Guild for not including bills and claims from December on the agenda. He took exception to a combined $13,261.88 Guild spent on desks, tables, chairs, file cabinets, carpeting and other replacement items for the Administrator's office.  The purchases, which totaled more than 57 items, included $834.24 for two file cabinets, $730.56 for two bookcases, and $1,183.20 for a large conference table.

"I still kind of stand behind... Well no, I still stand behind my actions, yes I do, sir," Kirby told Newswatch 12.

According to Guild, Kirby approached him after Tuesday night's Plan Commission meeting asking if the two could talk through their differences.

Guild said it was all a big misunderstanding.  

City records sent to Newswatch 12 via an open records request show Guild had room in his budget for the purchases. Page 5 of the "Revenues With Comparison to Budget" report shows a line item of $11,742.18 under "office supplies" which would more than cover all of the office charges aside from invoices to pay for carpet supplies and installation.

Guild told Newswatch 12 he got verbal approval from the mayor and finance director first before purchasing the items. Even including the office purchases, Guild came in under budget, according to the expenditures report, using just 76 percent of his allotted amount for the year.

The administrator explained many of the items in his office were decades old and didn't provide the proper space for file organization and meetings.

Wednesday, Guild explained there was confusion and misunderstanding because the agenda schedule shifted when the city eliminated its committee structure for a Committee of the Whole last year, including the Finance Committee.

City leaders initially planned to include bills and claims review in the second committee meeting of each month, but a check of the Wisconsin state statutes showed those items need to be handled at the first meeting of the month, according to Stat. 62.09(9)(c). That led the administrator and city attorney to agree to handle bills for December 2018 and January 2019 at the upcoming Feb. 11 council meeting.

Guild admitted he didn't make that clear enough to Kirby prior to the council president's angry speech.

"I want to take this moment to humble myself and apologize to George publicly," Guild said.

The city hired Guild in September as its fifth administrator in four years. He noted his experience, which according to his LinkedIn page includes public roles in five other communities (most recently spending the last six years as Weston's village administrator) since 2005 has prepared him for conflict.

"Being a council member is community service. And you do it because you're passionate. You do it because you have strong opinions. And you do it because you care," Guild said.  "I like George and I respect him."

Kirby told the press Wednesday he has no intentions of resigning. Instead, he looks forward to talking about the purchases at the next council meeting.

"The city's gotta keep going with the right foot forward, we can't keep going to the past," Kirby said.

"As adults, as people of goodwill, and as people who are passionate of doing right by the city, [I hope] that we can come together, find solutions to those differences, and then move forward," Guild said.

Newswatch 12 asked Kirby if he was upset about the amount Guild spent or how he went about buying the items. Kirby wouldn't comment, saying he will go over it with the full council on Monday night.

The full city council meets Monday, Feb. 11 at 6 p.m.

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