RHINELANDER - According to search warrants obtained by Newswatch 12, City Administrator Daniel Guild was named as a "person of interest" in two search warrants executed Thursday at Rhinelander City Hall. The warrants detail two felony investigations into Guild involving tampering with public records and misconduct in public office.
Nov. 21, Rhinelander City Hall was placed on lock down to permit law enforcement officers to access the server where it's believed digital records pertinent to the investigations were kept. In total, 13 files were retrieved as part of both investigations.
The tampering investigation centers on the personnel file of former Rhinelander Public Works Director Tim Kingman.
Kingman had been accused of creating a hostile work environment for employees in his department for several months. In June 2019, Kingman was placed on administrative leave and fired later that month. Documents detailing investigations into complaints against Kingman were kept in Kingman's personnel file.
Those files were kept in a file cabinet in the city administrator's office. According to former city administrator's assistant Stephanie Rajnicek, when Guild was hired in Sept. 2018 he asked for the keys to that file cabinet and held the keys in his possession.
July 28, 2018, a Northwoods River News reporter filed an open records request with the city asking for "all written disciplinary records and documentation involving any investigation conducted into any adverse complaints therein, made against public works director Tim Kingman between Jan. 1, 2017 to present."
River News publisher Gregg Walker reported the city of Rhinelander responded Aug. 3, 2018 stating "the City has identified at least one document that may be responsive to your request. Aug. 1, 2019, a River News reporter received an email stating "The City has not located any records responsive to your July 23, 2018 request." The response went on to further explain that the personnel file of Tim Kingman was inappropriately removed from the city's files.
Afterward, Walker and the River News reporter told police "they were concerned that a crime may have been committed" and that the "personnel file may have been potentially stolen and or tampered with." Sept. 4, 2019, Walker filed a complaint with the Oneida Co. Sheriff's Office (OCSO).
According to Rhinelander Police Chief Lloyd Gauthier, when Guild became city administrator in Sept. 2018 he reported that he found items missing from Kingman's personnel file. Gauthier claims the police department did not receive a report of burglary or criminal damage to the cabinet the file was supposed to be kept in.
The misconduct investigation centers on emails sent by Guild, that may have been altered and later released to the River News.
Jan. 30, four city council members and the mayor signed a letter asking council president George Kirby if "given recent events, perhaps it would be more comfortable for you to not continue in this capacity?"
Two days earlier, Kirby, refused to join his fellow aldermen for the meeting, choosing to sit in the gallery. Kirby was upset City Administrator Daniel Guild did not include approximately $13,000 in purchases for Guild's office. Guild had used the money in his budget to buy new office furniture including a desk, table, chairs, file cabinets, and other supplies.
Guild did not sign the letter present to Kirby, but did help draft it according to at least two of the letters signatories. After Kirby received the letter, Guild emailed a representative of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities (LWM) Jan. 31 asking how the city council could go about removing a council president.
Feb. 6, the River News made an open records request for written communication regarding the Kirby letter.
When responding to the request, the City of Rhinelander released a copy of an email chain containing an altered version of the email Guild sent to LWM and an altered version of his response to the LWM representative. Feb. 8, the River News made an open records request for a copy of any and all emails between Guild, LWM and other parties. When responding to that request, the City of Rhinelander released a copy of the original email and the original response.
Mar. 4, Investigator Robert Hawn of the Price Co. Sheriff's Office was assigned to assist OCSO with an investigation into the reported open records violation and possible crime of tampering with public records.
In June, Hawn recommended criminal charges of tampering with public records be filed against Guild. This file was then forwarded to Forest Co. District Attorney Charles Simino as he was requested by Oneida Co. District Attorney Michael Schiek to be special prosecutor on the case.
Nov. 18, Simino sent Guild a letter stating "I have determined that no criminal charges will be filed against you in reference to this matter. Please note that the changing of such emails, especially give your public position, is always suspect and opens the door to greater concerns regarding your conduct."
Before he was hired in Rhinelander, Guild served as village administrator in Weston. He resigned in 2019 after being put on a 30-day unpaid suspension for violating the terms of his employment. According to Guild's LinkedIn page, he served as village administrator for over six years. Before that, he served as village administrator for Poynette, Wisconsin from 2009 to 2012. Before that, he served as village administrator for Wrightstown, Wisconsin from 2007 to 2009.
In Mar. 2019, Guild narrowly avoided an indefinite suspension after the common council voted 4-4 in favor. Mayor Chris Frederickson broke the tie with a no vote.
In response to the investigation into Guild, District 5 Alderwoman Dawn Rog penned an open letter to Mayor Chris Fredrickson:
"In light of recent events at City Hall, I would like the agenda to be amended to include a closed session with the agenda item "Discuss City Administrator performance and evaluation" to discuss the search warrants and Daniel Guild as being reported in the local press.
This doesn't necessarily need to be in closed session - I would be happy to have it in open session as well, because most of this is already public information.
The League of Wisconsin Municipalities has long opined that ANY member of council can ask for an agenda item to be added to the agenda as we are all considered members of the legislative body. I have attached the relevant opinion from the LWM to this email.
I look forward to seeing an amended agenda this afternoon."
Newswatch 12 also obtained the following statement from River News publisher Gregg Walker.
"The Northwoods River News and The Lakeland Times commends the Oneida County Sheriff's Office for continuing to do its due diligence in investigating our open records complaint, and for appreciating the value of our open government laws, not to mention understanding the need for accountability when those laws are broken.
Tampering with public records is always a a serious offense against the citizens of our state, and is by its very definition an intent to defraud. Any allegation of such tampering must be investigated throughly, and any proven infraction must be prosecuted if good government is to prevail. We will continue to do our due diligence in fulfilling our role as a watchdog for open and good government."