Judge questions Haass Library spending
A Waukesha County Circuit Court judge has questioned why the Pauline Haass Library Board, which will be eliminated at the end of the year, continues to spend taxpayers dollars on litigation against the town of Lisbon.
During a more-than-hourlong court hearing Thursday, Aug. 28, Judge James Kieffer told lawyers for the library board, the town and the village of Sussex that taxpayer dollars would be better spent if they were trying to resolve various legal issues out of court rather than preparing to litigate the issues.
He instructed the lawyers to "immediately" contact retired Judge Patrick Snyder, who will be appointed as a mediator in court-ordered negotiations among the three parties in an effort to resolve the legal issues.
Kieffer also postponed a pretrial conference and a hearing on motions until later this year to give the lawyers more time to try to negotiate a settlement and possibly reach an agreement on how the library's assets will be divided between the town and village.
He granted Lisbon's request for a restraining order against the library board that limits its ability to spend money and use cash reserves between now and the end of the year, when the library board will be dissolved.
End of an era
The Lisbon Town Board voted earlier this year to terminate the joint municipal agreement that has funded and operated the Pauline Haass Library for the past 27 years. The Sussex Village Board has said it will take over library operations after Jan. 1 but will have to appoint a new library board.
"There is no question the library board will go out of existence in four months and four days. The only question is how the board's assets will be divided," Kieffer said.
At one point in the hearing, Kieffer questioned library board lawyer David Hase about why the board was continuing its lawsuit claiming it should have "custody and control" of 65 acres of farmland donated to the town for library purposes by the late Paulinee Haass.
Hase responded that the board had an obligation to seek possession of the land since state law requires that any donations to a library must be put in the custody and control of the library board. In addition, he said the library board was attempting to protect all of its assets in the event there was a dissolutionment of the joint municipal agreement.
It appeared that Kieffer rejected the library and village board's legal arguments that the state law trumped the joint municipal agreement between the town and village.
Instead, Kieffer said, the agreement is a contract that runs concurrently with state laws regulating libraries.
He ruled that the library board existed as a result of the joint municipal agreement between the town and village, and therefore the village must be part of the out-of-court negotiations.
Two weeks ago the village rejected the town's offer to begin negotiations about how to divide library assets as provided in the joint agreement.
"Of course, we will obey the judge," Village President Greg Goetz said after being told about Kieffer's decision.
However, Geotz and Village Administrator Jeremy Smith said they wanted to confer with village and library lawyers about the decision.
"It is only one judge's opinion," said Smith, who did not rule out the possibility that the village might appeal the order.
Library Board Chairman Tim Dietrich was not available for comment.
Town Attorney Katheryn Guntenkunst said she was "delighted" with the judge's ruling and emphasized town officials have been trying to minimize the cost of legal fees in the dispute.
Guntenkunst asked the judge for the restraining order against the library board earlier this year after Library Director Kathy Klager discussed with the library board the possibility of hiring an architect. Klager wanted the architect to advise the board on the design of additional library space that might be included in a proposed new village hall.
Town representatives on the library board were furious. They later complained to a reporter that town funds would be used to help pay for an architect who would design library facilities that would be owned and controlled by the village after the end of the year.
Although Klager later rescinded the idea of hiring the architect, Guntenkunst pursued the restraining order because town officials wanted to prevent the library board from spending any money that was not in the 2014 library board budget that included town funds.
In 2014, the town contributed $426,000 and the village added $468,000 in operating revenues to the library's $1.2 million budget.
The town board terminated the funding agreement because the municipalities could not reach an agreement on a new funding formula for the library.
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