The Chippewa County District Attorney’s office is reviewing a sheriff’s office investigation involving two town of Woodmohr officials.
Several Woodmohr residents have accused the town of illegally cutting residents’ trees and removing them from their properties, according to a Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office report.
Another resident has accused the town board of discussing agenda items outside of scheduled town board meetings.
The same resident said town officials did not accept the lowest bid for several projects, including snow plowing and road work. Instead, the town awarded the projects to a different, seemingly higher bidder, one with possible ties to the town’s chairman, according to the investigation report.
The investigation stretched from April to August 2017, and was referred to the District Attorney’s office Aug. 14.
“This investigator believes the town of Woodmohr board is not following governmental procedure and may be acting in a manner which is beneficial to individual board members and not benefitting the citizens of the town of Woodmohr,” Chippewa County investigator Randy Stearns wrote in the report.
District Attorney Wade Newell said Thursday he is still reviewing the case and is not yet aware if his office will file charges.
“I have had additional information provided to me within the last couple weeks,” Newell said.
Woodmohr, a town with a population of 932 in 2010, surrounds the city of Bloomer and is governed by a town chairman and two town supervisors.
Reached by the Herald Thursday, Woodmohr town chairman Jerry Johnson did not comment on the investigation. A Woodmohr town supervisor did not immediately return a voicemail left seeking comment.
Residents question tree removal
Two town residents told Stearns in April 2017 that a Woodmohr town supervisor and an assistant “cut down many oak trees on their properties,” including “large, mature, healthy oak trees,” according to the report.
A third resident who had trees removed from his property told Stearns he was “unaware” of the trees being cut, and the town had never contacted him about it, according to the report.
More than 185 trees had reportedly been cut and removed from five properties on or near 125th Street.
On May 30, 2017, town chairman Johnson reportedly told Stearns that the town has problems clearing debris from 125th Street after storms, and the town “clear(s) out any trees which may cause a future issue.”
Several oak trees had been cut that were beyond 33 feet from the road’s center line – the “right-of-way zone” – and several trees of other species had been left between the cut oaks and the roadway, according to the report.
Johnson reportedly told Stearns the town had a “statutory right to cut these trees” beyond the right of way because the trees were “leaners.”
No safety concerns involving the trees were mentioned in town meetings since July 2016, according to the report.
The tree-cutting project was not bid out by the town, according to the report; instead, a town official was paid by the town for the project.
That same town official “typically (made) the motion to accept the checks during open meeting,” approving the town’s payments to himself for the job, Johnson said, according to the report.
Plowing bids draw questions
The investigation found the town paid more than $55,000 to Dave Michels Grading and Trucking of Bloomer during snow removal season in 2016 and 2017.
The bid included a $50,000 “minimum charge” per season.
The town had received a seemingly lower bid for snow removal from the Chippewa County Highway Department, according to the report.
Johnson reportedly told Stearns the higher bid would end up being the better deal, since Dave Michels Grading and Trucking would “plow snow through the night and morning … in order to have the town roads plowed in time for school buses and people commuting to work to do so safely.”
Johnson told Stearns he does “field work” for Ray Michels, a relative of Dave Michels, according to the report.
Open meetings law accusations
A Woodmohr resident expressed concern to the investigator that town officials were discussing town business outside meetings, according to the report.
The town has three voting officials.
Johnson told Stearns that “it would be impractical to always be able to comply with quorum regulations,” according to the report.
Johnson reportedly said the two town supervisors have not attended trainings on “governmental procedure or practices.”