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Tribe Welcomes New Hayward Town Chair and Hopes to Hold Dialogue on Long-Standing Issues

By Joe Morey News Editor

After the Town of Hayward supervisors appointed former chairman Gary Gedart to fill the unexpired term of Stephanie Laakson, effective Nov. 13 after Laakson resigned three days earlier, LCO Tribal Chairman Louis Taylor said the Tribe is aware of the change in leadership and we welcome it, “But we’ve requested to meet with the town board on several long-standing issues the Tribe and town need to discuss and haven’t received a response. We’d ask once again of the newly appointed chairman.”

Taylor said the Tribe requested with Laakson several times to meet, beginning with right after her April election. The Tribe received no response.

Gedart served 23 years on the town board and didn’t run for re-election in the April 2023 election. Laakson was then chosen by the voters.

On Nov. 10, Stephanie Laakson resigned without stating any reason for her resignation, and three days later, Gedart was appointed back to the position. This action came as a surprise because the town board went outside of usual protocols and appointed someone outside of the Board and in the audience versus elevating their elected vice chairperson.

When LCO News reached out to town clerk, Bryn Hand, she stated that they had contacted their attorney and acted within state statute. She said the two remaining town board members, Andrea Wittwer and Gary Inhoff, and herself, as town clerk, were permitted under statute to meet and choose a person to fill out the remainder of the 2-year term, which will be till April of 2025.

They held their meeting in closed session, and according to a Sawyer County Record article, Hand said “there were other people who put their name in the hat.”

Hand said the person chosen didn’t have to be from within the current elected members of the board.

LCO Chairman Taylor said the Tribe welcomes a meeting with Gedart and the town board on long-standing issues, which he was referring to an ethics complaint against Gedart, unresolved tax claim issues against tribal member property owners and recreational use of roads on the Reservation.

The ethics complaint was filed against Gedart in April, prior to his leaving the position, by Sawyer County Board Supervisor Chris Rusk, who is also a Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Member employed by the LCO Housing Authority.

Rusk’s complaint alleged that as Town Chairman, Gedart, who also served as Sawyer County Highway Commissioner, would instruct his town police officer to issue citations for trucks out during road bans.

“In this capacity (highway commissioner) he supervised the Roads Department for the County and advised the County Board on all matters involving roads operation. It has come to my attention that Mr. Gedart served in the capacity of Chairman for the Town of Hayward during the same time as he was employed by the County. While this in and of itself is not my concern, the fact that Mr. Gedart used his position to implement road bans on all ‘county’ roads within Sawyer County strikes ethical questions,” Rusk stated in the complaint. “Some of these roads traverse the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. These road bans are being enforced by the Town of Hayward Police Officers with citation(s) being issued in the thousands of Dollars. When the roads bans were presented to the Public Works committee, no disclosure of any conflicts of interests were made, nor was there any indication of any consultation with the townships or the tribe regarding the need for a road ban.”

Tribal officials told the LCO News that the township officer would sit on Schoolhouse Road on the Reservation and issue these citations to our trucks heading to the Tribe’s dump in the amounts of $5,000 and $10,000.

The citations would end up in Sawyer County Court, but any money raised from the citations would go to the township as revenue, and thus, where the question came as to whether Gedart was acting in any manner unethically. As highway commissioner, he declares the road bans and then his township where he presided as chairman would collect these large fees his township officer issued to LCO official trucks on Reservation roads.

A truck working for the LCO Housing Authority was cited two years in a row, and both cases were dismissed when the LCO Legal Department requested that the citations be moved to LCO Tribal Court.

Rusk’s complaint also brought up the issue of ATV use on roads.

“Recently, Mr. Gedart has inserted himself into a very sensitive discussion regarding ATV/UTV trails, even going so far as to attempt to intimidate members of the Public Works committee. I would like his past conduct to be reviewed by the County Board to determine if there was any unethical or illegal conduct in his former capacity,” Rusk wrote.

Chairman Taylor said the Tribe has asked to meet with the town board, but while both Gedart and Laakson have served as chairs, they refused to accept a meeting request.

“Our question remains, is this indirectly benefitting the town of Hayward and was Gedart aware,” Taylor stated.

Rusk’s complaint asks if Gedart used his position for politics or personal gain.

“We as County Representatives have a standard to uphold, this type of discourse exhibited by current and past employees must be addressed,” Rusk wrote.

He cited three reasons for his complaint: No official or employee may use his or her public position or office to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value for the private benefit of himself or herself or his or her immediate family, or for an organization with which he or she is associated; The County Board may require candidates, officials and employees to file a disclosure statement of economic interests and/or a conflict-of-interest statement and establish a penalty for failure to file. It shall be a violation of this ordinance to knowingly omit or misstate required information on the disclosure statement; No official or employee shall engage in or accept private employment or render service for private interests when such employment or service is incompatible with the proper discharge of official duties or would tend to impair independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties, unless otherwise permitted by law.

The Corporate Counsel for the County responded to Rusk’s ethics complaint and concluded that it should be dismissed because Gedart was no longer in the position as Town Chair or Highway Commissioner when the complaint was filed as he didn’t run for re-election and was no longer employed by the county so they didn’t have jurisdiction to take action against him. The second reason for dismissing the complaint was that 90 days had passed since the alleged wrongdoing had occurred from when Rusk filed his complaint.

Gedart resigned his position earlier this year and didn’t seek re-election to town board. He previously served 23 years on the board, including 20 years as a supervisor and the last two years as chairperson.

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