Marshfield Mayor Removed Over Records Complaint In Conflict With Police Commission

Mayor's Removal Comes Weeks After City's Settlement With Police Chief Charged With Sexual Assault

Downtown Marshfield. Jeff the quiet (CC-BY-SA)

The mayor of Marshfield will be removed from office after the Common Council found he deleted text messages and lied about it.

The council’s vote came late Monday night after more than 11 hours of hearings that began on Friday. The 8-2 vote in favor of removing Mayor Bob McManus also represents a victory for the city’s Fire and Police Commission, which has been in conflict with McManus for more than a year and whose members initiated the complaints that led to the mayor’s removal.

The vote comes less than three weeks after the city agreed to pay its former police chief $72,000 to resign as he faces sexual assault charges. The former chief, Rick Gramza, is accused of repeated assaults of a female police officer in the department. Related charges of misconduct in office were dismissed by a judge last month.

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The root of the conflict between McManus and the Fire and Police Commission also relates to Gramza. Gramza had instituted a fitness policy in the department and in early 2020 fired a 21-year department veteran who missed the required time for a quarter-mile run by 30 seconds. The firing became a point of controversy in the department and in the community. According to WSAW-TV, McManus tried to pressure the department to drop the policy. He also sought to replace a commission member whose term was expiring. That’s within the purview of the mayor, but the commission members objected, preferring to have the same member, Andy Keogh, re-appointed.

Police Commission President Randy Gershman later told an investigator that McManus “had an unusual and unhealthy interest” in the police and fire departments, according to an investigator’s report.

That led Gershman to file a sweeping open records request for all of McManus’s emails, campaign finance records, text messages, calendars, phone logs and other documents over a period of years. In the Common Council’s finding, McManus’s response to that request was too slow and incomplete, missing McManus’s side of some text conversations.

As that conflict was playing out, Gramza was the subject of two criminal probes into allegations of sexual misconduct. An investigation by the state Department of Justice into Gramza’s 2006-2007 tenure as a school resource officer ended without charges, but led to a second investigation of more recent conduct. The second investigation resulted in the charges Gramza faces.

During the lengthy removal hearings, McManus acknowledged mistakes in handling city records. But he also said the commissioners’ problem with him was rooted in a conflict about the mayor’s powers, not in open records.

“It’s very clear why” they want to remove the mayor, McManus said. “And it has nothing to do with this (complaint). That’s a charade.”

But city staff in the hearing testified that McManus had blamed the loss of text messages on IT workers, saying falsely that they had wiped his phone. On Friday, city administrator Steve Barg said McManus had “lied” to him when McManus said there were no text messages responding to Gershman’s records request.

An investigation into the matter by the Portage County Sheriff’s Department referred charges to the Portage County district attorney, who found that McManus hadn’t committed a crime. After that finding, Keogh brought the complaint to the Common Council that resulted in McManus’s removal.