Village President John Steinbrink, Sr controls the Village Board Agenda and decides what he and the other board members vote on. Just a few days before the March 28, 2022 agenda, Steinbrink added a very important item:
“Enter into Executive Session.
Consider entering into Executive Session pursuant to §19.85 (c) considering employment,
promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the
governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility and specifically as it relates to the
position of Village Administrator.“
According to state statute, The Village President is not the chief executive. The Village administrator is. The administrator is “the boss.” The only explicit power of the Village President is to control the agenda and he is one of many votes on the board.
The board then met in private and ostensibly talked about their decision not to renew the contract of Village Administrator Nathan Thiel. If the board takes no action, Thiel is essentially out of a job.
Quoting the great 1970’s band Rush, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” That is exactly what happened. The Village board made a choice – to get rid of Thiel. Thiel will no longer be in charge of the Village after April 30, 2022 – in about two weeks. His desk and office are already cleared out and his last two weeks he will be out of the office using the last of his vacation time. So the lingering question is this: Who is in charge of the Village? KCE wanted to know. We called the public works department, village administrator’s office, communications manager, village clerk, HR and every board member. Village President John Steinbrink, Sr’s house phone, which we spoke to him on Tuesday is off the hook today, going straight to voicemail. Each and every department either ignored KCE’s call and let it go to voicemail, or transferred us to Steve Linn, the Village’s Communications manager. The Wisconsin Department of Justice media department also declined to give us a comment. Kenosha DA Graveley declined to tell us why his office is recusing itself from this prosecution.
We called Linn’s office line, left a voice message, called his cell phone and emailed him. Nothing, nada. His job includes communicating with the media. Our first attempt at contacting him, absent him being in the hospital expecting a baby, hiking in the alps, or sick, he get’s an F-.
Out of the dozen or so people we tried to reach, we have to give credit to Police Chief Dave Smetana and Village Trustee Kris Keckler who did at least talk to us. The Police Chief told us he couldn’t share any information yet, but will get back in touch with us. Keckler gave KCE a seemingly disingenuous reply saying that Thiel was “on vacation” and the board “has not taken any official action regarding the Village Administrator.” While this might be the truth, it’s certainly not the whole truth. The Village Taxpayers deserve the whole truth.
KCE has been given much information about the alleged criminal investigation into the Village President’s son, John, Jr. This information came from sources close to Village Hall. It is alleged that Steinbrink used Village dollars to refurbish an expensive Village-owned wood chipper. It was set to go to auction to be sold with a starting bid of almost $20,000. The day before the auction, Steinbrink is seen on video removing the chipper and he then allegedly delivered it to a friend. He paid the village about $2,500 for the wood-chipper, a price well below market value. It is alleged he was then using this wood-chipper for his privately owned tree-trimming business. KCE has made a public records request for all documents related to this investigation and the videos. The Village of Pleasant Prairie, with exception of its police department is known for being very non-transparent and slow to release records. It will take some time to get this information. It is likely if these allegations are true, investigators will be looking further back into Steinbrink’s tenure, and he could face felony misconduct in public office charges or any of a dozen other charges.
KCE’s source tells us that the wood chipper issue is only the tip of the iceberg, that years of alleged misconduct is being investigated.
No one knows who is in charge of the Village of Pleasant Prairie at this moment. That is dangerous. Every government body needs a chief executive. Whoever is in charge has a lot of explaining to do and shame on you!
We also want to know if not renewing the contract of the village administrator is directly related to the criminal investigation.
The public can understand that details of an active investigation can’t be provided, but general information is due to the Pleasant Prairie tax-payers. They deserve to know!