Kenosha County Eye has had no fewer than a dozen people contact us with some concerning behavior in the Village of Salem Lakes. On February 14, 2017, Salem Lakes became a village, which included the Town of Salem and Silver Lake, as well as the communities of Trevor, Wilmot, and Camp Lake. The Village has only 14,000 people who lay their heads down every night, but tales of bad government seem to be largely ignored by the elected leaders. Residents have told KCE the Village is weaponizing the government to attack residents and political opponents.
In most cases, the Village of Salem Lakes is alleged to be using the Village’s Fire Chief, James Lejcar and Fire Inspector Steve Ptaszynski, to use their great authority to attack business owners. Many of the people we heard from are too scared to go on the record, but a handful of them retained an attorney to fight back. We attended a meeting on January 9, 2023 and saw more than 100 residents at the meeting. Attorney Mike McTernan was addressing the board. He spoke about several of his clients’ grievances with the Village, most involving the fire department. The board members were admittedly ignorant to the responsibilities of the board and/or the fire commission. They scheduled a special joint meeting of the commission and board, that was to take place on January 23, 2023, to determine who had authority over the fire department misconduct.
We contacted Attorney Mike McTernan, a Kenosha-based lawyer of more than 25 years who specializes in real estate and business litigation. He granted us an interview after getting permission from his clients.
Kenosha County Fair
The Kenosha County Fair recently underwent a major project to install new bleachers to accommodate about 5,000 people. The $700,000 project almost didn’t happen. The Fair had all the approvals and permits needed to build the bleachers. The first step? Dozens of concrete trucks. It took four months for the contractors to line up enough trucks for the project. Just days before the pour Fire Chief James Lejcar and Fire Inspector Steve Ptaszynski drove out to the fairgrounds and put a “stop order” on the project. They apparently invented a fire code that required the enormous project to be moved. McTernan called a state inspector who came down to Kenosha County and overruled the Village. At last year’s Fair, Fire Chief James Lejcar and Fire Inspector Steve Ptaszynski were seen going from vendor to vendor looking for violations and harassing small business owners. They thought they found a faulty propane tank and shut down the vendor. The tank was taken to VAN’s Gas where it was learned there was nothing wrong with the tank. The vendor travels around the region and knows the safety requirements well.
Auto Truck Equipment & Repair / Davis Dunn Transportation
Steve Dunn, owner and operator of Auto Truck Equipment & Repair and Davis Dunn Transportation made a decision to expand the business, which has been in operation in the Village of Salem Lakes since 2003. He wanted to remodel the building, making it bigger and nicer. He hired an architect and obtained all necessary permits for the remodel in 2019. The property is zoned M1 heavy industry, it’s the highest industry zoning that exists in Salem Lakes. The Village asked Mr. Dunn for a favor. They asked for a small strip of his land, and in exchange gave him a small strip of unusable forest land. Dunn says he wanted to cooperate with the village and be a good neighbor. Since the newly-formed village didn’t know how to properly do the land swap, it took an outrageous amount of time to make it legal, something that Dunn did as a favor. Again, after all permits issued, Fire Chief James Lejcar and Fire Inspector Steve Ptaszynski came in and demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in changes. The delays turned a $32,000 fence project into a $65,000 fence project. Dunn has done three flammability studies at the demand of the fire department. Again, says McTernan, the fire department made up rules about needing room to get large fire trucks on all four sides of the building, a requirement that doesn’t exist. “The village keeps moving the goal lines,” said Dunn. “The Village refuses to tell me or my attorney, in writing, what I need to do to be in compliance. Instead, I keep getting new demands that cost thousands of dollars.” The Village also asked Dunn to move expensive, 80 amp wiring twice inside the business.
Village Administrator Mike Murdock
Village Administrator Mike Murdock who is also somehow the Village’s Assistant Fire Chief, apparently rules with an iron fist. KCE obtained many emails from Murdock. It’s easy to now see why the fire department is going after some of these businesses and individuals. In a February 2, 2022 email, Murdock authored a “hit list” of sorts, outlying the business he allegedly wants to shut down. Eight business appear on his list. In a January 10, 2020 email, Murdock makes his opinion of Dunn painfully obvious in an email to the entire board saying: “I have zero tolerance for dishonesty and will not tolerate his lies and bullshit any more.”
In a February 23, 2022 email he says “We will up our enforcement and continue up to and including, fines, citations, shutting this business down..…no matter what these people tell you they are not good business owners. They have no respect for the safety and well being for their employees or customers. The time they are spending calling a couple of you would be better served cleaning up their junk. These people are not your friends no matter how nice they to you. They are scammers that have invaded our community and they will follow the rules that you have put in place to make Salem lakes a safer place or they will be shut down.”
KCE reached out to Village President Diann Tesar who has known about these unprofessional emails and selective fire code enforcement for many years. We asked her about Murdock’s “hit list” and unprofessional emails and she responded: “I don’t feel it would be proper of me to address anything, appropriate or inappropriate regarding the administrator with anyone other than the village board and/or the administrator himself.” Only Tesar and Trustee Ron Gandt would talk with KCE. Each and every other trustee ignored our repeated requests for comment.
Another business on the Village’s “hit list” is the Wilmot Stage Stop. The 174 year-old restaurant has a beautiful charcoal grill and chimney that were put in about 50-70 years ago. The proper permits were pulled and the stove has been signed off on by experts. According to Attorney McTernan, the US and State of Wisconsin Constitution protect business owners like Chad Cantwell, who owns Stage Stop, from having their property taken from them. That’s exactly what is happening according to McTernan. The fire department is ignoring the grandfather doctrine and insisting that Stage Stop be brought up to current code, as opposed to the code at the time the building was built. Murdock, wants to shut down the Stage Stop so bad, that he told the Village Board that Cantwell’s insurance carrier dropped him from coverage. Cantwell then provided a letter from an executive at his insurance company that indicated that Cantwell has never lost coverage.Insurance
The Village has now hired a third party “consultant” called Fire Safety Consultants, Inc. (FSCI) out of Illinois to perform their inspections. This seemingly is a way for a third party private company to deny applications.
McTernan says that the reports that FSCI are generating are ambiguous and outrageous. “How is my client, or any other applicant supposed to interpret this language?”
On July 30, 2022, a 39-year-old Genoa City woman was driving drunk and crashed into a telephone pole outside of Bender’s Tavern. The crash, her third OWI, bent the tavern’s vertical service conduit slightly. WE Energies came out and said that there was no safety issue with the bent conduit. Owner Mark Rogers thought that was the end of it, but wanted to fix the conduit because it was unsightly. He made a claim with his insurance company, but there was some missing information in the police report. This slowed down the process to get the wiring fixed. On January 3, 2023, Fire Chief James Lejcar and Fire Inspector Steve Ptaszynski came to the tavern and called the Sheriff’s department to send a deputy. They called WE Energies to come shut off the power and were going to close the business down. A trustee was nearby and also came to the tavern. WE Energies arrived and luckily, the same electrician from the crash was on the crew. He told Fire Chief James Lejcar and Fire Inspector Steve Ptaszynski that there was no life safety issue and they didn’t need to close the business. KCE was tipped off about this. We made a public records request for the fire report to see who called it in. We also obtained the call audio from Ptaszynski to the 9-1-1 center. He said that he had gotten many calls about the bent conduit, which seemed incredible. Ptaszynski denied KCE’s public records request. We had to email the Village’s attorney and threatened to sue. If you read this publication, you know it wasn’t a bluff. The Village Attorney told Ptaszynski that he had to provide us with the report. We received it and immediately knew why Ptaszynski broke the law to keep it from us – he lied. He said he got many calls about the wires. He didn’t. No records existed.
“Everyone wants to be safe and follow the law, but when you go out of your way to invent violations and shut people down, that’s bad. He thinks there is a fire safety issue, so he believes he has the power to shut them down,” said McTernan “In my 25 years of dealing with the government, I have never seen the government attack an applicant, a property owner, or business owner like in Salem Lakes.”
Village President Diann Tesar told KCE “I guarantee that there are no personal grudges against any of the businesses in the village. Our goal is simply to have all businesses to operate safely. We are definitely willing to work with all/any business in Salem Lakes.”