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Embattled Salem Lakes Administrator Is Out – Search Is On For Replacement

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Former Salem Lakes Village Administrator Michael Murdock
(File Photo by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

After being on paid administrative leave for about six weeks, the embattled Salem Lakes Administrator is now unemployed. Michael “Mike” Murdock is out of a job after a recent investigation into allegations of misconduct. An insider told KCE that Murdock was asked to resign during an investigation by two area law firms, von Briesen & Roper and Municipal Law and Litigation Group. The Village’s lawyers negotiated with Murdock’s lawyer. KCE is told that Murdock wanted a year’s severance, but he and the Village settled on a half-year payout. This assures the tax-payers that there will be no litigation.

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The Village aboard released the following statement:

“The Village of Salem Lakes has approved a separation agreement with former Administrator Mike Murdock.  

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The settlement between the parties follows mutual decisions by both parties to mutually resolve their relationship.  The settlement brings to a conclusion Mr. Murdock’s placement on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation by Attolles Law Firm and tensions that had grown in the trust and working relationship between the Village Trustees and Mr. Murdock and the visions for providing the best governance possible for the community.  The settlement involved compensation to Mr. Murdock of 26 weeks of salary in the amount of $70,308.65 and benefits in the amount of $10,275.20.  

These sums would have been greatly exceeded by the costs of continuing the investigation into the administrator, plus the uncertainty of threatened protracted and costly litigation while he continued to be paid on leave.  The Village Board believes this resolution serves the public purpose of saving time and money associated with resolving the dispute between the parties, allows the Board to focus on administration services that best serve the interests of the community and allows the Village to begin a new course of administrative leadership that serves the Village’s constituents.  The Board believes this separation with Mr. Murdock ultimately serves fiscal responsibility and achieves the residents’ desire for charting a new responsible governance.

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The Village will be commencing a search for a new administrator while Dave Bretl continues to aid the Village in the role of Interim Administrator.

This coming Tuesday, August 25, 2023, the Village Board will begin discussions about hiring a replacement. They will meet at 6:30 pm.

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KCE was alerted to questionable conduct about Murdock late last year and collected hundreds of pages of records dealing with his questionable management style and behavior. Murdock was allegedly caught creating a “hit list” of business to “shut down.” He would frequently use profanity in emails, attacking residents and businesses. He was accused of weaponizing the Fire Department to attack his enemies. Now, on the heels of an election that replaced almost the entire Village Board, Salem Lakes Village Administrator Mike Murdock saw the writing on the wall. He thinks he will soon be in the unemployment line. At least, that’s what he seemingly told his attorney. About six weeks after the new board was sworn in, Murdock hired an attorney to address his employment. This was also only a few weeks after the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office concluded a criminal investigation into allegations of corruption under Murdock’s administration. Walworth DA Zeke Wiedenfeld (D) said there wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction, but the investigators note some “off” practices in the Village.

Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder
(File Photo by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

Kenosha County Eye had received push-back from Murdock during our inquiry into his behavior. KCE Editor Kevin Mathewson had to sue Murdock when he refused to release records that pointed to a mass exodus in the Village’s Fire Department. Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder ordered Murdock to turn over the records to KCE. KCE then learned that almost three dozen fire-fighters have left the department recently, who’s second highest member was Murdock himself. Murdock did resign his position as Battalion Chief of the department just before our lawsuit. KCE learned why Murdock seemed to have a pre-existing animus towards KCE. Murdock’s daughter is married to Evan Quirk, a Kenosha mailman who stole, and allegedly sniffed used panties from a mailbox during his mail carrier route. Murdock seemed to be upset that we reported on “used panty-gate.”

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Salem Lakes Fire Chief James Lejcar
(File Photo by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

KCE has learned that staff at the Fire Department started leaving soon after Chief James Lejcar began his tenure as Chief. The investigation, according to the documents, will also include that Lejcar and his subordinates, including fire inspector Steve Ptaszynski. Ptaszynski, according to several business owners, flexed his authority as fire inspector and used his vast authority to attack businesses. KCE attempted to interview Ptaszynski after a recent meeting. He not only declined an interview, but called the Sheriff’s Department and asked them to arrest me for “disorderly conduct”. The Deputies declined.

Murdock hired the same attorneys, West and Dunn, that former trustee Mike Culat hired to sue KCE. In a letter sent to the Salem Lakes village board dated May 30, 2023, seemingly threatening a lawsuit if the board removed Murdock, the attorney makes mention of Murdock’s “employment agreement.” KCE was told, in response to a public records request, that there is not currently, and never was an employment contract for Murdock. We don’t know how his lawyer got this wrong – he won’t tell us. Murdock also won’t talk to us. The letter also says that the new board and president is making “unreasonable” expectations of Murdock. A Village insider says that Murdock wants a raise from his current $140,617.29 salary to do any “new duties.” When KCE sued Murdock, he said, under oath “I do not have a strong interest on who sits on the board of the Village of Salem Lakes.” It seems, however, that he does. The Village recently had a closed-session meeting to discuss the potentially imminent lawsuit.

Salem Lakes Public Works Director Paul Snellen
(File Photo by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

Investigation

According to the police report obtained by KCE, Murdock did a lot of things that the previous Village President says she was unaware of. Former Trustee Mike Culat, who is suing KCE, was alleged to have used a village skid steer on his property. A village employee told Walworth County Sheriff’s Detectives that the skid steer was missing from the shop for about two months. This same employee said that when it was returned, it was in a worse condition, with sticks covering it and the bucket had rust on it. This employee asked Public Works Director Paul Snellen where the skid steer was, because it was needed for village jobs. Snellen told him he didn’t know where it was. The skid steer was also missing the fuel key ring. The employee asked Snellen where the fuel key was and Snellen said “I don’t know what you’re talking about” and looked like he “saw a ghost.” Culat denies using the skid steer for personal use. There is some evidence, however, that he used some major equipment to clear a path in his backyard, during the approximate time he had the expensive village equipment. Satellite imagery is shown below.

Investigators later learned from Murdock that Snellen had indeed brought the skidsteer to Culat’s house. This means that Snellen had lied to the employee whistleblower. But why? There was also an allegation that Paul Snellen towed the Village’s man lift on a Saturday away from the Village’s property and returned without it. The whistleblower asked Snellen where he brought the lift and Snellen replied “I don’t know.” The whistleblower believes it was towed to Culat’s house for him to use to trim trees. The whistleblower then told investigators that Snellen and Murdock would allow Village employees to use tools, equipment and some facilities for personal use. Murdock got mad at one point and revoked the privileges for a couple of years, but started up again.

Murdock and Snellen both admitted to investigators that they store their own personal property at Village facilities and allow other employees to do the same. Investigators believed that the former Village President was unaware of this perk for employees. Murdock also admitted to investigators that he allowed a business owner he knows to store inventory in a Village building for free. This was also unknown by the previous president. Village staff were asked to clear out a storage container on village property. Snellen then stored his personal items in the trailer, like deer mounts. Murdock gave Snellen permission – the previous village president said she was unaware of this.

Menard’s 11% rebates were also asked about. Murdock and the previous Village President said they had a policy that handled the rebates. KCE is told by insiders that there is no such policy.

Many people who installed the new board – by a 2 to 1 margin, believe that Murdock is responsible for the Village’s decline. They want Murdock gone. One resident, who owns a business in Salem Lakes and lives in Salem Lakes, told KCE that “It was a mandate to get rid of Murdock. These new candidates promised change, and change starts at the top. I’m very pleased to see Murdock in the unemployment line. Of course it’s upsetting that the Village had to pay out a large severance, but in the long run, this will be cheaper than a lawsuit. Lawyers are expensive.”

Indeed, the 6 month severance is substantial. In government, payouts like this are common, but do save time and money for the taxpayers.

Reached Friday evening, Village President Rita Bucur said “The Board believes this separation agreement is in the best interest of the Village, having to put aside personal feelings to make this decision.

We will work towards solutions to heal our community and start producing effectual positive change that will benefit the residents and tax payers of Salem Lakes, which is what the voters elected us to do. 

I am aware there are those who are not supporters of the new Board, and also some who wish us to fail, but I am confident that this Board will make decisions and changes that will speak for themselves.

Murdock did not respond to a request for comment.

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29 Responses

  1. Certainly not an inappropriate move. Hiring him was questionable in the first place. He was paid a lot without commensurate qualifications.

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  2. When Mike was hired as Administrator I really had high hopes both for him and the New Village.
    Mike had been employed by the Town in the highway department and part of the fire department for many years. I honestly thought that that intricate knowledge would serve the Village well. As an old saying goes “He knows where the bodies are buried”.

    Sadly, even with a big increase in salary it wasn’t enough. He violated the trust he was put in charge of and well, we might never know how bad it got.

    As they say, elections have consequences. And this is just one of them.

    See ya Mike.

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  3. Drain the swamp. Start at the top and work your way down. Paul and Brad need to go. They were just as involved in the bs and have taken the village to the cleaners more than once. Just ask the current and past employees.

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  4. Hopefully Pleasant Prairie can be next to clean up the swamp of terrible board members starting with Steinbrink and Pollocoff if they are removed the other members would be able to vote for the best interest of residents not the two headed snake that only thing about lining their pockets. We can only HOPE!!!

    1. Maybe we should hear from the new board members for their take. Steinbrink should have stepped aside after his son got into trouble. (The village president runs the board meetings and signs papers.). Pollocoff is another story. Is his wealth of institutional knowledge helpful to have around and would having more independent board members help?

      1. Pollocoff knows where to hide things, he’s just as bad and greedy as Steinbrink who could not leave as he ram rods things thru for his greed and to cover his tracks Look how he masterminded getting rid of previous village administrator. It is a two headed snake! We NEED term limits in Pleasant Prairie!!!!

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        1. The previous administrator, as it turns out, had some “issues” that made his departure a good news story except that the “poison pill” they put in the administrator contract when Pollocoff had the job to pay him off handsomely if he was shown the door apparently remained in the contract so village taxpayers were on the hook! For all the talk about Steinbrink, though, nobody ran against him the last time he was up.

          1. Story that was said was that Theil wanted to fire Steinbrink Jr for stealing. Daddy and Pollocoff did not want that.

          2. That was the story but there were other issues with him that justified non retention. In one instance there should have been better vetting in the hiring process.

          3. One of Thiel’s issues was similar to Murdoch’s (but to a lesser extent).

            What I question is Thiel’s buyout. If his contract was not renewed (as opposed to being terminated) why was there the buyout? That has never been explained.

            Given the information that they had on Jr. Thiel had no choice but to suspend him (as he did). No getting around that one.

          4. Thiel got a settlement if he signed a non disclosure agreement. All the secrets never came out second question where did Pleasant Prairie come up with hush money??

        2. Which makes it all the more weird. What was there not to disclose? He was at the end of the contract and the village was not obligated to renew it. The internal issues with Thiel were not particularly scandalous. The case against Jr. was already public knowledge. Weird.

  5. Why drag Murdock’s daughter into this mess? Any troubles she and her husband might have had aren’t tied to Murdock’s misbehavior. You aren’t the New York Post.

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    1. You would do well to brush up on your reading comprehension skills. He explained exactly why he brought her name up.
      Just for you:

      KCE learned why Murdock seemed to have a pre-existing animus towards KCE.

  6. Look at the mess y’all created when the villages were merged to save $ and if I remember correctly the Silver Lake fire department shenanigans. It appears the fire boys and girls are all sketchy….

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  7. Now get rid of the Fire Marshall and the Chief as both were banned from the Kenosha county Fair. How long is this village going to allow the bully tactics and harassment and poor leadership from the dept. those two have eroded all trust that the community may have had in them. Not o my do they bully the businesses they also bully their employees

  8. I have read comments on other outlets that didnt do any investigative work but just sat around and finally reported on this and other Salem Lakes issues. I am very surprised at how often Kmiec has voiced an opinion, followed by his lockstep (finally) wife. Kmiec didnt do his job of oversite when in office. The new board has been there 4 months and acted where he could have but didnt. Tesar is silent which is a good thing since she infreuently has much to say. I think it is s because she is oblivious to anything and everything around her. The new board is acting. More than the old board did in years. For the two that didnt vote on Murdock and his windfall $$$, I am thinking that neither of them wanted to give him anything, not one thin dime. I personally agree with them but it is over. Now, let’s deal with the fire Department under the new silly, pass the buck routine that just delays action and redress for the taxpayers in increments of 2 weeks, 4 weeks, etc. instead of just dealing with the issues like a real board would do! I think but i could be wrong, that 3 are up at bat and maybe a 4th for dismissal. I hope they all strike out and I certainly hope that the board doesnt pay them a penny. Has anyone noticed if Murdock has his house on the market yet? ps, Pleasant Prairie comments are off topic here and hijacking a story about Salem Lakes does Pleasant Prairie people no good. Spend the time recruiting someone to run for the office so that you have a means to fire the bully which you have had for y e a r s thru your own faults!

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