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Salem Lakes Fire Chief, Inspector, Intimidated Subordinates Not To Cooperate With Investigation: Document


In an explosive report released to KCE following a public records request, investigators outline an inquiry into misconduct that was obstructed by the former Salem Lakes Fire Chief and Fire Inspector. The eight-page report begins with an executive summary saying “Overall, following nearly two-dozen interviews and the review of hundreds of pages of communications and records, it could be determined significant deficiencies exist in the respective performances of the Fire Chief and Fire Marshal. However, as explained in more detail below, the respective resignations of the Fire Marshal on November 12 and the Chief on November 13 have largely made this report moot.”

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In addition, beginning November 9 and continuing throughout the weekend, the Fire Marshal engaged in several concerning email exchanges. First, interim Administrator Bretl emailed the Chief on November 9 regarding a “citizen request” seeking “a report concerning SLFD service calls for 2022 and 2023 YTD.” In response to the Chief asking that the Fire Marshal prepare a response to the request, the Fire Marshal responded at 9:41 PM he could provide the raw data “through an appropriate open records request, otherwise no.”

James Lejcar – Former Salem Lakes Fire Chief, Steve Ptaszynski – Former Salem Lakes Fire Inspector
(File Photos by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

Ptaszynski replied in the same manor to KCE on January 1, 2023 when we issued a public records request. Ptaszynski attempted to withhold public documents from us. Then-Village Attorney Richard Schulze instructed Ptaszynski that our request was proper, regardless of the form it was submitted in. Ptaszynski then wrote to KCE saying: “Thanks for pointing out the flaws in the department’s system for responding to requests. I did contact the Village attorney for clarification and he agreed that the email is sufficient to fulfil the request. I have completed the request and attached the file to this email. I have made note of the requirements that you have pointed out and will adhere to these in the future. Please let me know if you need anything else or have difficulty opening the attachment.”

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Roughly an hour later, the Fire Marshal (signing the email as an “Independent Journalist/Resident Village of Salem Lakes”) submitted a public records request to Bretl seeking a number of records, including, among others, “ethical guidelines that the board is governed by or has adopted … [confirmation] that your consulting firm has aided and abended [sic] in the village and village board members illegal activities … [confirmation of the rumor] that a member of the fire commission or village board has been accused/charged/convicted of any criminal or civil charges.”

Several key events occurred during the first two weeks of November. On November 9, Counsel virtually interviewed the Fire Marshal (beginning at 1:00PM) and Chief (beginning at 4:00PM), both of whom were represented by counsel during the interviews. Importantly, Counsel concluded both interviews by requesting the Chief and Fire Marshal complete their respective interviews the following week to answer several remaining questions. The Chief and Fire Marshal both agreed to complete their interviews the following week. The following day counsel for the Fire Marshal provided a letter to the Board President and counsels to the Village and Commission. The follow-up interviews would never occur.

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Alleged Obstruction

Numerous interviewees and witness statements established that the Chief directed Department employees to direct all communications regarding the investigation to him, the implication being that employees should not independently cooperate with Counsel’s invitations to meet. Multiple employees confirmed both the Chief and Fire Marshal directed the employees not to cooperate with the investigation. One witness statement noted a crew was approached by the Department’s Administrative Assistant, Diane Beattie, on July 14, 2023, and was told “she had received an email from the village president in regards to the fire department” and that the email would be placed on the bulletin board located in the kitchen so the crews could read it. The statement then claims the Fire Marshal approached the crew and stated “[i]f anyone approaches you guys and asks about the fire department, Chief told me to let you know to not say anything and send them to Chief.”

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Abusive Management Practices

In addition to specific examples of reactions from the Chief and/or Fire Marshal that could be construed as representing abusive management practices, numerous interviewees generally described a work environment where members are not supported and aggressive techniques have been utilized by the Chief and Fire Marshal. While some interviewees indicated nothing would rise to the level of formal harassment from any members of the Department and none of the activity could be described as criminal, others referenced the number of former employees that they believed would return to the Department if the Chief and Fire Marshal were no longer in leadership. Former and current members of the Department described numerous examples of either lack of support or outright hostility. One member referenced several incidents that “have indicated a hostile work environment at the fire department including but not limited to: 1. Verbal abuse and derogatory language: There have been several instances of the Chief using inappropriate language towards his subordinates, creating an uncomfortable environment, and encouraging toxic behavior. 2. Intimidation and bullying: Multiple times there [have] been incidents where both administrative parties have ganged up on individuals to make their point clear, resulting in fear and distress among the staff. 3. Retaliation against whistleblowers: Several individuals who have attempted to report issues regarding daily amenities, equipment, building maintenance and overall improvement to every day/night operations have either gone on deaf ears or face retaliation, including verbal and written reprimands.” Another member noted “the work environment is so toxic people keep leaving” and “[i]f the toxic leadership ever changes I would love to come back and stay full time.”

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Management of Staff

Generally, concerns were raised regarding the management of the Department, including possible FLSA violations, confusion regarding the finality of suspensions and/or terminations, a lack of training, and an apparent lack of communication with the Commission. Overall, it is believed by many that the Chief simply follows the Fire Marshal’s lead and he is the one “running the Department.” Some believe the Chief doesn’t want help from anyone that can “outshine” him. Others claim that in one incident after a member encouraged the Fire Marshal to calm down, the Fire Marshal responded he wants to yell because “that’s the type of department he is going to run.”

A significant theme emerged regarding the Department’s inability to retain members of the Department. While some argued any departures were simply due to a lack of pay, others believe turnover is “crazy.” The departures or overall lack of staffing obviously has an impact on current staff. One member explained there must be two paramedics and four fire fighters for each shift which can result in some working 36 straight hours and ultimately burn out among members. With respect to availability, members noted an incident where the Fire Marshal demanded that full time members have to be available 24 hours a day and that he “didn’t give a shit if you’re in the Dells.” The limited number of paramedics can impact mutual aid. While the Department previously had nine paramedics, with only three (including the Fire Marshal), the Department risks mutual aid because any aid that doesn’t include a paramedic is only BLS (basic life support). Mutual aid responses must be at the ALS (advanced life support) level, i.e. include a paramedic. Other members also referenced a recent termination, noting members were forced to respond to calls without a qualified officer, which made them feel “very unsafe.” Other members noted the impact on part time staff, some of whom are approaching 2,000 annual hours worked (raising questions as to WRS and other benefit eligibility).

Another theme related to a lack of training or direct support. One member went so far as to raise concerns that because of the lack of support and training he’d be found liable for some of the situations he was put in and with a seven year statute of limitations could face significant liability. Another member explained that groups of new hires were given less than a week notice for a start date, some were unable to attend the full orientation, there was no real plan for assigning tasks, and when new hires were “waiting around,” leadership became angry that they weren’t “doing what they were supposed to be doing.”

Even with respect to suspensions and terminations, numerous members expressed confusion as to how such decisions were formalized and who should be involved. During the course of one conversation the Chief indicated he “superseded the Commission” and could “make the suspension go away.” Eight months later the member was not clear as to his status. Another member stated despite being on maternity leave her requests for PTO had been denied.

Among other statements, the Fire Marshal admitted he was aware of the Guidelines but believed they were “outdated and don’t reflect the current conditions of the Department.” He believed the former Village Administrator Mike Murdock “inserted himself into the Stage Stop and ATE situations.” Stage Stop and ATE are two of the business that say the Chief, Inspector, and Administrator were trying to shut down.

Additionally, some evidence exists to suggest the Fire Chief and/or Fire Marshal were inefficient in their duties as evidenced by the Department’s significant turnover, the lack of formal training to members, and the confusion surrounding payment and terms of suspension. Multiple interviewees provided details regarding the significant number of members that have left the Department, at times even for lower paying jobs, the lack of training for members, both new as well as veteran, and significant confusion as to whether members were eligible for payment and whether and for how long suspensions or extensions of probationary periods were implemented. Further, multiple interviewees provided detailed accounts regarding the often negative interactions and aggressive inspection techniques.

Salem Lakes Village President Rita Bucur
(File Photo by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

Reached by phone Thursday evening, Village President Bucur said she has reviewed the report and wants to be transparent but said her and her colleagues have been advised by their attorneys not to speak publicly about the report at this time.

The new Village Administrator, Cassandra Hiller, begins her tenure this Coming Monday, December 4, 2023.



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43 Responses

  1. Oh good. Now we can get back to the Murdock issue and deal with those who participated. Wasn’t Snellen the active player in it? And the one to cover it up? And to intimidate employees who asked about the situations?
    Let’s get it done Rita and company. Finish the job.

    1. Please give examples as to why Mr. Faber is a poor representative of the Town/Village for over 20 years? I cannot think of any.

      1. Faber threatened Linda Valentine (verbally) with a gun.
        (From WestoftheI April 2016) “Faber in an April 15, 2015 email to other Salem Town Board members and town administrator Patrick Casey wrote:
        “Thanks Dave for the heads up. I will be willing to get certified because I want to be able to use a GUN to straighten out a few people who tell lie and mistruths that P$%% me off. Better run for cover V.”
        V represents former town chair Linda Valentine.
        His cronies on the board never publicly reprimanded him for that obvious threat.
        Let’s also not forget the old “Public Safety” department with David Shortess as the chief.
        A Salem “deputy” died in a “police car” crash in July of 2016. Officer Michael Ventura.
        Never did see the police report of the crash or the payout to his family for that “on the job death”. Also on Dennis’s watch.
        Or the stories of lore about Dennis’s junkets up north on the Town’s dime.
        At virtually every meeting you can count on Dennis to take a minute or three to explain to the audience why the board made a certain decision or how the state helped Salem in the past or some other tidbit of history.
        If that’s what you like and want, Dennis and his knowledge and “expertise” in lakes and history of Salem, then invite him to show up at each board meeting to espouse upon anything that interests him. Or he can join every lake board as a adhoc historian and volunteer.
        But going forward his elected time is up. Like him or hate him, all things past that we are dealing with now like these administrator and fire department problems were on his watch.
        During citizens comments have you ever seen or heard a past board member stand up and come around to the podium and speak as a citizen on any issue before the board ?
        With Rita’s leadership each board member is given the opportunity at each meeting to speak on any issue as part of the agenda or otherwise.
        As for Bill Hopkins. I find it hard to fault him “too” much because he only came on board when Salem and Silver Lake came together to form the new village. And if you watch each meeting Bill is involved and engaged in virtually every topic. (unlike Bill Barhyte who barely speaks on any issue) If you want Bill Hopkins gone then honestly, you better find a (Silver Lake) candidate that is as enthused as Bill his about his side of the village.

        1. Was he charged and convicted of a crime? Otherwise the public is waiting on real examples. Wasnt V a one term chairperson? How many times has Dennis been reelected by a sizeable margin?

          1. Was it a crime ?
            Threatening to use a gun to harm someone ? Maybe kill ?
            If that’s not a crime, what do “you”call it ?? Free speech ??
            And not in a bar over a beer but on the Town email system.

            Linda Valentines length of office. What does that matter ?

            Dennis’s political career record ?
            Sure he’s done good things over his many years. But it’s his last years of inaction that we are discussing here. All it needed was one supervisor to speak up in an open meeting to the administrator and fire department’s issues and he did not. As did not the others. Defend that !
            Time to Go ! Just like the others

            1. So are you concerned about an event that if a crime would have been charged in 2015 or recent activities. Pick one.

              V was voted out by a 2 to 1 margin. Faber has been reelected at least
              10 times. If you are going to cite V her credibility versus his is what matters.

              I do not believe the admin or fire chief report directly to faber so I am not sure how appropriate it would be for him to be the one raising concerns. The “on his watch” charge is absurd.

              1. Linda was hated as Trump is hated. She called people on their s..t ! People want happy go lucky politics. They want government to just work ! They don’t want to know how the sausage is made. If they don’t have any contact with their local town hall, and “most” people don’t, then as long as the street in front of your house is plowed, you don’t care much.
                Running a town is more involved than just getting the mill rate correct.
                She “tried” to institute reforms in how the administrator reported to the board. She didn’t get as much support as she needed from the other 4 trustees. One of which was Faber.
                You are incorrect that the administrator doesn’t report to the board. If he doesn’t, then who ??
                Faber. On his watch ? You bet ?

        2. Don’t forget the problems with the previous administrator, Casey, we’re on Faber and Hopkin’s watch. The stuff with Murdock is only a continuation of Casey’s rule and he learned from him.

            1. That’s why certain gobbler employees loved him, It was the Wild,Wild,West of governing. Only the noncompliant employees and Taxpayers paid the price. This is what happens when tyrants rule, IMO.

          1. Casey ran a town.
            Compared to running a village that was a cake walk.
            When Mike was named administrator I actually had high hopes for him. And the village. I figured that for as many years that he was the highway guy that he knew every single road, street light and most of the residents if not by name by face. And with that intricate knowledge he would be able to solve resident problems very quickly and easily.
            The old saying “he knows where the bodies are buried “ comes to mind.
            But inevitably he reached the level of his own incompetence. Even with administrator classes he just couldn’t get it done without asking “how can I make a buck off of this insight “.
            The village boards job is oversight. The administrator serves at the direction of the board. That back and forth relationship and trust develops over time. And with Mike, we trusted but didn’t verify.

  2. Mr. Faber has done so much for this village. His waterway management skills and the amount of money he has brought to the village through his vast knowledge and experience via grant applications, has been of tremendous value to Salem Lakes Residents.

  3. New broom sweeps clean! Keep it up! It’s about damn time that these good old boys were shown the door. There is still more work to do, undoing years of corruption and insider deals that have turned Silver Lake (now part of Salem Lakes) into a business desert. So many buildings have been vacant and in disrepair for decades, it’s going to be a long time before anyone wants to invest in the area.

  4. So this whole Chief charade (and waste of money) is about people’s sensitivity and hurt feelings? I’d want a tough environment for a tough job, it makes for stronger people. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitch…er firehouse.

    1. This is the rated G version. People don’t resign unless they have serious liability. I think 40-plus people have resigned in 2-3 years, that’s not normal. These employees thought these characters were tyrants. Read the tea leaves, it’s not hard.

    2. Sure, tough love in a demanding job is important to getting the best out of your employees BUT,
      40 resignations during Lejcars’ tenure ?

      I think that number says it all !

      1. Can’t blame all those on the Chief, it’s an underpaid department as far as full time pay. Nobody will stay when other departments pay far better and have better benefits.
        Not saying the Chief didn’t play a part, just saying more is involved when people leave.

  5. Yes it is true that all this chaos happened under Hopkins and Fabers watch. They are totally responsible. If they run again which would be dumb on thier part they need to be voted out. They are walking around telling people how they fixed the problems of the village. They are reason we had the problems.

    1. Please point out what Mr. Hopkins or Faber have done that would warrant voting them out? ( insert cricket noises here)

      1. Your comment lacks critical thinking, have you been asleep for the last year? Now, I will agree that you can determine who is to blame from the old board but they both were there, they have blame. The old board trusted Village employees too much, they drank the Kool-aid the employees fed them. That mistake is clearly on them, to what degree voters will decide.

      2. Guilty by association these days is enough for them to be put out on their asses. Their time is coming, it’s a foregone conclusion. Fucking deal with it.

    2. During the COW meeting on 12/4, Hopkins said that he doesn’t believe in giving people second chances. He supported Murdock, Slover, and Lecjar during their entire reign of terror. Now he is trying to distance himself from his actions in support of them. I says, no second chances for him either.

  6. Slover ran his department the same way Chief Jim did. The difference is Chief Jim got caught and Slover didn’t.

    1. Slover was just as bad, if not worse. He was famous for back room deals for promoting people into positions they were unprepared for. He ruled with an iron fist and had people so intimidated that they were scared to say anything. He also held people’s “issues” over their head with the threat that with their “issues”, if he fired them, they would never be hired anywhere else. He is a narcissistic in the truest sense of the word. If you are unfamiliar with the meaning, look it up. I’m pretty sure his picture is shown in the definition.

  7. This is the water-down version. If these two defiant employees didn’t resign they would have been outed with the tough pill version. For all the village idiots that have blamed the business owners for all the Fire Dept grief, now you officially know, you are truly a Village Idiot. You chose to not open your eyes and ears. I’m hearing some of these Blind leading the Blind folks will be looking at lawsuits very soon, and rightfully so. They have harmed these businesses with their malicious statements. Some of the past board members and their moronic followers are spreading lies to somehow get the 30% to follow their BS. Sadly, the old board has cost the Village a fortune trying to right this ship. The citizens of Salem Lakes should be proud of the change we have made. The next election is coming soon, let’s make sure we don’t let any of these Village Idiots anywhere near our local government again.
    Thank You Mr. Mathewson for Reporting, you have given journalism hope. 🙏🙏🙏

  8. I am hearing that the last Fire administration got applications for employment that the Fire Commission never received. Is it legal to throw out an application before the Commission sees it.

  9. Yes ! Dennis has done many “good” things for the Town, Village and lakes over his many years even decades of “service” as a board supervisor/trustee.

    But the issue here, now, is his inaction with his “job” as one of five and now seven overseers of the village employees. No matter how far removed a supervisor is from the actual day to day operations the rumors were there. And as someone in the position of overseeing those employees rumors needed to be checked out. Behind the scenes or out in the open, questions needed to be asked and answers needed to be heard.
    On Dennis’s watch as with Diann, Ted, Mike and Dan, questions were not asked and acted upon.
    They all got Too comfortable.
    If you want to be up there, be prepared for the questions.

  10. Mr. Ptaszynski needs to get out in the real world if he had never seen a shop like ATE. I have been in the heavy equipment industry for 42 years-that’s what they are. I’ve seen rock crushers in that shop that take up the whole bay. I’ve seen engines being rebuilt while still in the truck. I’ve seen 10+ snow plows completely torn apart in one bay after a snow storm. Last spring an excavator that wouldn’t fit in the shop with stick and boom completely taken apart then moved into shop for welding then moved back out for assembly. Two brand new quad axle dump trucks being built in house. Guess what all that has to get done somewhere. That shop is what it is. These shops have to exist for my job to exist. Somebody please tell the fire inspector that life is good if you get a little dirty. Not all professions exist in a clean hospital. And just like sex the dirtier it is the more his wife will enjoy

    1. From those to pictures I see two selfish ass wholes that have never kissed a pussy or a tushie. They’ll never know how sweet it tastes. Miss chief and miss inspector bummer!!!!!

  11. To all the Mr Faber friends,
    It is only a matter of time before you will find a knife in your back.
    A former friend

  12. Victim mentality going strong in this post. “Poor” SP is as delusional they come! Anyone with half a brain that follows the board meetings or involved with the village knows the liable happening here.

    “As a follow-up to my last post… I have resigned
    from the department. It was a hard decision but
    our village board stopped providing funding to
    the department after threatening to shut the
    department down because the Chief (former)
    and I would not sign away our rights in a legal
    document, This document asserted that we were
    correct in our concerns about the businesses that
    filed complaints against us. The board refused to
    pay invoices that were previously approved in our
    budget. This includes things like radios and
    rescue equipment for my former departments
    brand new rescue squad (which the Village of
    Paddock lake purchased) and the online policy/
    procedure manual for the department.. I am
    open to any questions or comments. If you have
    specific questions I will do my best to respond”

    1. We do not care about your opinion any longer. You are/were the problem. You failed your oath, brought negativity to the dept and village and feel the need to blame someone else as we can see here. And you cost businesses money, their time and gave them anxiety all because of your abuse of power. G O A W A Y.

      I suggest you not attempt to take a position where you interact with people and don’t supervise because you don’t have those skills.

      It seems you have not learned. The words are. I’M SORRY.

    He’s the guy next door’- a man’s man with the memory of a little boy. He never got over the excitement
    of engines and sirens and smoke and danger.
    He’s a guy like you and me with warts and worries and unfilled dreams.
    Yet he stands taller than most of us.
    He’s a fireman.
    He puts it all on the line when the bell rings.
    A fireman is-at once the most fortunate and the least fortunate of men.
    He’s a man who saves lives because he has seen too much death.
    He’s a gentle man because he has seen too much of the awesome power of violent forces out of control.
    He’s responsive to a child’s laughter because his arms have held too many small bodies that will never laugh
    He’s a man who appreciates the simpler pleasures of life; hot coffee held in numbed, unbending fingers,
    the flush of fresh air pumping through smoke-and-fire-convulsed lungs; a warm bed for bone and muscle com-
    pelled beyond feeling; the camaraderie of brave men; the divine peace of selfless service and a job well done in the name of all men.
    He doesn’t wear buttons or wave flags or shout obscenities.
    When he marches, it is to honor a fallen comrade.
    He doesn’t preach the brotherhood of man.
    He lives it.

    So many in Salem Lakes’ department fit this description. Two don’t. We are so glad for the others!

    1. I read this and tried to make sense of its relevance in this story and situation.
      A simple google search of this “what is a fireman” goes back at least 15 years. Probably decades more.
      Ok. A self description of what drives someone to make this their vocation.

      But Salem’s “fire house” problem is/was nothing more than one (maybe two) (maybe more) individuals who thought their s..t didn’t stink. They were drunk on power ! Power is intoxicating ! People that were “put“ in positions of power, in this case through laziness in vetting and hiring, because the big bosses are thinking that the people that have been around for a while are the best to pick up the ball and move it forward.

      This is/was the same problem with Mike being picked as administrator.

      This isn’t Mayberry. Though some might think so. This is 14,000 people who have decided to live in this group of hamlets called Salem, now Salem Lakes who want semi rural living with professional responsible government.
      And are willing to pay for it

      Please, please, please, Rita and your trustees, please, continue to clean house expeditiously by replacing the fire commission NOW !!

      By allowing the existing fire commission to pick the next fire chief, you are not solving the underlying problem. Hiring !! They failed last time. Big time !

      Rita. Grab that broom once more and sweep the floor clean !!

    2. The point of this ^^^^^ is…two should not reflect on those who ARE true fire fighters and EMS and are not drunk on power.

  14. Well said. It started with Slover and he trained Jim to keep the chaos up. Hopkins and Faber backed this kind of management. They also backed getting rid of a Commission that was doing thier job so they could put unqualified
    yes people in. Get rid of them all Rita. That is the only way you will get a fresh start.

  15. I have attended many board meetings both with the Tesar Board and the Bucur Board. I can tell you that there is a night and day difference between the two.
    Tesar’s Board went along to get along and wasn’t inquisitive enough. When they saw smoke they chose to ignore the fire.
    The Bucur Board got smacked upside the head when elected and were forced to face the tremendous obstacles and mess from Tesar, Murdock and SLFD officers. Mike was not qualified to be Village Administrator and it showed. There was no long-term planning and the entire village was run like a good old boys network.
    The new Village President Rita Bucur is on top of her game and is working diligently and long hours to right the ship. Hopkins deserves criticism for not challenging the issues earlier, but that is no longer the case and he appears to be one of the harder working and self informed board member they have. He deserves to be re-elected
    Faber, thank you for your years of service, but he needs to be challenged and replaced. Gandt is middle of the road, seems aware but makes statements that cannot be backed up. He deserves to be challenged.
    The three new board members, where they could be commended for forcing change, leave something to be desired when it comes to preparation and understanding what they are allowed to do, required to do and what they cannot do as elected officials. Kelly needs to take a deep breath before speaking, she doesn’t make sense much of the time and is ill prepared to comment, much less act. Bill Barhyte is totally lost. Jared Young apparently is too busy with his vocation to devote the time needed to serve on this board and it shows. He should resign and allow someone else to fill the void. The interim Village Administrator and new permanent Village Administrator are top notch.
    Every citizen should attend meetings and judge for themselves.
    In the end, there is much to like about Salem Lakes (the community and the government) and it is finally getting fixed. It will cost taxpayers a bunch of money, but will be worth it. When it gets fixed, it will stay fixed.
    Get involved citizens. That’s the way to ensure good governance and positive outcomes. Study the issues and the people running for election to the board. Salem Lakes has come too far to revert back to what it once was.

    1. Don’t get caught in the Hopkins magic act. He is trying very hard to distance himself from his previous stance in support of all of these losers who have been ousted. He was comfortably in bed with them and did nothing to stop them. He is complicit in their actions. He is only concerned with re-election. Mr. Hopkins has shown his true colors and should not be allowed to continue to inflict his self-absorbed agenda on this village.

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