Dane County supervisor faces ethics complaint

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Even in far left Dane County this seems extreme.

At a Sept. 22 Dane County Board meeting, 36th District Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff called for the re-election of Democrats Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Ratcliff was addressing the latest legally suspect policy of the board, part of an ordinance demanding the county limit contracting for programs and services with federal, state and local agencies that investigate, arrest or prosecutes individuals that violate the state’s ban on abortion. In other words, it won’t do business with entities that follow the law. It’s part of the radical resistance movement born out of the summer’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade — a move that even leftist County Executive Joe Parisi warned could cause major financial hardship to the county (its taxpayers).

“I was worried about the language in lines 20 and 21 and what that would do for our budget and in order to make sure that we don’t have to worry about that let’s get Evers and Kaul re-elected and then we won’t have to worry about re-working our budget. So let’s get out there and get people out to vote. That’s what I’m going to be doing. And voting in support of this resolution, or amendment,” Ratcliff said.

None of her fellow liberal peers batted an eye.

Ratcliff’s Republican opponent in next month’s election, Andrew McKinney filed a complaint. McKinney says Ratcliff violated Dane County’s ordinance on politically campaigning on government time.

“Today, I filed a formal complaint with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission asking them to investigate this clear violation of Dane County Ordinance which clearly prohibits the use of public office or county equipment for partisan political activity,” he said in a press release. “As a county issue, I expect this will ultimately be forwarded to the Dane County District Attorney and the Dane County Ethics Board to be fully investigated as it moves forward.”

In general, rules separating politics from government business prohibit county employees from “using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering or with affecting the result of an election or nomination for political office.”

“No employee may use county funds, supplies, or equipment for partisan purposes, or for political purposes except where such political uses are otherwise permitted by law.”

McKinney believes Ratcliff crossed an ethical line.

“Over all the years that I have served on the Monona Grove School Board, I have never campaigned for myself or for other candidates, partisan or nonpartisan. Frankly, that is the least our constituents should expect and I’ve always held myself to a higher standard – it is disappointing that my opponent has lowered that bar,” he said.

But a local campaign and elections law expert tells Empower Wisconsin it is unlikely the statement alone would constitute a violation of the public uses clause.

Dane County’s ethics ordinance  states the use of county property “which is available and accessible to the general public is not considered a violation.”

Ratcliff certainly used public, taxpayer-funded resources in effectively campaigning for Evers and Kaul, but she did so in the context of her public statements on a county business matter.

It sure smells like politicking on the taxpayer’s dime, though.

“I believe that this is an abuse of power and Dane County Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff should be held accountable for her actions,” McKinney said.

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 6, 2022

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