Ethics allegation against Alderwoman Laura Karvala faces its own potential roadblock

Board will likely drop complaint against Karvala

Dec. 21, 2012

New Berlin - An ethics complaint against Alderwoman Laura Karvala will likely hit a dead-end based on legal arguments presented by her attorney over unverified allegations tied to the city's controversial decision to put a roadblock on Wilbur Drive.

In a letter to the city's Ethics Board, attorney Michael Maistelman had argued that a Jan. 3 ethics hearing should be dismissed or the matter could be appealed to Waukesha County Circuit Court. Responding to that letter, one board official agreed the current complaint likely falls short of the city's legal requirements and should be dismissed.

In his letter, filed with the city this week, Maistelman listed reasons why the city's Ethics Board - which reviews complaints of possible ethics violations and makes its recommendations to the New Berlin Common Council - should not have found probable cause for an ethics violation.

Complaint and objections

Those reasons included that elements of the complaint were unverified and that Karvala did not get to present her side at the board's meeting on Dec. 4, when it considered the complaint and petition signed by numerous Glen Park subdivision residents.

The ethics complaint was filed alleging that Karvala should have recused herself in the council's decision to close Wilbur Drive - an effort intended to reduce traffic that uses the road as a shortcut route between Sunnyslope Road and National Avenue and into New Berlin's commercial City Center neighborhood.

Karvala lives on Wilbur, and the complaint said her house would likely be worth more because closing the street would greatly reduce traffic.

Despite that claim, no proof of any kind was presented on that point before the Ethics Board, Maistelman wrote in his letter to the city, adding it is up to the complainant to supply evidence to support a finding of probable cause.

"There is no evidence in the complaint (such as an affidavit of city assessor or a real estate agent) indicating (a) that respondent's property value would in fact increase because of the actions she took on the vote and (b) that the increase in value is not 'remote and speculative.' "

In his letter, Maistelman said the complaint must be verified, as required by city ordinance.

For those reasons, he asked the board to dismiss the complaint. If no action was taken, Maistelman said he would have filed a writ of mandamus in Circuit Court to order the Ethics Board to dismiss the complaint for failing to comply with the law.

Conceding concerns

In a subsequent letter to Maistelman dated Dec. 20, Ethics Board chairman Michael Neuens concurred with one key point - that the ethics complaint wasn't "verified," in a legal sense, to support probable cause of an ethics violation.

"While the (city) ordinance does not state what the term 'verified' means, it typically requires that a statement be made by those who are signing it that the allegations set forth in the complaint are true, accurate and correct," Neuens stated in the letter. "This statement would need to be confirmed or substantiated under oath and acknowledged by the person making it. Typically, this occurs through some form of acknowledgment or affidavit.

"In looking at the complaint that was submitted in this matter, while it is signed, there is no verification of the facts under oath and, therefore, on its face the complaint would not meet this requirement."

Ultimately, even though the allegations could have been verified at the upcoming hearing, the fact that one party - in this case, Karvala - objected to the proceeding on that basis, the complaint "must be dismissed as a matter of law," he wrote. The board will formally consider that dismissal when it next meets, he added.

Maistelman, in subsequent comments by phone Friday, acknowledged it's possible an ethics complaint could be refiled in a more verified form, but he would expect it to include information from real estate sources authoritatively establishing that Karvala's property would gain value.

The road issue itself

Karvala voted with the majority in the 6-1 Common Council decision to temporarily close Wilbur Drive to reduce the amount of traffic using it as a shortcut route.

The closing initially is sending traffic in a loop around the block onto Redwood Drive and Cottonwood Road and then back to Wilbur on the other side of the barrier. Most of the signatures on the petition are residents of those two streets.

The hope is that traffic will stop going through the Glen Park subdivision as a shortcut when drivers realize it doesn't save that much time.

The Common Council will decide later whether to make the temporary closure permanent.

Copy editor Jim Riccioli contributed to this story.


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