Theo Lipscomb Defends Kimberly Walker Dismissal
On the one hand you
have 13 supervisors who voted to terminate her—a supermajority that can
override Abele’s expected veto if they stick together. On the other you have
County Executive Chris Abele; his mole on the board, Supervisor Deanna
Alexander; conservative business executive Sheldon Lubar; the NAACP; and the
Bradley Foundation-funded Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
So you can understand
why Supervisor Theo Lipscomb sighed when I told him I wanted to talk about
But after some
hesitation he defended his actions, saying that he and 12 of his colleagues on
the board were unhappy with Walker’s performance, including her allegiance to
Abele (the corp counsel is supposed to serve both branches of county
government), her unwillingness to share information with supervisors, her
inability to provide sound guidance on the board-busting Act 14, and her advice
to Abele insiders that if they sent emails to her it could be shielded from
open records requests, a bombshell dug up by investigative blogger Cory
Liebmann over at Eye on Wisconsin via an open records request.
Here’s what he had to say:
happened? As I understand it, you launched the effort to oust Kimberly Walker
as corporation counsel.
Lipscomb: I don’t
know if I’d characterize it that way. I guess I took the lead. As the chair of
Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee, I have a lot of contact with
corp counsel. I’ve had some issues over the two years and it seemingly was
getting worse and I was hearing a lot of frustration. So I was having
conversations with my colleagues about whether the dissatisfaction was as
widespread as I thought it was and it really was. I didn’t go around twisting
anybody’s arm or arguing to convince them that she needed to be removed. I just
said, Are you happy with corp counsel’s representation? And the vast majority,
as you saw, were not.
Shepherd: Could you
give me an example of the problems you were having?
Lipscomb: I want to
be cautious about this. I really do believe it’s a personnel matter. I want to
talk more generally, rather than, like, these are the five occasions that I had
a problem with her. Early on I had trouble. First of all, I think it’s
important to note that she was unanimously confirmed. So she got the benefit of
I did have some early
issues in the first year, where I was having trouble getting opinions or legal
advice on issues. If people were really paying attention they would have seen
it. I had to attempt in the budget, the following year, to try to force them to
have a policy on how to take up essentially inquiries from individual
supervisors. Because she took the position that it had to come from a committee
or be ordered by the chair or the exec. I said, no. As an individual supervisor
I get to have counsel on an issue. I may be a lower priority than an issue
that’s been referred by a committee or the full board or the exec. But I have
the right to get that. If I have to depend on a committee action that means
you’ve already convinced your colleagues of the importance of an issue but if
you just need some background then you should be able to get that.
Shepherd: Who did she
report to? Did she give the board as much attention as she should have?
the conflict questions seemingly have grown. There’s the sense that she sees
herself as like other members of the exec’s cabinet, which is not the case.
According to state statutes, she does not serve at the pleasure of the exec.
Uniquely, she has this dual responsibility to serve the board and also this
dual appointment and removal. He can’t remove her without the board’s consent
and the board can remove her over his objection with two-thirds.
Shepherd: Did that
change with Act 14?
Lipscomb: No. That’s
uniformly available to counties that have a county executive form of
It’s sort of
independent in that sense. She’s appointed by him but has responsibilities to
both branches. So that’s why I’m saying it’s not the same as a department head.
And yet she’s clearly taken the stance that he is the boss. I believe that
plays into it, the sense that there was a different level of responsibility to
the different branches.
Did you see the Cory
Liebmann blog? Where she gives him [Abele] advice on how to keep things from open
records requests? She claimed to me after I raised that issue on the board
floor a month ago—she didn’t call me, but then a month later she told me that
‘I would have given that advice to the county board as well.’ I said, well, I
didn’t think it was good advice, but I find that hard to believe that you were
going to be the special mail person for 19 elected officials, that you were
going to provide that service. That just totally strikes me the wrong way. I’m
surprised she did it. I’m surprised that if she found it to be so defensible
she didn’t reach out during the preceding four weeks.
[I raised it in] the
May board meeting. It came up in relation to the conflict of interest on Act
14. Because some people at that point were arguing that we really didn’t need
outside counsel, that she could provide it, even though she had originally said
there was clearly a conflict and that—or the perception that no matter what,
there was the perception that there was a conflict and that the best thing was
for her to not provide counsel to either branch on this. That it was too
political. She then kept modifying that. And said, well, we could or we could
set up something to do that. Even though that had been the original request—to
set up some firewalls in the office so that we would have somebody representing
us, not the same person [who was representing the administration].
Shepherd: Is there
truth to the allegation that this is a proxy war between the board and Abele?
That firing her is a way to retaliate against Abele for attacking the board?
Lipscomb: I just
don’t see that on this. I wouldn’t take out my frustration with Abele on an
employee on an unrelated issue. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Does it
include Abele to some extent? It does because it’s about her seemingly unbalanced
allegiance to him over the board and the inequality of the representation
Shepherd: Why didn’t
it go through committee? Why did you seek to suspend the rules during a full
board meeting to take up this matter?
Lipscomb: It was a
personnel action so quite frankly had it occurred in committee we would have
done it in closed session. Ultimately, if the supermajority of a body is not
confident in their representation what is there to discuss? Are you going to
tell me I’m supposed to be satisfied with my unsatisfactory representation?
That’s not going to work for me.
That’s how it was
scheduled. Just to be under suspension. We ultimately took it up and cut off
debate and just took the vote.
I called her before
introducing it. First of all, she was not surprised. She said she knew there was
unhappiness and thought that it was coming. And I knew that she knew because
Abele’s office had been calling around for a week asking if something was going
on. So there was no surprise. This idea that this caught them by surprise is
completely false. More than that, her response to me was ‘I’m not stepping down
so let the process be the process.’ So I did introduce it.
But in the meantime,
about two hours later, I get a call from Dan Bice saying ‘Kimberly Walker
called me and she believes that race and gender are factors in her dismissal.’
Her immediate response was to call Dan Bice.
At this point she
hadn’t seen an agenda item yet. She knows that I’m saying I’m going to introduce
it and I’m going to have support. At this point she’s still my lawyer. I
haven’t even introduced it. And you don’t know what the support is for it. And
her professional judgment is to call Dan Bice and make an accusation—completely
unfounded—alleging race and gender as an issue? That to me it just raises a
whole other set of her professional and strategic and other decision-making
[judgment], that that would be her reaction.
There is no basis for
that accusation. And it creates an untenable working situation because she is
in fact still my attorney. Imagine, had the move failed, had I not had their
votes of if I was bluffing or if I was the only one who felt that way. You’ve
now said that about your client. She’s never said it again in those blunt terms
that I know of. They seem to have switched narratives. So someone must have
said that wasn’t a good one.
Shepherd: But even the NAACP spoke up in her defense.
Lipscomb: They said it raised questions because it had never happened with previous white men. I’m sorry—I have no ability to judge those situations. Was there dissatisfaction with them and they weren’t removed? I don’t know.
Shepherd: What’s your
response to the complaint filed by Supervisor Deanna Alexander and the
Bradley Foundation-sponsored Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, alleging
that you violated open meetings laws?
Lipscomb: There’s no lawsuit yet. What’s interesting is that the allegation that Alexander makes—I can’t imagine how it’s any different than what she did last month [in trying to depose Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic]. In fact, hers is worse. While mine were individual conversations hers is actually an organized attack. It was several of them working together. They had a petition document, they decided, ‘You talk to this person, I’ll talk to that person, we’ll share notes.’ It was an organized effort to do it that way. Mine was just me talking to colleagues. So the fact that I talked to two or 10 or 12, I can’t ask my colleagues whether they like their representation?