County tweaks approach to abandoned items at foreclosed properties

New policy expected to come at future date

Shawano County staff is taking additional steps to account for personal items left behind at properties foreclosed on by the county, if those items are taken from the property for county use.

Any other abandoned items will be photographed but not inventoried, as has been a longstanding practice.

The change is apparently in response to charges of felony burglary and theft filed against Shawano County Supervisor William Switalla, who removed a grill from the garage of a foreclosed property last year while cleaning up garbage at the site.

Switalla, who later returned the grill, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled for a pre-trial conference in March.

Properties acquired by the county, also known as in rem properties, are often seized for non payment of property taxes.

At a public property committee meeting Tuesday, Building Maintenance Supervisor Steve Dreher took the unusual step of wheeling in a cart load of items left behind at an in rem property that he believed the county could make use of.

Items included a bead breaker that separates tires from their rims, a prospector’s pick, levels, sanders, and various air tools.

Dreher told committee members he was bringing the items before them so they could take action and approve the county retaining them, “so I don’t get charged with something.”

Dreher also told the committee that his department, which is responsible for securing and locking up foreclosed properties, has been told by the treasurer’s office that two staff people are now required to be present when a property is secured.

“I was told by (County Treasurer) Deb (Wallace), ‘Nobody goes to an in rem property alone,’” he said.

Dreher said it has been past practice for the maintenance department to remove abandoned items that might be of use to the county, but, in an apparent reference to the Switalla case, he added, “with current events we thought it was wise to bring it to the committee for you to take action.”

Supervisor Jerry Erdmann said the county should be able to keep items useful to the county rather than having to spend taxpayer money to go out and purchase them.

Dreher said he would, in the future, request committee approval any time something is taken from an in rem property for county use.

“If there’s usable stuff in there, it will be on the agenda so you guys can take action on it,” he said.

Supervisor Mike McClelland, however, said he was “uncomfortable with the whole situation” and felt all abandoned items at in rem properties should be left where they are.

Other committee members said it could save the county money, but, in another apparent reference to the Switalla case, McClelland said saving money should not be worth potential larger problems.

“At the expense at another big deal with like another county board supervisor thing?” he said. “I just don’t think it’s worth it.”

McClelland cast the sole vote against the new practice.

Supervisor Deb Noffke was late for the meeting and missed that discussion and vote, but at a later point encouraged adopting a policy dealing with abandoned items at foreclosed properties.

“We really do need to come up with some kind of policy or procedure that’s followed by everybody, whether it’s a county staff member or it’s a county board member,” she said.

A discussion of procedures and possible new rules for dealing with in rem properties had been expected to be part of Tuesday’s public property committee agenda, but has been pushed back while talks also go on with the finance committee.