Page 1 of 1

Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Tue Aug 22, 2006 5:01 pm
by Tomahawk Leader
An editorial that appeared in the Aug. 22 Tomahawk Leader

We’ll be the first to admit that the following item is “old news.” But the fact that it apparently never made it into news reports is what troubled us and makes it news today. We were encouraged not to make note of this news item by at least two high-ranking Merrill officials, which troubled us even further.

Public governmental officials need to be held to an open and higher standard. And, if by chance, their wrong-doings are treated any differently than the rest of us, we all have reason for concern.

That’s what left us wondering: Why did the issue of a Merrill official who was cited for hit and run after reportedly striking the Merrill City Hall building in late 2004 never see daylight?

Here’s the story: City Attorney Thomas Hayden, 53, Merrill, received the ticket from the Merrill Police Department after authorities investigated witness statements. According to reports acquired by the Tomahawk Leader through the Wisconsin Open Records Law, a Merrill City Hall employee observed Hayden leave his office around 9 a.m. Dec. 28, 2004, to get his tires checked. At that time, Hayden was “mumbling … swaying … and his eyelids appeared very heavy,” stated the witness, who gave a statement the following day.

The witness then reported hearing a crash outside her window and when she looked, saw Hayden’s 2005 SUV Jeep parked in the alley along East First Street. Hayden was reportedly standing outside the vehicle where it appeared he hit the building. He then left the premises and returned around 9:30 a.m., documents state. Hayden gave consent for police to take his vehicle – which received $1,300 in right front-end damage – for photographing. The building did not sustain damage, according to the reports.

The city attorney acknowledged to police that he “hit something” as he traveled westbound from the City Hall parking lot into the alley. Hayden said he did not receive any injuries. When questioned why he did not tell anyone that he hit the city hall building, the report says Hayden said, “I didn’t think it was worth talking about.” A crash report cites “inattentive driving” as an officer’s opinion of possible contributing circumstances to the accident. Drug tests were not given and the presence of alcohol and drugs was listed as “unknown.” Hayden declined comment. Merrill Police Chief Neil Strobel also declined comment on the investigation.

Admittedly, the Leader does not read Merrill Police Department reports regularly. Therefore, the Leader would not have seen the Hayden report when it became a closed investigation and was open for public review. However, why wasn’t this issue brought to light in any other fashion or media? While there is no one obvious source to lay blame upon, the question remains: In a state where open records are a right by statute, why wasn’t this report regarding a public official brought to the public’s attention when it occurred?

Re: Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:06 pm
by Catfish
Yes, it's Hush-Hush in Merrill. Seems it's who you know. Protect each other if you're a "good ol" boy. Didn't know about the city attorney but reminds me of a similar story with me:....

I was sitting in a Merrill restaurant eating breakfast one Sunday morning when the waitress asked me if that was my motorcycle outside. I said yes and she told me some guy just knocked it over and was backing over it. I threw my fork down and ran outside to see this guy in a 1986 Buick leaving the parking lot to the street on two wheels he was in such a hurry.

Two ladies dressed from church were standing there and said they watched the whole thing. They said after he knocked it over and backed over it, he stuck his head out the window to see what he was hitting and threw it into forward gear and tore off.

The ladies husband owned a funeral parler in Merrill and she was with her mother. She told me she wrote down the guy's license number. I asked her if she'd stay until the police arrived. When she gave the officer the number he got my name and phone number and said he be in touch.

The next day the police called to say they knew the guy very well and not to worry the guy has very good insurance and your bike will be paid for. They said he was old and didn't mean any harm. He's sorry.

I asked if he was charged with "hit and run". I was told no, and asked why not. They said because he was a very nice man and well liked in the community. He also does lots of work for charities. I said if I hit someones vehicle and did mega damage and left, I would have been charged. The officer than said, "Mr. Catfish, if your bike is being paid for by the man's insurance, what difference is it to you whether or not he was charged?"

Does anybody know what the difference is?

Re: Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Wed Aug 23, 2006 7:38 pm
by Deb Richardson
Egad, strains of Waylan Jennings!!! Been there done that, but only with the Tomahawk PD. A nice elderly gentleman that was a life long friend of the now retired PD officer. I get hit in my rear quarter panel at the 4-way and I get the ticket because I had ice on my windshield. True, I had some ice on my windshield, but I could see that it was clear for me to go. I didn't run the stop sign but got the ticket. Being a nice guy doesn't mean crap when you are to the point that you shouldn't be driving any longer and are a hazzard on the road. Let's protect the nice well liked elderly driver and pray to God that he doesn't kill someone the next time.

Re: Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Fri Aug 25, 2006 10:54 am
by hjs558
I live in Merrill and after reading this editorial, I emailed the Foto News as follows:

Alot of people in this town are very upset by the editorial printed in the Tomahawk Leader on Aug. 22, including myself. I have dealt with the city attorney in the past. The city attorney has a history of taking things to trial and losing the conviction because he didn't have a case or strong evidence to begin with, i.e. wasting taxpayer dollars. People have said "he should not be able to make the kind of decisions he is making toward our children when we don't know if he has a drinking or a drug problem!!!!!!"

Merrill City police are constantly out on the prowl looking for and arresting drunk drivers. Just go to the City Hall on any given Monday and you'll see that 90% of all the cases brought before the Judge are for drunk driving or underage drinking. That's all good and fine, but they should remain objective in doing so and not give preferential treatment to those persons who have certain status in this community.

My question to the Foto News is simply this: Do you have the guts to run a story and address this issue or have you joined the ranks of protecting the city officials?

NOTE: I sent this 2 days ago and they have not responded to me.

Re: Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Mon Aug 28, 2006 6:59 pm
by katiekay
I think it pretty obvious about the Foto News' guts, or lack there of when it comes to dealing with the city officials in Merrill. The Foto News, along with the Wretched Daily Herald have had the scoop on this incident since it happened and yet neither have printed a word.

I guess they must have gotten the same run around that the Leader got, but unlike the Leader they caved to the pressure. When the government is allowed to dictate what we read in the news what kind of government do we have? I'm thinking maybe the same kind of government that Germany had in the 30's & 40's and the Old Soviet Union had.

The Leader was polite and stated that they were "encouraged" not to write about the incident. I wonder what form this "encouraging" took? And could it be considered an attempt to "blackmail" the free press.

Kudos to the Leader!

<small>[ August 28, 2006, 07:00 PM: Message edited by: KatieKay ]</small>

Re: Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Tue Aug 29, 2006 11:46 am
by hjs558
Well said KatieKay! I think that the more people there are who make noise about this issue, the more likely that the Foto News will be unable to ignore addressing this issue. Maybe we can collectively write a letter to the editor of the Foto News and hope that they print it. If not, maybe we could take this to a higher level. I just don't think that this issue should be swept under the carpet.

Re: Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Tue Aug 29, 2006 1:17 pm
by cgessler
That's why the Tomahawk Leader is Lincoln County's OFFICAL newspaper. They don't take any crap from anyone. Way to go Tomahawk Leader, reporting the story like true journalists!

Re: Merrill city attorney cited, who knew?

Posted: Tue Aug 29, 2006 7:21 pm
by katiekay
This and every other issue in Merrill city government should be out in the open!! But unless it is a picture of a ribbon cutting or a sound bite on some non-news issue like seat belts none of the local media except the Leader are interested! When local officials get away with strong arming the media to keep things from getting in the news the free press ceases to exist. Maybe the media 'round the world should report the news the way the Herald & Foto News do---only tell us the good stuff. Wouldn't the world be a better place? Or would we get tired of keeping our heads in the sand?