Issues some Vilas County department heads have had with human resources manager Richard Kipley have snowballed into something much larger and directly involving county board chairman Ron De Bruyne and corporation counsel Jack Albert. 
The seven women — 
Cindy Burzinski, director of the Vilas County tourism department; Laurel Dreger, county public health director; Kate Gardner, county social services director; Sue Richmond, director of the county’s Aging & Disability Resource Center; Dawn Schmidt, county zoning department director; Carolyn Scholl, county land and Water director and Beth Soltow, the county’s clerk of courts — sent a statement to The Lakeland Times on Oct. 6. 
“You recently published an article about an administrative hearing for an ethics complaint in Vilas County,” the statement begins. 
The article, regarding a complaint the women brought against human resources manager Richard Kipley, appeared on page 3 of the Oct. 5 edition of The Lakeland Times.
However, it was not only that article, but events the women allege took place following the presentation of their initial “letter of non-confidence” in Kipley to the human resources committee on Aug. 2, that prompted the Oct. 6 statement sent to the Times. 
“We had initially intended to keep these matters confidential,” the statement reads. “However, since the article included the names of the seven of us, we felt it was essential to speak up so that citizens of Vilas County had a complete understanding of what is happening within the county administration.”
According to the statement, in late July or early August, Albert informed “several of us” that Kipley was seeking a four-classification-pay-raise. “Normally we are not alerted to HR actions unless they directly affect our departments,” said the statement. “Yet, this attempt at reclassification was specifically brought to our attention. The HR manager had only been in his position for two years. We had all worked with him over the past two years in an attempt to recruit and hire quality staff to keep our departments running effectively or for other HR related matters. We had numerous challenges and concerns, and we felt his performance, for many reasons, was subpar. Based on our experiences, we believed a four classification pay raise was wholly unwarranted. We felt it was appropriate to air our concerns on this issue and thus wrote a letter to the HR Committee highlighted with specific examples.”
The women, according to their statement, were soon after informed that after reading their letter, De Bruyne, “who apparently must have been in support of the classification raise,” is alleged by the women to have used a highly offensive, derogatory remark describing them to Albert. 
“It is astonishing, appalling and demoralizing to be spoken of in this manner,” the women said in their statement. “The seven of us collectively have devoted 142 years to Vilas County, most of us being employed for over 20 years. We manage essential departments with numerous employees and substantial budgets.”
The women do acknowledge in the statement none of them personally heard De Bruyne say what he was reported to have said to Albert.
“Although we were not present when those offensive words were spoken, many of us have had, or know of, similar unprofessional interactions with the county board chair,” the statement continues. “We also must mention another disturbing occurrence.”
They then refer to Albert, the “corporation counsel” referred to in their statement, as the person who “started this ball rolling” by informing the women about the HR manager classification hike “and later related the comment made by the county board chair as described above.” 
“We understand both the corporation counsel and the county board chair have now denied all of this,” the women say in their statement. “Several of us were also told by the corporation counsel that we had to leave his name out of our discussions, or he would take us down with him. So that leaves us to wonder – what is the truth? Are we surprised that the county board chair wanted to advance the HR manager pay classification when similar support has never been granted to the female directors and managers? Not really.” 
The women continue in the statement to the Times to claim “an atmosphere of misogyny, defined as ‘an ingrained prejudice against women’ and a good old boys network at the county board level among some board members” exists. 
“We know we are not the only women who have experienced this while in the employ of the county and we suggest that others speak up to tell of their experiences,” the statement reads. “We need a county board chair and board members who value the work of women and will remove those who denigrate female employees.”
All seven women say in the statement they “feel fortunate to live and work in beautiful Vilas County.”
“We hold essential jobs that support the county and we need a county board that understands that sexual discrimination is illegal and misogyny is an outdated and unproductive force,” they say as the statement concludes. “We take this action with the hope that the full county board will take steps to rectify these issues.”

Vilas County response
Vilas County clerk Dave Alleman, responding on behalf of De Bruyne and Albert to emails and phone calls from the Times, issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon.
“The allegations involving Human Resources manager Richard Kipley will be considered in an upcoming closed session meeting by the Human Resources Committee,” he said. 
Alleman said concerning the allegations “put forth” in the Oct. 6 statement sent to the Times by the seven department heads, “the claim that Chairman De Bruyne uttered the purported offensive statement was considered by the Executive & Legislative Committee as a serious ethics violation.”
“That committee first met in closed session on September 9, 2021 and met three more times, with the final meeting occurring on September 23, 2021,” he said in the county’s response. “Over the course of those closed session meetings, the committee interviewed a number of individuals. The committee also reviewed additional evidence concerning the allegations made. At the conclusion of the September 23, 2021 meeting, the committee took the following action in open session:
Motion by (Chuck) Hayes, 2nd by (Mike) Cady that the committee has considered all of the information presented by each of the individuals who appeared during the previous three closed session meetings and finds that there is no corroborating evidence that would permit the committee to proceed with an ethics violation charge. 3 voted aye. 2 voted no: (Walt) Maciag and (Joseph) Wildcat, Sr. Carried.”
The official Vilas County response conveyed by Alleman to the Times states the Oct. 6, 2021 statement from the seven women was found “to contain defamatory, libelous and untruthful claims and allegations.” 
“The County is currently considering legal action against those responsible,” he said. 
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.