APPLETON — Warren Rau has served on the Appleton Ambulance squad for 34 years, and has served on the Appleton Area Health board of directors during the tenures of its previous two chief executive officers.
Both of the CEOs told Appleton City Council members during a special meeting on Monday afternoon that Rau played an important role in saving the hospital. When the hospital was at the brink of financial collapse and employee turnover topped 50 percent, Rau met individually with employees to assure them the hospital had a future, according to former CEOs Lori Andreas and Kathy Johnson.
Former CEO Kathy Johnson told council members that if someone is looking for a "yes" man, Rau is not their guy. She said that if you are looking for someone who will hold people's feet to the fire and raise questions, Rau is the board member you want.
The two were among a line-up of city residents who demanded that City Council members provide Rau with a formal hearing and opportunity to defend himself before booting him from the hospital’s board of directors.
City Council members agreed. After nearly an hour’s worth of comments from the public and some from Rau, council members agreed to continue a public hearing until 7 p.m. June 10 on Mayor Dan Tosel’s demands that Rau be immediately removed from the hospital board.
Charging that Rau “continues to be disruptive,” Mayor Tosel opened the special meeting on Monday by asking for his immediate removal from the board. The mayor charged that Rau has disregarded legal advice, engaged in Open Meeting Law violations, attempted to politically discipline city employees, and published opinions in the Appleton Press as the chair of the hospital board, even though the board had not approved the statements.
The mayor said Rau had requested that Tosel resign from the hospital board “without any justification.”
The mayor also said that Rau was “disruptive” at an April 27 meeting that included the city administrator, hospital staff and board members. The mayor charged that Rau passed around a document at the meeting stating that City Administrator Willie Morales should not be part of the process to recruit a new CEO for the health system.
At Monday’s special meeting, Rau told council members that he had received a phone call a few days earlier from the city administrator inviting him. Rau said he had not received any formal complaint or outline of the accusations against him beforehand. He learned of some of the accusations and the purpose of Monday’s meeting only because his wife found posts about them on Facebook, he told the council members.
“I’m not sure this is a legal hearing,” said Rau. He also balked at Mayor Tosel’s initial demand that he limit his response to the accusations made verbally to him at the meeting in one or two minutes' time. He said he was not being allowed an adequate opportunity to defend himself.
The mayor allowed more time. Rau said he had no idea what was being referenced in some of the accusations. He said he did make known his belief that the recruiting process for a new CEO should be led by the hospital’s human resources director, the recruitment firm employed by the hospital, and the hospital board.
He said he also spoke directly to Mayor Tosel about his belief that the mayor should not be on the hospital board. Rau said he felt the two had parted amicably after they had the private discussion about his concern.
He also submitted copies of emails and written materials in his defense, but the mayor said they would not take the time to review them at the Monday hearing.
“If I am not able to furnish an adequate defense, I guess I am done. We’ll see where that leads,” said Rau as the hearing on the charges against him was ended.
During a public forum that followed, former city attorney Brian Wojtalewicz told council members that it was a mistake not to allow for due process and the opportunity for Rau to prepare responses to a formal complaint.
Gary Hendrickx, a Swift County Commissioner, was among a number of people who came to the podium to speak on behalf of Rau. The commissioner said he and Rau had served on the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission board. They disagreed on some matters, but Hendrickx said Rau spoke up for what he felt was right. “Appears to me Warren did what a board member should do,” Hendrickx said.
A number of those who addressed the council said the strife in the community and dispute between the City Council and the hospital is proving harmful.
“Who wants to come here,” said Cindy Enke, who described herself as a longtime resident.
Dru Tosel, brother of the mayor, was the lone person to speak in favor of removing Rau from the hospital board. He told council members that it should be treated as a business matter and, as elected officials, they had the authority to remove him.
Council members did not support a motion made at the meeting’s start to remove Rau, and instead approved a motion calling for the public hearing on June 10.