APPLETON — Turmoil continues in Appleton over the relationship between the City Council and the city-owned health care system, and the alleged role of the city administrator in it.
On a voice vote Thursday evening, City Council members unanimously removed Warren Rau from the Appleton Area Health board of directors. The longtime ambulance volunteer and board member challenged Mayor Dan Tosel’s demand that he be ousted from the board at a hearing last month. The mayor and council members held a continued hearing Thursday at which Rau and his legal counsel, Brian Wojtalewicz, presented testimony and evidence to refute the mayor’s allegations against him.
After hearing the courtroom-style testimony, council members supported a resolution without discussion that removed Rau based on the mayor’s allegations. Many in the standing-room-only crowd who had come to support Rau expressed their dismay after the vote. They patted Rau on the back and shook his hand as they left the meeting.
Rau told the West Central Tribune that the vote had not surprised him. “In my opinion, they made the decision before the last meeting,” he said.
Council member Gary Borstad, who faced criticism from some of Rau’s supporters when he left the meeting, told the West Central Tribune that he had made his vote in good conscience. He said that Rau’s supporters had not been to all of the meetings with him.
The mayor charged that Rau had created a hostile environment with City Administrator Willie Morales; had rejected legal advice from City Attorney Danielle Olson; published a letter to the editor that was not representative of the board; and misrepresented the will of the hospital board in meetings with the city council.
Wojtalewicz told council members that the accusations against Rau came from the city administrator in an attempt to have Rau removed from the board.
“The hidden, overarching motive is simply this: Warren Rau refused to lay down to the attempts by Mr. Morales to wrongfully micromanage and exert power in an area where Mr. Morales was not competent: health care finance and administration of a health care institution.”
The city administrator was not present at Thursday’s hearing.
In his testimony Thursday, Rau said he was concerned by the city administrator’s work to draft city ordinances giving the city control over the day-to-day operations of the health care system. They included a proposal that would have required the mayor to sign all checks. He was also concerned by city action to increase City Council representation from one to two of the five-person board, and for the City Council to have authority over hiring and firing.
Rau charged that Morales had an antagonistic relationship with the hospital’s former CEO, Lori Andreas. She announced her resignation a few months after a public incident in which the city administrator was heard referring to her as “crazy Lori” during a break in a City Council meeting last year.
Rau said he was concerned about the motive behind demands made by Morales to the hospital CEO for financial information. Wojtalewicz charged that Morales acted as if "he believed that Andreas was doing something wrong with the hospital money.”
Said Rau: “He was, in my opinion, trying to plant the seed, that idea in the minds of the City Council. I opposed it and tried to draw attention to it,” he said of the reasons for his concerns.
The newly removed hospital board member denied that he had rejected the city’s attorney advice at a board meeting as accused by the mayor. He said he did not consider it legal advice when Olson told him not to read excerpts from a newspaper article about a separation agreement in 2017 between Morales and the city of Northfield, Massachusetts. Rau said the article spoke to the very conflicts that existed in the community between the administrator and city employees.
“A carbon copy of what we were going through,” he told council members.
Asked by City Attorney Olson at Thursday’s hearing if he wanted Morales removed as city administrator, Rau said he had eventually come to that opinion.
“His behavior has created a great deal of unrest and turmoil within the staff and management of the hospital,” Rau said.
Conflict between the city and the health care system became public over a year ago with a City Council decision to transfer financial responsibility for the ambulance system to the hospital.
A sign of the continued turmoil in the community was evident last month when prior to the first special meeting on the demands to remove Rau, a resident vented his frustration with the city administrator in a hallway encounter at the City Hall.
City Administrator Morales obtained a trespass order banning Mitchell Fett from the premises of the City Hall. Two Appleton police officers were waiting at an entry to the building prior to the Thursday evening hearing and turned Fett away from entering.