Eau Claire County Board votes to remove Nick Smiar as Board Chair

Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 9:54 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - The Eau Claire County Board has made a decision on its leadership following an investigation into the county’s Department of Human Services.

A motion to remove Nick Smiar as chair of the Eau Claire County Board passed with a 17-9 vote Wednesday night, after many heated exchanges during a special session.

“I make a motion to remove chairman Nick Smiar from the position of Eau Claire County Board Chairman effective immediately,” said Dane Zook, Eau Claire County Board Supervisor for District 6.

He made that motion around 8:30 p.m., after Eau Claire County Sheriff Dave Rewiestahl made his presentation on the Sheriff’s Office investigation into a $1.1 million discrepancy with the 2019 DHS, that resulted in the department being $3 million over budget.

A private law firm hired by the board, von Brieson and Roper, recently concluded there was no malicious intent behind the discrepancy. Still, the county board felt leadership needed to be held accountable for the massive mishandling of taxpayer funds that happened on their watch, and all the time spent looking into it. The original investigation was launched in 2020 by the late Sheriff Ron Cramer.

“Somebody asked for positive comments about Chair Smiar, I won’t be offering any of those,” said Steve Chilson, Eau Claire County Board Supervisor for District 7.

The session turned sour when other supervisors sounded off, making their opinions of the former chair clear before passing the motion to oust him.

“Thank you, Chair for your honesty in saying you were aware of the theft immediately. You said that. The sheriff said you should have reported it. Your own attorneys from administration said twice that should have been reported to law enforcement immediately and you did not,” said Mark Beckfield, Eau Claire County Board Supervisor for District 21.

Former Chair Smiar defended himself, suggesting the oversight from the oversight committees was not on him.

“But my response to that, if you are not satisfied with that, if you think that oversight committee did not do it’s job, then you go to the administration committee, which is the committee of committees. That did not happen… that did not happen,” said Smiar.

There were board members who disagreed with the motion, and let it be known before voting on it moments after.

“I think doing this tonight is not going to get rid of the problem,” said Jim Dunning, Eau Claire County Board Supervisor for District 18.

Some members of the board said the timing was not right.

“I think we do need to take that up in the next election session. That’s my opinion,” said Kimberly Cronk, Eau Claire County Board Supervisor for District 28.

The motion still passed, with other board members expressing their reservations on leadership.

“It is disconcerting frankly seeing elected officials accusing other elected officials of cover ups, of lying, in public and by name,” said Nathan Otto, Eau Claire County Board Supervisor for District 11.

The board passed a motion to adjourn the special session just before 10 p.m. and to hold another special session at a later time, to be determined.

County Administrator Kathryn Schauf is still one of the items to be discussed.

Moments after the end of the special session WEAU had a chance to speak to Smiar.

He said at the end of the night the board made its decision, and there’s not much he can do about it.

When it comes to his replacement, that will be decided in the board’s next regular session Tuesday.

His replacement will serve until Spring of 2024.

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - During a special session Wednesday night, the Eau Claire County Board approved a motion to remove Nick Smiar as County Board Chair following the results of an investigation into a budget discrepancy within the county’s Department of Human Services.

The motion was introduced just after 8:30 P.M., and was approved following a 17-9 vote.

Wednesday’s special session discussed the findings from the investigation into a $1.1 million error from the 2019 DHS budget, which resulted in the department being $3 million over budget.

During Wednesday’s meeting, board members blamed Smiar for the way the investigation into the DHS was handled, saying the discussion over the budget error has gone on for too long.

This is a developing situation, and this story will be updated with further details.