DARLINGTON — Jack Sauer, Lafayette County Board – Chairman, was found Not Guilty of Disorderly Conduct by jury trial at the Lafayette County Courtroom, Monday, April 24, 2017. The trial began at 9:00 a.m. and lasted through the day and the final verdict came out at 6:30 p.m.
The charges, filed by the City of Darlington, stem from a Lafayette County Land Conservation meeting that was held Oct. 4, 2016. The meeting featured a “highly energized discussion” addressing alleged problems in the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
After jury selection, substitute Judge John Wood began the trial with the the jury hearing opening arguments by both attorneys. The city’s prosecution was represented by Jordan Feest of Voegeli, Ewald & Bartholf Law Offices, S.C. Sauer was represented by Robert Duxstad of Dexstad & Bestul, S.C. The first witness was Benjamin Conway, police officer for the City of Darlington. Conway said he received a phone call from Warren Hanson of FSA stating that Jack Sauer would be receiving a letter from FSA, banning him from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) building in Darlington because of an incident that had taken place at a Oct. 4, 2016 meeting. Conway contacted Leone Wolfe, County Board member and chair of Land Conservation; Kriss Marion, County Board member and member of Land Conservation and also contacted Sauer. Sauer did not speak to Conway on two occasions and left a voice message that he would not speak with Conway and any further conversations needed to go through his attorney. That concluded the investigation.
When asked what he concluded from his investigation, Conway stated he issued Sauer an ordinance citation for disorderly conduct. When asked why he issued the citation, Conway stated he believed Sauer’s behavior constituted a violation of our ordinance.
On cross it was established that FSA did not contact Conway to have him arrested; prior to the call from Hanson the Darlington Police Dept. had not heard anything regarding the Oct. 4 meeting; The citation was mailed to Sauer and a news release was sent to the press at the same time; Chief Jason King knew about the citation before it was sent out.
The second witness called by the prosecution was Wolfe who testified that the agenda approved by himself and the committee included item ‘#6 Randy Kunsman – Farm Service Agency’ that item was on the agenda to address problems with FSA and specifically Monica Yates Olsen, director. The item was moved down in the agenda as the FSA representatives – Randy Kunsman, Patty Edelburg, Brandon Soldner and Warren Hanson, were late in arriving. Once they arrived a lively discussion ensued.
Wolfe opened the floor for discussion regarding item #6. Sauer was the first to speak. Wolfe said Sauer raised his voice. Wolfe closed the door to the FSA part of the building because the tone was getting loud. Wolfe said Sauer was angry and frustrated. When asked if Sauer used profanity, Wolfe answered yes. I think Sauer said, “I’m going to make it my lifetime goal to get rid of this bitch (referring to Olsen)”. Wolfe stated Sauer used the slang towelhead, referring to an aide that worked for Senator Ron Johnson’s office. Several other people spoke, committee members and public, and the session last approximately 40 minutes. Duxstad established that bitch in this case could mean ‘an overbearing woman’.
“At the meeting Sauer asked several times” Wolfe said, “who is responsible for the hiring and firing of FSA personnel? The FSA representatives did not respond.”
Roger Lange, Conservationist and Program Specialist, who was at the meeting testified that Sauer was yelling and very passionate. Lange heard Sauer say he was going to make it his life’s mission to fire that bitch, he also heard the towelhead remark.
Warren Hanson, USGA Administration Officer, testified the reason for the meeting became clear, it was for firing Monica, and not ironing out problems with FSA. Sauer spoke forceful and he was upset. He heard Sauer say that Monica was the biggest bitch he’s ever seen. He also heard the towelhead remark. There was no discussion of any other solutions, just fire Olsen. Hanson said he had notes on the meeting and read those notes before the hearing. Duxstad asked if he could see the notes. An objection by Hanson’s attorney resulted in the court denying Duxstad those notes. Hanson acknowledged problems with Olsen and the Darlington FSA office. He was asked if he remembered Sauer asking how to get Olsen fired and answered that question was asked several times. Duxstad then asked if anyone from the state answered and he responded – no. Hanson said the meeting ended on a calmer note.
The prosecution rests. At this point Attorney Duxstad asked for a dismissal stating the prosecution had not met their burden, specifically there was not testimony showing that Sauer was guilty of violating the city’s disorderly conduct ordinance. This was denied by Judge Wood.
The defense began their case by calling Nikki Larson, Lafayette County Conservation and Zoning Office Administrative Assistant, to the stand. Larson takes notes and produces minutes for the Land Conservation meetings. After the minutes were made and approved Larson said she routinely destroys the notes. She stated Sauer was speaking in a loud voice and he was frustrated, but noted there was a lot of people in the room and he wanted to be heard. Larson heard the bitch word and the towelhead comment, but said she had heard worse language from other people at other meetings. Larson stated that at no time did Wolfe tell Sauer to lower his voice or admonish him for language. At no time did Sauer threaten the physical safety of anyone.
Micah Bahr, committee member, testified he heard Sauer repeat a story his son told him about a friend that said Olsen was a bitch to work for. Bahr said Sauer said someone had a towel on their head, but didn’t hear the context.
Mark Kieler – farmer at the meeting, testified he heard Sauer repeat a story of his son’s friend, who worked for Olsen and quit after three days and stated nobody could work for that bitch. He said Sauer’s voice was a little elevated and not causing a disturbance. He didn’t hear the towel comment.
John Bartels, County Board member and committee member, didn’t hear any profane or ethnic disparaging language. He said Sauer was complaining that FSA is not getting things done or sending checks out on time.
Kriss Marion, County Board member and committee member, stated the committee wasn’t able to interact with the FSA representatives and thought the structure of the meeting was at fault. Marion said she has gotten a lot of comments regarding problems in general about the FSA office in Darlington. She said Sauer was frustrated and was loud. None of the local FSA employees were present, including Olsen. Marion heard the bitch comment in relation to Sauer repeating a story of his son’s friend. She did not hear the towel comment.
Edard James, farmer and committee member, testified “I recall this committee has been trying to get the state FSA to come down here, because we were having issues with our director (Olsen), the county was becoming frustrated with the way things were done here.” When asked if he was surprised that Olsen wasn’t at the meeting, he responded that he was.
Terry Loeffelholz, Lafayette County Land Conservation/Zoning Department Head, testified that Sauer started by speaking in a regular voice, then spoke in a louder voice. He wasn’t yelling. Loeffelholz recounted a reaction from Kunsman, saying that Kunsman laughed at a complaint that Sauer spoke of and Loeffelholz thought that fueled the angst of Sauer. Loeffelholz heard Sauer reference the word bitch, in repeating what other farmers said about Olsen. He said Sauer and the public at the meeting named multiple things that were wrong with FSA, but most of it was not processing farmer’s paperwork, that would get farmers paid for a program. Loeffelholz said he has heard far worse language at meetings and in his office and thought the Sauer disorderly conduct was a huge overreaction.
Finally Jack Sauer, farmer and Lafayette County Board chairman, took the stand. Sauer has served on the County Board 19 years over the last 21 years and has been the chairman for all the years he was serving. He said ever since Olsen has been at the FSA (ten years) he has been receiving complaints. The complaints have ranged from CRP, lateness in payments and a whole lot of different problems. Sauer said he has never had a problem personally (farming) with Olsen. A 2013 pasture program payment was to be paid in July and payments (for several farmers) weren’t received until October and payments were about 35% lower then the equation dictated.
Sauer said he went to the Land Conservation meeting on Oct. 4, 2016 because he had received over 30 complaints and I knew there was an underlying problem and I wanted to speak to the state FSA representatives about it. At the meeting, I started out by saying, you got 160 complaints last year, what are you going to do about it, all I got was blank stares. I started out in a regular voice and it did increase from there. I used the word bitch, one time. During the discussion regarding long-term employees leaving, I related a story about my son’s friend who worked for Olsen and she lasted two weeks. She said Monica was the biggest bitch that she had ever worked for. I merely stated what was told to me.
I started a petition to take Monica out of her position as director. It started a year ago, I was told if I got enough signatures, that would be enough to have her removed. I have never sent the petition in, because no one would tell me where to send it. The towel comment: I contacted Ron Johnson’s office, I got the machine, so I related our problems with FSA and Olsen, I got a call back from Amy, she left a voice mail on my phone that said the FFA was a national organization and we couldn’t do anything about that. I called back two more times and never got to speak to anyone to deal with my concerns. Then in 2015 a representative from Johnson’s office wanted to speak at a County Board meeting, I related my negative experience with his office and he agreed to speak to me at a later date. I spoke to him a week later for a half an hour and then I never heard from him again. So at the conservation meeting I referenced that a person with a towel around his head showed up at a County Board meeting. I had no idea what his nationality was. I was just describing what I saw.
When the portion of the conservation meeting was over, I left and so did the FSA representatives. Ten days later I received a letter from FSA, saying I was no longer welcome in the USDA building in Darlington. The letter suggested that I go to the FSA in Green County. I have since gone to Green County FSA on different occasions. It’s a relaxed environment, very professional and easy to work with. I am still hearing complaints about Olsen.
In cross Sauer admitted to using the bitch word (in the context he described). He was asked if towelhead was an offensive word. Sauer answered in the context that I used it no, if you’re referring to an ethnicity then yes.
The defense rests.
Closing arguments were given by Feest and Duxstad and the case was given to the jury. The jury came back in the time it took to eat a couple slices of pizza (30 minutes) and the verdict was read by Judge John Wood – Not Guilty.
Sauer commented that this jury trial did not cost the taxpayers of Lafayette County anything and wondered how much it cost the City of Darlington.
••By way of background, here is an excerpt of the minutes of the Oct. 4, 2016 meeting
Edleburg had asked to meet to help resolve the numerous complaints from Lafayette County.
Sauer stated he would like to know what they are doing with the concerns. She (Olsen) needs to be gone. He stated he had started a petition in April, but is waiting to find out what should be done with it to get action on it. He also stated that Monica no longer comes to the counter if he is here.
Following the highly energized discussion, Edelburg asked for specifics.
Sauer- All the old employees are gone. State response said it was because of retirements. Sauer said not all were retirements; a transfer, took other jobs, and one employee only stayed 2 weeks before she quit.
Program sign-ups always start late, and then you end up being put on a register. If you miss, you pay for a late sign-up.
Sauer & Kieler regarding disaster program for pastures - deductions for trees, then there wasn’t enough pasture for the number of cattle. Payments were significantly reduced.
ARC - Was told last fall they needed rentals for 2014, and it was the first one he had brought in. Payments are a month later than Grant County. Everything has to go across Monica’s desk.
Who has the right to fire her? Unanswered.
One farmer had told Sauer he had complained, and everything he said was twisted.
Another with land in Grant and Lafayette Counties was the only one who told him he didn’t want to see someone without a job. Lafayette County farmers don’t need to be treated like this.
Marion - New County Board member. Most of the calls she has received have something to do with FSA. She had complaints about - calls not being returned. Call back to sign up in 2 weeks; deadlines being missed and then receiving fines, complaints that Monica feels she has to check everything, Producers can’t get through the programs before the deadlines; People don’t want to come into the office; Phone calls not being returned for 2 weeks (a recurring theme); Needs to manage and delegate.
People are discouraged from participating in Conservation programs because of this,
Producers can’t get through the programs before the deadlines.
People don’t want to come into the office,
Phone calls not being returned for 2 weeks (a recurring theme).
Needs to manage and delegate.
Sauer asked again about the procedure for complaints, He has the petition, but doesn’t know where to take it. He has called Senator Johnson’s office - the aide thought it was about FFA. He has considered sending it to Kansas City.
Wolfe stated that at one time, it was the County Committee who hired and fired. Federal employees do have protections, but there is a system. No comment from the State Office,
Laeser - Met a couple of years ago, and had some of the same issues, He started the contract prior to Olsen being here. He received a letter to do a burn. There was some confusion on his part when he received a letter that he needed to report the burn. At the time he sent a letter saying he felt the FSA letters should be re-written to be more understandable. His comment was, that he felt he” paid” for sending the letter. Laeser appealed to the State. His cost report (for the burn) was sent in 2015, August 1 or 15. It was not paid until April of 2016. Since his letter he has had lots of issues, An inspection request to verify the tree contract, which the Forester had approved, was terminated because it was not planted correctly, Six months were lost in a land purchase because of this.
For a CREP re-enrollment they were told there were too many trees, and there will be a fine and payback. He will appeal.
Kieler - many producers are dropping out of programs .
Sauer - Producers are not in programs for Conservation, but only because of Crop Insurance, Also, Bard Materials has a quarry with 8.5 acres of cropland. He has a written contract for this land, but it took 3 years to get on the 578. “I don’t want to see anyone without a job. Don’t fire her, but change her County.’ At the start (of Olsen’s employment here) he got questions from CRP producers about firing her. He told them she was a Federal employee, not County.
Laeser commented that many he knows have dropped out because of the rules.
Soldner stated that they work with specific job sheets, Laeser asked where do we go if we feel the job sheets should be changed? The State Technical Committee is in charge of those, The Committee has members from NRCS, Pheasants Forever, DNR, US Fish & Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy. NRCS is the technical arm, and have worked with many successfully,
Sauer - The first 3 years most of his calls were CREP calls with technical errors.
Laeser - he had an early contract with scrapes on a CREP contract. He was docked for this. At renewal he has CRP-21 bordering CRP-23. He tore up the tile. It is a conservation area. Soldner stated that they are working on. a solution.
Sauer asked who he needs to contact to resolve this.
Edelburg said they need the team to meet.