Board hires consultant to evaluate courtrooms

September 20, 2018

JUNEAU -- After hearing from two longtime Dodge County Circuit Court judges Tuesday night, county board supervisors agreed it was time to hire a consultant for $70,000 to evaluate the audio/visual technology in five of its courtrooms, one video courtroom in the Dodge County Jail and one holding cell video courtroom.

Before it came to a vote Tuesday, the county had already assembled an evaluation team comprised of representatives from the Dodge County Circuit Courts, the county’s information technology department, the district attorney’s office and the physical facilities maintenance department to bring in a consultant to explore possible upgrades in equipment and software in the courtrooms and the other areas.

County Supervisor Cathy Houchin, who is a member of the county’s building committee, asked why her committee was not involved in the any of the discussions about the upgrades, whereas the financial, technology and judicial committees were involved in the decision-making process.

“I question this because I feel like you already spent the CIP (capital improvement plan) $650,000 and I question this amount before we really look at this and examine it,” she said. “When we spend $70,000 for something, people say, ‘Well, we already spent that much we might as well spend the rest.’ I don’t know why we need it for all of the courtrooms.”

Dodge County Circuit Court Judge Steven Bauer simply said the equipment in his courtroom is outdated.

“If a bulb blows right now it will be very difficult to find a bulb to replace it,” he said. “We have 20-year-old equipment. I am not sure on the $650,000 cost. It blows my mind, but that’s why we have a consultant looking at the equipment and to give us some direction as to where we are looking.”

Bauer said the times have changed.

“All of the judges that are in Dodge County started trying out cases on an easel with a board and a magic marker, but that’s not the way the younger people are today,” he said.

Dodge County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Sciascia agreed with Bauer.

“Every courtroom needs a good microphone system. I need to hear what the witnesses are saying. The court reporter needs to hear it. The lawyers need to hear it and the jury needs to hear it,” Sciascia said. “We have a projector similar to the one you have here (in the county board room). The projector is not made anymore and the bulbs are not made anymore so we’re trying to stretch that bulb until we get a new system, which means if a district attorney wants to put exhibit number one up on the screen so everybody can see it I want to shut the camera off because it might be three hours before we need that bulb again.”

He said every time he raises and lowers the screen it resets the levels on all of the microphones in his courtroom so then he has to use a touch pad to reset everything otherwise his courtroom will be filled with “painful” feedback.

Sciascia said if a cell phone is left on, it causes interference as does raising and lowering the screen.

He said he often uses telephones in his courtroom to take testimony from doctors so they do not need to travel to Dodge County where they are paid for their time and travel expenses.

“I can’t make a phone call or receive a phone call unless my touch pad is working,” Sciascia said. “The touch pad doesn’t work all of the time.”

The judge said he will often trade courtrooms with another judge to use the phone for hearings, but they can’t always trade rooms.

“We need a good phone system and a microphone,” he said.

Sciascia said the 20-year-old equipment needs an upgrade because the old equipment doesn’t work with the new technology.

County Supervisor Lisa Derr said she couldn’t believe this was an issue.

“I’m actually shocked that it took this long to bring this here,” she said. “It’s not just the judges who are suffering but the attorneys who are trying to put their cases on and your witnesses are scared and nervous. These are our constituents. I give our judges a lot of credit. This has been going on for a long time.”

Derr said what’s the point of having a “beautiful” courthouse if it is not functional.

The county board agreed to pay $70,000 to Professional Audio Designs Inc. of Wauwatosa for audio visual/acoustical consulting services related to the five courtrooms, Pod B intake video court and one holding cell.

Dodge County Board of Supervisors Chairman Russell Kottke said the study would take several months to complete, but the $650,000 is set aside in the 2019 budget to cover the project’s full costs, if needed.

In other business, the county supervisors decided to withdraw from the Wisconsin Public Employers’ Group Health program (state health plan) and go with Dean Care for health insurance. The multiyear contract with the insurance company is for four years, but Dodge County is not locked into the plan.

Supervisors Donna Maly and Mary Bobholz said they both received letters from employees who were not happy with the change of insurance the county was contemplating.

Dodge County Human Resources Director Sarah Hinze told the board Tuesday there was a series of meetings held on the insurance change and all of the county’s employees were invited to attend.

“The sessions were designed to go over the new plan options including the high deductible, the low deductible and a broad overview of what a health savings account is,” Hinze said.

Bobholz said she endured a “rough weekend” because wherever she went she heard from employees concerned about the insurance change.

“They are really concerned that this health savings account that we’re putting the money into -- we’re saying we’re doing it for the first year -- they are taking a big cut in pay,” she said.

Dodge County Human Resources and Labor Negotiations Chairman and Supervisor Joseph Marsik said there are no guarantees with the state plan, who can change their rates as much as they want.

“In some years the county ate it and in some years we divided it up among the employees, but there are no guarantees,” Marsik said. “The intention is to continue to have the same contribution. We may change how we do it with the contribution. I don’t know what the budget is going to be next year or the year after.”

Hinze said each year there is an open enrollment and employees have the option to bounce from a high deductible to a low deductible plan depending upon their individual needs or if something should change regarding premiums.

The Dodge County board also voted on a resolution to aid relief efforts from last month’s severe weather.

Gov. Scott Walker has announced Tuesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency will conduct a Preliminary Damage Assessment next week in 17 Wisconsin counties, including Jefferson and Dodge, hit hard by flooding and tornadoes.

FEMA officials will begin looking at flood-damaged homes and public infrastructure on Monday.

The county board supervisors also confirmed the following appointments made by county Administrator Jim Mielke:

-- Jody Langfeldt to fill a vacancy on the Commission on Aging and Disability Services. Her term will expire July 1, 2020.

-- Reappoint Caitlin Richardson, Barbara Rich and Ivan Elm to the Nutrition Advisory Council for three-year terms retroactive from July 1, 2018, to July 1, 2021, both inclusive.

-- Reappoint Becky Glewen to the Housing Authority Committee for a five-year term, commencing on Sept. 30, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2023, both inclusive.

-- Reappoint Karen Coley to the Revolving Loan Advisory Committee for a one-term, commencing on Oct. 19, 2018, to Oct. 19, 2019, both inclusive.

The next county board meeting will be 7 p.m. Oct. 23.

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