Madison board dismisses ethics complaint against Mayor Paul Soglin but says it can be refiled

April 5, 2019

A city board dismissed an ethics complaint made by a former city employee against Mayor Paul Soglin on Thursday, but said it can be refiled.

The Madison Ethics Board dismissed all of the complaints made by Laura Doherty, former assistant city assessor for commercial property, saying the board lacked jurisdiction to rule on the allegations, which included claims that Soglin undervalued commercial properties to benefit major developers.

She also accused Soglin of unfairly trying to oust her from her job.

Soglin has denied the accusations. Doherty was terminated for a policy violation on Dec. 31, 2018.

Most of the claims involved alleged violations of state statute, which the board said it lacked jurisdiction to consider.

In another claim, Doherty alleged that Soglin committed a city ethics code violation by not acting in the best interests of the public and instead worked to benefit commercial developers.

The board said it also lacked jurisdiction to hear those claims because the ethics code section Soglin allegedly violated would require a different body, such as a court, to first rule that he broke the law.

“Where I land, as (the complaint is) written, I don’t believe we have jurisdiction,” said board member Drew Cochrane.

The ethics board said Doherty could refile her complaint if she can allege that Soglin violated other parts of the ethics code, which Cochrane said a broad reading of the complaint supports.

“She’s close (to having a complaint the board could consider),” he said. “Whether she can prove it or not, of course, is an entirely different matter.”

The board said complaints must be filed within one year of alleged violations. It’s unclear if Doherty can claim that Soglin violated ethics rules within that time period.

Neither Doherty nor Soglin were at the meeting. Doherty told city officials she couldn’t attend Thursday’s meeting because she needed to care for an ill family member and requested a scheduling change.

Soglin has previously denied the claims, saying Doherty is a disgruntled former employee that used flawed methods to assess commercial properties, which led to a high number of appeals that resulted in favorable adjustments to values for property owners.

In an email Thursday night, Soglin didn’t respond to questions, saying only, “I am not going to repeat myself.”

Doherty couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday evening.