Marathon Co. sheriff, jail ignored plan to address problems

Corrections officer seriously injured in March attack

8:18 AM, May 21, 2013  |  Comments
Marathon Co. corrections officer knocked to ground...
Marathon Co. corrections officer knocked to ground...: Corrections Officer Julie Christensen, 36, was critically injured in a March 27 assault by an inmate in the Marathon County Jail.
  • Filed Under

Marathon County officials created an action plan to address problems at the jail two years before a March 27 attack that left two officers injured, but they then put that plan on a shelf and failed to follow through on it.

Information on the failed plan was released last week to a panel of community members tasked with addressing problems at the jail, which has faced intense scrutiny since the attack. Corrections Officer Julie Christensen, 36, was critically injured in the assault; her condition has not been updated since April, when she was in the intensive care unit at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. Fredrick Morris, 20, of Wausau, has been charged in connection with the attack.

The action plan - really more of a plan to come up with specific plans for addressing problems - was formulated in spring 2011 after a 2010 Denison Organizational Culture Survey of employees found widespread dissatisfaction among corrections officers at the Marathon County Jail, Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger said. The survey, administered to county employees every two years, is used nationwide by businesses and organizations as a gauge to measure an organization's effectiveness and culture.

After county officials receive survey results, each department head is tasked with finding ways to address concerns identified in the surveys. But in 2011, that never happened, Karger said.

The survey, which asks questions about teamwork, decision-making, investment in the skills of employees and the core values of leaders and managers, ranks an organization on a scale from 1 to 100, with 1 being the lowest rating and 100 the best. In the 2010 survey, obtained through a Daily Herald Media open records request, corrections staff members rated 41 of 60 categories 10 or lower. By 2012, rankings plummeted even further; 46 of 60 categories received a score of 1, the lowest possible.

After the 2010 survey results were released, then-Marathon County Sheriff Randy Hoenisch established an action plan for the jail, Karger said. Hoenisch scheduled meetings with staff members to develop a process for addressing critical problem areas, to be implemented by fall 2011, according to the action plan documents. Staff meetings were scheduled for September 2011, Karger said, but those meetings were canceled by Hoenisch and never rescheduled.

"Every department gets these survey results," Karger said. "You can see there were problems in corrections back in 2010, but there was no follow-through."

Action plans were created and completed for every other division within the Marathon County Sheriff's Department, Acting Marathon County Chief Deputy Chad Billeb said Thursday, but division leaders typically are responsible for executing those plans. That means the action plan should have been addressed by former Jail Administrator Bob Dickman, Billeb said. Dickman resigned April 17 after 25 years with the department as the jail's many problems were being revealed.

Hoenisch likewise resigned in March after a Daily Herald Media report showed he had spent fewer than two hours in his office in 2013 and fewer than 22 hours since August. Former Chief Deputy Scott Parks was sworn in as Marathon County Sheriff on May 9 after he was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Neither Karger nor Billeb could explain why Dickman appears to have ignored the action plan, or why Hoenisch didn't follow up with the jail administrator to ensure it was being carried out. Neither Hoensich nor Dickman could be reached for comment in this story.

"The whole purpose of these surveys is to find out where we could use some improvement and then come up with strategies to make those improvements," Billeb said. "In other departments, it has worked very well."

The 2010 survey identified five key areas of concern by corrections employees: settling disagreements between staff members; investment in the skills of employees; overall employee involvement; tracking progress against stated goals; and the lack of staff involvement in making decisions. Open comments were sharply critical and expressed concerns over a perceived "double standard" in the department, in which officers were asked to follow a set of rules that managers and supervisors did not have to follow.

"The most immoral, unethical and hypocritical leaders rule by 'do as I say, not as I do.' We cannot have managers who have one set of rules for the department and another for themselves," one employee wrote.

Other comments indicated concern over the lack of training opportunities for corrections officers, something the current administration is working to address. Billeb, who has been on special assignment working on jail issues since the March 27 attack, said he was shocked to learn that corrections officers were forced to work for up to five years before they were sent to basic training. The Department of Corrections requires staff training to be completed within one year.

Billeb said all but three corrections officers now have undergone basic training, and the process is underway to enroll the remaining three in the required courses at Northcentral Technical College.

"We're making progress and doing our best to address the concerns of staff," Billeb said.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
579 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
862 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
1025 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
1279 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports


Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports