Madison ethics board tosses developer’s complaint about city assessor’s candy bowl at meeting

MADISON, Wis. — Madison’s ethics board on Tuesday tossed out an ethics complaint from a developer that Chief City Assessor Michelle Drea attempted to influence members of the Board of Review by putting out candy at an October meeting.

The board voted unanimously in favor of Drea against the complaint brought by Terrence Wall. Earlier this month, Wall, the president and CEO of the T. Wall companies, filed the complaint against Drea, saying she gave members of the Board of Review candy bars during a meeting on October 13 “immediately before the Board was to consider our objection to the assessments on two properties.”

“By doing this action she unintentionally (but most likely intentionally) influenced the members of the Board of Review to support her side,” Wall argued.

In the complaint, Wall said he wanted the commission to issue a written reprimand to Drea and remind board members in writing that they cannot accept gifts of any kind.

During the ethics board’s meeting Tuesday evening, Wall argued while Drea said her intent was to create a friendly environment, endorsing giving candy or other gifts to board members “is to open Pandora’s box, making it possible for anyone to offer gifts to board members or government officials.”

“In my opinion, her intent was very clear: it was to influence the outcome to create a friendly environment for her adverse to us,” he said.

Drea countered that during the October meeting, she was running late and only had time to do a partial loop of the room with the candy bowl. She said the candy bowl, which included small KIND bars and fun-sized Kit Kats, Snickers bars and M&Ms, was accessible to anyone in the room.

The candy, she said, came from a larger bowl she had in her staff’s break room and was made available to make sure board members and attendees were not distracted by hunger during the meetings. It also served as an attempt to “de-escalate” meetings, especially for homeowners who represent themselves and often find the process intimidating, she added.

“Ultimately, this is not about candy but about something more nefarious,” Drea said, accusing Wall of abusing the complaint process to harass her. “It is about a pattern of threats and intimidation of a public official to improperly influence the assessments.”

The premise that board members would be swayed in their decision-making by a fun-sized candy bar, Drea added, was “utterly absurd.”