Voodoo hex at the fire station?
*GENA KITTNER* 608-252-6139
March 1, 2007
Wisconsin State Journal
MIDDLETON - A Middleton fire marshal has been on paid leave since July
while officials investigate allegations he used a department computer to
consult with an online psychic and conspired with others to buy an
Internet voodoo hex against the chief.
The consultations by Tom Weber sought to divine whether he and others
would be successful in removing Fire Chief Aaron Harris, Harris said.
Searches of department computers also found Weber had exchanged e-mails
seeking to discredit and disparage the chief, Harris said.
"It was all legally obtained in our district-owned computers," Harris
said of the investigation. "This is really creepy stuff."
A disciplinary hearing for Weber is scheduled for March 19 before an
arbitrator, who will make a recommendation to the Middleton Fire
Protection District Commission.
But Bruce Ehlke, attorney for Firefighters Local 311, said the e-mails
are protected speech. The union has filed a complaint on behalf of Weber
with the state Employee Relations Commission.
"The hex thing, that was a joke" Ehlke said. "The hex wasn't Weber's
joke. The person stated that joke in an e- mail sent to Weber's
personal, private e-mail account. The whole thing about the psychic is a
But Harris isn't laughing. He said the contact with the psychic and
other e-mails are part of a larger effort started in 2004 by a handful
of fire department employees and volunteers to discredit him and force
him to resign.
One of the e-mails Weber received indicated someone had bought a hex
"wishing harm upon me," Harris said, although he hadn't seen the alleged
Weber could not be reached for comment.
Harris was elected chief in 2003 and later appointed to the position
permanently by the Fire Commission.
Since being named chief, Harris has begun restructuring the department,
including changing who conducted fire inspections and when they were
completed. The changes affected Weber but did not threaten his job, he
said. Harris said it was during this time a small group of employees and
volunteers began working against him.
In July 2005 more than 20 current and former Middleton firefighters
wrote a letter to the commission complaining of safety concerns, fiscal
lapses and poor personnel practices at the department.
A similar complaint was filed in 2004. Harris was cleared of wrongdoing
in both complaints.
The union has also filed three complaints against Harris with the WERC
since he was appointed chief.
It was while researching the status of a WERC hearing through the online
search engine Google that Harris discovered Weber's psychic connection.
On an archived page of a psychic Web site he found a message from
someone identifying himself as Thomas Weber asking about his boss, Aaron
"Our union has filed grievences with the WERC," the message read. "He is
on a major power trip and has been treating us like trash, will our
union obtain a favorable outcome in the hearing."
The psychic, identified only as Atham Z, was not encouraging: "I don't
feel you will be completely happy with the outcome of the hearing. I
expect your boss will be warned but not disciplined for his past actions."
After finding the message and several others online, a computer
technician checked the district's computers and found the exchanges were
happening at work. The e-mails and psychic communications date to 2004,
or to around the time Harris was named chief.
Harris confronted Weber with the findings in May and formal disciplinary
charges were filed with the Middleton Fire Protection District
ComMission in June.
Ehlke said Weber received a number of e-mails over two to three years in
which other people criticized the chief.
"Some of the e-mails were fairly forcefully stated," he said. "People
were very concerned about what was going on."
Weber received the messages because he was seen as the primary contact
person seeking union representation for the regular full-time employees,
He said the alleged psychic contacts or alleged attempted voodoo curse
weren't "a major issue."
"The more important concern is . . . the fire chief's real objection was
to these e-mails Weber received, sometimes couched in intemperate
language," he said.
"I don't find it to be a joking matter, nor do I believe it was a joke."