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Middleton -- Voodoo hex at the fire station?

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  • Richard D. Hendricks
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2007
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      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
      sideshow."

      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
      curse.

      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
      Harris.

      "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,
      Ehlke said.

      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.

      Harris disagreed.

      "I don't find it to be a joking matter, nor do I believe it was a joke."
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