Stop punishing taxpayers
When it comes to an ongoing felony case against deputy Steve Bowers, Taylor County taxpayers continue to be the only ones being punished.
In late February 2017, Bowers released case files for an unsolved murder to the producers of a true crime television show. This was done without permission of the department or the district attorney’s office. The county had been working with the show’s producers on an unrelated case. Bowers has attempted to justify his actions comparing it to working with other investigative agencies to get a crime solved.
Bowers was placed on paid administrative leave in March 2017. Felony charges were filed against Bowers by the then attorney general’s office in October 2017 and in late November 2017 the county imposed administrative punishment including demotion and suspension.
Since then, the case has dragged on with neither side in any particular hurry to bring it to closure. Considering the risk of prison and hefty fines, it is understandable that Bowers would defend himself as much as he can.
Throughout the case there have been changes in judges and numerous attempts by Bowers’ attorney to get the county’s core evidence dismissed alleging it was done through an illegal search — an issue that could likely end up on a U.S. Supreme Court docket years from now, if pursued.
The one constant in the 146 weeks since the unauthorized release of the case files is that Taylor County taxpayers have continued to have to pay Steve Bowers’ full salary including benefits, vacation and contributions to state retirement to not work for the county. Even through his suspension, Bowers was able to use accrued paid time off to offset lost wages. The total cost to taxpayers based on the total burden cost for wages and benefits is approaching $233,000 with nothing to show for it except ongoing legal expenses. By comparison, this amount would cover the cost of the reconstruction of the Chelsea Lake Dam.
It will be at least February before Lincoln County judge Robert Russell rules on the current round of motions. It is a sure bet the judge’s decision will generate additional motions which will go through the same slow process further delaying any potential trial and in the process costing county taxpayers more money.
It is time for the state of Wisconsin to stop picking the pockets of Taylor County taxpayers simply to prove a point. Bowers’ administrative punishment was substantial and sent a clear message about the consequences of releasing information without authorization.
As the decade comes to a close, so should the case against Steve Bowers. It is time to move forward and put Taylor County tax dollars to more productive use than paying a deputy to sit at home.
It is time for taxpayers to tell the attorney general’s office that the case needs to come to a close. At the same time, there needs to be a change in the law to have the wages of government employees facing charges filed by the attorney general’s office to come from state coffers rather than forcing local taxpayers to pick up the tab.