Wilton Woes: Communication breakdowns cause pool closure, lifeguard exodus

WILTON, Wis. (WKBT) — Wilton native Nate Beier has spent 22 summers teaching kids to swim at the Wilton village pool.

His reputation motivates parents from all over Monroe County to bring their kids to Wilton, just to learn from him.

In late July, Beier’s young swimming students would normally be celebrating the last day of swimming lessons at the Wilton pool. But they can’t.

Because the gates to the pool are locked and have been quite often in the last month.

The Wilton village board officially hired Beier and four other lifeguards for the summer on May 9.

The next regular board meeting on June 13, official minutes say the board voted to hire Madysen Schweinler as village pool manager. Schweinler is the daughter of the village clerk, Leigha Barton.

Beier says the pool manager was a new position for the village, as it had not existed since roughly 2005. But he and the rest of the lifeguard staff had no knowledge the position was available.

The standard employment practice for a village board is to post job openings for a position, take applications, and then eventually vote in a closed session of a board meeting to approve a hire. The result of any vote is then announced when the board goes back into open session.

There are no board minutes this year prior to that meeting that specifically refer to a pool manager position being discussed.

18-year-old lifeguard Lainey Teynor says when Schweinler started, Schweinler said she was just in charge of the lifeguard schedule but otherwise wanted to be thought of as just another lifeguard.

But it wasn’t long before parents began texting Beier about Schweinler’s conduct while on duty.

“‘Nate, you’ve got a lifeguard that’s watching her phone,'” Beier recounted. “‘Nate, you’ve got a lifeguard that’s laying down on the deck.’ ‘Nate, she’s jumping over kids from the chair, disappears and doesn’t come back.’”

And other lifeguards saw it too.

“Every time I worked with her she was on her phone when she was supposed to be guarding, at least a couple times throughout the day,” Teynor said.

And soon, a pool patron captured a video on July 6 of Schweinler looking down at her phone for 20 seconds while children were in the pool. The video was posted to Facebook and generated a large wave of comments from residents before it was taken down. Some board members and lifeguards agreed it was a bad look.

“And if you’re not paying attention, 20 seconds, which is the length of that video, can be a really big difference in life or death,” Beier said.

And since so many community members had seen the post, Beier believed it should be addressed. The question was how?

“I thought that because of our manager’s relationship with our clerk–it’s hard to go from manager to clerk because it’s a mother-daughter, and that’s a conflict of interest,” said Beier.

Beier decided to attend the next village board meeting on July 11, which allows for public comments during open sessions. News 8 Now obtained an audio recording of that open session. During that meeting, Beier did not mention Schweinler’s name but said the video was something the board might want to address to re-emphasize safety.

Village president Tim Welch immediately took issue with Beier’s comments.

“I would not come to a public meeting and backstab that coworker, like you just did,” said Welch.

Board members have since explained that any employee wanting to discuss employee matters is supposed to meet with the employee committee, which is made up of a few of the board members. Beier says he did not know that committee existed, and that no one in his 22 years working there has ever mentioned that committee’s existence.

In the days after that meeting, Beier had text conversations with board member Eli Yoder, who is part of the employee committee. News 8 Now was sent copies of those text messages, the first coming from Yoder the day after the July 11 meeting. Yoder told Beier the committee wants to meet with Beier the night of the 13th. Beier wanted to discuss the time of the meeting. Yoder texted back the committee will meet the 13th without Beier and then again the following week with Beier.

But board minutes say there was no meeting on July 13. The board met instead on the 14th. There was no agenda posted to the village website, and board minutes say the board went into closed session to discuss employee matters, went back into open session, and then adjourned.

During that closed session, the board voted to place restrictions on Beier’s employment.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to talk about it or defend myself.”

News 8 Now obtained a copy of those restrictions, which the village president Tim Welch presented to Beier on July 15 as Beier was closing the pool for the day. The restrictions tell Beier he is only responsible for his own swimming lessons, cannot have any authority over other lifeguards, and cannot be in an employee area when he’s not giving swim lessons. Beier said he signed that paper feeling like he had no other option. He said Welch, beyond the July 11 meeting, had shown him hostility on more than one occasion. After signing, Beier let the other lifeguards know about his new conditions.

It was a shock for lifeguard Autumn Brandau.

“I just didn’t understand why they were doing that because he’s done a lot of good things for the pool. He’s a good leader,” said the high schooler.

And other lifeguards said that since July 6, Schweinler had not been showing up for the shifts Schweinler scheduled herself for. 16-year-old lifeguard Sophie Teynor said if Schweinler wasn’t showing up and Beier was being restricted, “Then it’s just a bunch of kids running the place, and it’s way less productive and safe that way.”

Brandau and the Teynor sisters said a parent who sends her kids to swimming lessons in Wilton wrote a letter on the lifeguards’ behalf to show support for Beier.

News 8 Now received a copy of the letter, which asks the village board to remove all of Beier’s restrictions and better respect his 20 years of service. It then asks the board to remove Schweinler as pool manager, publicly post the position for someone more qualified, and hold Schweinler accountable for ‘neglecting her duties.’ It adds they don’t mind if Schweinler stays on as a lifeguard, and that if Beier is still restricted and if forces him to leave, the rest of the lifeguards will also leave.

Brandau, the Teynors, and two other lifeguards agreed with the letter’s sentiments and signed it. The other three lifeguards were out of town and did not see the letter.

“We weren’t planning to turn it in at that time,” Lainey Teynor said. “It was a last-resort if things got bad. But we definitely planned on keeping it in our possession.”

The lifeguards meant if the board fired Beier, they’d likely take action.

Teynor said the letter was accidentally left at the pool on July 19, and Schweinler discovered it. The Teynors said that day while the sisters were working at the pool, Schweinler confronted them and cursed at them.

“She said, ‘I read your ******* letter,'” said Sophie Teynor. “She talked about how it was unfair how we thought and this and that about Nate harassing them.”

Schweinler then left, said Sophie.

“I was already set off by that, a little on edge. And then not even an hour later is when Tim and Leigha came in. So that’s why at that point I was already scared and now it’s her mom the clerk and the president coming in. I figured they were sent in by her, so obviously they would hear about the letter, the talk. I never called them in though. I never wanted to give them the letter. I never requested they come get it.”

Sophie said she told Barton she didn’t know where it was, and that Barton insisted on finding out who knew. Sophie says she walked out to the pool where her sister Lainey was on duty, and that she didn’t know Barton was following her.

“Leigha came up to me and said I need the letter,” said Lainey. “‘I need to know who to replace.’ I was like, oh okay. I told Sophie it’s in my backpack. That’s all I said.”

“And Leigha followed me to my sister’s backpack and hovered over me to get the letter, which I then got it out and gave it to them–not because I wanted to but because I was scared,” said Sophie.

News 8 Now asked Sophie, “Did it feel like they would not have left had you not given the letter?”

“Yes, that’s exactly how it felt,” Sophie said. “It felt that they came in insisting upon getting the letter and would not leave until I got it.”

“I know in Sophie’s position I would have done the exact same thing,” said Brandau. “I wouldn’t have known what my rights were. Like you know, but you’re being confronted by adults forcefully. It would have been scary.”

“Leigha read it in her head in front of me and just laughed about it, saying it was childish,” Sophie recalled. “Tim continued to tell me that I wasn’t hurting him or the board. I was making it easier on him because if the pool was shut down, it would be easier on him because it costs more to run than it’s worth.”

Sophie said Welch and Barton then left, while the sisters remained at the pool to continue working. But Sophie says Welch didn’t go far.

“I noticed Tim was driving around for like an hour just watching my sister and I, because then at that point there were no kids there,” said Sophie. “Later that night he comes to take our keys–tells us to close up and hand over the keys because we quit. And that’s why we asked are we getting fired because we never said the words we quit. But he said that they didn’t want to be blackmailed by a letter.”

Said Lainey, ”They basically told us we quit when we didn’t.”

Autumn Brandau sent News 8 Now a copy of a text she received from Leigha Barton that night, telling her to turn in her key, with a smile emoji punctuating that text. Autumn did not respond to that text. Her mother Jessica Brandau sent that text to board member Eli Yoder, who texted back that Barton’s text should not have been sent.

Tim Welch declined to comment on any aspect regarding this story. Leigha Barton initially agreed to a recorded interview, and then declined a day later. Barton did send News 8 Now a written statement, saying she and Welch “for scheduling purposes walked down and asked if there was a letter and if Sophie knew who all signed it so I could adjust the schedule to keep the pool open.” Barton claims Lainey instructed Sophie to get the letter out of her bag and give it to Barton and Welch. Barton says she already knew what the letter was requesting was not going to happen, so Barton says any employer would assume they were quitting, and that the letter was a resignation letter.

The Teynors let their parents know about the confrontation. Their father Jason Teynor texted Welch if he could swing by on his way home to talk about it, and Welch agreed.

“He told me my daughters wrote a letter with a big list of demands and presented it to the board, and because they did that, the board decided they weren’t going to meet their demands, and therefore they quit,” Teynor said. “And I said this sounds kind of strange.

“[Welch] said he was going to teach those girls a lesson.”

Teynor said Welch told him that Lainey had attended the July 11 meeting. The Teynors say that was not true, and a report from the local newspaper the County Line confirms Lainey was not present at that meeting.

Jason went home after meeting with Welch and heard his daughters’ perspectives to decide how to move forward. Sophie, Autumn Brandau and another lifeguard Taylor Freed, all of whom signed the letter, were scheduled to work swimming lessons with Beier the next morning.

“Which is why i went to lessons the next day, because I didn’t quit,” said Sophie.

“Because I didn’t quit, and I didn’t want to let the kids down,” said Brandau.

“I said well if you didn’t get fired and you’re telling me you didn’t quit, then you should probably show up for work because you don’t want these little kids to be told sorry you can’t have your swimming lessons,” Jason Teynor told his daughter.

They all showed up to that shift the morning of July 20. The Teynor family that morning couldn’t initially find keys to their other car, so Jason drove Sophie to the pool. He said he sat on a nearby bench, because if his daughter was asked to leave, he could drive her home and then go to work.

At about 9:30, Jason Teynor received a text from Tim Welch.

“He texted me that he heard my kids came to work and asked if i thought that was a good idea,” Teynor said. “I said actually I think it is because there’s like 50 little kids here taking lessons, and if they didn’t come to work, all those kids couldn’t take their lessons.”

Teynor sent News 8 Now a copy of the full text exchange. Welch maintained the girls quit, while Teynor told him the letter was confiscated under duress, to which Welch said no one demanded anything. Teynor’s last text tells Welch that he thinks Welch let his emotions get the better of him, that there’s no need for vindictive behavior, and that he knows Welch is a “good man and better than this.” Tim Welch did not respond.

Teynor’s wife found the keys to their family van and dropped it off between 9:30 and 10 that morning. They left the van for Sophie to drive herself home after her shift, then left together.

“I figured probably everything maybe blew over,” Teynor said. “And I found out later in the day that the cops showed up.”

News 8 Now has confirmed that Tim Welch called the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office at just after 10 a.m. that morning. We received an audio copy of Welch’s call to dispatch through an open records request.

“I have a couple of lifeguards who delivered an ultimatum to the board that if we didn’t do certain things in the pool that they were done–they were going to quit. Their father–I had a talk with him ’til about midnight–he’s sitting down at the pool with them and making all kinds of arguments that we had no right to do that. I’m not going down there to make a scene in front of all the parents…He needs to be removed,” Welch said.

Police had not responded to that first call, so Welch called again at 1:03 p.m. Dispatch then connected Welch to an officer. News 8 Now received that officer’s body cam video through another open records request.

In that call with an officer, Welch said, “The clerk and I just went down yesterday afternoon and said ‘do you have a letter for us?…If the letter exists, it’s a problem, and I hate to solve that problem.’ We didn’t demand the letter or anything. They didn’t have to give it to us, but they gave us the letter.”

Welch said in the call that he was closing the pool and employees and members of the public refuse to leave, and that he needed help “clearing them out.”

Autumn’s mother Jessica Brandau was just arriving at the pool at that time to pick up another daughter from a softball trip. A child from the pool ran up to her and said Autumn was in trouble.

“When I walked in Autumn told me she had asked Tim why they were receiving a suspension letter, what the reasoning was,” said Brandau.

Said Autumn, ”And all he would say was it’s an employee matter and I’m not going to discuss it in front of the public.”

The suspension letter Welch handed to Brandau and Taylor Freed at the pool that afternoon specifies that if they go on employee grounds they will be trespassing.

Two Monroe County police officers arrived around 1:20 and found Welch at the pool entrance wanting the lifeguards escorted out.

“So you can’t make them leave?” Welch told the officer upon the officer’s arrival.

The officer replied, “They’re leaving right now. I’m not going to drag–”

“They’re not leaving right now,” Welch said, gesturing to Brandau and Freed, who were behind the concession stand.

“They’re getting their stuff,” said one woman also in the entryway.

“You make it sound like they have all the time in the world to leave,” Welch told the officer. Welch soon after apologized to the officer, saying, “I know you’re just doing your job.”

Welch handed Sophie Teynor her suspension letter as she was approaching her van to leave.

“He puts his hand on my shoulder telling me ‘just so you’re aware,’ kind of acting as if i didn’t already hear his words,” said Sophie. “Didn’t tell me why I was suspended, though–just handed it to me and said I would not show up for work the next day.

“I had a lot of questions about that, but I already felt uncomfortable in that situation, which is why I kept my answers to a minimum, because I just wanted to leave and he was standing in front of my driver side door. So I was just saying okay so i could get in my van and leave.”

Lainey Teynor was out of town for a CNA class. She was stunned when she heard what had gone down at the pool.

“When I heard the cops were called I was like what? That’s absurd. Why would the cops be called on teenage girls just for wanting to work?” she said.

“Swimming lessons. That’s all we did and now the cops are here. Obviously someone’s not thinking straight if this is happening,” said Sophie.

The board scheduled a meeting that Friday to talk with the lifeguards individually in closed session. Board member Eli Yoder texted Jessica Brandau that the committee needed to get to the bottom of the story.

Parents came with the lifeguards and requested an open meeting, which the board granted. That’s when Jason and other parents started to walk into the meeting room.

“I went walking in the room and Tim Welch grabbed me,” Teynor said. “Grabbed right ahold of my chest and shoved me, and I thought what in the world?! When he did that I just froze and I said look, he put his hands on me, just like he put his hands on my daughter Sophie. And he kind of freaked out and backed off.”

Several parents and lifeguards confirmed that they saw Welch grab Teynor and the atmosphere was tense. Then the board led off with an announcement that baffled the lifeguards and parents.

“They were saying they weren’t going to talk about the letter and it didn’t matter how they got it, but that was the whole reason why we were there,” said Autumn Brandau.

“They said on advice of the village attorney, we’re going to start this meeting as if the letter doesn’t even exist. And I thought yeah, that’s because you confiscated it,” said Jason Teynor.

“Board members were saying it’s my fault because they wouldn’t have handed the letter over if it was them, but the whole board is older men. I’m a 16 year old girl. They were not empathetic so obviously would not understand what my position was,” said Sophie Teynor.

“They just all wanted us to pretend nothing ever happened, that we weren’t ever treated unfairly, and that we should just feel obligated to work for the pool, otherwise we’re letting the kids down,” said Lainey Teynor.

By the end of the three-hour meeting, Jason Teynor asked Tim Welch to apologize to both him and his daughters.

“And he actually did apologize to them,” said Teynor. “And I said it takes a big man to apologize for that.

“[ I got] Call the next morning from one of the board members and told me Tim Welch had resigned, and would my girls still consider coming back to be lifeguards? And I said I’m pretty sure they will.”

The employee committee met that Sunday with the lifeguards to see who might come back to work. The board had presented a document to lifeguards, which was asking them to respect the decisions of the board, village president and clerk whether they agree with them or not about the pool’s operation.

“A couple guards were willing to fully go back, but my sister, another guard and i just wanted to work swimming lessons, because we felt that was safer,” said Sophie. “We had to sign papers saying we’d work under these conditions, but put only swimming lessons. Those board members let us know they’d make a decision Monday.”

The board had another scheduled meeting that Monday, July 25. Jessica Brandau and Nate Beier attended the meeting. The pool was a topic on the posted agenda, but the board voted to close all public comments as soon as the meeting started.

“They didn’t actually want to hear what the public had to say about the pool. That shows you something about what they’re in it for or what they’re really thinking, and that’s too bad, because we elected them to do something for us,” said Beier.

Brandau said one board member asked the other about the Sunday lifeguard meeting and asked who was willing to come back.

“And the only thing that was said was ‘well some of them want to come back but they’re putting all these demands on us. These kids are trying to run the village. We can’t let them run the village,’” said Brandau.

Amended board minutes published by the clerk state the board voted to close the pool unless staffing circumstances changed. The board then went into closed session to discuss employee matters, which are a legal reason to go into closed session, per the Wisconsin state legislature 19.85.

“We went back into the hallway, our police officer asked me to come with him,” Beier said. “I went to his office where he told me I was being terminated. He said that the village did not have cause to fire me but the board decided it was in the best interest of the village to fire me.”

The Wisconsin League of Municipalities cites a 1998 state court of appeals decision that says most municipal employees are “at-will” and are not entitled to due process before termination. It adds if there is no evidentiary hearing or if final action is taken in open session, due process is not needed.

Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law does say that votes should not be secret and must be recorded in meeting minutes. Boards are also supposed to reconvene in open session to announce any action on closed session matters. The village minutes from July 25 that are currently on the village website do not detail the decision to terminate Beier.

The other lifeguards were never fired, but the pool has been mostly closed since July 25.

“They never handed us anything that said we were terminated as employees. We were just–the pool’s just closed and we’re not allowed to work, I guess,” said Lainey.

“It was a huge eye opener to the real world, just getting to know that people really don’t care about your feelings, and how dismissive people can be,” said Sophie. “Yeah, huge taste of the real world.”

Barton’s written statement claimed those lifeguards were offered the chance to work over the village’s festival weekend at the beginning of August and they declined. A screenshot sent to News 8 Now confirms Barton texted the former lifeguards, “Do any of you want to work this weekend?”

Barton posted on her personal Facebook page asking if anyone knew any certified lifeguards who could work the festival, the biggest event in Wilton, and was offering double the pay rate the former lifeguards had received.

A letter presented by current village president Jamie Evans at the August 15 board meeting claims the former lifeguards were also offered that pay increase, but Barton’s group text does not state that. Sources tell News 8 Now the pool was open for that weekend in August, but has not been open since.

Both sides agree that after all this, it’s the kids in the community who lose the most.

“An apology, and admitting that what they did may not have been the best choice, and working some things out would have been the better route,” said Wilton resident and parent Jen Wallman. “Instead they threw their hands up and closed the pool.”

“Every time I talked to Tim Welch, I started and ended it with you need to understand that this pool serves the community and there’s like 50-100 little kids that are looking so forward to going swimming, and the lifeguards want to help them, and it seems like the adults are doing everything they can to destroy that,” said Jason Teynor. “And they just need to step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s not about settling scores, perceived slights. It’s really about what’s the best thing for the community, and that’s the children who come here to swim.”

Sources tell News 8 Now the pool was open the first weekend of August for WiltonFest but has not been open since. A board member on Monday told News 8 Now he is hopeful for a great pool season next year.

The board’s most recent meeting Aug. 29 did not discuss the pool but did approve raises for the village’s full-time employees, which includes Leigha Barton.