County leaders soon will decide whether or not to overturn a 30-day unpaid suspension currently being served by Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger. The board’s executive committee met in closed session Aug. 3 to discuss the matter.
Brad Karger’s suspension starting July 25 was handed down in response to his participation in a peace march related to the Dylan Yang case. Yang, who is Hmong, was 15 when he fatally stabbed 13-year-old Isaiah Powell, and was tried and convicted in adult court. The May 31 "March for Peace" rally was organized to promote healing for the Hmong community. The event was peaceful and mostly positive, though several participants were openly critical of the justice system.
Karger spoke at the rally, which caused outrage both within law enforcement and later among some county board members. Supervisor Sherry Abitz said in a letter to school board member Mary Thao that Karger leading the march was like “bringing the KKK to a rally” and bringing "terror" to county employees—those comments sparked outrage on social media. Abitz did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment about her statement.
Karger's suspension could be impacted by a petition, signed by more than 2,800 people, that was presented to County Board Chairman Kurt Gibbs in front of a crowd of about 40 people outside the Marathon County Courthouse prior to the Aug. 3 meeting.
During the meeting, the board appointed four members—Gibbs, Lee Peak, Craig McEwen and Katie Rosenberg—to communicate directly with Karger to help him understand the board's actions.
Karger told City Pages that he participated because Yang's situation speaks to him on many levels. He’s been a long supporter of issues involving the Hmong community and criminal justice; helping fatherless juveniles has always been near and dear to him. At the rally, Karger says he simply called for Yang be given a sentence that favors rehabilitation over punishment.
Karger says his main concern about his suspension—which will cost him around $10,000—is not being able to get any work done at a time when the county can’t afford it.
Whether the suspension is rescinded or not, returning will be difficult, Karger says. “I don’t know how that’s going to work,” he says in regards to resuming a leadership role after being publicly sanctioned.
The full board is expected to take up the matter at a yet-unscheduled meeting.
Karger says the county board should consider how it’s portraying itself, Karger says. His many supporters have told him that the message is, if you mess with the police, you get taken down.