Good deeds become bad entertainment in legal mess

Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Most of us, growing up, were taught by our parents to take out the trash. When we did it willingly without too much whining, our parents would express their appreciation. To not have done so would turn our homes into prime locations for television shows about hoarders.

Shawano County Supervisor William Switalla did such a deed for the county, but instead of the county expressing appreciation for an act of kindness that he expected no compensation for, it decided to bring felony charges against him and threaten him with prison time.

The next time someone asks why people don’t volunteer anymore, we should all point to this case and say that it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished. Who in their right minds would want to perform good deeds when the payback is jailhouse bologna sandwiches and years of wearing prison scrubs in the most hideous colors imaginable?

Rewinding to April 2018, Switalla was among a number of folks with the county government who checked out the property on Webb Street in Wittenberg that the county acquired. He offered to clean some of the garbage off the property, and among the trash was a grill. Switalla removed said grill, prompting ire from county officials, so he returned it.

That should have been the end of the story, but the county decided to make Switalla the poster child for why you should never try to take something from the government. The property had been returned, and yet the county still wanted to label Switalla a thief.

Let’s look at the wasted man-hours — the time spent investigating the matter, the time spent on appointing a special prosecutor because having a Shawano County district attorney trying to lock up a county supervisor is a conflict of interest, and the time spent in court for what was ultimately something that could have been resolved with a stern warning from the county. What was the end result? Deferred prosecution and 40 hours of community service.

Yep. That’s an efficient use of our taxpayer dollars. Why don’t we try to score death sentences for jaywalkers while we’re at it?

The grill in question was described in Leader news stories as “rotten out” and garbage. Outside estimates put the value of the grill at $2 to $2.50, but County Treasurer Deb Wallace claimed it was worth $100. Maybe in mint condition, but if trash was really worth money, we’d all be sending our broken furniture, appliances and other large items to a recycling center instead of the landfill.

Many of the major players in this melodrama, even the special prosecutor, Michael Balskus, agree that Switalla did not use the best judgment by removing trash before officially getting the county’s blessing, but that what he did was not a criminal offense. How has justice been served by dragging this through the courts? How many other counties or municipalities would go to this extreme over something that was ultimately returned?

The case would probably still be going on — Switalla and his attorney were originally asking for a jury trial — had the two sides not come to an agreement. Could you imagine the testimony that would have taken place, the strange logic county officials like Wallace would have used to justify the need to throw someone in prison for property that Switalla had returned?

If late-night talk shows had ever got wind of this, the name “Shawano” would cease to mean “from the south” and instead be defined as “southern hicks in the northwoods.” We’d either scare away tourists, which would probably not please the chamber of commerce, or get an influx of visitors seeking to find out if we’re all just as demented as those who work in county government.

What about what would have happened if, in some bizarro world, Switalla had been convicted? Forget the prison sentence for a moment and realize that, with a felony count, he would have lost his county seat and his position as president of the Wittenberg Village Board, since felons cannot serve in elected positions. I realize Switalla’s a Democrat in a county considered a Republican stronghold, but is a junk grill worth destroying someone’s political ambitions?

The only bright spot in this gloomy tale of bureaucratic idiocy is that Switalla’s not going to take the easy way out in his community service. He plans to go above and beyond the volunteer service he already engages in and lend a helping hand with our local homeless shelter to carry out the court’s mandate.

I guess that means Shawano Area Matthew 25 is the only one benefiting from all this legal bologna. All other residents are likely shaking their heads and wondering if it’s safe to tell people that they live in Shawano County.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at