WEDC comes under fire

Gov. Scott Walker called an emergency meeting of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation board today to discuss an audit of the organization conducted by the Legislative Audit Bureau and released last week.

The meeting, held at the Waukesha State Office Building, comprised an item by item review of the LAB report, which is critical of the public-private entity. Walker is the chair of the board.

“We thought it was time that, with all the other activity going on, this board have the first opportunity to look into this in detail,” Walker said.

Until the board is able to tackle the issues, they detract from the otherwise positive work WEDC is doing, he said.

“That’s why I still get frustrated when we have lingering discussions about administrative issues,” Walker said.

Board members questioned WEDC staff, who gave updates on progress related to issues raised in the report.

Some asked why the board wasn’t involved in the hiring process for two employees who abruptly left recently—the new CFO, who left to take a promotion at his last company one day after being hired, and John Gillespie, public information officer, who left after one month when $36,000 in delinquent taxes he owes were revealed.

In a separate case from Outagamie County, the state Department of Workforce Development filed a warrant seeking nearly $8,000 in unemployment insurance compensation benefits he received.

Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) asked that the board be given more information and receive documents a week ahead of meetings so they can properly prepare.

He said members of the board were not informed of problems within the WEDC until it was old information.

Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) expressed a need for resolution, since many of the WEDC issues raised in the report have been addressed by the board before.

“I see this as an organization that right now is in intensive care,” Stone said. “The things that we can control, we really need to have come to fruition.”

Yesterday, several state lawmakers released statements about the WEDC audit.

Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) sent a letter to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asking him to direct the Wisconsin Department of Justice to investigate the WEDC for “misuse and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.”

The report found that the agency has been awarding funds to ineligible projects and staff had been buying alcohol, football tickets and gift cards with WEDC funds.

Dana Brueck, communications officer for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, confirmed that the department’s State Capitol office received the letter Tuesday, but declined to comment about Van Hollen’s response.

“We’re not going to converse with Rep. Barnes through media outlets,” she said.

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