Lawmakers cite frustration with jobs agency

WEDC board holds emergency meeting
Lawmakers cite frustration with jobs agency
Gov. Scott Walker sits at the head of a WEDC meeting in Waukesha in early May.

Members of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Board said the staff needs to move quickly to fix problems at the agency.

Chaired by Gov. Scott Walker, an emergency meeting Wednesday morning tried to break down the issues pointed out in a state audit last week.

Walker told the group that administrative problems pointed out in the audit and three previous audits were frustrating.

“In some way, until we’re able to tackle those issues, it detracts from the otherwise exceptional work the WEDC staff is doing,” Walker said.

“This report is not what we want WEDC to be,” new CEO Reed Hall said. “This report is bothersome to everyone that’s working at WEDC at this time.”

Hall went point by point through the audit with committee members, explaining some 57 new policies that are in development to address issues with loan granting, tracking and even credit card purchase practices, that were lost in the transfer from the Department of Commerce.

“We went from 300 staff down to 50,” Hall said. “So there’s some lost culture, lost history in that move. We’re still recreating that.”

Some board members expressed frustration with the latest audit re-hashing issues already pointed out.

VIDEO: Lawmakers cite frustration with jobs agency

“It’s very frustrating to not be allowed to function the way a corporation functions in the state of Wisconsin,” said Tom Sylke, a board member and owner of Sylke Law Offices, who said he was upset that the audit bureau couldn’t involve the board in its process. “We can’t pick and choose or be limited in that way and be expected to perform the way a corporation performs.”

Others said the problems need to be fixed immediately.

“I see this as an organization right now in intensive care,” said Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, and a member of the board. “We need to have dramatic improvement quickly and I think everyone involved needs to understand that.”

“I think there’s been a lot of damage done in the public’s eyes and we need to recover their trust,” said Paul Radspinner, a board member and CEO of FluGen. “Frankly the first leadership group that was in charge did a lot to damage that trust and we’re only going to do that through proof.”

“There are still a number of things that have to be addressed, not only for the confidence of the board and the legislature, but most importantly the public,” said Walker. “We are not going to let up until we address every one of those concerns.”

Hall is hingeing much of what he thinks will improve the agency on these new policies, as well as a new computer system for tracking loans and grants and three new positions, including a CFO and a risk and business manager.

Hall will appear before the Legislative Audit Committee to discuss his plans Thursday. The Joint Finance Committee will also take up funding for the agency Thursday over protests of Democrats. Republicans say they will likely tie funding to a corrective action plan for these problems.