After an independent state review organization produced an audit bringing to light the state economic growth agency’s failures, a Democratic senator announced Wednesday he plans to introduce a bill requiring these investigations to occur annually.
Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said in a statement this measure is the only way to ensure the quasi-public Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation acts neutrally after repeated incidents of mistrust and acting against the interest of Wisconsin taxpayers.
WEDC demonstrated a lack of transparency and accountability, the Legislative Audit Bureau said in its report last week. The audit said Gov. Scott Walker’s flagship state jobs agency did so by inappropriately tracking its money for an entire year and illegally funding unapproved projects and associates.
Hansen said WEDC granted Schenck SC $1.1 million in tax credits and $300,000 in grants for monitoring WEDC’s finances aside from official compensation.
“It’s clear from the audit that WEDC cannot be trusted to avoid conflicts of interest in its hiring of outside vendors,” Hansen said. “This is especially troubling when it is revealed that the firm hired to conduct an audit of WEDC’s book was itself conflicted because it represented businesses that were applying for assistance from WEDC.”
Walker held an emergency public meeting with WEDC in Waukesha Wednesday to address concerns emphasized in the LAB’s findings.
WEDC board members expressed frustration at the meeting the agency was denied any information regarding the audit until it was released.
Reed Hall, WEDC secretary and CEO, said he is going through every issue with the corporation identified be the LAB to make certain these errors have been rectified.
“This report does not reflect what we want the WEDC to be,” he said. “We work very hard to have a reliable, transparent organization.”
Hall said the LAB’s report is the fourth review of the WEDC, and each one adds to the organization’s goals for the organization’s future. He noted, however, the process of getting back on track for helping develop Wisconsin’s economy has faced setbacks since the WEDC replaced part of the state’s Department of Commerce.
Walker noted during the meeting WEDC has helped numerous state businesses improve job creation efforts and allow Wisconsin’s business climate move up the National Federation of Independent Business to 17th nationally since 2010.
“That’s all the more reason why I get frustrated when we still have to discuss lingering administrative issues, which may be attributed to just a handful of people, some of whom are gone,” Walker said. “To tackle those issues, it detracts from the otherwise exceptional work the front line WEDC staff is doing.”
In the efforts to refocus on strong administrative leadership, Walker said it is important WEDC does not lose focus of job number one: helping Wisconsin’s job creators to provide more jobs.
Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said WEDC board members are often left unaware of the organization’s transgressions until months after such incidents occurred. He said members must be informed of these concerns as soon as they are discovered.
“To really take advantage of the private sector input, which was the whole idea of creating WEDC in the first place, the board needs to be appraised immediately as soon as it comes up and we need to receive the documentation well before the meeting,” Barca said. “That will facilitate active participation by the board.”