Tourism Council

Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney (center) addresses members of the Governor's Council on Tourism at their meeting in Madison Wednesday, Dec. 4. 

After a series of failed electronic votes earlier this fall that allegedly violated open meetings law, Wisconsin’s tourism board has officially elected its officers. 

The vote comes as the Governor's Council on Tourism has drawn scrutiny for its practice of attempting to elect its chair, vice-chair and secretary through secret ballot email voting. 

Criticism from one lawmaker that the practice violated state law — which followed three failed rounds of email voting — prompted Department of Tourism leadership to scrap the idea and instead hold votes in-person at its Madison meeting Wednesday. 

This week's gathering was packed with legal questions about who on the 21-member council is eligible to vote, who can run for leadership positions, how many individuals constitute a quorum and more. 

It also raised the possibility that the council may have been meeting in recent years without meeting quorum, which is 11 individuals. In the past, the practice was the seven ex-officio members, including lawmakers and those who weren't appointed by the governor, haven't been able to cast ballots, meaning only seven or eight individuals were needed to conduct business. But a recent legal review of the practice showed it ran contrary to state statute. 

Amid the confusion, members ultimately opted to select Cave of the Mounds general manager Joe Klimczak, who ran unopposed, as chair; La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director AJ Frels as vice-chair; and American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation executive director Ben Popp as secretary. 

Council leaders selected Wednesday will again need to face re-election during the new year. 

Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Kathy Kopp, who had previously been in the running for chair, didn't run for the post or vice-chair Wednesday. 

Kopp claimed in an October email that Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney asked her to resign early from her post on the council as she prepares to retire from her role in Platteville.

Meaney, who disputed the allegations, said in a Cap Times interview last month that while she hadn't talked to Kopp since the email exchange, she expected the two would "work productively and proactively together for the state."

The actions — described by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald as "the wrangling going on behind the scenes" — have drawn concerns from Republican senators, the Fitzgerald told reporters last month. Meaney has yet to be confirmed by the full Senate, though she's able to continue serving in her capacity as secretary. 

Tourism Council member and Sen. André Jacque said after the meeting he has "significant concerns" about Meaney, though when asked for specifics he pointed to communication as his "top concern," as well as ensuring she has "the confidence of my colleagues." 

"It's an accumulation of a lot of things that I think a lot of my colleagues have picked up on," the DePere Republican told reporters, though he noted his caucus has yet to discuss "some of the more recent" concerns. 

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.