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WEDC spokesman quits after financial problems surface

WEDC spokesman quits after financial problems surface

This one should be a gimme.

Which state agency hired a public relations flak who made it to the state Deparment of Revenue's "Web Site of Shame" for owing $36,047 in back taxes and had a warrant against him by another state agency, the Department of Workforce Development, for allegedly scamming $7,770 in unemployment benefits?

That’s right, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., better known as WEDC, an acronym that critics say has become synonymous with mismanagement and bureaucratic embarrassment.

A story by WKOW reporter Greg Neumann reveals that WEDC hired John Gillespie on April 8, despite the fact that Gillespie’s financial problems could have been uncovered by a simple search on Wisconsin’s automated court data system.

He resigned Monday after WKOW began asking questions. Gillespie -- a former Green Bay television reporter who also worked in corporate public relations -- was being paid $73,000 a year at WEDC.

Through his spokesman Tom Evenson, Gov. Scott Walker, who chairs the WEDC board, dodged questions about Gillespie's hiring.

"Governor Walker was not involved in this specific hiring process," Evenson told WKOW. "This is a WEDC personnel matter and I would refer you to the agency for any further comment."

Here’s what WEDC had to say about it this morning, WKOW reports:

WEDC uses a national background search firm, National Crime Search, for all employees. The process includes a nationwide criminal background check, including felonies and misdemeanors, and a full credit check. It also includes a check of civil offenses, but bases this check on the current county of residence of the employee at the time of hire. So, for an employee hired from out-of-state, civil offenses in Wisconsin will not show up in our standard background check. We are currently evaluating this process for potential changes to ensure a more complete check is conducted.

Gillespie is the latest embarrassment for the scandal-plagued quasi-public agency, which was formed as a Republican job-creating initiative to replace the Commerce Department.

Last week a Legislative Audit Bureau report took the embattled agency to task for issuing millions in grants, loans and tax breaks with no policies in place to oversee or track the money, and for unexplained purchases, including six season tickets to UW-Madison football games and iTunes gift cards.

Last year the agency came under fire after it was revealed that it failed to track about $12 million in loans.

Last month the agency hired its third chief financial officer in two years, and he quit in one day to take a better job with his former company.

"More than halfway through Gov. Walker’s first term as governor, he is spectacularly failing to meet his own job creation standards of 250,000 jobs for Wisconsin and his flagship jobs agency has become a national embarrassment," says Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

"WEDC’s mismanagement and incompetence falls squarely on the Walker administration because it was the governor’s idea to privatize the Department of Commerce."

 

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.