Adamczyk public lands controversy

State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk

GOP State Attorney General Brad Schimel accused fellow Republican State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, during a meeting of the board of the state’s public lands agency, of a pattern of “unreasonable and abusive” treatment of agency employees.

Schimel joined Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette, at a recent meeting of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, in rebuking Adamczyk after he repeatedly questioned the qualifications of several agency employees.

The tense exchange at the meeting last week was the latest for an agency that has seen its share of dysfunction in recent years.

“Matt, I gotta tell ya, I’m counting the days ‘til you’re not on this board,” an exasperated Schimel told Adamczyk. “I’ve had enough.

“The string of demands you’ve made on the people who work at this agency has been unreasonable and abusive.”

At another point in the debate, Schimel urged Adamczyk to “just shut it for a minute” when Adamczyk repeatedly interrupted an agency employee who was trying to explain his credentials.

Schimel, La Follette and Adamczyk are the three members of the board that oversees the public lands agency. It manages school trust lands and the funds created from their past sale and use, the proceeds from which go to fund Wisconsin universities and public school libraries. The agency also makes loans to Wisconsin municipalities and school districts for public projects and equipment purchases.

Adamczyk, who is not seeking re-election as state treasurer this fall, spent much of the meeting criticizing the agency’s management of its trust fund investments. He questioned if employees overseeing the investments were qualified to do so and said they were “learning on the fly.”

“I’m just personally concerned that we have three people in the investment committee that just don’t have a background,” Adamczyk said.

The board’s chief administrator, Jonathan Barry, responded by reciting the employees’ resumes and work experience.

“I would say without hesitation that the individuals here are qualified to do the work that they’re doing,” Barry said.

Adamczyk later said he has spoken to investment professionals, including at the State Investment Board, who said the board’s management of certain investments is concerning.

Schimel responded that the agency’s investments have been “wildly successful” and their growth has outpaced the market.

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As Adamczyk continued to press the issue, Barry told Adamczyk he has been “asking us to take on more risk ever since you got on this board.”

“The only way you can get return is if you take on a little risk,” Barry said. “Why don’t you make up your mind?”

Schimel’s rebuke of Adamczyk came later in the exchange when Adamczyk renewed his criticism of agency employees.

Meanwhile, La Follette joined Schimel in rebuking Adamczyk.

“I want this to be on the record that I say the following: I am critical of the treasurer’s continual harassment of our staff on this issue,” La Follette said. “It’s making our staff’s lives difficult. They have important work to do. And having to respond to all this clearly harassment has to end. And I want that on the record and I’d urge the treasurer to stop doing it, please.”

Adamczyk responded that “asking a question about whether three individuals that are investing $1 billion of money, and asking if they’ve done that in the past professionally, if that’s harassing, I’m sorry. I don’t believe that’s harassing.”

Adamczyk later advocated for having the state investment board manage the public-lands investments, as he said is the case in Minnesota.

Barry responded that doing so would require changes to the state Constitution and state law.

Adamczyk has a controversial past on the public lands board. The board’s former secretary, Tia Nelson, daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, resigned in 2015 after Adamczyk led a vote to ban Nelson and her staff from on-the-job discussions or work related to climate change.

Adamczyk is departing the treasurer’s office at the end of 2018 after unsuccessfully leading a bid to abolish the state treasurer’s office. Wisconsin voters rejected that proposal in a statewide referendum in April.

But Adamczyk is running for a state Assembly seat in the Milwaukee suburbs now held by Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, who’s running for state Senate.

Schimel is seeking his second term as Attorney General this fall, opposed by Democrat Josh Kaul.

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