A high-ranking executive at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. tendered, then rescinded, his resignation late last month, but not before leveling a withering criticism of the agency’s second-in-command, a former top aide to Gov. Scott Walker.
Lee Swindall, vice president of business and industry development, in a resignation letter submitted Aug. 25, criticized his boss, WEDC chief operations officer Ryan Murray, as “lacking either the talent or experience” to function in his position and “causing deep and lasting harm” to the organization.
“Murray confuses rigid control with stability and sound management,” Swindall wrote to WEDC CEO Reed Hall.
“What he is producing instead is instability, opposition and resentment in WEDC,” Swindall wrote.
“This state of growing unrest,” he continued, “will corrode the ability of the agency to perform and reach goals, not secure it. Ryan Murray is too committed to his own consolidated power to either notice or care about the swelling discontent in WEDC. It will likely be his undoing, and I fear, WEDC will share this fate, as well.”
Two days later, Swindall sent a letter to Hall with seven conditions that had to be met in order for him to stay with the agency.
They included ensuring Swindall was copied on all emails from Murray to his division staff and that he not be issued a written warning for not watching an online workplace training video.
WEDC released the resignation letter and several related letters and emails to the State Journal in response to an open records request.
They include a letter from Murray detailing friction between himself and Swindall over several agency policies, many of which have been created in recent months in response to audits showing the agency lacked various internal policies and controls.
Murray wrote that the agency’s legal and compliance division had told him Swindall had violated the agency’s policy for employees being reimbursed for hotel stays in cities identified as their “home base.”
“Despite instructions that Madison hotel stays were not appropriate, Lee has continued to submit requests for such, which I have denied,” Murray wrote.
But Murray also noted in the Sept. 4 memo that despite Swindall’s “frustrations with several management and board decisions” he has made several contributions, has strong relationships with partner organizations and is well-liked by his team members.
“For these reasons, I welcome Lee’s continued employment at WEDC and look forward to working with him in a constructive and professional manner,” Murray wrote.
Conditions not met
Agency spokesman Mark Maley said Swindall is still employed at the agency, though none of the seven conditions in Swindall’s letter to Hall were met.
“Employees must be accountable for their actions, and in turn, those actions must be transparent to our board and the taxpayers of Wisconsin,” Maley said.
“We expect our staff to act responsibly in our organization as we maintain a professional work environment.”
Swindall did not respond to an email request for comment.
According to an online resume, Swindall lives in Platteville, has held his position since September 2011 and was previously an executive director at the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership and a vice president for marketing and client relations at Argea Inc.
In an email to his staff, Swindall said he had “received many appeals, and not a little pressure, to rescind my resignation, from both internal and external parties.”
“I am responding to these appeals for what I believe to be the good of WEDC at large, and the BID Division in particular,” Swindall wrote.
“I remain concerned for the likely confusion this news will produce both inside and outside of WEDC. This is certainly not my intent and I will do my best to try to alleviate concerns this may cause. I am not deluded so as to think this move will be uniformly popular in all of WEDC, or beyond.”
Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, a WEDC board member, said he was “disappointed that there continues to be significant leadership problems at WEDC.”
“Anything that takes away WEDC’s focus from creating jobs is deeply troubling,” Barca said.