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Oconomowoc schools investigating marketing director who did consulting work during business hours

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 22:26

OCONOMOWOC, Wis. – Oconomowoc Area School District Superintendent Roger Rindo tells Wisconsin Watchdog there will be an investigation into work done by Kate Winckler, the district’s director of Communications & Marketing, for the Cambridge school district in advance of its Nov. 8 spending referendum. 

Records obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog appear to show Winkler doing consulting work for Cambridge while on the clock for Oconomowoc.

“We’ll continue to investigate in our fact-finding until we can reach some logical conclusions, and then we’ll take whatever actions we deem necessary,” Rindo said Thursday.

On March 15, Winckler signed an agreement under the company name School Creatives with the Cambridge school district to provide public relations expertise, including creating and editing promotional materials. She was paid $1,572.50 by Cambridge for the work.

In Wisconsin, school districts can ask voters to exceed state-imposed revenue caps designed to keep property taxes down.The Cambridge referendum for an additional $1.6 million annually was approved with 65 percent of the vote.

‘ONE-TIME PROJECT’: Kate Winckler, marketing director for Oconomowoc schools, says she did her best to confine her consulting work to after school hours.

During the time Winckler was consulting for the Cambridge school district, the Oconomowoc school district also was going to referendum to ask voters to approve $54.9 million in borrowing for new construction and school renovations. That referendum was approved 55 percent to 45 percent.

An open records request of the Cambridge school district asking for all email communications between Winckler and the Cambridge school district prior to Nov. 14 show Winckler sending more than 40 emails and doing work for the Cambridge during the Oconomowoc district’s normal business hours.

For example, on Oct. 7 at 8:25 a.m., Winckler responded to a request from Mary Kay Raether, a Cambridge schools employee, to check over the design of “business cards” to be handed out at Homecoming events, saying she liked the design. Raether, responded nearly an hour later asking if the cards were “too busy.” At 1:07 p.m., Winckler agreed and offered to make changes. At 3:28 p.m., Winckler sent the revised cards back to Raether for approval.

The Oconomowoc district does not have a policy against employees doing work for other school districts.

“There isn’t anything specific in the contract,” Rindo said. “I need to do a thorough policy review as part of the investigation here.”

Oconomowoc School Board president Donald Wiemer said he supported an investigation.

“I believe it’s something that needs to be followed up on,” Wiemer said. “But it would be under the jurisdiction of the superintendent because we don’t get boggered down in what the employees can do or can’t do; that’s why we have the superintendent. I believe he will probably look into this.”

“You did your homework,” Wiemer said of Watchdog’s reporting.

Cambridge school district administrator Bernard Nikolay said he was aware of Winckler working for the Oconomowoc Area School District, but Winckler “said she would still be able to run some assistance so we did work with her again,” Nikolay said. He also noted that the district contracted with her for public relations services because she had done work for the school system in 2012.

Nikolay said that the emails back and forth with Winckler during work hours didn’t trigger any concern on his part.

“I don’t really recollect when she responded,” Nikolay said. “I know we met with her early and late so I don’t really know about when she responded, if that was after hours or not. I didn’t really pay too close attention.”

The meetings and calls were not always after business hours.

FACT-FINDING: Oconomowoc Superintendent Roger Rindo said he will investigate work district marketing director Kate Winckler did for another school district, apparently in part on the Oconomowoc clock.

On Feb. 24, Winckler told Nikolay that she was free the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 26, and they agreed to meet at 3:15 p.m. It was the first meeting to discuss her consulting. At 11:48 a.m. on June 14, Nikolay sent an email asking Winckler if she was available for a teleconference. Winckler sent an email at 1:35 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15 to Nikolay to set the call for 8 a.m. the following day.  

Nikolay also said that the timing of the emails and calls was not his issue.

“That’s more her concern than my concern,” Nikolay said. “And her employer’s concern.”

“We were glad to get responses from her when we got them,” he said. “We certainly didn’t put demands on her to do it during the school day, but I assume she’s a professional person and I know she works for a good school district and I assume they had those conversations about that.” Nikolay added he had no way of knowing if Winckler spoke to the Oconomowoc school district about her consulting work.

Rindo denied being told anything about Winckler’s outside consulting work.

“I have no knowledge of any additional work,” he said.

SEE RELATED: ‘Just a guy’ attempts to stop Oconomowoc referendum

In response to repeated requests for an interview, Winckler said in email, “I’ll return the call after I’m done working for the day.” She later declined to be interviewed and only offered the following statement:

“I have had a professional relationship with Bernie Nickolay at Cambridge for a few years and worked with him on a prior referendum when I was self-employed. Last year, Bernie approached me and asked for help with their 2016 referendum.

“I agreed, under the condition that the work would be temporary and have to take place outside the scope of my full-time job at Oconomowoc. I did my best to keep the work confined to evenings, weekends, and the occasional lunch break during the day when I could answer an email or take a phone call. I love my job at Oconomowoc and have no reason to, nor frankly any extra time to, infringe on that primary work. I have no other clients, and do not actively pursue any additional consulting work. This was a one-time project. The LLC you see is for tax and record-keeping purposes only.”

Embattled UW-Platteville provost leaving for higher ed job in Maryland

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 15:46

MADISON, Wis. – A University of Wisconsin-Platteville administrator accused of discrimination and retaliation is leaving the institution to take a higher education post in Maryland.

Elizabeth Throop, acting provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, has accepted a new position at Frostburg State University in Maryland, according to a message to UW-P staff from Chancellor Dennis Shields. Frostburg State also reported the hire this week. 

Throop will begin at Frostburg on July 1, 2017.

In the message from the chancellor, Throop said she will remain with UW-Platteville as provost until next summer, working on “key initiatives such as assessment, Higher Learning Commission, and implementation of our new budget model.”

“I thank Provost Throop for her service to the university, “Shields said in the campus. “She came in during a time of transition and helped us reorganize into a stronger institution. It is not surprising that she became in high demand. We wish her well in her new endeavors.”

Throop also is a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by UW-Platteville criminal justice professor Sabina Burton.

LEAVING PLATTEVILLE: Elizabeth Throop, UW-P’s acting Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, is taking an administrative post at a university in Maryland. She departs under a cloud of discrimination and retaliation allegations.

Burton claims Throop, Shields and others repeatedly discriminated and retaliated against her in the four years since she stood up for a student who alleged she was sexually harassed by a male criminal justice professor.

The federal district court tossed out the lawsuit and granted the defendants summary judgment, but Burton has appealed the case – now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. She asserts the lower court did not sufficiently consider critical evidence that shows a pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory behavior.

Burton claims she has been passed over for department committee assignments, harassed through unfounded investigations, and effectively stalled in her professional career at the university – all in the name of administrative reprisal.

RELATED: UW-Platteville chancellor dismisses complaint against whistleblower professor

Throop has been named in at least four Equal Employment Opportunity Commission/Equal Rights Division complaints: Two from Burton in 2013 and 2014; one from Florence Omachonu, a racial discrimination case against Throop and Shields that was scheduled to be heard in federal court on June 13, 2016; and a complaint by Eugene Allcalay, a former full professor in the Music Department who alleged retaliatory treatment. Allcalay and the university have since settled the case, sources said.

Throop joined UW-Platteville in 2012 as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education and began her current role as acting provost in July.

It was mostly during her tenure as dean when Burton raised her allegations against Throop.

“In the nearly five years I’ve been here, I have been struck by the immense commitment of the UW-Platteville faculty and staff,” Throop said in email release. “They work so hard for the success of our students; I’ve never seen a group who toil so tirelessly to ensure that students are working to the best of their abilities.”

In January 2015, Throop was named as a finalist for an administrative position at Ferris State University in Michigan.

In early November, not long after Burton told her story to Wisconsin Watchdog, Criminal Justice Department Chairwoman Staci Strobl resigned her leadership post.

“Unfortunately, recent events have made clear that there is no institutional support for me to take the necessary step to help this department move on from a past that is both troubled and troubling,” Strobl wrote in the email to Melissa Gormley, interim dean of UW-P’s College of Liberal Arts and Education. “Under those circumstances, I feel unable to do my job and would better serve the institution and my colleagues as a tenured member of the department.”

Burton said she feels no consolation in Throop’s departure.

“I hate how the UW System deals with corrupt people. They are treated with velvet gloves, i.e. promoted up or into another department on campus, or encouraged to go somewhere else so they become someone else’s problem. They should be held accountable,” the professor said in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog. “UW-P goes instead after the victims of the corrupt, abusive administrators. Why? Because it is easier for them!”

Walker urges Trump to restore power to the states

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 16:11

MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker is offering President-elect Donald Trump some Tenth Amendment advice on governing.

Walker, whose ambition for the White House was run over early by the Trump train, urges the incoming Republican president to restore state control and ease “incessant federal overreach.”

“The question is not what functions the federal government should give back to the states, but what functions should the federal government have in the first place,” Walker wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the Republican president-elect.

“The federal government was originally created to be a small, central government of limited powers, with everything else left to the states. Through years of federal overreach, this model has been turned on its head, and now is the time to write the ship,” Walker added. “Power flows from the people to the government, not the other way around.”

HIS EAR? Gov. Scott Walker and Donald Trump speak at a press event. Walker sent a letter to the president-elect Tuesday asking Trump to scale back federal overreach and return more authority to the states.

Walker catapulted to the national spotlight by taking on the forces of big government, and surviving political assaults from big labor and its allies on the left.

The Republican governor’s Act 10, introduced nearly six years ago, reformed Wisconsin’s public sector collective bargaining laws, shifting the scales of power back to taxpayers. He became the first governor to survive a recall attempt and went on to win re-election in 2014. He announced a run for president in 2015 but became one of the first Republican candidates to exit the primary campaign amid growing campaign debt and rising Trump momentum.

Walker said he won’t announce whether he’ll seek a third term until after he signs the 2017-19 state budget early next summer.

He had been rumored as a possible cabinet pick, but that appears to be unlikely.

In his letter, Walker urges Trump to provide flexibility in implementing a number of programs that have made him the darling of the conservative movement. The initiatives, according to Walker, include:

  • Drug screening, testing, and treatment of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for Able-bodied Adults Without Dependents: “Wisconsin aims to ensure barriers to employment related to substance abuse are addressed as part of our robust SNAP education and Food Share Employment and Training program. In 2015, we announced a policy that would require drug screening and, where appropriate, testing and treatment, for Able-bodied Adults Without Dependents who meet their work requirements by participating in FSET. We have been forced to delay our implementation and are optimistic your administration will give states like Wisconsin the flexibility to provide the accountability the taxpayers demand.”
  • Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents Requirements for Medicaid: “Wisconsin has requested a 1115 waiver to apply new policies for childless adults at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Our state would like to encourage healthier lifestyles through differential premiums for childless adults who purposefully increase their health risks while receiving benefits.”
  • Refugee Resettlement Process for Refugees from Countries with Terrorist Ties: “Wisconsin has consistently voiced concern about the vetting and relocation of refugees from such countries. We would like our state to have a broader role in determining how many refugees and from which countries until we are comfortable with the vetting process that is being utilized to screen these individuals.”
  • State Management of the Grey Wolf Population: “The recovery of the Grey Wolf in Wisconsin is a success story. However, the population needs to be managed appropriately. Our state had been successfully managing the population until a federal court removed that the authority to do so. We would ask that Wisconsin again be allowed to manage this species.”

Walker said he has directed his cabinet secretaries to thoroughly review all programs and federal mandates that add costs to taxpayers, limit the flexibility of effective governance, and impede private sector growth with the intent to ask for relief.

“I encourage governors across the nation to do the same,” Walker said in a statement. “We look forward to partnering with President-elect Trump and his administration to change the course of the federal and state relationship.”

RELATED: Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, urged the president-elect to “work with Walker on common sense reform.”

“I look forward to supporting these efforts by working with him, Speaker Paul Ryan and my colleagues in the United States Senate to reduce the federal footprint, streamline the coordination between federal and state agencies and roll back the federal regulatory burden that is crippling to Wisconsin families and businesses,” Johnson said Tuesday in a statement.

The impact of a host of Obama administration regulations and executive has been pronounced, particularly in manufacturing-heavy states like Wisconsin.

“The number and cost of federal regulations increased substantially in 2015, as regulators continued to tighten restrictions on American businesses and individuals,” the Heritage Foundation reported earlier this year. “The addition of 43 new major rules last year increased annual regulatory costs by more than $22 billion, bringing the total annual costs of Obama Administration rules to an astonishing $100 billion-plus in just seven years.”

Restrictive regulations have hiked energy rates, increased food prices, and restricted access to credit for consumers and small businesses, Heritage reported.

Trump has pledged to roll back a plethora of regulations imposed by his predecessors, including financial regs that cost lenders and investment firms some $1.7 billion, according to an analysis by the American Action Forum.

In a video released late last month, the president-elect said he will “formulate a rule that says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.”

Despite protest, disruption, Wisconsin electors give Trump 10

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 16:16

MADISON, Wis. — With some protest and disruption, but no defectors, Wisconsin gave its 10 electoral votes Monday to President-elect Donald Trump.

An estimated 100 demonstrators marched outside the Wisconsin state Capitol on the day the Electoral College met at statehouses nationally to cast the ballots that officially will send the Republican to the White House.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Protest signs line the entry of the Wisconsin state Capitol Monday before state electors cast their ballots for President-elect Donald Trump. Signs were not permitted in the room where the vote was held.

The gathering of mostly liberals carried signs bearing slogans such as, “Please! Electors Save Us, Dump Trump,” and “A Vote for Trump is a Vote for Racism.”

In the end, Wisconsin’s electors did what was expected: They cast their votes for Donald Trump and turned the Badger State presidential election red for the first time in 32 years.

The same scenario played out with electors across the country.

“Despite calls for electors to defy the voters in states carried by Mr. Trump, the only signs of ‘faithless’ electors have been in states that Mrs. Clinton won,” the New York Times reported. “An elector in Maine voted for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont rather than Mrs. Clinton. And a Minnesota elector who was a Sanders supporter said he could not vote for Mrs. Clinton, and was replaced by an alternate, so his protest did not affect the tally.”

There was desperation among the anti-Trump crowd in Wisconsin, as there was elsewhere.

As the vote was announced, a member of the “Love Trumps Hate” crowd stood up and yelled that the electors “don’t deserve to be in America.” She then demanded, “This is my America!” and added that the electors have “sold us out!”

Sena Krug, of Seattle, was back home for the holidays and said she “felt drawn” to the protest. She waited outside the Capitol room where the electors cast their votes. The former legislative page said she wanted “to convince these electors to do something sane for our country, which would be to reject Trump.”

‘VOICE OF PROTEST’: Sena Krug, a Madison native, said she had to do something to try to convince electors not to vote for Trump.

“I also just want to be a voice of protest,” Krug said. “I just absolutely do not agree with what’s happening to our country. I feel like democracy is falling away day-by-day very quickly and I’m terrified.”

Bruce Mainzer, too, wanted to be a voice of opposition.

The protester was removed from the public meeting. As the ballots were being passed out, Mainzer violated protocol by standing up with his sign. Such disruptions are not allowed inside the Electoral College gathering. As he left the crowded room, Mainzer shoulted, “You’re electing a (Vladimir) Putin puppet!”

Mainzer believes too many of Trump’s inner circle, and the president-elect himself, have too cozy a relationship with the Kremlin.

“He has been cultivated by Russia and Putin. They targeted him as a personality that would be friendly to him (Putin). He grew to love the Russian oligarch style,” Mainzer charged. “What kills me is the Republican Party, in order to hang on to power, is turning away from its core values. To me this is a very scary moment in American history. It’s probably the scariest moment since Pearl Harbor was attacked.”

The Republican Party of Wisconsin wasn’t having any of the Russian conspiracy stuff.

“Today, Donald Trump received Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral Votes, and we were proud to honor the voices of 1.4 million Wisconsin voters who spoke loud and clear on November 8th,” said Wisconsin GOP chairman Brad Courtney in a press release. “Once again, we congratulate the President and Vice-President Elect on their decisive victory and look forward to their efforts to bring real change to Washington, D.C and shape a new and better direction for the nation.”

In fact, Trump effectively won twice in Wisconsin — and by a bigger margin the second time.

Wisconsin was the only state to complete a recount of its votes, a recount driven by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Trump picked up 131 additional votes in the recount, defeating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 22,748 votes.

Kevin Hermening, one of Wisconsin’s 10 electors, told Wisconsin Watchdog last week that he would remain faithful to the Republican Party and its candidate.

“It is a privilege, and I’m just looking forward to the opportunity of representing the people of the state of Wisconsin and doing our constitutional requirement, and that is joining the Electoral College and of course voting in the state Capitol on Monday,” Hermening said last week.

RELATED: Elector, former hostage, maintains hope in the people

Republican electors reportedly were inundated with late-night phone calls, emails and letters begging them to ignore the will of the voters in their state. Some said they received death threats.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that electors in Pennsylvania would have police guarding them as they voted.

Elector Ash Khare told the newspaper that he has received thousands of emails a day trying to sway his vote.

“I’m a big boy. But this is stupid,” Khare said. “Nobody is standing up and telling these people, ‘Enough, knock it off.’”

As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, there were no reports of violence carried out against electors.

Letter: Social Security judge under fire granted power to decide

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 08:41
Part 50 of 49 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. — More than a month after allegations surfaced about the grossly inappropriate conduct of a Social Security administrative law judge, the federal official remained in a position to decide whether he would continue to decide cases in question, according to an internal letter obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

According to multiple sources, ALJ John Pleuss has been under investigation on allegations of sexual harassment of Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review employees and making inappropriate comments about people who have appealed to him for Social Security benefits.

HIS CALL: More than a month after sexual harassment allegations came to light, a Social Security administrative law judge was allowed to decide whether to remain on a case.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in June, Pleuss, in his case files, described claimants as “attractive,” innocent-looking and “buxom.” In one case, he noted that a “young, white (woman)”appearing before him “looks like a man.”

“Obese, young, white (female) skimpy black top,” he wrote of another claimant.

“Very black, African looking (female),” the ALJ wrote, adding parenthetically, “(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”

Madison attorney Charles Kreimendahl wrote to the Madison SSA office asking that Pleuss be removed from his client’s case.

In a July 21 letter to Kreimendahl, Madison ODAR Chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum responded that Pleuss himself would determine the outcome.

“Our office is in receipt of your letter dated July 14, 2016, in which you requested to have your client’s hearing scheduled with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) other than ALJ Pleuss. This letter has been made part of the record and ALJ Pleuss will rule on this request,” Meachum wrote.

And then she sought to correct an error.

“Please disregard the letter dated July 19, 2016, from our office which states that your case has been reassigned to another ALJ since this letter was sent in error. I apologize for any confusion this may have caused,” Meachum added.

RELATED: Attorney seeks appeal of decisions by Social Security judge accused of ‘sexy’ comments

In June, another attorney who represents Social Security disability claimants told Wisconsin Watchdog he would appeal any adverse decision by Pleuss.

The attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his professional relationship with the judges at the Madison ODAR, said he first began hearing reports about Pleuss’ conduct several months before. That’s when the attorney said he began monitoring the outcome of the disability appeals hearings.

“I have had a standing policy to appeal any decision of ALJ Pleuss because of my concerns for his lack of impartiality,” the attorney said.

Pleuss often notes race in the hand-written case notes Wisconsin Watchdog has obtained.

The attorney said he has seen Hmong claimants treated especially badly by the administrative law judge.

“I found him condescending and rude to Hmong claimants,” the source said. “I’m pretty sure that I never had a favorable decision from him on behalf of a Hmong person.”

In one case, the attorney claims Pleuss “tested” a Hmong claimant on whether the applicant could speak English.

“He was giving instructions to my client in English. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said he was giving instructions. I said, ‘My client doesn’t speak English.’ He said, ‘Oh, sure. I bet.’ He was going to try to trick them to see if they spoke English,” the attorney said.

The attorney said he has seen the judge deny cases he thought had a strong foundation, and “weak” cases approved.

“This issue may explain a lot about that inconsistency,” the attorney said. “I will now be able to raise issues involving females. It should be interesting since I will be asking for copies of his notes on every denial. I’m sure that request will be denied and I may end up asking Federal District Courts to issue orders for the release of the documents.”

Doug Nguyen, spokesman for SSA’s Chicago Regional Office, has declined to comment on what he said are personnel issues.

“Although we are precluded by the Privacy Act from discussing employment issues regarding specific employees, SSA takes seriously its responsibility to abide by federal law, including that which protects whistleblowers from retaliation and all employees from discrimination,” the communications director said.

ODAR officials with knowledge of the situation have told Wisconsin Watchdog that “employees have been bringing the concerns about Judge Pleuss’ sexually inappropriate comments to light for approximately the last decade,” with no action taken until recently.

Last month, Pleuss was escorted out of the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review by armed guards, sources told Wisconsin Watchdog. Sherry Thompson, outgoing chief administrative law judge for SSA’s Region 5, arrived in Madison from Chicago headquarters shortly before Pleuss’ removal, ODAR insiders said.

Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 16:59
Part 38 of 38 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. – Two U.S. senators are urging Vice President-elect Mike Pence, head of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, to hold the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for past failures.

In a letter to Pence, Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, write that the growing allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing at VA facilities nationwide are becoming more concerning.

“Whether it is unreasonable wait times at multiple facilities, the widespread overprescription of highly addictive opioids, veteran suicides, misconduct by VA management, or retaliation against whistleblowers, it is clear that not all veterans are receiving the high-quality care they deserve,” Johnson and Grassley wrote. “We are hopeful that under new leadership, the VA can embrace these principles to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the care they deserve.”

Johnson is chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Grassley is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

TROUBLED VA: Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley sent a letter to VP-elect Mike Pence, head of the Trump transition team, urging more forceful leadership on the troubled VA system.

The senators say they are particularly troubled by the veteran suicide epidemic, noting that they have strongly urged the VA inspector general to investigate suicides among Iowa and Wisconsin veterans to determine if the VA failed in its care. If so, how can the agency ensure such “failures never happen again.”

Congress, in the wake of the wait time scandals at the Phoenix VA, passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. The law established a pilot program in which veterans could seek care outside of the VA if they were unable to schedule an appointment within 30 days, or if they live far away from a VA facility.

“This program has not been implemented according to the letter and intent of the law, making it difficult to use for veterans,” the senators wrote. “We hope that under new leadership, the VA improves and expands the Choice Program for those veterans who wish to seek care from non-VA providers.”

RELATED: Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’

Wisconsin’s Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been riddled with scandal.  The hospital, known as ‘Candy Land” after reports detailed widespread overprescription of opioids, has found itself in the national spotlight again following word that nearly 600 veterans may have been exposed to serious infections.

“We believe the vast majority of VA employees are dedicated and hard-working civil servants,” Grassley and Johnson wrote.  “However, the current Administration has shown that it is either unwilling or unable to hold employees accountable for wrongful conduct.

“The failure to hold officials accountable poisons the entire workforce.”

Read the full letter here.

AG says grand jury likely to probe John Doe leaks

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 16:11
Part 379 of 378 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

MADISON, Wis. — The state Department of Justice will most likely convene a grand jury to look into more than 1,000 pages of leaked documents from Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigation.

Attorney General Brad Schimel told the Wisconsin State Journal that the leak of court-sealed records published in September by the liberal British newspaper The Guardian should be investigated through a closed grand jury process.

GRAND GESTURE: Attorney General Brad Schimel says a grand jury will likely be convened to look into leaked John Doe documents. One target of the unconstitutional probe is not impressed.

“This isn’t the type of investigation that you go knocking on doors and ask people to talk with you,” Schimel said in an interview Thursday with the State Journal. “(The investigation is) going to be best suited (in) a protected environment of a courtroom where we’re asking questions and developing information.”

A conservative target of the unconstitutional probe was not impressed by Schimel’s labored decision to investigate.

“Watching the attorney general’s response to the illegal leak has been like watching someone trying to get a dead mouse out of a trap without touching it. I just don’t get it,” said Deborah Jordahl, a political strategist who, along with several other conservatives and their families, had her home raided by law enforcement in October 2013.

Like the rest of the targets of the John Doe II investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and dozens of conservative groups, Jordahl was never charged with a crime.

Eric O’Keefe, another target of the politically driven probe, said the entire John Doe investigation was an “assault on political opponents conducted under color of law.”

“Taxpayers deserve to know who ran the operation, and why, and how many millions of taxpayer dollars were deployed on this unconstitutional political operation,” said O’Keefe, whose Wisconsin Club for Growth was painted in the Guardian piece as the conduit of some criminal campaign finance scheme working with the campaign of the Wisconsin left’s No. 1 enemy: Walker.

But multiple courts, including the John Doe judge, found that the prosecutors had presented no probable cause that an illegal coordination crime had been committed. What they found was that the conservatives had participated in constitutionally protected free speech.

Last year, the state Supreme Court declared the John Doe unconstitutional and over.

But Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, the Democrat who launched the probe in 2012, would not stop. He and two other DAs, also Democrats, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the state court’s ruling. They failed. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Chisholm’s petition.

Last month, the state Supreme Court rejected Schimel’s request that the court appoint a “special master” to investigate the leaks.

“(W)e reject any request for this court to conduct or to order a criminal investigation of the leaks of John Doe evidence and matters covered by the John Doe II secrecy orders,” the majority opinion, 3-1, stated.

RELATED: Supreme Court won’t investigate John Doe leaks

While the judicial branch has authority to protect and enforce its orders, it is the “executive branch that investigates and prosecutes potential crimes,” the court said.

In other words, such an investigation would be the domain of the attorney general.

That’s what some conservative targets had asserted all along.

Schimel’s spokesman did not return Wisconsin Watchdog’s request for an interview with the attorney general.

Conservative targets believe the prosecutors or those connected to them leaked the documents, and they say there is evidence to show it. Prosecutors have denied the accusation.

Schimel told the Wisconsin State Journal that he won’t investigate a leak of materials to other publications, including the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page. Presumably that applies to documents obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog in reporting, among other things, the partisan communications by the prosecutors’ partners at the former state Government Accountability Board.

Chisholm and former John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz have said they want the release of that court-sealed information investigated as well.

Project labor agreement reform bill introduced in Wisconsin

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 15:37

WAUKESHA – State Rep. Rob Hutton is introducing a bill to prevent local governments from requiring contractors who bid on public construction projects to have project labor agreements, or PLAs, with local labor unions.

“We’re basically eliminating the ability for a municipality to require that a contractor enter into a project labor agreement for collective bargaining around labor and labor wages,” the Brookfield Republican said in an interview Thursday.

PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENT REFORM: Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, said he wants contractors to be the ones to decide if they want to enter into a project labor agreement when working on public construction projects.

“We don’t want government either to prohibit or require a project labor agreement,” Hutton added.

PLAs are agreements between owners of construction firms and construction unions. Under current state law, firms bidding to work on a public construction project can be required by municipalities and school districts to enter into collective bargaining with the unions, hire workers through union hiring halls, and pay union wages and benefits. This applies to contractors whether they normally use a unionized workforce or not.

“We want to leave that up to the contractor themselves that if they deem it to their benefit to, as a part of their bid, to enter into a project labor agreement in order to accommodate the labor for that project.” Hutton said.

“Conversely, if a contractor says they have no interest in entering into a project labor agreement as a part of the process of bidding on the construction of a project, then that’s perfectly fine as well. We want to leave it in the hands of that individual firm as to how they address their labor resources for that project.”

The co-author of the bill, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, said in a statement Thursday that qualified contractors normally are shut out of the bid process when PLAs are required.

“The government should not be in the business of choosing winners and losers, particularly at the expense of taxpayers,” Vukmir stated. “Government-mandated project labor agreements obstruct open, impartial and competitive bidding on construction projects.”

Reforming PLAs could be one way for the Legislature to control costs on road construction. Hutton and Vukmir said the current law is inflating public construction costs. “Studies have shown that project labor agreements can increase the cost of projects by as much as 18% by reducing the number of eligible contractors,” their joint statement claimed.

Hutton explained why they’re supporting the limits on PLAs now.

“I think we’re at a time when the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin are asking us to be very smart with our taxpayer dollars,” Hutton said. “And if we’re looking at, in this case road projects, I think prior to having any discussion whatsoever about if there is a need to raise revenue, I think most taxpayers and businesses in our state are asking us to be as efficient and effective as possible within our government entities.”

He added that lawmakers should work to see how lean the government can become “before we come back and ask the taxpayers for one more penny out of their pocket to fill the gap.”

Lawmakers have their work cut out for them, especially when it comes to the transportation budget’s $1 billion shortfall. In a constituent newsletter sent on Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced that he is in favor of repealing Wisconsin’s prevailing wage proposal. “A full prevailing wage repeal should be considered as part of a comprehensive transportation funding package,” the newsletter said.

Just last month, Vos said in a memo that a complete repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law would save only an average of 1 percent on project costs. The prevailing wage law requires state road contractors to pay wages which are similar to the union scale normally paid to workers on similar private projects in an area. A partial repeal of the law for local road projects takes effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

RELATED: Transportation wish list could hike gas taxes 28 cents per gallon, memo finds

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO could not be reached for comment on Hutton’s proposal. However, the national AFL-CIO defended PLAs in a blog post in 2013. “PLAs clearly improve the working conditions, salaries and benefits of both union and non-union workers, prevent disruptive work stoppages and bring construction projects in on time and under budget,” the blog post said.

press release from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers praised a PLA recently signed by the Milwaukee Bucks for the construction of their new arena. “Study after study shows that projects built under PLAs are more likely to be completed on time, within budget and with the highest level of quality construction,” the release said.

Hutton disagreed with the unions’ praise for PLAs.

“There is plenty of examples from around the country where project labor agreements have been in place for projects that haven’t necessarily resulted in the quality of work or the timeliness of that work,” he said. “So there isn’t anything synonymous with a PLA and the quality of work or the quality of the project itself.”

He added that the lack of a PLA also doesn’t mean “the quality of the workforce is subpar,” or that the work itself fails to live up to expectations.

Hutton is optimistic that his colleagues in the Legislature will support the bill.

“So far we’ve got pretty good response and a lot of encouragement from fellow legislators,” he said. “I’ve had discussions with leadership in general that have been very positive and supportive of the legislation.”

About twenty-one other states have enacted legislation to significantly reform or completely eliminate government imposed PLA laws.

Study: Milwaukee voucher program a half-billion dollar winner

Thu, 12/15/2016 - 16:34

MILWAUKEE — A new study says the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program will have  a $473 million economic impact on the Milwaukee area by 2035 because of higher graduation rates for voucher school students compared to their peers in Milwaukee Public Schools.

“There are many well-known benefits of graduating from high school,” Will Flanders, co-author of the study and education research director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, told Watchdog in an interview. “You can have access to better jobs. You’re more likely to have health insurance and therefore likely to be in better health. You’re likely to have a better income and less likely to become reliant on social welfare programs.”

BIG IMPACT: Will Flanders on the economic benefit of Milwaukee’s voucher school program: “You’re likely to have a better income and less likely to become reliant on social welfare programs.”

The study also found that the choice program will generate $26 million more in economic benefit to Milwaukee than similar students in MPS because they are less likely to commit a crime.

“People that don’t engage in criminal behavior are more likely to have the same sort of opportunities and effects on their life that graduating from high school can have,” Flanders said. “As well as, we look at victim costs. There is no victim if there is no crime. We look at court costs, savings to court, savings to police work.”

The MPCP is considered to be the nation’s oldest publicly funded private school voucher program, started in 1990 with seven schools and 337 students. Today the program has grown to 121 private schools and 28,188 students. To participate, the student must reside in the Milwaukee Public Schools district and family income must be less than 300 percent of the federal poverty line.

Corey DeAngelis of the University of Arkansas, the other co-author of the study, said that to obtain an “apples to apples” comparison on criminal behavior, the authors used a previous study that matched 1,091 students from the voucher program with 1,091 students from MPS, using their neighborhood residence as the reference. “That’s important because families that collect in similar neighborhoods will be similar on observable characteristics such as their motivation level, which would otherwise bias our estimates,” DeAngelis said. “So we used one of the most rigorous matching procedures there is to get a comparable sample.”

Flanders quantified it.

“What we expect is a decrease of 960 misdemeanor offenses over the next 20 years,” Flanders said. “When we multiply that over the economic benefit of not committing a misdemeanor, we see about a $1.7 million net economic benefit of the choice program.”

“For felonies, the effects get bigger because the cost of a felony is larger to society,” Flanders said. “We expect a 694 decrease in felonies over the next 20 years and the economic benefit of that translates to about $24 million.”

Flanders and DeAngelis say this is a conservative estimate of the economic benefits because it does not take into account the prevention of multiple criminal offenses.

SEE RELATED: A new paper looks at school vouchers and lower crime rates

The economic benefit of the higher graduation rates was based on a previous study showing students who stay with the voucher program have a 4 percent higher likelihood of graduating. “We expect about 2,600 more kids to graduate over the next 20 years,” Flanders said. “And the economic benefit of that is very substantial, $473 million over the next 20 years.”

“If the choice program is able to grow more rapidly, then theoretically these numbers will be even larger,” Flanders said.

The motivation for the study, believed to be the first of its kind for the MPCP, was the experience of St. Marcus Lutheran School.

In 2014, St. Marcus attempted to purchase the unused Lee Elementary School from Milwaukee Public Schools to expand its operations as a school in the MPCP. The city of Milwaukee wanted St. Marcus to pay an extra $1.3 million over the purchase price to cover the impact to taxpayers because of the “funding flaw” of the impact of students leaving MPS for a voucher school.

The “funding flaw” is the amount property owners are taxed to cover MPS’s portion of funding the MPS share of the private school voucher. That amount is gradually being reduced until it disappears in 10 years.

SEE RELATED: Milwaukee makes it hard to buy its many empty school buildings

“Henry Tyson, the superintendent of the school, indicated there were these other benefits to the school that the city is not taking into account,” Flanders said. “He talked about graduation rates. He talked about the fact that the school had low incarceration rates. So this is something that has been out there but no one to date has quantified what the value of that is exactly.”

The study showed that St. Marcus will have a net $71 million economic benefit over the next 20 years, $64 million as a result of its high graduation rate and about $7 million because of the low incarceration rate. Had Milwaukee allowed St. Marcus to purchase the Lee Elementary facility, the economic benefit would have been double.

Elector, former hostage, maintains hope in the people

Thu, 12/15/2016 - 15:47

MADISON, Wis. – Kevin Hermening has truly had a wonderful life.

For nearly 30 years Hermening has owned and operated a successful financial planning firm based in Wausau. He’s an accomplished speaker, he’s widely respected in conservative politics and has a wife and two daughters who think the world of him.

The Marine Corps veteran was the youngest of the 52 Americans held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran for 444 days from 1979 to 1981. He received the Prisoner of War Medal and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the nation’s highest peacetime military decorations from the Department of Defense.

And on Monday, Hermening is going to college.

The Electoral College.

THE ELECTOR: – Kevin Hermening is one of 10 Wisconsin electors heading to Madison on Dec. 19. Wisconsin’s 10 represent 1.8 percent of the 538 electoral votes up for grabs and 3.7 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the general election, according to Ballotpedia.org.

Hermening is one of Wisconsin’s 10 electors, pledged to vote for President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

“It is a privilege and I’m just looking forward to the opportunity of representing the people of the state of Wisconsin and doing our constitutional requirement and that is joining the Electoral College and of course voting in the State Capitol on Monday,”  Hermening told Wisconsin Watchdog this week on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA.

That privilege came by chance.

Hermening was tapped to fill the 7th Congressional elector roll vacated by Jim Miller, who in October joined U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy’s staff as outreach representative for the Wisconsin Republican. Miller’s new position disqualified him as an elector.

Hermening is no “faithless elector.” He has no intention of listening to the din of the left and even some in his own party calling for the Electoral College to consider rejecting the people of their states’ will.

He has special incentive to remain faithful.

“My wife threatened to ‘Lorena Bobbitt’ me if something happened,” Hermening said, chuckling. (Fellows, Google Lorena Bobbit. It’s not a happy ending.)

Actually, his wife, Wendy, was “on the Trump train from the beginning,” Hermening said.

RELATED: Now What? Legislators planning changes to Wisconsin’s recount law

Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University and expert on the electoral process, told the Washington Examiner not to expect a flood of faithless electors next week.

“While it is not that uncommon to have one faithless elector, those who oppose Trump would need 37 faithless electors to deny Trump the majority demanded by the Constitution,” Sracic told the publication.

Hermening said America was ready for a change, despite all of the “identity politics” of the left. The act of voting for Donald Trump does not make anyone a bigot or a misogynist or a homophobe or any of the other litany of phobes liberals have tried to tag Trump voters with.

At the Republican Party booth he has worked for the past 29 county fairs,  Hermening said he found 70 percent of people who approached him seeking Trump bumper stickers and yards signs were middle-aged women.

“The very people we heard from the mass media definitely were not going to support Donald Trump,” he said.

While Jill Stein and the Green Party’s $3.5 million presidential recount in Wisconsin raised questions about whether Hermening and his fellow electors would be locked out of the Electoral College, the former hostage had no doubt the people – again – would come through.

“I had all the faith in the world in our local election officials and the volunteers and the paid people who stepped up in doing the work again that was done well on Nov. 8 and well into the morning of the 9th,” he said.

Special needs scholarship program rules face no opposition at hearing

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 21:18

MADISON, Wis. – Despite the controversy surrounding passage of the law, nobody testified at Tuesday’s public hearing on the permanent administrative rules for Wisconsin’s Special Needs Scholarship Program.

It was a mostly empty house at the Department of Public Instruction event in Madison.

“The first speaker for today’s hearing is person number one. The first person signed up on the form,” said Colleen Uhlenkamp, a special needs education consultant with DPI running the public hearing. “Did anybody sign up on the form?”

Colleen Uhlenkamp of the state Department of Public Instruction waited in vain for someone to testify on the proposed rules for Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Program.

The answer was no. Only two members of the public in attendance, employees of the Racine Unified School District, and they chose not to speak at the hearing. Two employees of the Cudahy school district briefly attended the hearing at the start but left without offering testimony.

The Special Needs Scholarship Program provides a scholarship of up to $12,000 for a special needs student to attend a participating private school. To be eligible for the program, a student must have an active individualized education program and have been rejected from open enrollment within the last five years.

Opponents of private school choice joined with disability rights advocacy groups to stop the law’s passage the first two times it was proposed. Passage on the third attempt was only possible after the provision regarding open enrollment rejection was added. Open enrollment is the state school choice program that allows students to attend a public school in another district provided the home district agrees and the new school district has space for the student.

In an interview with Watchdog in June when the program officially started, the law’s author, State Rep John Jagler, R-Watertown, described the strong opposition to the special needs voucher program.

“The second time we unveiled this bill, Sen. (Leah) Vukmir and I had a press conference and no one had seen the bill,” Jagler said. “The only ones who had seen the bill were Sen. Vukmir and I and our staff, and within one day the Senate parlor was full of people in t-shirts protesting this bill.”

SEE RELATED: Special Needs Scholarship Program’s first year enrollment exceeds expectations

The special needs scholarship program is already proving popular with parents of special needs students. According to figures from DPI, 206 students received vouchers to attend one of 26 private schools participating in the program this year, the first year of the program.

Uhlenkamp could not comment on written testimony already received on the proposed rules. Written testimony will be accepted by DPI until Dec. 23.

Is Speaker Vos taking taxpayers for a ride in ambulance video?

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 17:17

MADISON, Wis. – In a jarring video released last week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos rides in the back of an ambulance to demonstrate just how rough – and potentially dangerous – Racine County roads can be for first responders.

But is the Rochester Republican, pusher of the all-options-on-the-table approach (cue the gas tax increase) to fixing Wisconsin’s transportation budget just taking taxpayers for a ride?

In his four-minute video, titled “Road Work Ahead,” Vos travels with his cousin, an EMS worker in Burlington, to showcase the cost of not filling Wisconsin’s nearly $1 billion Transportation budget shortfall.

Vos says his cousin challenged him to check out the roads EMS crews and their patients are forced to ride every day in Racine County.

“I took him up on his challenge. That’s why we are here today going through normal roads in Racine County to show why it’s so important that while some think our roads are just fine, for people who deal with life and death situations, it makes a really big difference,” Vos says from the back of a rattling ambulance.

But the roads on which Vos travels in the video have picked up significant funding in recent years, and stand to see record increases in the next biennial budget — without an increase to the state gas tax.

RED ALERT: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in a scene from his video pitching greater transportation funding as a matter of life and death.

The three local units of government responsible for the roads have received millions of dollars over the past several years, according to documents obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

Racine County has received $354,409 in average annual Local Roads Improvement Program funding from the state between fiscal year 2006 and 2017. The Town of Burlington took in $51,069 on average per fiscal year over the period.

Racine County will have received more than $2.33 million on average per year in General Transportation Aids in calendar years 2015 through 2017; the city of Burlington will have received nearly $600,000 on average annually over that period.

Local governments have significant discretion on what projects to fund with state and federal funding. The state plays little role in prioritization of local projects.

Many of those bumpy roads Vos takes taxpayers on are already in line for expensive maintenance projects. Bushnell Road, for instance, is slated to be let for resurfacing in March. The project will use $5.3 million in federal aid and $2.2 million in state funds.

A spokeswoman for the speaker said Vos applauds DOT’s plans to resurface a road featured in his Road Work Ahead video.

The Town of Burlington, the city of Racine, and Racine County each expects to see an 8.16 percent increase in state transportation funding in the next fiscal year.

Gov. Scott Walker is proposing record increases in local transportation aid, without hiking the gas tax or raising fees.

While Walker and other conservatives are dead set against such “revenue enhancements,” Vos and other Republican leaders insist nothing can be ruled out if Wisconsin is going to fix its long-term transportation funding problems. Vos asserts, in his ambulance ride video and beyond, that coming up with expanded funding sources is a matter of life and death.

His critics, like Sens. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, argue that those who want to boost the gas tax are being irresponsible with the taxpayers’ trust.

“We did not come in here to increase taxes,” Kapenga said in a conference call with reporters. “Really, from our perspective, trying to put into place a permanent tax increase to fix a temporary issue, that is not responsible.”

Critics also say Vos is trying to use local road condition issues, which the governor’s budget address, to make the case to raise revenue – money that would be funneled into four mega projects in Southeast Wisconsin and Madison, and into the pockets of the state road builder lobby.

“So far all the messaging we are hearing is they want to funnel the money to these major projects,” said Eric Bott, Wisconsin state director of Americans for Prosperity. “I think it’s fair to ask the question, if taxes are increased, will that money go to improving local roads out state?”

Vos told Wisconsin Watchdog Wednesday that, “Safe rides for EMS and patients on the way to the hospital is a reasonable expectation.”

“The video was intended to be an illustration of a larger problem that EMS officials confirm is happening around the state,” he said.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer in an email said the Assembly Transportation Committee hearing last week revealed the proposed DOT budget doesn’t even come close to meeting the needs of Wisconsin’s transportation system.

“The DOT Secretary stated that 42 percent of the major roads and half of the secondary roads will be in poor condition in 10 years under the current plan. In addition, the Towns Associations said the funds provided under the current DOT proposal would only allow for the construction of 53 feet of road in a township,” Beyer said.

“Speaker Vos has repeatedly said every option should be on the table so that we can put forward a comprehensive package that the public understands and is in the best interests of the Wisconsin taxpayer,” Beyer added. “The first necessary step is to review the upcoming DOT audit to determine where we can find additional cost savings within the agency itself.”

Last week, Stroebel and Kapenga released a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau detailing what they say are the potential costs of a gas tax increase. The document examines two different levels of transportation spending to see how much gas taxes would have to go up if there were no additional borrowing.

RELATED: Transportation wish list could hike gas taxes 28 cents per gallon, memo finds

“In order to fund the gap under the wish list of the gas tax increase advocates without doing any bonding, they would have to increase our gas tax by over 90 percent,” Kapenga said.

That’s approximately 28 cents per gallon, for taxpayers keeping score at home, or nearly double the 30.9-cent state tax on every gallon of gasoline.

Vos said leadership is proposing no such thing and that some of his colleagues are engaging in “fear mongering.”

“While it’s laudable that Senators Kapenga and Stroebel say they’re relying on their CPA and business experience to analyze what they describe as the transportation fund’s spending problem, they’re deliberately ignoring the other side of the balance sheet in favor of politics and fear mongering,” the speaker said in a prepared statement.

Kapenga told Wisconsin Watchdog that he finds it interesting that the Assembly speaker who made a transportation funding pitch video from the back of an ambulance is criticizing fellow Republicans for “fear-mongering.”

The transportation battle has made combatants of long-time friends.

Vos has criticized Walker’s plan to borrow $500 million. The governor’s plan also delays some big-ticket projects in Milwaukee and Racine.

Walker wants specifics. He has asked Vos and Assembly leadership to make their plan public “so taxpayers know how much it will cost them.”

There is no doubt that Wisconsin has some rough roads. Marc Cohen, executive director of the Wisconsin EMS Association, told Fox6 News in Milwaukee the bumpy roads featured in Vos’ video are “an example of what local EMS are dealing with throughout the state of Wisconsin.”

Stroebel said he hopes the Legislature will take a more “holistic” approach to transportation funding, looking at where savings can be gained first.

Wisconsin’s tax burden eases

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 15:03

MADISON, Wis. – The Badger State’s tax burden has declined slightly, according to the newly released Census Bureau figures.

LESS BURDENSOME: Wisconsin’s state-local tax burden declined in 2014, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. The Badger State fell a spot, from 15th to 16th in tax burden.

Wisconsin’s state-local tax burden declined from 15th highest among the states in 2013 to 16th highest in 2014, based on the most recent data. Census figures lag by two years.

It’s not much, but it’s something for a state long tagged as a high-tax state.

Taxes eased from 10.9 percent of personal income in 2013 to 10.8 percent in 2014, according to a statement by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX).

Nationally, taxes relative to income rose from 10.4 percent in 2013 to 10.6 percent in 2014, the latest data show.

Wisconsin’s improved ranking, in part, is owed to New Mexico and increased tax burdens there, according to Dale Knapp, research director for WISTAX.

Knapp said relatively strict property tax limits on schools, municipalities and counties have dropped Wisconsin’s local burden from 4.8 percent to 4.1 percent of income, helping to better the state’s overall ranking.

“On top of that, you have the income tax cuts,” Knapp said.

Wisconsin historically had ranked as a top 10 individual income tax burden state. Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led Legislature have chipped into that ranking in recent years with a series of tax cuts.

Rate cuts in 2013 and 2014 saved wage earners a combined $423.6 million, according to a report earlier this year by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Tax cuts from the highest to the second lowest earning categories ranged from 4.1 percent to nearly 13 percent, according to the agency.

Knapp said Wisconsin’s total state tax burden relative to income appears to have dropped in 2015 and 2016, as well. WISTAX expects to release a full tax report for fiscal year 2016, including a closer look at spending.

John Doe civil rights lawsuit about to heat up

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 14:16
Part 377 of 377 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

MADISON, Wis. – The next litigation phase of Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe story will be heating up in the dead of winter.

Cindy Archer’s civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutors of the unconstitutional John Doe II investigation heads to oral arguments on Jan. 6 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Archer, former aide to Gov. Scott Walker, is appealing District Court Judge Lynn Adelman’s May ruling tossing out the lawsuit. In part, the liberal judge ruled, Archer had no right to First Amendment protections because she was a government employee tied to Walker.

In a recent filing (first reported by Wis.politics.com), Archer’s attorneys call Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs and two of his investigators “rogue agents” who intentionally violated Archer’s constitutional rights. They did so, the lawsuit contends, as “part of their political vendetta against Scott Walker and his affiliates.”

Archer was swept up in Chisholm’s “John Doe 1” investigation that targeted aides and associates of Walker when Walker was Milwaukee County executive – in the months preceding his 2010 gubernatorial election win.

Like Walker, Archer was never charged with any wrongdoing.

ARCHER READY: Cindy Archer, a former aide to Gov. Scott Walker targeted in the John Doe probes, has appealed her civil rights lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Oral arguments in the case are slated for next month.

That didn’t stop John Doe investigators from hounding her, harassing her and interrogating her on multiple occasions over the course of many months, according to Archer’s lawsuit.

In September 2011, law enforcement officers showed up at her Madison home and conducted an early morning armed raid — a very public raid.

Archer’s filing with the appeals court claims John Doe investigation participants “falsified warrant applications, seized and searched records that could not possibly be related to any purported crime, and selectively leaked information to the media to destroy Ms. Archer’s reputation and career.”

The new filing asserts what the plaintiffs argued before Adelman earlier this year: that John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim did not review warrants used in the raid and that he may not have signed them.

Court documents suggest Nettesheim was out of the area working on another case at the time the warrants were issued.

“They even launched an armed, pre-dawn raid of Ms. Archer’s home based on a warrant that they knew was not reviewed by, and may not have been signed by, an impartial magistrate,” the appeals court filing states. “And this may be just the tip of the iceberg, as secrecy orders have greatly hampered pre-discovery case investigation.”

RELATED: Cindy Archer appeals John Doe civil rights lawsuit

Attorneys for the defendants claim their investigation into Walker’s former aides and associates in the “John Doe I” investigation, was founded on established probable cause, therefore fastening immunity and eliminating liability on the part of the prosecutors and investigators.

The probe netted Chisholm six convictions. But his defense attorneys were forced to acknowledge it was Walker’s top aide who took the original complaints of discrepancies in a county veterans fund to the Milwaukee County DA’s office, sparking the probe. Only two of the convictions had anything to do with the original scope of an investigation that kept widening as Chisholm, a Democrat, and his assistants saw greater opportunity to go after the Republican county executive.

The investigation rolled out in May 2010, just as Walker was firing up his campaign for governor. The Republican would eventually face off against Milwaukee Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett.

Chisholm, with Nettesheim’s blessing, took the myriad documents he grabbed up in the first John Doe proceeding and rolled them into what became known as John Doe II – a secret campaign finance investigation into Walker’s campaign and dozens of conservative groups.

That probe was declared unconstitutional by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ordered it shut down. The U.S. Supreme Court in October rejected Chisholm’s request to have the state Supreme Court’s ruling overturned.

Adelman ruled the prosecutors are entitled to qualified immunity from such lawsuits and prosecution, even if they eviscerated Archer’s civil rights. He claims the prosecutors were the ones  harassed, by the conservative targets’ litigious actions. The judge did not accept the argument that the John Doe probes were part of a sustained campaign of intimidation led by a highly partisan prosecutor and very active participant in the Democratic Party.

Archer argues that she did not give up her First Amendment rights simply by being a conservative.

Eric O’Keefe, one of the scores of conservatives in Wisconsin and beyond caught up in Chisholm’s probe, called Adelman’s decision “stunning,” and said this kind of protection of qualified immunity is a “new phase in First Amendment law.”

“I wonder whether any liberals in Wisconsin will get a little bit queasy about the idea now, with an incoming Donald Trump and a new attorney general, whether they really like the idea that government employees do not have First Amendment rights,” said O’Keefe, whose Wisconsin Club for Growth was targeted in the probe.  O’Keefe spoke to Wisconsin Watchdog last week on the Jay Weber Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN in Milwaukee. “And will they like the idea that speculative raids on people’s homes to seize their political documents are OK?”

Fired Social Security whistleblower won’t be taking whistleblower protection training

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 12:46
Part 48 of 48 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. — While all Social Security Administration employees take mandatory training on their rights and protections against whistleblower retaliation, Ron Klym is out of work nearly four months after blowing the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse at the SSA.

WITH PROTECTION LIKE THIS: Long-time Social Security Administration employee Ron Klym finds himself out of a job this Christmas months after blowing the whistle on SSA abuse.

Klym,  a 16-year employee with the SSA’s Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, was dismissed in mid-August. His termination came about three months after Klym told Wisconsin Watchdog about due process concerns, particularly long case delays at the Milwaukee ODAR. Long before, Klym had reported misconduct and retaliation to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

For all of that, and for Christmas, Klym is out of work.

RELATED: Social Security Administration fires whistleblower

Other whistleblowers are a little more fortunate.

In August, Deborah Holland, a manager at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, was walked out of her office by two armed security guards, at the request of the local ODAR’s chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum.

Holland, a long-time SSA employee who, like Klym, had exemplary performance reviews, was removed from her management position, stripped of all supervisory duties, and temporarily placed on administrative leave.

Holland was professionally relocated after blowing the whistle on sweeping allegations of “corruption and cover-up” at the Madison office and in SSA’s Region 5. Among the many accusations to come to light in Wisconsin’s Watchdog’s investigation into the agency is that an administrative law judge sexually harassed employees and Social Security disability claimants. The judge, who according to multiple sources has been removed from his position, is accused of writing grossly inappropriate comments about claimants whose cases came before him.

Other employees have alleged bribery, cronyism, fraud and a corrupt system of rewards and punishments by the former hearing office director, Laura Hodorowicz.

And now SSA employees must complete mandatory training under the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act, popularly known as the No FEAR Act.

The 2002 law requires federal agencies to “be accountable for violations of antidiscrimination and whistleblower protection laws.”

The No FEAR Act mandates SSA employees receive training every two years, according to an internal memo obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog. This year employees are required to watch a 21-minute video on demand. After viewing the video, employees electronically certify that they have taken the mandatory training.

For the whistleblowers who believe they have been punished instead of protected, the training is an exercise in futility.

“I do not believe in the agency I work for anymore,” said one ODAR whistleblower who claims she has routinely been disciplined after testifying in a harassment case. “I am hoping with the new administration coming in January that they will fire the corrupt (SSA) commissioner and her cronies so we can get back to what this job is supposed to be about, and the reason why I took this position instead of making more in the private sector.”

The source said she wanted to help claimants with their cases, but management has its priorities mixed up.

“Just think, if they put all of this kind of effort they do to retaliate against whistleblowers, and anyone who disagrees with them and says something to actually help the public, can you imagine the good that could happen?” the ODAR insider said.

An SSA spokesman repeatedly has said the agency does not talk about personnel matters or ongoing investigations. There are several ongoing investigations into Region 5 ODAR offices.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has said whistleblower protection laws have been on the book for 100 years, and new laws constantly are being created. The problem, the senator said, is making sure federal agencies follow the laws and punish those who break them.

But who will protect the whistleblowers? Not the SSA, sources say.

“They are the judge and jury making determinations without any reference to legality or proper procedure,” Klym said in August of SSA’s administrative staff.

Now what? Legislators planning changes to Wisconsin’s recount law

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 00:23

MADISON, Wis. – Ten days after it began amid accusations of computer hacking and voter fraud, Wisconsin’s unprecedented presidential recall is over.

And the winner is – again ….

Donald Trump, by 131 more votes than he originally claimed in last month’s general election. The certified recount confirms that Trump is the first Republican presidential nominee to win Wisconsin since 1984.

The loser, her critics say, was definitely Jill Stein, the Green Party also-ran who dragged the Badger State into her computer hacking conspiracy theory.

Stein, who finished fourth in the election with 31,006 votes, paid an estimated $3.5 million for the statewide recount – a costly and arduous process that could have cost Wisconsin its 10 electoral votes.

“As predicted, this recount was a colossal waste of time and resources that could have been better expended on any of numerous charitable causes,” said state Rep. Dave Craig, R-Town of Vernon. “It is unfortunate that our statutes allowed liberals to hi-jack this process and disrupt the lives of the hundreds of Wisconsinites who had to conduct this recount.”

Craig, who early on said he would be scrutinizing the recount to ensure no taxpayer money was spent on the effort, tells Wisconsin Watchdog that several legislators are meeting to discuss potential changes to Wisconsin’s election law. In Wisconsin, anyone on the ballot can request a recount, but if the margin of victory is more than 0.25 percent, the cost must be borne by the petitioner.

CHANGES COMING: State Rep. Dave Craig, R-Town of Vernon, says lawmakers are discussing possible reforms to Wisconsin’s recount law.

Craig said the idea is to make sure that recounts are not frivolous practices and under a timeline that would never place Wisconsin’s electoral votes in jeopardy.

County clerks were under the gun to count some 2.976 million ballots before Tuesday, the deadline for states to submit their vote counts to ensure their presidential candidate preference is represented when the Electoral College meets on Dec. 19.

Wisconsin Elections Commission Chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, said the recount reaffirms the integrity of Wisconsin’s election system.

“Completing this recount was a challenge, but the real winners are the voters,” Thomsen said in a statement. “Based on the recount, they can have confidence that Wisconsin’s election results accurately reflect the will of the people, regardless of whether they are counted by hand or by machine.”

When the vote was certified Monday, Trump had won 22,748 more votes than his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Wisconsin put an exclamation point on Stein’s quixotic quest. She had sought recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan but courts in those states stopped her campaigns.

RELATED: Lawmaker: Wisconsin recount campaign ‘appalling and tyrannical’

Stein continued to blame the system – and Trump.

“Trump and his GOP allies failed to obstruct #RecountWI—but the state already infringes on voters’ rights,” the Green Party candidate tweeted Monday.

She sees herself as a defender of democracy.

#Recount2016 attempted to validate the vote and restore confidence in our voting system to worried Americans,” she tweeted.

In the end, Stein raised millions of dollars, grabbed the national spotlight for two weeks, and, election experts said, showed that Wisconsin’s elections systems is quite healthy – give or take some 800 ballots that escaped the scrutiny of the count due to voter error.

Craig questioned why more liberals did not speak out against the recount campaign.

“It is truly shameful that liberals in Wisconsin did not condemn this recount in united voice from day one in hopes of stopping this exercise in futility before it started,” the Republican lawmaker said.

Johnson looks to check Obama’s ‘midnight regulations’

Mon, 12/12/2016 - 17:02

MADISON, Wis. – Conservative lawmakers are in a race against the clock to check President Barack Obama and his quest to push through as many big-ticket rules and regulations as possible before his time in office is up.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson urged the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA, to follow its own counsel and cease taking on the spate of so-called “midnight regulations” in the last days of the Obama administration.

In a letter to the agency, the Oshkosh Republican wrote that the American people, through November’s presidential election, voiced “their disapproval of the type of government that ignores the input of small business owners, consumers, and job creators.”

MIDNIGHT BINGE: Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has introduced legislation to check the practice of issuing ‘midnight regulations’ at the end of presidential administrations.

President-elect Donald Trump, his administration, and the Republican-led 115th Congress will likely re-examine and “unwind burdensome regulations imposed by the Obama administration,” Johnson noted in the letter.

“However, in an effort to finalize as many rules as possible before the next president takes office, the Obama administration is reportedly engaging in a last-minute deluge to promulgate so-called ‘midnight regulations,’ wrote Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In a Washington Post piece published Nov. 30, Juliet Eilperin wrote, the “Obama White House is engaged in a frenzied, final effort to put in place as many new rules and regulations as time allows.”

“The goal: to complete several major regulations and other executive actions before President Obama leaves office on Jan. 20,” Eilperin wrote.

Obama’s spate of rules and regs includes everything from land use and private-sector pay measures to regulations demanding greater energy efficiency for industrial appliances and more stringent standards aimed at reducing falls in the workplace.

Each proposed rule would have an economic impact on business – much of it small business – of at least $100 million.

‘Regulatory surge’

Administration officials take issue with the idea that Obama has pushed more “active economically significant rules” than his predecessors.

The number of such rules, they claim, is at the lowest level since the beginning of the Obama administration in spring 2009, and 14 percent lower than the average for the administration.

But Eilperin notes that, even before this last burst of regulatory activity, Obama enacted nearly 56 percent more economically significant rules by Nov. 30 than George W. Bush did during his entire two terms, according to Daniel ­Pérez, a policy analyst at the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University.

“This recent regulatory surge and the pressure to have these rules finalized before January 20, 2017, raises concerns about the ability of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to carefully and properly review these rules,” Johnson wrote in his letter to OIRA, part of the White House’s Office of Budget and Management.

Johnson last week proposed legislation  to check midnight regulations. The bill would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow Congress to consider a joint resolution to disapprove multiple regulations that federal agencies have submitted for review within the last 60 legislative days of a congressional session during the final year of a president’s term. Congress would have the ability to disapprove a group of such regulations together instead of one at a time.

It would be a an important change. The crunch of business at the end of a Congress often leaves little time on the legislative calendar. And many members want to get out as quickly as possible toward the end of the session, leaving near-empty chambers — and small businesses ultimately covering the costs of last-minute regulations.

Some lawmakers now find the change unnecessary, however.

“Now, I feel assured that President Trump will sign those things, to reverse some of these late regulations coming out by the Obama administration,” ­ Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told the Washington Post. “And we plan to use that technique vigorously in the next administration.”

‘Avoidable and unnecessary compliance costs’

But Johnson is concerned that business will be stuck with a bunch of expensive and unnecessary regulation before the Trump administration addresses the flood of rules.

Johnson is asking OIRA to do what it advised last year in a memo issued to all deputy secretaries. The guidance states that each agency “should strive to complete their highest priority rule-making by the summer of 2016 to avoid an end-of-year scramble that has the potential to lower the quality of regulations that OIRA receives for review and to tax resources available for inter-agency review.”

With less than 40 days until Jan. 20, Johnson said OIRA would have to complete review of at least three regulations per day in order to facilitate the finalization of the remaining rules before it as of last week.

“Given your own concerns, and the likelihood that the incoming administration in the 115th Congress will unwind many of these proposals, I request that you consider cessation of all midnight regulations to spare American small businesses and consumers the avoidable and unnecessary compliance costs,” Johnson wrote.

An Office of Management and Budget official sent Wisconsin Watchdog a statement asserting the administration will continue to be guided by the same “rigorous practices and principles used to develop and review regulations that have been upheld throughout the entirety of this Administration and previous Administrations.”

“This means that rules will be drafted with the careful consideration they are due under relevant statutes, applicable executive orders, and related guidance, in addition to benefiting from adequate public scrutiny and interagency review,” the statement read.

UW-Platteville chancellor dismisses complaint against whistleblower professor

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 17:01

MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin-Platteville has ended its four-month investigation into the professor who brought discrimination and retaliation charges against administrators.

Criminal justice professor Sabina Burton, who said she has been the target of ceaseless retaliation since bringing to light a sexual harassment complaint involving a student four years ago, asserts the investigation may be over but the abuse goes on.

UW-P Chancellor Dennis Shields has dismissed instructor Deb Rice’s Aug. 8 complaint alleging Burton created a “hostile work environment in the Criminal Justice Department.” He also dismissed Burton’s complaint against Rice.

The chancellor commissioned a private investigator to question Burton after Rice filed her complaint. The investigator, Dale Burke, of the Madison-based Riseling Group, showed up at Burton’s Platteville home and told her that she faced losing her job, if the allegations against her were true.

DISMISSED: UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields has ended a four-month investigation against a criminal justice professor who brought charges of misconduct and retaliation against the university. In doing so, Shields dismissed a complaint against Professor Sabina Burton.

Rice’s claims were found to be unsubstantiated.

“Having reviewed the report, I am dismissing your complaint against Dr. Burton,” Shields wrote to Rice. “I have concluded your complaints do not warrant disciplinary action or further investigation.”

The chancellor said he believes Rice’s complaint stems from “personal misunderstandings, miscommunication, and personal animosity.”

He said the same about Burton’s complaint against Rice in dismissing it.

There is plenty of personal animosity to go around in UW-Platteville’s troubled Criminal Justice Department.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in October, Burton and others, including former students, have made allegations of harassment, intimidation, discrimination and retaliation against the university.

Burton’s claims go back more than four years, when a female student sought her help after a male professor passed the student a note in class. The note said, “Call me tonight!!!,” and included the professor’s private cellphone number.

Burton took the issue to Elizabeth Throop, who at the time was dean of liberal arts and education and has since been promoted to provost.

Throop at first voiced her concern about the serious nature and apparent inappropriateness of the note, according to emails obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog. She took issue with then-Criminal Justice Department Chairman Thomas Caywood’s claims that the note was all just part of a “secret experiment on social norms.”

Eventually, according to court documents, Throop backed up the male professor and Caywood. Burton said Caywood, who has since resigned, Throop and other administrators – all the way up to Shields – have made her professional life a living hell.

Burton claims she has been unfairly disciplined, her career has been waylaid, and her job threatened over the past four years. Others, including a former graduate student who worked in the Criminal Justice Department, say they have been punished for defending Burton.

The professor filed a federal lawsuit against the university in 2014. A district court judge dismissed the lawsuit and granted the defendants summary judgment. Burton has appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Documents, including court depositions, show Rice falsely reported to administrators that Burton canceled class in December 2014. She also, according to multiple witnesses, told faculty and staff at a university event that she believed Burton to be suffering from some kind of mental illness. Burton later filed a criminal complaint against Rice with the Platteville Police Department, but law enforcement said the issue was a civil matter.

Documents note Rice made other misleading allegations about Burton’s use of social networks. Rice claimed Burton posted YouTube videos and tweets that negatively mention her. Burton did not post the content.

SPEAKING UP: Professor Sabina Burton speaks in October on her many allegations against administrators. The university canceled a forum on the troubled Criminal Justice Department moments before it was to begin.

“When will this stop? When will the University listen to us that Dr. Burton is smearing our reputation and is creating a hostile work environment?” Rice wrote in her original complaint. “I do not feel safe when Dr. Burton is present.”

Rice said that in November 2015 she was served with a subpoena deposing her in the federal case. Some of her emails were included in the subpoena.

“Nothing was found in those emails that was considered inflammatory and the federal case was dismissed because the allegations were unfounded,” the instructor wrote.

That’s not quite correct.

The lawsuit was tossed because the incidents Burton noted in her complaint did not rise to a colorable violation – in essence, retaliation and discrimination – under the law. The dismissal doesn’t offer judgment on the allegations.

Burton can be terse and confrontational in her interactions with the administration, but she says that is simply because for the past four years she has been punished for reporting misconduct while violators go undisciplined or are rewarded.

She reported bullying behavior. A former chairman of the department had threatened her on multiple occasions, according to court depositions. The university’s human resources director said she would investigate but apparently did not. Instead, she reported Burton to the chancellor.

In June, Shields issued a Letter of Direction against Burton threatening discipline if she continued to make “false allegations, intimidate, and harass my colleagues and chair.” There is no direct evidence that Burton did any of those things, according to email communications and court documents.

In the most recent investigation involving Rice, Shields hired a private detective at university expense to investigate allegations against Burton.

There is no doubt the professor is a pain in administration’s side. She has filed numerous complaints, including a filing with the Office of Civil Rights. But the professor said she has done so because administrators have refused to follow university policy and the law.  And, as Burton says, there is nothing illegal about or wrong with filing grievances when a member of the campus community believes misconduct or abuse has occurred.

Rose Smyrski, vice chancellor of university relations, in an email said she is “sorry that Dr. Burton is continuing to feel this way” about what the professor alleges to be continued disparate treatment and retaliation.

“(W)e strive to ensure the university creates an environment where individuals are comfortable and free in expressing themselves,” Smyrski said.

What the university has striven to do, Burton said, is exacerbate her ulcers from the professional stress that she has been forced to endure.

In September, her doctor advised the university to delay its investigation into Burton one month to give a new medicine a chance to take effect and to take Burton out of a stressful situation.

Administrators originally declined on the advice of University of Wisconsin System Administration Deputy General Counsel Jennifer Sloan Lattis.

“I don’t think we can delay the investigation,” Lattis wrote Janelle Crowley, chief human resources officer, in a Sept. 12 email, seemingly mocking Burton’s health issues. “Apparently the condition is not such that she cannot continue to perform her other duties and this is one of her duties. I think you should write to Sabina and tell her that. “

Crowley responded to Burton.

“You have been directed to participate in the investigation as part of your duties. Therefore, with or without your participation, the investigation will continue,” Crowley wrote Burton on Sept. 16.

The university eventually relented.

What the Journal Sentinel left out of its ‘hit job’ on Sheriff Clarke

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:28

MADISON, Wis. – The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has turned its wrath again on Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.

The newspaper, in what Clarke has described as a “political hit job,” has made the sheriff out to be some heartless warden of a county jail that recorded four deaths over the course of six months.

Clarke says he’s in the Journal Sentinel’s crosshairs because of his support for President-elect Donald Trump and because the sheriff, according to reports, is in the running for a position in the Trump administration.

Reading the Journal Sentinel, it’s hard to say who it likes least, Trump or Clarke. But it’s pretty clear the newspaper is not a fan of either man.

But what the jail coverage lightly touches on or completely leaves out is that the three inmates who died at the jail were some very unhealthy people dealing with the ramifications of drug abuse and serious physical illnesses, according to autopsies obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

There are more questions surrounding an incident in which an inmate gave birth to a stillborn baby “without any jail or medical personnel noticing she was in labor.”

Ultimately, while the sheriff oversees the jail, the private health care provider responsible for assessing and monitoring the health of inmates is bound by a county contract. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, not Clarke, is charged with handling the private provider.

“If there is a shortcoming here, people have to direct these questions at the medical staff,” Clarke told Wisconsin Watchdog on Wednesday. “That (private) contract is run out of the House of Correction and they report to the county executive.”

A spokeswoman for Abele blamed Clarke.

While Clarke points out that he has long supported privatizing health care at the jail and sought the contract when the county jail and the HOC were under his control,  his department is not responsible for the conduct and direction of provider Armor Correctional Health Services. And he doesn’t tell the medical professionals how to do their jobs.

Death by dehydration? 

The newspaper has tied the four deaths into a running narrative of mismanagement of the jail. That narrative is driven by the death of Terrill J. Thomas, 38, of Milwaukee.

Thomas was found unresponsive in his cell in the early morning hours of April 24, nine days after he was arrested on a charge of shooting a man in the chest and later firing two shots in the Potawatomi casino.

The autopsy lists the cause of death as dehydration. It describes the severity as “profound dehydration.”  The manner of death was classified as a homicide, but that does not necessarily denote a crime was committed.


Inmates told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they could hear Thomas beg for water days before his death and that his faucet had been shut off. They said corrections officers told them his water was turned off because he had flooded his previous cell and was acting erratically, the newspaper reported.

A source close to the situation told Wisconsin Watchdog that jailers provided Thomas with bottled water but he refused to drink. Another source said a county judge had visited the jail days before and asked why there was water all over Thomas’ cell.

The autopsy notes jail staff checked on Thomas every half hour, in accordance with protocol. A source close to the situation said jailers did not alert medical staff that Thomas had stopped drinking his bottled water, however.

But the medical examiner’s report also notes the inmate’s record indicated “that he claimed to have untreated diabetes and hypertension upon admission and he was not taking any medication while in the jail.”

Thomas had high levels of creatinine in his blood. Creatinine is a waste product in the blood. If too much builds up in the blood stream, creatinine attacks various organs and systems through the circulatory system. Healthy adults’ creatinine levels range from .6 to 1.2 milligrams per deciliter. Thomas’ level was at 3.9, according to the autopsy.

A persistently high creatinine level can reveal the extent of kidney damage.

Thomas’ father told investigators that his son had been hospitalized last year for mental health issues and another time in 1990, “in addition to a few other admissions for an unknown mental health problem.”

“The father stated that Terrill would be sent home on medications, but would not take them,” the autopsy states. “The parents did not know what Terrill’s mental health diagnosis was, but described it as sporadic.”

The autopsy lists bipolar disorder, “manic type,” another significant condition.

Natural causes

Kristina A. Fiebrink, 38, of West Allis, was found unresponsive in her jail cell at 7:23 a.m. on Aug. 28.

The manner of death was determined to be natural; the cause was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, according to the Milwaukee County medical examiner.


Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries. Over time, the plaque hardens and narrows the arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs and other body parts.

“Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death,” according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The autopsy found 75 percent stenosis of the left descending coronary artery. Stenosis refers to an abnormal narrowing of an artery.

Fiebrink also had hypo and hyperpigmented scars on her torso, abdomen, arms and lower extremities, according to the autopsy.

She had a long criminal record, including prostitution and drug possession.

‘We have no control’

Michael J. Madden, 29, of Franklin was the most recent of the reported inmate deaths at the county jail.

Madden, who was pronounced dead at 2:23 a.m. on Oct. 28, had a history of drug abuse and problems from mitral valve prolapse, according to the medical examiner’s report.

Jail staff called a medical emergency at 1:20 a.m.

“Michael walked out from the door and sat at a table in the day room. He was very anxious and non-cooperative,” states an interview with Milwaukee County Det. Donald Desotell in the preliminary autopsy. “He threw up in the day room, twice, pink/red fluid described like Kool-Aid. They started to walk him to the clinic and he staggered and became dead weight and mumbling so he was sat down along the wall.”

Madden’s mother, Gail Stockton, told investigators that Madden had been diagnosed at the age of 4 with a mitral valve prolapse, which had never been corrected. He also had aortic stenosis, or GERD, a narrowing of the aortic valve. Stenosis prevents the valve from opening properly, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the valve. The overload causes pressure to build up in the left ventricle and thickens the heart muscle.


Stockton also said her son was going through withdrawals when he went into the county jail days before, presumably from heroin. She said she spoke to Madden two days before and he said he was no longer experiencing withdrawals but had a “really bad headache.”

There were no signs of trauma on Madden’s body, the autopsy noted.

Clarke said what the Journal Sentinel’s “hit job” missed is the fact that jail populations are filled with sick people who have made a lot of bad decisions that have compromised their health.

“Two inmates suffered from severed cardiac disease, which became critical when coupled with the effects of hardcore drug usage prior to their incarceration, with their extensive drug histories independently noted in their death investigations,” he said.

That said, the medical assessment and care of inmates is the responsibility of Armor, and Abele ultimately is responsible for that health care provider contract.

Abele’s spokeswoman, Melissa Moore Baldauff, said the House of Corrections management of the contract is administrative. The county may impose penalties “stipulated in the contract” if Armor, for instance, “fails to conduct a secondary screening of new prisoners at the jail within 60 minutes of admission.”

“However, we have no control over the operation of the medical program at the County Jail,” she said. In short, she blames the sheriff.

“The sheriff decides what policies he will enact that either facilitate or hinder the medical program at the jail, including how and when medical staff can carry out their responsibilities,” Bauldauff said. “Also, the issue regarding the penalty for not completing the secondary medical screening within 60 minutes is dependent on the Sheriff’s Office; the Sheriff’s Office has to tell us this has not been done if we are to enforce the penalty (we are not allowed into the jail nor are we provided any reports by the Sheriff’s Office). To date they have never informed us to impose that penalty.”

Abele and Board of Supervisors Chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr. have called on Clarke to bring in outside investigators rather than having the deaths investigated by the Sheriff’s Office.

To Baldauff’s comment about the sheriff deciding health care policies, Clarke said that’s not his purview.

“I have no medical experience or expertise to say that a trained doctor or nurse is not doing their job. What she said is one of the stupidest things I have heard in a very long time,” the sheriff said.

No pattern

Earlier this month, inmate Shade’ Swayzer claimed a corrections officer dismissed her request for medical assistance when she went into labor, a failure that contributed to her newborn’s death in her jail cell in July.

Now the 30-year-old mother is suing the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office for $8.5 million in damages.

The department has said Swayzer never informed jail staff that she was going into labor, and Armor said Swayzer’s child was stillborn. Swayzer told the Journal Sentinel that her child was “born alive, cried profusely and was breastfed.”

Multiple sources close to the situation tell Wisconsin Watchdog the sheriff’s department may seek criminal charges against Swayzer for neglect.

The autopsy lists the cause and manner of death as undetermined. The autopsy does not note breast milk found in the infant’s stomach lining.

Clarke said there is no pattern or connection in the jailhouse deaths, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has feverishly labored to manufacture one.

“This has everything to do with politics and my support of Donald Trump,” the sheriff said. “These people are invested in bringing me down.”

Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 09:17
Part 38 of 37 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. — Administrators at the troubled Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center are answering a lot of tough questions this week from congressional committees.

Lawmakers want to know how a dentist was allowed to practice with equipment that put nearly 600 veterans at risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other infections.

QUESTIONS FOR TOMAH: Several congressional committees have a lot of questions for the Tomah VA Medical Center following some troubling incidents at the troubled hospital.

They want to know why a veteran jumped out the window at the hospital while under the care of the embattled Tomah Veterans Assistance Foundation.

And they will most likely want to know why a 54-year-old woman is dead after ingesting multiple drugs on the hospital grounds.

Tomah VAMC Public Affairs Officer Matthew Gowan tells Wisconsin Watchdog that hospital officials are “doing multiple congressional briefings” this week to explain the fact that 592 veterans may have been exposed to infections because a dentist failed to follow standard infection control procedure for a year.

The dentist has since resigned.

Gowan reiterated that the health care provider’s resignation “does not mean accountability measures are going away.” The Tomah VA Medical Center spokesman said because the dentist resigned during a summary review hearing notice, he will automatically be reported to the national physician databank that includes malpractice records.

“We are going to be reporting that today,” Gowan said Tuesday.

But the veterans hospital will not release the dentist’s name. Gowan said the facility is bound by privacy laws.

Officials also are not identifying the name of the veteran who leaped out the third-story window of the medical center’s Building 407 last week.

Don Roach, executive director of the Veterans Assistance Program, had no comment on the “reason for the individual’s actions.” He would only say that the veteran was transported to Tomah Memorial Hospital.”

A source from the VAMC told Wisconsin Watchdog last week that the injuries were not life-threatening and that the man was in stable condition.

Victoria Brahm, acting director of the VA medical center, sent an email notifying employees of the incident.

“Early this morning a veteran from the Veterans Assistance Foundation program jumped out of the third floor window at the VAF day room,” she wrote in an email obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog. “A medical emergency was called and the Veteran was sent via ambulance to Tomah Memorial Hospital where the Veteran is recovering from injuries sustained.”

On Tuesday, Gowan said he did not know the name of the veteran or his condition.

“The last I heard he was at a hospital in La Crosse,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to release it anyway. Any veteran coming into the area, into the medical center or our outpatient clinic has the expectation of privacy.”

RELATED: Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’

The VAMC and the foundation are left to explain the death of 54-year-old Linda Purcell, who died Sept. 25 while staying at the foundation’s homeless shelter leased from the hospital.

An autopsy report determined the cause of death was a “combined toxicoligic process involving multiple drugs,” meaning Purcell took multiple medications at once, according to news reports.

The reports cast a wider shadow on a government-run medical center known as “Candy Land” for its practice of overprescribing opiod painkillers.

35-year-old Marine veteran died in August 2014 of a toxic cocktail of prescribed drugs while at the medical center.