Saturday, May 23, 2015

WEDC puff piece now looks even more propagandistic

[Updated] Eight days ago I wrote a posting suggesting that an op-ed about the scandal-plagued WEDC and signed by its CEO and Board Secretary Reed Hall in the Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee BizTimes was more propagandistic than informative.

It appeared a couple of days after The Wisconsin State Journal began its important series about multiple lending and accountability problems at the agency that had first been highlighted in 2013 by state auditors. 

The series began with this blockbuster headline:
WEDC under fire again for not tracking loans, losing top executives
The key words there - - "again."

The job-creating and development agency was established in 2011 by the Legislature at the behest of Scott Walker. He has served as its only board chair - - thus to get more credit when the WEDC because the success he assumed it would be - - but the agency has been plagued with legal, fiscal and political problems from its beginning, saddling Walker with more blame and bad media for his
 broken signature election promise in 2010, and repeated in 2012's recall campaign, too, to create 250,000 jobs for Wisconsin.

In the week following the op-ed's publication, Walker continued to praise and defend the agency, but then abruptly ended the WEDC's lending role and distanced himself further from the agency as the State Journal expanded its series to include the details of an egregiously bad and politicized $500,000 loan down the drain.

All of which undermined one of WEDC CEO Hall's op-ed claims:

There have been lessons learned along the way. WEDC's first state audit – released in May 2013 – documented our need for better systems to track loans, oversee expenditures and monitor the performance of award recipients. After that audit, we have implemented significant changes to rebuild accountability, transparency and public trust in its operations.
By the end of the week, and just days after Hall's op-ed, Walker said he wanted to step down altogether from the board and abandon its chairmanship; GOP legislators also were saying he should step down, so they voted to do just that and removed him on a 12-4 party-line vote at the Joint Committee on Finance, the Legislature's budget-writing arm.

Nobody wanted to be close to the WEDC right now, making Hall's boasts and assurances about the agency ring all the more hollow.

Despite the devastating (and second) audit detailing accounting and oversight laws and procedures not followed, and more revelations about one particularly bad loan, WEDC's Hall had spun things this way in the op-ed:

While the new audit highlights some of WEDC’s improvements, it also raises some issues about WEDC that require clarification. For example, one of WEDC’s core purposes is to work with businesses to help create and retain jobs. We want to ensure the public that our efforts are having a measurable, positive effect and are actually growing jobs in the state. That’s why we have implemented stringent measures that include requiring companies to provide detailed payroll records and a signed attestation to verify their job creation and retention figures. 
WEDC invariably follows state statutes and its own policies. Some of the main issues raised in this area are a result of differences of opinion between WEDC and the audit bureau about how the organization administers its contracts. For example, the audit bureau noted that WEDC contracts use the word “may” instead of “shall,” even though the same audit noted that the word “shall” does not in any way affect WEDC’s legal ability to enforce the contract.
Summing up:

In a few days, Walker went from being WEDC's creator, only board chair and reliable cheerleader to board chair, retired. 

So are you telling me that Walker decided to end WEDC lending, then agreed to either be booted from or to quit its board only after the WEDC produced that glowing op-ed?

As I also wrote: What did he know and when did he know it?

I think Walker and his political handlers knew they needed to get rid of that WEDC albatross, but wanted to buy him some time for a smoother, cleaner getaway, and the op-ed was to distract the public from the agency's troubles by creating for it, and thus Walker, by association, an undeserved, positive image.

Maybe events moved faster last week than Walker had hoped, but that doesn't mean they weren't trying - - unsuccessfully - - to get reporters to cool their jets.

Reread that op-ed for yourself. It's still on the agency's website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

Did you see this from Cindy Kilkenny:

"Though I’m a staunch fiscal conservative and have delighted in the sway to the right that I’ve watched in Wisconsin these last few years, Scott Walker won’t call me a fan.

I don’t know how else to say it: Pay to play is alive and well in Wisconsin."