By M.D. Kittle and David Merrick
MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration messed up the expiration date on the governor’s latest state mask mandate and then quietly “fixed” the error, an Empower Wisconsin review of executive order drafts finds.
While legislative legal experts say the governor didn’t violate the law or any administrative rules, his team’s surreptitious change is another example of a secretive administration that repeatedly has tried to govern unilaterally.
On Feb. 4, Evers issued the latest in a series of executive orders that included the statewide mask mandate — about an hour after the Legislature passed a resolution ending his previous mask mandate and his power to issue ceaseless emergency declarations.
The new order is supposed to expire on April 5, 60 days from its issuance. But Team Evers screwed up, copy and pasting March 20, the expiration date of his previous mask mandate, in the new order.
They later realized the mistake and edited it to correct the date. They did so without alerting the Legislature or the general public, with the exception of subsequently adding the word “Corrected” on the original press release. The updated version states,
“A previous version of this release linked to an erroneous file for Emergency Order #1. The link has been corrected above,” the press release notes at the bottom of the document.
It appears the only reference to the corrected copy in the press is on an updated news story about a “document pretending to be Gov. Tony Evers’ Emergency Order #1 signed on Feb. 4 of this year.” The “fake document,” which was “causing confusion over Wisconsin’s mask mandate,” was no fake it all. It was the administration document with the wrong date.
The news site corrected the “fake document” story.
“The governor’s office said when Emergency Order #1 from Feb. 4 was released originally, they ‘inadvertently included an erroneous copy of the unsigned order, which included holdover language from the governor’s face covering order issued concurrent with Executive Order #104,” WEAU TV reported.
While Team Evers’ screw up may have caused confusion and it certainly looks sneaky, legislative legal experts say the administration didn’t break the law. That’s because there is no language in the law on executive orders and emergency declarations relating to clerical errors or even changes quietly made to the documents.
One source told Empower Wisconsin the administration has been “making it up as they go along” because we’ve never been through this kind of health crisis before.
Actually, we have. More than 100 years ago, but we don’t have evidence to suggest Gov. Emanuel Lorenz Philipp botched emergency orders during the Spanish flu pandemic.
The Evers administration’s quiet update is just the latest example of a go-it-alone governor loathe to work with the Republican-controlled Legislature. This is the same administration that secretly recorded GOP leaders during a meeting laying out the state’s response to COVID-19. The same governor who has defied a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that barred the administration from extending emergency orders beyond 60 days without legislative approval.
Evers’ mask mandate and the emergency order that launched it are before the court again as the administration tries to copy and paste what it wants into state law.
“How hard is it to correct a mistake? Just be honest and own up to it. Trying to sweep it under the rug isn’t good leadership and makes people think you’re untrustworthy,” said Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield).