Evers’ government Catch-22

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — It’s not just license applications and renewals that Gov. Tony Evers’ incompetent Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is failing to process in a timely manner. Professionals who must complete mandatory continuing education in their fields are having a difficult time making it through the bureaucratic maze of unreturned phone messages and emails, too.

In June, a very frustrated Josiah Wynn wrote a desperate letter to his state senator, Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan). Wynn is a Columbia County Board supervisor, and a contractor by trade.

“(T)he way I put food on my table to feed my wife and five children and to employ six men is to build homes in Columbia County,” Wynn wrote.

As a contractor he’s required to take 12 hours of continuing education and pay a fee to the state to be licensed. He must renew his licence every two years. May 29 was his deadline to take his continuing education course, submit a record of completion to the state, and pay for his license renewal.

Wynn did all of that  — in February. He, like so many other professionals caught in a statewide license crisis, was unable to process the renewal payment online. He tried multiple times, on multiple days, thinking the site was down.

“Every time I received the same error code message on my screen that said I could not renew online. So, I called DSPS, sat on hold for hours. Left a message, and then emailed to make sure my message got through to someone so I could renew and make sure my work was not interrupted by an expired license,” he wrote in his letter to the lawmaker.

After waiting for a response and getting none, either by phone or email, Wynn went through the entire process again. Phone calls, hours on hold, voicemails, and emails. Never once did anyone call or email him back.

In the meantime, he was swamped with work and keeping his six men employed so they could continue to feed their families. Wynn also runs an 80-acre beef farm. That doesn’t leave much time for sitting on hold for hours or driving to the DSPS office in Madison to be heard, he said. Wynn lives an hour from the DSPS headquarters on the west side of Madison.

But, after several attempts to reach a DSPS staffer, he took time off work to drive to the DSPS office… only to find out the office is only open to the public until 12:30 p.m. He said he arrived at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday, an hour before the agency’s work day ended, or at least as it was stated on its website.

“The woman working at the door said she was getting cussed out left and right by people just like me not getting any of their phone calls or emails returned,” Wynn wrote. “I was forced to drive the hour home and STILL not have any problem fixed.”

He had to take another day off work to drive down to Madison to see someone in person. This time, he was allowed to meet with an agent in the office.

“She confirmed that I was one of many, many people coming to her door for license renewal. She confirmed that we were indeed locked out of our account on their website, making online renewal impossible,” Wynn wrote.

The DSPS agent told Wynn that his continuing education hours were sent into the office and she could see them in the system. She took his payment for license renewal, but said she would not renew his license unless he re-took the continuing education hours and resubmit them to her office.

“Why,  you might ask since she had already confirmed my hours were sent in?? Well it was past my renewal deadline by two weeks so she said my education hours would not work anymore,” Wynn wrote in his letter to Ballweg. “You can imagine my utter frustration. She had the power to just renew my license KNOWING it was her fault she had not returned my multiple emails and phone calls when the online renewal process would not work for me.”

He called it “absolute gross negligence.” There’s a lot of that going around DSPS and, in general, in an administration led by an “absentee governor.”

Wynn, reached for comment on Monday, said thanks to his senator’s intervention, he got the whole mess straightened out in a couple of weeks. But it took a lawmaker to get involved. Would he still be waiting for his license renewal to be processed, like so many other professionals, had Ballweg not intervened?. As Empower Wisconsin has detailed in a series of reports, many applicants have been waiting months — some more than a year. Others have lost jobs or opportunities because of the long delays.

Evers administration officials have blamed the Republican-led Legislature for not coming through with the funding needed to upgrade the agency’s outdated system or properly staff DSPS. The record shows that is not the case.  The Joint Finance Committee allocated $5 million for the department’s needs. DSPS officials waited more than a year to request the funding. Meanwhile, in January Evers directed federal COVID relief aid to pay for nine open DSPS positions. As of August, those Division of Credential Processing positions had yet to be filled, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau Review.

It’s more evidence of a lack of urgency from an administration that has been notoriously slow in dealing with crises.

Empower Wisconsin | Sept. 27, 2022

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