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Scandal prompts special tourism council meeting

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 27,  2019

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON —Wisconsin’s embattled Tourism secretary-designee Sara Meaney has called a special meeting of the Governor’s Council on Tourism scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 in Madison.

The purpose of the special meeting, which has not yet been publicized, is to fix the botched elections for leadership positions held in recent weeks, several sources tell Empower Wisconsin. 

Council members received notice the regularly scheduled meeting in January has been canceled. Instead, the council will meet next week, with the first order of business the election of officers, sources said.

Records obtained this month by Empower Wisconsin show the Governor’s Council on Tourism held subsequent online elections for officers after the first online vote ended in a 6-6 tie between council members Kathy Kopp and Joe Klimczak.

State law prohibits online elections for officers of state boards and commissions.

Electronic timestamps show council voting in the first round took place between Oct, 18-21.

Another online vote occurred between Oct. 23-27, in which the election tallied 17 total votes. A final round of balloting occurred between Oct. 28-30, in which Klimczak picked up 10 votes to Kopp’s two.

The three rounds of voting were marred by confusion and controversy. Sources say only some members of the 21-member council were able to vote. In some cases, there were improper votes cast or some council members were said to have voted multiple times.

Tourism officials ultimately declared the votes were “inconclusive.”

Between the first and final round of voting, Meaney asked Kopp to resign her position on the council as early as December, according to Kopp and other tourism sources. Kopp, a widely respected tourism leader twice reappointed to the tourism council by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, plans to retire next year as director of the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce, but her Tourism Council appointment doesn’t end until July 2021.

“As I indicated to you, I had not thought about resigning early, especially before my duties here at the Chamber are completed,” Kopp wrote in the email to Meaney, which she shared with some of her fellow council members.

Meaney is accused of turning the apolitical tourism department into a partisan agency with a liberal social agenda. At the July tourism council meeting, the secretary-designee discussed her restructuring of the council’s committees to “provide more clarity, better address diversity and equality, and create alignment in the work being done.”

Sources say Meaney and Gov. Tony Evers’ legal team have pushed changes to reflect the governor’s liberal agenda.

“Secretary-designee Meaney explained that the committee documents are based on statute and consultation with our legal staff. Anything that is not covered by statute is based on best practices and can be adjusted over time to accomplish our stated goals,” state the July council meeting minutes.

“The Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) committee was established to address concerns raised in the strategic plan regarding developing travel experiences that welcome everyone,” the minutes note.

Wisconsin tourism isn’t known for its exclusionary practices.

“I’ve never seen a mess like this,” one local tourism official told Empower Wisconsin.

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