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Tourism’s botched election redux

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 9  2019

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers’ Tourism Secretary-designee Sara Meaney was forced to call a special meeting Wednesday after botching the election for council officers in late October. 

The election, marred by multiple irregularities, violated the state’s open meetings law when it effectively met without a quorum. Members on three separate occasions were asked to vote remotely via their personal electronic devices.

Flanked by two Department of Administration lawyers, Meaney read from prepared notes while leading the meeting.

Meaney and the attorneys opted to move full speed ahead in holding the leadership election even though state law requires the council to vote again for executive officers at its first meeting of the new year — in March.  The council unanimously elected Joe Klimczak chairman, despite the fact that he may be stepping down from the council next year.

When Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), a legislative member of the council, questioned the logic of holding two officer elections within three months, tourism officials said they wanted continuity of leadership as soon as possible.

The DOA attorneys acknowledge the senator was “probably” right in his understanding of the tourism statute. Jacque said he sought answers from the Wisconsin Legislative Council after tourism officials failed to answer his questions.

“As a result of the information I’ve been able to glean from other legal opinions, there appears to be this desire to act first and figure things out later,” Jacque told Empower Wisconsin in an interview.

Ultimately it seems Meaney and her attorneys just wanted to make their election mess go away.

Records obtained by Empower Wisconsin show the council 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.

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 “inconclusive,” but between the first and final round of voting, Meaney asked Kopp to resign her position on the council as early as this month, according to Kopp and other tourism sources. Kopp, a widely respected tourism leader appointed by governors from both parties, 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.

Kopp told Meaney on multiple occasions she had no intention of stepping down from the council, but Kopp showed remarkable grace Wednesday when she nominated Klimczak for chairman.

Evers upon taking office “vowed he would reach across the aisle to work with Republicans,” saying that bipartisanship is “part of my DNA,”  but the administration’s actions tell another story. 

In March, Evers ordered the illegal firing of 82 GOP appointees whose terms had not expired out of political spite after Republicans enacted laws reining in some executive branch power. 

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