Recent problems at the state Government Accountability Board have many Republicans calling for changes at the agency, but a Democratic leader in the state Assembly says a more cautious approach is needed.
The agency was recently hit with a critical state audit and court records released last week accused staff of taking part in a contentious John Doe probe without board authorization. The revelations have Republicans looking at overhauling the agency, which oversees state elections and ethics laws.
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca believes patience is required, and argues the situation is very similar to when problems were uncovered at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Barca, who sits on the board of the private-public partnership, says the agency was given time to make changes and did move to correct issues highlighted in its own audit.
Barca says “Our board took the audit report very seriously. We rolled up our sleeves, we made a large volume of policy changes in order to comply with the audit and to avoid those problems ever happening again…and GAB needs to do the same thing.”
Barca admits the audit does show that the GAB clearly needs changes, after showing some key duties of the agency were not being carried out in a timely manner. Still, he says board members have already indicated changes will be made and lawmakers need to give them time to work things out.
The Kenosha Democrat points out that no Republicans called for eliminating WEDC after issues involving millions of dollars in taxpayer funding were uncovered.
Barca says the public benefits most by having an ethics and elections agency that can operate independently, and people should recognize the “importance of having watchdogs and people who are looking to ensure that we don’t have corruption and ethical problems in our government…We need a solid foundation to protect that.”