Officials with the state Government Accountability Board are urging some caution about the timing of a proposed overhaul of the agency.
Republicans have introduced a plan that would split the current oversight of ethics and elections issues into a pair of partisan commissions. It calls for transitioning to the new structure after June 30 of next year, which is less than five months before the November 2016 presidential and legislative elections.
Judge Gerald Nichol, who serves as the current chairman of the GAB, has previously urged lawmakers to delay any changes for at least a year, in order to prevent confusion during what is typically the biggest election period of the year. He reaffirmed that stance Wednesday, while also calling for two non-voting observers from the Legislature to join the board. Nichol said having those individuals there “would give them an opportunity to see how we actually operate.”
State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson), one of the Republicans behind the proposal, has argued the plan provides plenty of time for the transition and dismissed calls to reconsider the effective date of the changes. “I think it’s a good time to do it,” the Hudson Republican said.
GAB director Kevin Kennedy is taking more of a “wait and see” approach with the impact the short transition time could have on agency operations. He said that keeping the current support staff in place should help, since they have already developed strong relationships with clerks and other stakeholders. However, Kennedy also cautioned that replacing the leadership of the GAB could be a “challenge” for staff.
The Republican legislation calls for selecting new administrators for the ethics and election commissions, meaning current top level staff would likely have to reapply for their positions. Kennedy, who has been involved in Wisconsin elections for over 32 years, held off on saying whether he would seek an appointment in one of the new agencies. “I have to take a look at what the options are,” Kennedy said.