State worker with snow shoes
This state worker wore snow shoes to make it to work early Wednesday morning. Joe Muellenberg photo

Due to the blizzard that created massive snow drifts and hazardous conditions across Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency Wednesday in 29 counties and ordered all state offices in those counties closed to the public. Emergency officials also urged all people to stay home and off the road if possible. Walker, nevertheless, told all state workers — even those in non-emergency posts — to report to work or take the day as vacation.

That did not sit well for a lot of folks who used a weather story on madison.com to voice their displeasure. One wrote: "My husband, a state employee, just got home after being up since 4 a.m. shoveling to get out of our driveway, getting stuck on our side street, and then ramming into a 4 ft. wall of snow left by a plow on Hwy 13. Had to sit in his vehicle for over 3 hrs, finally helped out by a State Trooper and a good Samaritan. Was this a reasonable enough effort to get to work, Walker? Again, your ignorance is showing. Big time. And so if your total disregard for people's safety. Oh wait. You care about people's safety, just not state worker's safety. Gotcha."

But Cullen Werwie, Walker's press secretary, says the governor's executive order directed state workers to report to work only if was safe to do so. Those who couldn't make it would be required to take vacation or other leave, though they couldn't use sick leave.

"The approach that Governor Walker took ... was to give state agency and front line workers the flexibility to work, if they were able to travel safely-while still discouraging the public to travel on roads that may not be safe," Werwie wrote in an e-mail response.

"If any state employees thought they could not make it into work today, under the executive order signed by Governor Walker, they had the ability to stay home."

Werwie says the governor decided to go this route because completely shutting down the government in past years has posed problems for "agencies that provide 24/7 services such as the Departments of Corrections and Health Services, and for agencies that have state buildings located throughout the state such as the University of Wisconsin System. In the past these state government closures have required state operations to cease in areas that weren't affected by the snow."

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Werwie was not entirely sure if state policy in previous years dictated that public employees were paid for days when state government was shuttered due to a snow emergency.

"My understanding of the situations in the past (based on discussions I had with agencies yesterday) is that those questions were not appropriately addressed, which caused quite a bit of confusion," he wrote.