Walker recommits to governing in Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker speaks with Apache CEO Ed Paradowski at an event marking the Beaver Dam company’s 40th anniversary Friday. Walker defended proposed changes to the civil service system.

MATTHEW DeFOUR — State Journal

BEAVER DAM — Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that hiring for state government jobs will be “very transparent” no matter what changes are made to the civil service system.

“The civil service protections that are at the heart of the principle are fully intact,” Walker said. “If anything, we’re enhancing the benefits of the old civil service system. We’re just getting rid of stuff that’s outdated.”

He made the remarks in his first meeting with reporters since folding his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

On Thursday, Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, and Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, announced they plan to introduce a bill that would replace civil service exams with resume-based hiring, eliminate seniority protections, standardize performance reviews, centralize hiring and firing decisions from state agencies in the Department of Administration and clearly define offenses that can be grounds for termination.

Democrats and union officials decried the proposed changes as exposing the hiring process to the types of cronyism and political patronage practices that the civil service system was created to prevent more than a century ago during the Progressive Era.

Walker said critics should withhold judgment until they see the details of the bill. Roth’s office said Friday that a draft won’t be available until Monday.

On Thursday, Walker, Roth and Steineke used several examples to illustrate problems with how the civil service system handles state workers’ employment and to support an argument to overhaul the system established in 1905.

Meeting with Assembly lawmakers Thursday, Walker referenced a 2011 example of employees caught having sex on the job who weren’t fired. A spokeswoman for the Public Service Commission confirmed a 2011 incident during which two non-management state employees were caught having sexual intercourse. The Office of State Employee Relations recommended “disciplinary action short of termination,” said PSC spokeswoman Elise Nelson.

“The purpose of citing this issue with discipline is to highlight the problems with the current system, not to shame individuals,” Nelson said. “So at this time, we decline to specifically identify those involved.”

Walker also brought up the example of a short-order cook who scored the highest on a test to be a financial analyst in the Department of Financial Institutions, despite lacking relevant experience. That person wasn’t hired, but had to be interviewed, which Walker said wasted time, “doesn’t make sense” and “shows you how ridiculous it is.”

George Althoff, spokesman for the Department of Financial Institutions, confirmed a person who was employed as a “short-order cook” scored well enough on the civil service exam to qualify to be interviewed for a financial examiner position, which requires, among other skills, knowledge of the financial services and banking industry, contemporary business structures and of lending and investment principles.

The position also requires skills in analyzing complex financial records and business record-keeping systems, according to a job position description provided by Althoff. He referred questions about the identity of the applicant to the Department of Administration.

“The relevant point is that a candidate who lacked the necessary skill set made it through a flawed and antiquated hiring process,” Althoff said. “As a result, DFI was required to interview that candidate, slowing down the process and perhaps depriving another qualified candidate from being interviewed. Had a resume-based process been in place, this more than likely would not have occurred.”

Asked why an example in which the applicant wasn’t hired justified doing away with the exam-based system, Walker said, “I think most people will tell you in the 21st century, resumes tell you more than just a random test out there.”

Another issue Walker cited is a state law that specifies an employee must be absent for five consecutive days before they can be fired for missing work. Walker gave the example of Ronald Janz, a 43-year-old Mount Horeb man, who fled to Canada in October 2012 after not showing up for work at the Department of Revenue. Janz was fired 20 days later.

Janz, who is charged with misdemeanor theft, allegedly stole about $1,500 in payments from a delinquent taxpayer, according to a criminal complaint dated April 2013. Spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said DOR did not find any other evidence that Janz had taken money before, and the taxpayer was credited the amount of the payment.

Spokespeople for the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Corrections did not return messages seeking the details of incidents involving employees who watched pornography at work but weren’t fired.

Dennis Dresang, a retired UW-Madison political science professor who helped craft changes to the civil service system in the late 1960s, said every anecdote brought up by the governor is a “fixable situation” and called switching to a resume-based system “a very inappropriate reaction.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour can be reached at 608-252-6144 or mdefour@madison.com. State Journal reporter Molly Beck can be reached at 608-252-6135 or mbeck@madison.com.

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.