Dawn Sass
State Treasurer Dawn Marie Sass Associated Press

The board of the state's $2 billion college savings program urged state Treasurer Dawn Marie Sass on Wednesday to ensure that the program's next director have financial savvy rather than political pull.

Last month, Sass criticized the hiring of the previous director of EdVest as a political move by her own former deputy. Oversight of EdVest is divided between the Treasurer's office and the College Savings Program Board.

At the first meeting of the board since Sass' statement, chairwoman and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said EdVest and the related Tomorrow's Scholar programs needed a financially competent director, noting they have 245,000 accounts from families around the state.

"I want to make sure that we are good stewards of this program," Darling said. "This is a big deal for me."

Sass told the board she agreed the next EdVest director, who would be hired before the end of the year, should have strong skills in investments and financial matters.

Sass, whose office includes the EdVest program, hires the program's director, while the EdVest board oversees the program's investments. Wells Fargo Funds Management serves as the program's private investment manager.

Also Wednesday, Sass confirmed that the veteran deputy director of the program, Rich Janosik, left her office in late August. Sass declined to say why he left or whether he was forced out, saying it was a personnel matter.

"That's a sticky situation," Sass said. "I can't really say why."

Janosik also declined comment.

Janosik, who had served with the program since 1997, was passed over for the civil service EdVest director job last year in favor of Megan Perkins, a former aide to First Lady Jessica Doyle and later a political aide to Sass. The EdVest job is a civil service position, meaning it should be free of political considerations under state rules.

Perkins, a former state field organizer for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, was chosen for the EdVest job over a field of applicants that included an asset manager, a tax lawyer, an estate planner and Janosik, the Wisconsin State Journal reported last year. Perkins resigned from her job shortly after Janosik left when her husband was offered a job out of state.

At the time, Sass defended the decision to pick Perkins. But last month she said she forced her deputy, John Lease, to resign because he had sought to hire politically loyal employees like Perkins over civil servants. Sass had the final say over the hires.

Sass' new deputy, Christopher Pegelow, said there was "nothing political" or improper behind Janosik's departure.

Until a new director is hired, Sass has asked retired longtime EdVest director Marty Olle to step in to run the program temporarily, a move that was welcomed by Darling and other members of the board.