MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - The former CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is speaking out regarding the recent scathing audit of the authority.
Paul Jadin left in November of 2012 to become President of Thrive, an eight-county regional economic development partnership in south central Wisconsin.
Jadin has read the audit, and says nothing found is anything he didn't already know about, or previously tried to have fixed. That's because in transitioning from the old Commerce Department to WEDC, they adopted several of the in-place operations.
"All of the processes, particularly underwriting and tracking. As we started to receive these internal reviews, we learned what we were doing was not acceptable and obviously that had to change," said Jadin. "We knew there was an issue. I asked just about every week, 'Bring me the loan portfolio. Bring me our balances on economic development tax credits, job tax credits’; I'd get assurances that that information was coming. And instead of getting a report when I demanded it, I'd get a resignation from a controller."
Jadin says if he could change one thing, it was to do a pre-audit of the Commerce Department.
"Then we could've established a base of issues and explained to our board and the Legislature that these are problems that all need to be addressed," said Jadin. "And unfortunately we will have to continue to behave as we've had in the past, until we can get all the systems worked out."
The report from the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau said WEDC failed to adequately track money it awarded for economic development projects and at times gave money to ineligible recipients.
There have been numerous audits performed over the past year at WEDC, according to Jadin. Audits, which he says, were completely voluntary. He adds that the old Commerce Department didn't have an audit done; because that was something they didn't subject themselves to.
Among the transactions cited in the report that "lacked a description of purpose," was $1,789 for six season tickets to UW Badgers football. When asked who approved this, Jadin said it was Governor Scott Walker's issue.
"It's something that every governor has done over the last few decades, I'm not going to comment any further," said Jadin. "But that, yes, were governor's tickets."
Democratic and several Republican lawmakers have called for changes to the WEDC, and some have even suggested a return to the old Department of Commerce. Jadin says it's too soon to pull the plug on the public-private corporation.
"The turnover was represented as the inability to get a handle around all those financial issues. That's why we went out and asked for significant help. Instead of people recognizing that that was logical to seek help where it was needed, it's been reported as 'Wow, they ran into some problems and should've done something about it.'"
Last Thursday, the Legislature's Budget Committee held up $63 million over the next two years in state money for the WEDC. Lawmakers on the committee also added more oversight to the authority.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, to get the full amount of money over the two years, WEDC's current CEO Reed Hall would have to go before the Joint Finance Committee in December to give a report showing the agency is complying with the LAB audit.
Jadin is confident that problems identified in that audit are being addressed, and is confident Hall is steering them in the right direction. He also says the WEDC is holding up their end of the bargain.
"With respect to cluster activity, particularly with some of the water issues in the Milwaukee area, our improvement in accelerators, generators and so forth that have come out of the entrepreneurship and innovation division," says Jadin. "As well as the In Wisconsin brand in the marketing division, those four divisions are all new and have made significant in-roads. So from a pure economic development standpoint, the agency is vastly improved. But the systems were a mess, and are a mess and I think Reed is doing a very good job of addressing all of that."
Hall, along with Governor Scott Walker, has continued to stand behind the WEDC's work and message in making Wisconsin a more economically viable state.