Wisconsin Treasurer Fulfills Campaign Pledge, Lays Off All Staff

by | January 26, 2015

By Jason Stein

In one of his first acts in office, newly elected state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk has laid off his staff to fulfill a campaign pledge.

Since Adamczyk was elected in November to replace former Treasurer Kurt Schuller, he has shaken up his own office and another obscure state land board where he has sought to cancel a subscription to The New York Times and change the board's letterhead so the top administrator doesn't appear on it.

Most of the treasurer's duties have been transferred in past years to other agencies and Adamczyk campaigned on eliminating his office, which would require a constitutional amendment. For now, he said he is working on dismantling everything he can in his office, eliminating three staff members and contracts for extra computers and cellphones.

"It was a pledge I made and obviously I won on that pledge and so I felt compelled to do it," Adamczyk said. "It's never nice for people to be out of work, but I just don't feel the office warrants the number of full-time staff."

Adamczyk said that former Deputy Treasurer Scott Feldt left the office last month after being told he wouldn't be kept on and that Adamczyk gave two weeks' notice to the remaining two employees in the office after being sworn in as treasurer. Those employees, a communications officer and an administrative staffer, had their last day on Thursday, though their names are still listed on the agency's website.

Feldt ran for a time in the GOP primary against Adamczyk for state treasurer before dropping out to endorse another candidate, Randy Melchert, who was beaten by Adamczyk in the primary. Feldt declined to comment on Adamczyk's personnel moves, saying it "wouldn't be appropriate" for him to leave the office and then comment on a successor.

Adamczyk said that he felt confident he could handle the remaining duties of the treasurer's office such as answering the phones, maintaining records as required by law and promoting the state's unclaimed property program, which is now run out of the state Department of Revenue. "I'm more than happy to run the office myself," he said.

Adamczyk said he is still exploring how to fulfill a campaign promise to give back 25%, or about $17,500, of his $69,936 a year salary. State law prohibits changing elected officials' salary during their term, so Adamczyk would need to accept the money, incur a tax liability on it and then return it in some fashion.

For years, the Legislature and governors have transferred responsibilities from the treasurer's office until it was down to only a few duties laid out in the Wisconsin Constitution. Adamczyk said he would support legislation to amend the constitution to get rid of his office altogether.

But for now, as treasurer, Adamczyk also sits on the Board of Commissioners of Public Land, which operates a trust that provides funding for school libraries and makes loans to municipalities and school districts. Since his election, he has sent dozens of emails and made numerous calls to board staff to get details about the board's operations, according to documents received through an open records request.

For instance, before taking office as treasurer, Adamczyk asked the board's executive secretary, Tia Nelson, and her staff for Nelson's time sheets for the previous year, her state cellphone bills, information on a 2008 campaign rally that Nelson attended while on leave, and other assorted details such as whether the agency needed to pay for its own post office box. The situation has resulted in Nelson telling staff to document all contacts they've had with Adamczyk, which includes typing up rough transcripts of their conversations with him in some cases.

Under the Wisconsin Constitution, the board consists of Adamczyk, Attorney General Brad Schimel and Secretary of State Doug La Follette.

Adamczyk and Schimel, both Republicans, are new to the board because they were first elected in November. La Follette is a Democrat who has served on the board for decades.

Adamczyk said his requests are part of his attempt to learn more about the board he's joining.

Among Adamczyk's concerns are Nelson's actions on the board that reflect her environmental background. Nelson is the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat and founder of Earth Day. She served on a state global warming task force five years ago.

"I don't want people doing their personal passions during work hours," he said.

Adamczyk has also sought to remove Nelson's name from the board's letterhead, but Schimel and La Follette would not go along with the idea. Nelson has said in a statement that she wants to be judged according to her performance.

"We are setting an agency record this year in distributing $35.5 million to public school libraries," she said. "With 10 staff, and not a penny of taxpayer money, we are managing $1 billion in school trust assets at an operational efficiency unmatched by our private- or public-sector counterparts."

Adamczyk has also said that he thinks the board should save money by dropping its subscription to The New York Times. The office also subscribes to The Wall Street Journal, Lakeland Times, Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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