WEDC official resigns after 27 News investigation - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

WEDC official resigns after 27 News investigation

MADISON (WKOW) -- The man hired to help the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation with its public image resigned late Monday after 27 News made inquiries about income tax and unemployment insurance compensation debts of close to $44,000 he owes the State of Wisconsin.

John Gillespie, who WEDC brought in as its new Public Information Officer on April 8, owes $36,047 in back taxes to the State of Wisconsin, according to the Department of Revenue's delinquent taxpayer list.

In a separate case, a court record from Outagamie County shows the Department of Workforce Development filed a warrant against Gillespie in March of 2012, seeking $7,770 for unemployment insurance compensation benefits he had improperly received.

Gillespie, who was being paid $73,000 in his first year at WEDC, had no comment for 27 News when we contacted him about the filings Monday afternoon.

Neither WEDC nor the Governor's office has said whether they knew about Gillespie's debts to the state before 27 News inquired about them. 

Tom Evenson, the spokesperson for Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin), responded to our questions about Gillespie with the following statement on Monday night.

"Governor Walker was not involved in this specific hiring process. This is a WEDC personnel matter and I would refer you to the agency for any further comment," wrote Evenson.

Gov. Walker serves as the Chair of the WEDC Board of Directors.

Less than 20 minutes after Evenson's response, WEDC Chief Operating Officer Ryan Murray responded to WKOW with a statement that said:  "John Gillespie resigned from WEDC today. His resignation is effective immediately."

Tuesday morning, WEDC released a statement about its background check on Gillespie.

"WEDC uses a national background search firm, National Crime Search, for all employees.  The process includes a nationwide criminal background check, including felonies and misdemeanors, and a full credit check.  It also includes a check of civil offenses, but bases this check on the current county of residence of the employee at the time of hire.  So, for an employee hired from out-of-state, civil offenses in Wisconsin will not show up in our standard background check.  We are currently evaluating this process for potential changes to ensure a more complete check is conducted," the WEDC statement read.

Gillespie's resignation comes less than a week after a scathing state audit of WEDC showed the agency violated state statute by improperly tracking the loans and job creation efforts of the companies it has awarded money to since June of 2011.  The audit showed WEDC also awarded money to ineligible projects and failed to keep track of its internal spending as well.

Legislative Democrats held a news conference Tuesday morning to introduce a resolution calling for the establishment of a special committee that would devise ways to ensure WEDC follows state law in implementing all of its programs.  

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) indicated that Democrats would be introducing a handful of other proposals specific to the WEDC in the coming weeks.

Rep. Barca, who also sits on the WEDC Board, says he was not informed that John Gillespie had even been hired as PIO in April.  Rep. Barca said that when Reed Hall was hired as WEDC Chief Executive Officer in January, Gov. Walker assured Barca the agency would do a thorough background check on Hall to avoid any potential embarrassment.  But Rep. Barca says he is not sure if the same process is used by WEDC on all new hires.

Gov. Walker has called meeting of the WEDC Board for 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning in Waukesha to discuss the findings of the state audit.  The Governor wanted to go through the audit with the full Board of Directors before the Joint Finance Committee votes on the WEDC budget on Thursday.  Legislative Democrats are calling on JFC members to delay that vote and Gov. Walker has indicated that is a possibility.


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