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Wisconsin Spotlight | Dec. 16, 2020

MADISON — It appears Gov. Tony Evers had just a few meetings with his Workforce Development chief and his administrators during one of the worst unemployment crises in Wisconsin history, according to administration documents. 

Schedules and emails obtained by Empower Wisconsin show Evers met with Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman just one time between March 1 and Sept. 18, the day Evers fired Frostman.   

The governor also had scheduled briefings with other DWD and Unemployment Insurance Division staff on just two other occasions during the six-month period. 

The open records request sought “calendar events and files from Gov. Tony Evers’ calendar involving the Department of Workforce Development and any staff at DWD” between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 18, 2020. It also sought any emails to or from Gov. Tony Evers and any staff at DWD” over the period. 

While there is a reference to a cabinet meeting with Frostman in one of the emails, Evers’ legal counsel released just three calendar days that fit the requested parameters. The governor had an Unemployment Insurance Discussion at the Executive Residence on June 6; he scheduled a DWD Briefing on Aug. 25; and had a call with Frostman, the DWD secretary at the time, on Sept. 18. 

That was the day Evers asked for Frostman’s resignation. The secretary departed after six months of agency failures that kept tens of thousands of claimants waiting months for their Unemployment Insurance benefits. 

The records request netted just three responsive email communications from Evers to Frostman. 

On April 7, the governor sent an email asking Frostman to do a phone conference with Wisconsin tribal leaders to “discuss processes, etc.” for filing UI claims. 

“(O)f course, there are rumors of the system not working, etc,” Evers wrote. 

An audit released this week by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) lays bare DWD’s many failures, including the fact the agency did not resolve issues with claims “even though it had the information to do so and because DWD had not requested information it needed from individuals and employers.”

Read the records of the governor’s calendars and emails here. 

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