WisBusiness: More members may quit Madison Economic Development Commission

By Brian E. Clark

Additional members of Madison’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) are thinking about resigning over Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s decision to hire Bill Clingan to head the city’s top job creation spot.

Noel Radomski, who has been on the commission since August, said he may follow Mark Bugher and Tom Still, who quit the 10-member EDC earlier this week in protest.

Bugher runs the University Research Park and headed the departments of administration and revenue under former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

In addition, Zach Brandon, an EDC member who often butts heads with the mayor on business issues, said he, too, is reviewing the way Clingan was chosen.

“I have some concerns,” he said. “I’m still in the information gathering process, though. I’ve talked with members of the selection committee and have some serious questions.”

Still and Bugher wanted the mayor to appoint Matthew Wagner, who heads the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation, a southeast Wisconsin development group.

A search committee recommended Wagner by a vote of 4-1 to lead the new economic and community development department. Clingan, Wagner and one other candidate were certified by the committee as qualified for the spot.

Radomski said he wants to make sure the city and the mayor correctly followed rules for choosing Clingan, who works for the state’s Workforce Development Department as a division administrator.

“If a wrong has taken place, we have to fix it. And if we don’t, I’m out.” said Radomski, managing director for the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education at UW-Madison.

When Bugher announced his resignation, he said he had nothing against Clingan, just that he did not have the right skills or background or the job. In contrast, Still said Wagner’s work in the high-tech field made him ideally suited for the position.

“I completely agree with Mark and Tom,” said Radomski. “And in some ways, I wonder why it took them this long to quit the EDC. But I will stay at least until I get some answers about this process.”

Radomski acknowledged that the mayor has the final say for picking the person to head the department, though the choice must be affirmed by the city council.

“Yes, this was an advisory committee and there is always a balancing act,” he said. “But if the mayor isn’t going to pick the top-ranked person, why even have a search committee.”

At least one member of the EDC, Vicki Selkowe,
said she supports the mayor and is not thinking about leaving the commission.

“I was not involved in the selection process,” she said. “But I think the mayor was within his rights to pick the candidate who’s the best fit for his management team. Beyond that, I can’t comment on the process.”

Bugher, who has been on the EDC for more than four years, said Thursday he would not return to the commission even if the mayor reversed himself.

“My decision is irrevocable,” said Bugher, who will become chairman of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce next year. “This isn’t the first thing. There have been other issues.

“Certainly the mayor has a right to pick whoever he wants,” he said. “But you shouldn’t ask citizen volunteers to spend their time and then disregard what they say.

“This sends a message sends to the business community that he had little interest in economic development. And that’s troubling after all the work we went through. The mayor needs to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.”

Still, a three-year member of the EDC, said he would be unlikely to return to the commission under the current mayor.

“I would be surprised if the mayor reversed himself on this,” he said. “But I expect a strong debate on the council.

Still said he quit because he didn’t feel the search committee was “listened to in a serious way. And that was disappointing.”

However strong his disagreements with the mayor, Still said he would continue to promote Madison.

“That won’t change for me,” he said. “I will continue to work for this city and other communities around Wisconsin. I can easily construct a message about why Madison can be a great place to do business.

In many ways, he said, the Madison economy is doing well.

“But it could be stronger. Madison has to worry about attracting and retaining jobs in the city vs. outside of its borders. We need to be more aggressive and conscious of having the right climate.”

George Twigg, a spokesman for the mayor, said Cieslewicz will not reverse himself on his decision to appoint Clingan. Twigg said the council vote on Clingan will take place in October or November.

In a pointed letter to Bugher, the mayor thanked him for his service. But he said he was disappointed Bugher left “because of a rare occasion on which you and I have an honest agreement.

“I believe that with your long experience as a top government administrator, you can appreciate the need to be able to choose your own team, as you are responsible for those you hire,” wrote the mayor, who included a long list of items he said he and Bugher had accomplished in the past four years.