WEDC Board approves changes to merit pay plan

ASHWAUBENON — The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Board has approved a modified merit pay plan after Dems raised concerns that certain bonuses should be tied to job creation efforts.

As initially proposed by WEDC’s compensating committee, the new merit pay plan would allow base budget raises of 1 percent for employees who were meeting or exceeding expectations, small quarterly rewards for work on particular projects, and bonuses for certain employees based on performance measures.

But Assembly Minority Leader and WEDC Board member Peter Barca argued that compensation for top level executives should be focused around job creation efforts.

“It just seems to me that if we make that a philosophy for the top-level manager, it will pay some dividends for us,” Barca said.

CEO Reed Hall initially took issue with that idea, saying that while WEDC was a more flexible organization than most other state agencies, he didn’t want to distance the organization on the basis of salaries.

“I know our salary structure is a little different than what other agencies deal with, but I’m rather reticent to get away from the rest of the state on this one,” Hall said.

Eventually, Walker and Barca agreed upon language that would count job creation as a primary metric for those executives bonuses, rather than overall compensation packages.

The merit pay plan wouldn’t go into effect until September, when WEDC expects to complete compliance with the recommendations of the Legislative Audit Bureau report.

With Walker’s backing, the WEDC board is asking the Legislature for final hiring and firing power over the agency’s top execs.

Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, expressed some reservations about the plan. Leibham said it was good to have more accountability for the board but added he didn’t think the resolution made enough of an attempt at spelling out the governor’s role in consenting to the decisions made by the board.

“You don’t want to have a board that is picking a person that is in conflict with whoever the governor is at the time,” Leibham said.

Walker disagreed, saying that since some WEDC board members were appointed by the governor and the governor sits on the board, they’d likely bring reservations over those choices to the table rather than flat out opposing or rejecting his recommendations.

“I didn’t feel like the previous leadership fully appreciated that the board wanted to be an active player in things,” Walker said. “So this resolution gives a very strong reminder that the board isn’t just a rubber stamp.”

The Legislature would still need to change state statute for the measure to go into effect.

Walker also signed Assembly Bill 179 into law at the WEDC board meeting.

The measure requires board members and WEDC employees to disclose any financial interests in contracts before the corporation.

— By Jason Smathers