MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday appointed Reed Hall to head Wisconsin's embattled job-creation agency, an organization Hall has been running on an interim basis since November following the resignation of the previous CEO.
Hall will be the new chief executive of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a public-private agency created to promote economic development in the state. WEDC has been beset by problems since it was created in July 2011, including a lack of basic internal accounting controls to track $56 million in loans.
An audit released last month blamed the problems on poor record-keeping, a lack of basic accounting controls and high staff turnover. Recommendations included upgrading computer software and hiring more people to better track loans and other financial transactions. WEDC responded by outlining a series of changes that were being made to comply.
Walker said he was impressed with how Hall has handled the role since November and that he thinks Hall was the best candidate to provide strong leadership and restore accountability.
"One of the challenges we've identified in the past was, particularly with the CFO and some other positions, that they didn't cover all the bases," Walker told reporters in Milwaukee with Hall at his side. "Reed Hall ... has tackled those challenges, worked with the auditors, is on top of that, and in many cases either has completed or is in the process of completing all the recommendations that were put in place to correct those issues."
Hall, 64, is a retired lawyer who served as WEDC's interim CEO and secretary since November. Before that, he was executive director of the Marshfield Clinic from 2000 to 2010 and was its general counsel for 24 years.
"I am fully aware of the challenges associated with this transition" to permanent CEO, Reed said. "Our immediate focus moving forward is deploying the internal management technology and policies to improve our internal operations, our accountability and transparency.
Hall made $120,000 as WEDC's interim CEO. He said he didn't know whether his new appointment came with a raise.
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, a WEDC board member, said he was hoping the new head would have been a CEO who had extensive economic-development experience. But he said Hall "seems like a capable businessperson and I stand ready to work with anyone ... to help achieve our economic goals."
In appointing Hall, Walker bypassed the recommendations of a search committee he named in September to work on replacing Paul Jadin. Jadin, the former mayor of Green Bay, resigned to become president of an economic-development partnership in south-central Wisconsin.
The search committee whittled a pool of 100 applicants to three finalists, but Hall was not among them. He told reporters Tuesday he didn't apply because he'd accepted the interim role with the understanding that someone else would become the permanent head.
He accepted the role at Walker's urging, he said.
"I was enjoying retirement, but when the governor calls it's hard to say no," Hall said.
Walker said the other three candidates were each talented and capable, but that the WEDC board members told him how happy they were with Hall's two-month performance.
Walker and Hall both said their priorities are to add new startups and nurture existing companies. Hall also said a key element of the job-creation plan involved attracting businesses from Illinois and other states.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, praised Hall as having the experience and leadership to help the Legislature improve Wisconsin's business climate.
But Sen. Chris Larson, the Democratic minority leader, said he was disappointed that the board wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars on a national job search, only to stick with the same person it already had. He also called Hall the least qualified of those considered for the position, and criticized the job search as being characterized by government waste, cronyism, and a lack of accountability.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.