Wisconsin DNR disciplines 26 workers in 2013

Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources logo file image.
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources logo file image.

MADISON (AP) – Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources disciplined employees last year for misusing a state boat, punching a co-worker, watching videos of girls on a state computer and making inappropriate comments, agency records show.

An Associated Press review of DNR disciplinary documents obtained through an open records request found the agency sent 26 letters reprimanding, suspending or terminating employees in 2013. The agency released 25 letters, saying the 26th worker was challenging the release of his or hers.

The discipline letters give sometimes sordid details of errant behavior, but represent less than 1 percent of the agency’s roughly 2,625 employees. The DNR issued 19 letters in 2012 but couldn’t saw how many were disciplined in 2011.

Department of Administration officials said no single state entity tracks disciplinary actions across the nearly 50 state agencies. The Department of Justice disciplined five of its roughly 600 employees last year, or just less than 1 percent.

DNR spokesman Bill Cosh declined to comment on the letters, saying they speak for themselves. Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, who leads the Senate’s natural resources committee, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, chairman of the Assembly natural resources committee, said in an email that he’s confident the DNR is “handling any necessary disciplinary action in accordance with agency policy.” He declined further comment.

Employees’ names and positions were edited out of the letters before they were turned over to the AP. DNR Employment Relations Section Chief Amber Passno said in a letter responding to the request that the names weren’t needed to satisfy the public’s interest in knowing whether the agency properly disciplines workers.

One letter shows a conservation warden was fired in July for repeatedly using his state computer to create personal documents during work hours and for letting his family use the computer. He took his sons fishing in a state boat and went hunting with them when he was supposed to be working. He stored pictures of his sons taken with his state-issued cellphone on his state computer.

An Asylum Bay fisheries facility worker received a five-day suspension in February 2013 after acknowledging punching a co-worker in the back during an argument about a month earlier. The suspension letter doesn’t provide details on the argument.

Another salaried employee got a discipline letter in lieu of three-day suspension in April for sending inappropriate emails in 2012 and 2013. One said employees were pulling information “out of our collective sphincters.”

A second salaried employee received a discipline letter in November in lieu of a three-day suspension for routinely leaving work to ride his bike, using his DNR vehicle to transport the bike and viewing cycling, weather and shopping sites on his state computer. The worker told investigators he may have accidentally viewed pornographic websites on the computer and acknowledged searching YouTube for videos of girls.

Passno said the employee got a letter instead of a suspension because he was salaried, which meant he would get paid for full week’s work as long as he worked at least an hour during the week. Agency officials didn’t want to give the worker three paid days off, but the letter counts as a suspension in the discipline progression scale.

Another worker was reprimanded for remarking in November that he was undressing a female co-worker with his eyes. The employee told agency investigators he knew the remark was inappropriate and he immediately apologized to the woman.

Other discipline actions included a reprimand for an Escanaba Lake Research Station worker who said he wanted to knock a co-worker out and leave him “quivering in the parking lot”; a five-day suspension for a worker who took home a donated row boat and motor from the Spooner fish operations center; and a letter in lieu of a three-day suspension for a salaried worker who helped remove the donated boat.

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