Walker signs veterans secretary appointment bill

Walker signs veterans secretary appointment bill

By The Associated Press. CREATED Jul 13, 2011 - UPDATED: Jul 14, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Wednesday a bill that gives the governor the power to appoint the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a proposal that has divided the state veterans community.

Walker signed the bill surrounded by representatives of numerous supportive veterans organizations, saying the new power would lead to improved services.

But granting the governor that power has proved controversial, with opponents who testified against it earlier this year saying it would lead to further politicization of the board and department.

Walker said Wednesday the new law will make the department and board more accountable.

The board and the department have been the subjects of much controversy in recent years, resulting in the firing of a secretary, the resignation of his successor, claims of discrimination and an audit that highlighted financial problems at the veterans homes.

Former Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos and the board had a rocky relationship, leading to his firing in November 2009. The same day he was fired, Scocos sued the agency, claiming his dismissal was in violation of a federal law protecting the jobs of active military service members. His lawsuit is pending.

Things didn't get much better under Scocos' successor Ken Black. He resigned on April 1 after facing discrimination allegations.

At least three former agency employees filed discrimination complaints with the Department of Workforce Development against Black, who is African-American, saying he was trying to purge the agency of older white workers.

Black has denied all the claims.

Deputy Secretary Donna Williams is serving as acting secretary and the board decided not to start a national search for a permanent replacement while the bill was pending.

Walker said he hopes to meet with veterans organizations over the next couple weeks to discuss the appointment. Before appointing the secretary, the law requires the governor to consult with the leaders of at least six state veteran organizations.

A number of people have asked about the opening, but there is no list of finalists, the governor said. Walker said he assumed Scocos, who currently serves in Walker's administration as deputy secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, would be interested.

Scocos did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

In addition to giving the governor the power to appoint the secretary, the new law expands the number of board members from seven to nine and requires that at least one come from each of the state's eight congressional districts. The length of board members' terms would be cut from six to four years.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)