State trust fund official: Inquiry into UW-Green Bay hiring is standard practice

A state Department of Employee Trust Funds inquiry into the rehiring of UW-Green Bay Vice Chancellor Tom Maki is an example of a standard and common practice, ETF Secretary David Stella said Wednesday.

The staff-level inquiry is “very standard on our part” when a complaint is made, and involves a request for relevant offer of employment and other documents to ensure legal protocols were followed, Stella said in a phone interview with University news bureau reporter Kelly McBride. The investigation could be wrapped up within a week or so, provided all documents are collected and evaluated in a timely manner.

The ETF investigation stems from accusations of impropriety from Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, who said in a Wednesday statement he wants to determine if state laws or UW System hiring rules were violated when UW-Green Bay rehired Maki in April 2011. Maki, UW-Green Bay’s Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance, retired in March and rejoined the University after the 30-day period of unemployment required by state statute. UW-Green Bay Chancellor Thomas Harden contacted Maki after his retirement, opting as allowed to waive the option of conducting a search, and asked him to return to the University. Maki had been in his position for two decades and was uniquely qualified to guide UW-Green Bay through tumultuous times that presented unprecedented budgetary challenges, Harden said Wednesday, including how to deal with an 11 percent, $2.5 million budget cut.

“Tom Maki’s experience and expertise are unparalleled,” Harden said. “I felt it was critical to attempt to rehire him, and we followed all applicable laws and policies in doing so.”

Nass on Wednesday told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he suspects and will attempt to prove there was a preexisting arrangement between Harden and Maki for the latter to return, which would have been a violation of state law. Harden repeatedly has stated there was no deal cut ahead of time, and that he is comfortable with a review of hiring practices at UW-Green Bay and across the UW System. In a letter to the campus community, Harden said he respects the call for accountability and believes the facts will confirm decisions are being made in the best interests of UW-Green Bay, its students and state taxpayers.

“Employment of rehired annuitants can be a useful, cost-effective solution to staffing needs,” Harden’s letter said. “It is nothing new. It has long been permitted and while relatively infrequent, generally speaking, it takes place across the UW System.”

ETF Secretary Stella said Wednesday his department’s payroll staff planned to contact UW-Green Bay, likely on Thursday, to collect documents pertaining to Maki’s rehire. The situation is being handled “like every other” similar complaint or inquiry to the department, Stella said. Inquiries are handled at the staff level and generally do not require involvement of legal counsel, he added.

The ability to rehire annuitants has numerous advantages and actually results in a cost savings for universities, as the employees do not receive benefits upon their return, said UW System spokesman David Giroux. The practice is used most commonly with faculty who come back to teach a course or two.

UW-Green Bay officials said Thursday they would comply promptly with all ETF requests in an effort to settle the matter in a timely manner.