Another Walker pick causes stir
Campaign worker named register of deeds over more-qualified candidates
By Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel
April 20, 2011
Madison — In picking a new register of deeds for Marinette County, Gov. Scott Walker picked a Republican campaign worker with no experience with land records and vital records.
He passed over three candidates with detailed knowledge of how the office of the register of deeds works, including two deputies who have worked in the office for years.
The appointment comes after the GOP governor faced criticism because the son of a campaign supporter landed a top job at the state Department of Commerce.
Renee Miller started as Marinette County register of deeds on Wednesday, after being appointed to it earlier this month. Miller is a friend of Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), has worked on his campaigns for five years and is married to Nygren’s campaign treasurer, Paul Miller.
The appointment has upset employees in the register of deeds office who applied for the job. One of the three employees in the office transferred to another county job, and another said she was considering doing the same, which would leave Miller without an experienced staff as she gets to know the office.
Documents released under the state’s open records law show Walker was first advised to appoint Chief Deputy Register of Deeds Becky Chasensky to the job. But that plan changed after aides to Walker learned Chasensky filed for bankruptcy in 2009, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said.
Walker then chose Miller, the No. 2 recommendation from his appointments director. Two other applicants had extensive work with land records.
Before the appointment, a background check was performed on Chasensky, but not Miller or those who were appointed as registers of deeds in two other counties around the same time. Werwie said Wednesday the governor was changing his policy and would now perform background checks before making all appointments.
“We are confident Renee Miller will honorably serve as the next Marinette County register of deeds,” said a statement from Werwie. “The process for this appointment was fair and resulted in choosing a qualified candidate. We constantly revise our appointment process to ensure qualified candidates are nominated.”
Nygren was the only person to recommend Miller for the job. By contrast, Chasensky had 16 letters of recommendation, including ones from Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz), the Marinette County Board chairman, and local bank, title and real estate officials.
Also recommending her was Melanie Huempfner, the Republican register of deeds for 18 years who resigned midterm in January.
“I was just totally shocked” at the appointment, Huempfner said. “I’m just so disappointed this happened. I’m disappointed in the party. I’m disappointed in the people involved.”
Chasensky ran the office expertly when Huempfner was away, Huempfner said.
Registers of deeds are elected, but the governor appoints someone to those offices to fill vacancies. To keep the job, Miller would have to win election in November 2012.
The register of deeds is in charge of birth, death and marriage certificates, as well as land records that include esoteric legal descriptions of properties.
Huempfner said she was concerned about putting the office in the hands of someone unfamiliar with such records.
“The job is of course ruled by the statutes,” Huempfner said. “You just can’t walk into the office and start running it.”
Ten people applied for the job. Besides Chasensky, two others have years of experience working with such records – Tammy Kasal, a deputy register of deeds in Marinette County, and Thomas Faller, a deputy register of deeds in nearby Menominee County, Mich.
Miller has worked as a bank service manager and has been active with the Jaycees, serving as state president in 2010. She said she would be good as register of deeds because she is a quick learner and has management experience.
“My plan is to go in and gather all the information I can and learn everything possible as quickly as possible,” she said.
Nygren wrote to Walker aide Cindy Polzin in December saying he had no problem with Chasensky getting the job but added that he’d heard Chasensky “has some personal issues, and she has never been involved in the party.”
Chasensky said she got involved with the Marinette County Republican Party in late 2010 and was elected secretary in January.
Nygren said Walker’s office earlier had told him the job would go to Chasensky, and he was surprised when he found out Miller got it.
“I think the worst thing is if Renee is being made out to get a job she doesn’t deserve,” he said. “It’s not her fault that there might have been other circumstances with one of the other candidates.”
Records show Eric Esser, Walker’s director of appointments, recommended Chasensky for the job, with Miller as an alternate.
But Werwie said officials decided to perform a criminal-background check on Chasensky after she asked whether her financial history would hurt her chances for the job. The background check found no criminal history but did identify the bankruptcy and other personal finance issues. Walker then decided to go with Miller.
Chasensky said she did not believe the bankruptcy should have precluded her from getting the job. She said she believed if she wasn’t getting the job, it should go to someone with more experience than Miller.
“I’m not trying to be a sore loser,” she said. “I’m concerned about the citizens of Marinette County having someone come in here who is not qualified.”
Chasensky said she may transfer to a job in another county office. Kasal did that on Tuesday.
“I just figured if the governor was saying (Miller) was the most qualified over me, it was time for me to move on,” Kasal said.
If they transfer, that would leave Miller with one deputy.
Walker appointed Miller on April 8, at the height of the controversy over a top appointment at his Department of Commerce.
Brian Deschane was given an $81,500-a-year job in mid-February to oversee environmental and regulatory matters and dozens of employees even though he had no college degree, little management experience and two drunken-driving convictions. Deschane is the son of Jerry Deschane, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association, which gave more than $121,000 to Walker and his running-mate Rebecca Kleefisch.
Walker demoted Brian Deschane shortly after the Journal Sentinel reported on his job, and Deschane quickly resigned from state service.