William L. McReynolds, Racine County Executive
Peter L. Hansen, Chairman, Racine County Board
730 Wisconsin Ave
Racine, WI 53403
November 6, 2009
RACINE COUNTY OFFICIALS DEMAND STATE REPRESENTATIVE
EXPLAIN VOTE AGAINST FRAUD INVESTIGATION FUNDS
Racine-Six Racine County elected officials today demanded that State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) explain why he voted against additional state funds to help Racine County investigate welfare fraud. Expressing serious concern about Mason’s actions were three County Board Supervisors--Chairman Peter Hansen, Vice Chairman Bob Miller, and Health & Human Development Committee Chair Mike Miklasevich--as well as County Executive Bill McReynolds, District Attorney Mike Nieskes and Sheriff Bob Carlson.
On November 3rd, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, of which Representative Mason is a member, considered legislation to address problems in Wisconsin Shares, the state’s child care assistance program. Representative Mason voted against an amendment to the bill that would have appropriated $500,000 in each of two years, to be distributed to counties to help them investigate welfare program fraud.
During committee deliberations on the amendment, Representative Mason went out of his way to criticize Racine County government, saying:
I have real concerns about allocating additional monies to Racine County when they clearly have some problems with their human services on enforcement, whether it’s on the Shares program or even being out of compliance with the Child Long-Term Care waivers. Clearly, there is [sic] some real problems with the way that Racine County implements these programs and without more oversight and more assurances that it won’t just be more of the same and we’ll get better fraud investigations from Journal Sentinel reporters than we will from Racine County, I’m not inclined to release this money today.
After Representative Mason’s diatribe against Racine County government, the amendment was defeated by a vote of 10-5. Voting for the funding in committee were Senator John Lehman and Representative Robin Vos, Racine County’s other Joint Committee on Finance members.
On Thursday, Representative Mason repeated his opposition to fraud prevention funding for counties on the Assembly floor, where a similar amendment also failed to be adopted, 49-44. In explaining his vote, he said:
These amendments coming from the Racine County Board are hard, very hard to take in good faith, because Racine County, under the leadership of Bill McReynolds, has really failed to take full responsibility for the child care fraud that’s been going on in Racine.
County Board Chairman Peter Hansen reacted to Representative Mason’s statements by saying: “We expect our state legislators to advocate for Racine County, not to criticize it in front of people from around the state. But Representative Mason has made serious charges, and the County Board is not ignoring them. On the contrary, the board is inviting him to appear before it to explain in detail what problems he perceives. We look forward to a frank discussion of these matters and his views on them.”
“Racine County is committed to weeding out child care fraud, but we need help in Madison,” affirmed Vice Chairman Bob Miller. “Senator Lehman and Representative Vos understand that county taxpayers shouldn’t have to cover the costs of investigating fraud in a state welfare program. Representative Mason’s votes are disappointing, and his attacks on county government are inexplicable.”
Sheriff Bob Carlson pointed out that, only two weeks ago, he stood with the County Executive, the DA, RCHSD Director Debbie Jossart, Wisconsin Department of Children & Families (DCF) Secretary Reggie Bicha, and local law enforcement officials to announce a child care fraud task force. Noting that Racine County HSD will hire at least one retired officer to do “front end” investigations, he stated that, to build prosecutable cases, the Sheriff’s Department and the Racine and Mount Pleasant police departments will contribute investigators’ time. Carlson added: “We’d hoped there might be some extra funding from Madison, but we’ll do the job with or without more money. It’s just very disappointing that a Racine County state legislator has stopped that funding.”
To that, District Attorney Mike Nieskes added: “I’ve said that my office will prosecute any public assistance fraud case that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and I mean that. I’d have told Representative Mason the same thing, but he’s never spoken to me on this issue—nor, to my knowledge, has he spoken to HSD or the Sheriff’s Department on the efforts that have been and are being undertaken.”
County Executive Bill McReynolds observed: “If this story weren’t such bad news for county taxpayers, it would be funny. We had to tighten our belts on fraud investigations because the state reduced our funding. Despite that, we put together an anti-fraud task force, with no additional funds.”
McReynolds continued: “But Representative Mason isn’t satisfied. He seems to think that he knows better than our County Board, our Sheriff, our DA, and our HSD director. Maybe he’s entitled to his opinion. But he’s not entitled to stick it to Racine County taxpayers by blocking state money to help cover the county’s costs of investigating fraud in a state program.”