Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.
When I first entered the professional workforce long ago in the previous millennia, I recall the new employee onboarding process. Neatly pressed with my briefcase in hand, faux leather portfolio, and resume printed on crisp premium linen paper, I met with the Human Resources professional to read and physically sign all the paperwork. Included in that paperwork were the sexual harassment policies and the absolute prohibition of romantic or sexual relationships between superiors and subordinates. The existence of such a relationship was grounds for immediate termination.
It has been at least that long since such policies have been commonplace in the professional workforce, but Gov. Tony Evers’ office has not yet come into the previous century. His office is still one where bosses are allowed to have sexual and romantic relationships with their subordinates as long as the governor is closely monitoring the situation.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story last week that Evers’ long time Chief of Staff, Maggie Gau, the power behind the throne, has been in a relationship with one of her direct subordinates for years. When confronted with the news, the governor reacted aggressively rejecting the implication that such a situation was inappropriate. He said, “I don’t think it’s anybody’s g****** business” and assured people that, “I monitor their performance on a regular basis.”
It was also revealed that the governor’s office does not have a policy prohibiting such relationships and that the governor patently rejects the idea that such a policy is necessary. The governor rejects that such a policy is necessary because it is a small staff of about thirty people and he can personally evaluate each member’s performance to avoid any possibility of inappropriate behavior based on who is having sex with whom.
Since the governor has taken personal ownership and responsibility for each member of his staff’s performance, perhaps he can explain the meteoric rise of Gau’s better half. Originally appointed as a deputy in 2019 for $62,000 per year, the employee was promoted to report directly to Gau in 2020 and given a raise to $100,006 per year. This year, that salary was increased to $112,008. That is an 80% increase in pay in just four years when other state employees are barely seeing cost of living increases in their wages.
Did Governor Evers conduct a competitive hiring process before signing off on the promotion? Were other candidates considered? What were the selection criteria? What experience or previous performance supported the promotion for that employee more than other employees of similar rank and tenure? If everything is above board, then surely the governor would willingly show the rigor behind his hiring and promotion methodology, no?
But, of course, even if everything has been done with full transparency and fairness, the mere existence of the relationship taints the office. Even the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the most leftist organizations in America, correctly points out the reason that they have a policy prohibiting romantic relationships between superiors and subordinates. Their policy states, “… such relationships create an environment charged with potential or perceived conflicts of interest and possible use of academic or supervisory leverage to maintain or promote the relationship. Romantic or sexual relationships that the parties view as consensual may still raise questions of favoritism, as well as of a potential abuse of trust and power.”
This is common sense and normal practice everywhere except in Governor Evers’ office. Furthermore, such relationships put the organization at great risk of legal liability. If the relationship goes sour, then the organization can be sued for allowing someone in a position of power to wield it over a romantic interest. Others in the office can sue the organization if they think they have been discriminated against or denied fair treatment based on the relationship. These lawsuits can result in the organization, in this case the State of Wisconsin, paying out millions of dollars in damages to the plaintiffs and their lawyers. In this case, it is just the taxpayers’ money, so we understand why Governor Evers is unbothered by the risk.
Governor Evers is running an office in which romantic relationships between superiors and subordinates is allowed at great risk to the taxpayers and at great consternation to others in the office who do not have exclusive access to his chief of staff’s ear in the wee hours of the morning. He has forcefully, and repeatedly, taken personal responsibility to ensure that all employment practices are appropriately followed irrespective of such relationships. It is his burden of proof to show that his office is being run in a professional way within the legal strictures and societal norms the rest of us live by every day.