Haas plans to leave Elections Commission within two months

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Mike Haas says he decided to drop his claim to the Elections Commission administrator’s job to spare the agency a distraction during an election year.

Haas said the ongoing dispute over whether he was properly re-appointed to the role ran the risk of allowing lawmakers to step in and pick someone for the job.

“I wanted to in the end make sure the commission had an opportunity to appoint its own administrator without getting into a legal dispute and make it clear that they had that opportunity,” Haas told WisPolitics.com Tuesday.

Commission Chair Mark Thomsen praised Haas and said he will now support elevating the agency’s assistant administrator to the top role permanently. But Commissioner Dean Knudson said he wants to put Meagan Wolfe in the role temporarily and still wants a national search before a permanent replacement is picked.

Haas’ announcement today that he would no longer seek the administrator’s job ends a month-long dispute over his reappointment to the position even after the state Senate Jan. 23 rejected his selection and the appointment of Brian Bell as Ethics Commission administrator. The Walker administration did not view Haas’ appointment to the job as valid because of the Senate vote and considered the position vacant. Under state law, the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization has the power to appoint the agency administrator if the job is open for 45 days.

Haas had earlier considered a legal challenge to the DOA determination with Thomsen arguing only the commission has the power to remove the administrator. Haas said today while it’s a “fairly unique legal issue” and there are strong arguments to continue in the position, there are other considerations about what’s best for the commission.

“I was weighing whether it makes sense to continue in a position where it’s clear that policy makers want to go in a different direction,” Haas said.

Haas said he plans to leave the agency within two months, in part, to avoid impacting Elections Commission Legal Counsel Nathan Judnic.

Haas plans to return to his former civil service post as staff legal counsel. But only one person can be in that job.

Haas said he has bumping rights to the position, which means Judnic would get a notice he’ll be laid off in about 60 days unless Haas waives his claim to the job.

DOA said the 60-day window has not yet begun. At the end of that period, the agency will only have one legal counsel, whether it’s because Haas has left or someone has been laid off.

Haas said he’s not sure if he will remain with the commission for the next two months and leave just before Judnic would be laid off or leave earlier. He plans to help the commission get through the April 3 spring election.

Seer more in Tuesday’s PM Update.