- Associated Press - Thursday, February 16, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Wisconsin Parole Commission order of $39,000 in new furniture completed the day before Gov. Scott Walker proposed eliminating the agency will be canceled or scaled back, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said Thursday.

The announcement that the order would be reduced or canceled came 35 minutes after The Associated Press first reported that the purchase had been made.

“The department just feels it’s prudent and we’re effectively using taxpayer dollars,” said Corrections Department spokesman Tristan Cook.

When initially asked about the furniture purchase, Cook defended it saying it was needed to replace refurbished furniture at the commission’s offices that didn’t meet its needs. Cook also said if the commission was eliminated as Walker proposed, the furniture would be repurposed and used by the Corrections Department.

“This is the kind of stuff that drives people crazy,” said Democratic state Rep. Gordon Hintz, of Oshkosh, who sits on the Joint Finance Committee. That panel will take the first votes on whether to eliminate the commission as Walker proposed last week.



Hintz and fellow Democratic budget committee member Sen. Jon Erpenbach praised the department for reversing course.

“I’m happy to hear DOC administration understands that it’s not a good idea to order furniture for a commission that no longer exists,” Erpenbach said.

The Corrections Department played no role in the decision to purchase the furniture, Cook said.

The first order of $36,860.34 was placed on Jan. 13, exactly one week after Parole Commission Chairman Dean Stensberg resigned. The second order, for $2,605.68 was made on Feb. 7, the day before Walker publicly unveiled his plan to eliminate the commission.

Stensberg, and his replacement as chairman Doug Drankiewicz, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The furniture included a reception area and eight cubicles for commissioners and support staff, Cook said. It was made by the state prison system’s manufacturing program, Badger State Industries.

The commission moved into leased office space in October 2015. The parole commission has 13 employees, based on Walker’s budget proposal. Eliminating it and giving the job of reviewing prison inmates’ parole status to the Department of Corrections is projected to save $1.8 million over two years.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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