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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 49.0° F  Fair
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Mark Bugher and Tom Still resign from Madison Economic Development Commission
Mark Bugher and Tom Still
Mark Bugher and Tom Still

Two prominent members of the city's Economic Development Commission have abruptly resigned after Mayor Dave Cieslewicz rejected a selection committee's recommendation and named former Madison school board member Bill Clingan to a key job-creation post.

"Nothing against Bill Clingan, but he doesn't have the right skills or the right background for the job," said Mark Bugher, who quit Monday as EDC chair after 4 1/2 years as the commission's leader.

Bugher, director of the University Research Park and a key player in the city's business community, said he was "deeply disappointed" by Cieslewicz's choice of Clingan and said it said it conflicted with the mayor's "prior comments and commitments and support" for creating the high-level development post.

In particular, he said, Cieslewicz endorsed many of the proposals of the EDC's December 2004 report "Opportunities To Make Madison City Government More Friendly To Business" (PDF), including the call for a "cabinet level" office to put economic development on the level of other top city priorities.

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and a frequently published economics commentator, also quit the EDC on Monday citing reasons similar to Bugher's.

Clingan's selection as the city's economic and community development director "was emblematic of how the EDC hasn't been listened to in an effective way by the mayor's office," said Still, who served three years on the Economic Development Commission.

In a subsequent email, Still added: "The volunteer EDC invested a lot of hours and energy coming up with ideas and suggestions for the mayor, not in the belief he would accept them all -- by any means -- but that he was serious about charting a new, constructive course.

"It was surprising to learn he declined to accept the recommendations of the screening committee, especially when there was a candidate who truly fit the profile," Still said.

Both he and Bugher said they knew Clingan and liked him personally, but they questioned the appropriateness of his background. They said a screening committee had voted 4-1 to recommend Matthew Wagner for the job.

Wagner is the executive director of a southeastern Wisconsin development group, the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation. The center's focus is commercializing technology transfer -- a specialty that presumably would play well in a research heavy town like Madison.

Clingan is a division administrator in the state Department of Workforce Development, where he oversees a staff of more than 600. He earlier worked for Dane County Human Services on employment and job-training programs for low-income people.

A dependable liberal voice on school matters and a past PTO president, Clingan served three years on the Madison school board before being ousted by challenger Lawrie Kobza in 2005. Politically active, Clingan has worked in the past to elect other school board liberals like Bill Keys and Juan Jose Lopez and enjoyed the support of Progressive Dane and Madison Teachers Inc. in his losing re-election campaign.

Clingan "is an experienced manager with a strong background in workforce development," Cieslewicz said in the press release announcing the decision. "As a member of the school board, he developed deep ties to the community and understands the key role that education plays in building our economy."

Clingan apparently had a strong advocate in mayoral chief of staff Janet Piraino, who Bugher and Still said cast the sole vote against recommending Wagner for the new job.

The other members of the screening committee favoring Wagner were city planning officials Mark Olinger and Brad Murphy, regional development executive Rafael Carbonell and former Ald. Judy Olson.

Mayoral spokesman George Twigg defended Clingan's hiring, noting that Clingan was among three candidates the review committee certified as qualified for the post.

The ranking that put Wagner first was "for informational purposes," Twigg said, and that the selection of the new director was "not a majority vote kind of thing" but a mayoral decision.

Twigg also pointed out that the job dealt not just with economic development but also overseeing neighborhood revitalization, city real estate development, community services such as daycare oversight and the provision of senior services.

Clingan had the broad managerial and public-service background that would serve him well on the job, Twigg said: "He was a strong candidate."

Twigg added that the business community had input into the hiring decision every step of the way, from helping write the job description and mission statement to suggesting interview questions for the candidates.

Bugher's voice, in particular, "has been heard very loudly in a lot of things he has advocated for," Twigg said, including the recent hiring of the city's business resources staffer.

But Clingan's appointment may roil the mayor's relationship with a sometimes antagonistic Madison business community.

"I think the business community is pretty much shocked by this [hiring] decision," said Bugher. "I was very surprised and disappointed."

Bugher was a high-ranking official in Gov. Tommy Thompson's administration, and his defense of Cieslewicz in recent years has provided important political cover for the mayor in fending off criticism from the political right and the business community.

Now, Bugher has loudly parted company with Cieslewicz.

"You get to a point after awhile where you're tired of swimming upstream," he said. "If you don't have the support of the leadership of the city, it's not worthwhile to spend the extra time and effort as a volunteer to make some of these good things happen."

Bugher said he spoke to the mayor after submitting his resignation. "It was what I would call a tough conversation that clearly did not resolve anything," he said.

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