MADISON - About 1,700 state correctional workers have signed petitions calling for the ouster of the two top officials in the Department of Corrections.
The "no confidence" petitions
submitted to Gov. Jim Doyle last week asked him to remove corrections secretary Matt Frank and Deputy Secretary Rick Raemisch.
Gerry O'Rourke, a correctional officer at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, leads a coalition of officers calling for the removal of the two officials.
He said in an interview that front-line correctional officers have no faith in them. There are 5,400 correctional officers statewide.
Frank did not respond directly to the petitions because he said he had not seen them, but he sent a written statement to The Capital Times.
"Budget challenges over the last several years have been unsettling and sometimes frustrating for our staff," Frank's e-mail said. "I am proud of the way our staff has responded. My door has been and remains open to hear about issues and to discuss their concerns."
Melanie Fonder, a spokeswoman for Doyle, said the governor is quite satisfied with the leadership of the department.
"Secretary Frank has set a new direction for corrections. It focuses on prevention and rehabilitation as well as accountability," Fonder said.
"These are the directions the governor wants to see Wisconsin moving in, and he believes that is how Wisconsin can reduce corrections spending and improve public safety."
O'Rourke cited several complaints, however, including a contention that Frank and Raemisch had no experience in statewide corrections.
Frank formerly served as the administrator of the Division of Legal Services in the state Department of Justice when Doyle was attorney general. Frank worked for the department 22 years as an assistant attorney general.
Raemisch was the Dane County sheriff from 1990 to 1997.
O'Rourke also criticized what he called a "top-down style of management" in which Frank and Raemisch allegedly refuse to listen to front-line workers who have serious concerns about safety and ideas about improving department operations.
"We're on the front lines every day, but they sit in Madison and think they know better," O'Rourke said.
"Secretary Frank and deputy secretary Raemisch have shut their front-line staff out. There is no longer communications between the union and front-line staff and the secretary's office. Policies are being implemented without looking at the ramifications to the staff and the safety and security of the institution."
In the past, the presidents of the union locals have met with the secretary on a quarterly basis, he said. The last meeting was in October, according to O'Rourke, but Frank said he meets with union leadership at different facilities when he visits them.
"We had a situation where a visitor had a Muslim head scarf, and the policy was that it is removed because contraband can be kept under it," O'Rourke said. "It is a security issue. This is done in corrections throughout the country. Because of political pressure, Secretary Frank issued a directive that we are no longer to do that. That is putting the institution at risk. When we tried bringing this to his attention, we were ignored. He gave us no time to speak," he added.
The visitor was Cynthia Rhouni of Madison, who filed a federal suit against the state in May after guards at Columbia Correctional Institution forced her to remove her hijab. The case is pending, but Frank told corrections staff the same week the suit was filed that the policy should be revised to protect religious practices.
O'Rourke alleged that there were other instances "where the secretary is bowing to public perception or political pressure as opposed to listening to his staff that deals with the situation."
Another issue that raised the ire of corrections officers was a policy that if an officer received three moving violations on his or her driving record in two years, that person would not be able to drive a state vehicle.
"A person could hit a deer or have a seat belt violation" and lose the right to drive such vehicles, but inmate drivers have received exemptions, O'Rourke contended.
A state union leader also previously objected to new Department of Corrections rules that all allegations of sexual misconduct by staff members be automatically referred to outside law enforcement. Marty Beil of the Wisconsin State Employees Union said that would occur regardless of the facts of the situation or the credibility of the inmate making the claim.