-By Patrick Marley
February 9, 2012- Madison – Two taxpayer-paid legislative aides who were responsible for drawing new election maps continue to work out of a law firm instead of the Capitol, even though lawmakers approved the maps six months ago.
Tad Ottman and Adam Foltz were responsible for drawing new district lines last year, and they did that work out of the Madison office of Michael Best & Friedrich, across the street from the Capitol. Those maps were approved in August, but they continue to work from there.
Foltz makes $50,000 a year and works from the law office most of the time. Ottman makes $79,236 a year; he declined to say how often he works at the law office. Taxpayers are paying their wages no matter which office they work from.
Meanwhile Thursday, Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) took heat because his office twice told a constituent this week that Kedzie had not signed a confidentiality agreement regarding the new election maps. In fact, he had.
Democrats blasted Republicans for having workers stationed at the law office, particularly so long after the maps they were working on were approved. They questioned whether taxpayer money had been properly used, saying state workers should be based in state offices and the work they produce should be publicly available.
"You almost get the image of a shadowy government ," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).
Republicans defended the practice as a necessary part of the redistricting process.
Every 10 years, states must draw new legislative and congressional maps to account for population changes recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. Because Republicans control Wisconsin state government, they were able to approve maps last year that would benefit them in elections for the next decade.
Even before the maps were unveiled, a group of Democratic citizens sued over the issue in federal court in Milwaukee. A trial begins Feb. 21 to hear their arguments that the maps violate the U.S. Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act because of the way they treat minority communities and move voters from one district to another.
To assist with drawing the maps, Republicans hired Michael Best and the Troupis Law Office, and they have committed $400,000 in taxpayer money to pay them.
Ottman and Foltz drew the maps in Michael Best's offices, and lawmakers would visit them there to discuss them.
Ottman said Thursday he was working part of the time in Michael Best's offices because legislators continue to have questions about the new maps and that is the only place where they can be printed. He declined to say how often he worked there.
"I don't keep track of how much of the time I'm in the (law) office," Ottman said.
Ottman's boss, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), gave a different reason for Ottman working from Michael Best's offices, saying it was necessary because of the litigation. Fitzgerald said Ottman also has duties unrelated to the maps that he performs.
Some time after the maps were approved in August, Foltz returned to the Capitol for about a month, said John Jagler, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon). Foltz now works at the law office most of the time, Jagler said.
Like the legislators, Foltz and Ottman signed confidentiality agreements, which became public on Thursday. The two signed the agreements in July 2010, six months before Republicans took over the Legislature.
It said any documents they produced had to be marked as confidential and could not be shared with others. Since then, however, the panel of federal judges has ordered what they produced to be turned over to the Democrats suing them.
Their agreements say they were working at the direction of Michael Best attorneys. But Scott Fitzgerald contended Ottman answered to him.
"He does what I tell him to do and when to do it," he said.
On Thursday, 13 Democrats sent a letter to Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asking him to investigate the process legislative leaders used to draw the maps, saying it was overly secret.
"I think it raises very serious questions certainly about open government," said Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee), the lead author of the letter.
Andrew Welhouse, a spokesman for Scott Fitzgerald, said the request was a "transparently political ploy," noting Senate Democrats last session spent nearly $190,000 in taxpayer money on lawyers to prepare for redistricting.