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News from around Wisconsin (9:31 p.m. 11/25/09)

Critics question pick for new Wis. vets secretary

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Critics on Wednesday blasted the appointment of Ken Black as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, saying he was involved in many of the agency’s recent problems.

The Veterans Affairs Board fired Secretary John Scocos on Tuesday, blaming him for a host of financial and communications problems at the agency he had led since 2003. Board members voted 5-0 to name Black as the next secretary.

But many of the problems cited by the board in ousting Scocos happened while Scocos was serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserve and Black was acting secretary. Nonetheless, board members praised Black, who joined the agency as a division administrator in 2005, as a skilled leader and downplayed his role in the problems.

The Wisconsin Veterans Home at King overspent its budget by roughly $700,000 during Black’s tenure as acting secretary. Black requested a Department of Justice investigation into the spending, but the probe showed he was not always in the loop and some of his statements to investigators were contradicted by several other employees.

The leader of the home, Commandant Bill Crowley, also says Black fired him in August with an e-mail that went to all employees. Black has refused to comment on that claim or explain why he fired Crowley, who was later reinstated by Scocos.

“This just doesn’t seem to add up, does it? It doesn’t to me. I don’t think it can add up to most observers of this whole situation,” said Ray Boland, who served as the department secretary from 1992 to 2003 and supported Scocos. “They are appointing the person to be secretary who has taken actions that are very questionable.”

Other critics were less diplomatic.

Five dead in Wis. traffic accidents

EDGERTON, Wis. (AP) — Five people are dead after three separate traffic accidents in Wisconsin over just a few hours.

There were two separate accidents in Rock County Tuesday night. Just after 6 p.m., Rock County sheriff’s deputies responded to a single vehicle crash in which the driver crashed into a parked Caterpillar front-end loader. The driver, Reyna Portugal of Janesville, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Less than two hours later, two Minnesota residents were killed and four others injured in a head-on two-vehicle crash on I-39/90 in Rock County. Killed were 54-year-old Ruby Alexander and a six-year-old boy, both from Rochester.

Just after midnight Wednesday in Walworth County, neighborhood residents in Lyons woke to the sound of a car crash. Deputies found the car crashed into a tree with two people dead inside. They are identified as 23-year-old Steven Schedler of East Troy and 29-year-old Jennifer Weber of Lyons.

All three accidents are under investigation.

Wells returns for Packers, probable for Lions game

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Finally, some good injury news for the Green Bay Packers. Center Scott Wells was back at practice Wednesday and is listed as probable for the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit.

Wells’ return provided some relief for the Packers, who are reeling from season-ending knee injuries to cornerback Al Harris and outside linebacker Aaron Kampman in Sunday’s victory over San Francisco.

Wells also hurt his knee Sunday and had to sit out when the team resumed practice Tuesday.

“I had a lot of swelling in it Monday and Tuesday, so basically we waited on the swelling to go down so I could bend it again,” Wells said. “Nothing’s torn. The MRI was clear. It’s just a whole bunch of fluid in there.”

Wells’ return is critical for the Packers, who have allowed a league-worst 43 sacks this season.

The veteran lost his job as the Packers’ starting center to Jason Spitz in training camp but returned to the starting lineup after injuries forced the Packers to shuffle their line early in the season.

With Spitz out for the season because of a lower back injury, there isn’t much experience left behind Wells. His backup is Evan Dietrich-Smith, an undrafted free agent rookie from Idaho State.

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