By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s railroad commissioner has resigned, weeks after it emerged that he softened letters of reprimand given to two workers found to be carrying on an affair at the office.
Gov. Scott Walker’s office said in a news release Tuesday that Jeff Plale resigned Monday and that Walker appointed Yash Wadhwa to replace him. Wadhwa, who is a member of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and president of the Wisconsin Association of Consulting Engineers, will start his new role Monday.
The release didn’t say why Plale resigned. Asked for a reason, Walker’s spokeswoman supplied Plale’s resignation letter, which says only that he and his family felt the “need to explore other opportunities.” A spokeswoman for the state Public Service Commission, which handles administrative matters for the railroad commission, did not immediately respond to an email seeking further details. The railroad commission referred questions to Walker’s office.
Walker has cited the 2011 affair as a reason why he thinks the state’s civil service system needs to be overhauled, saying the existing rules kept managers from firing the two employees.
The Public Service Commission last month released records detailing the investigation into the affair that show that no one pushed to fire or discipline the workers beyond letters of reprimand.
State law says employees can be fired for just cause. Plale, who made the final disciplinary decision, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he limited their punishment to a reprimand as per state Office of Employment Relations recommendations.
The records also show that Plale revised the reprimand letters to remove allegations of ethics violations after the two workers argued that their transgressions were of a personal nature. He removed the letters from their files in 2014.
According to the records, the workers met for sex in the Public Service Commission’s Madison headquarters after hours, in the building parking lot and behind the building in 2011. They also exchanged graphic messages on the state email system.
An investigation summary concluded that the pair misused state property and the state email system and made other employees uncomfortable. The summary noted that employees who commit such offenses would typically get a warning or reprimand.